British authorities arrested 12 men Dec. 20 for suspicion of terrorism. Few details of a possible plot emerged until a court hearing in London today for the nine men still in custody. A British police statement released earlier in the day did not provide a list of targets but said the men had conspired to cause "explosions of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property."
The BBC reported that prosecutors told the court that the nine men had plotted bomb attacks on the American Embassy and the London Stock Exchange in the days before Christmas. The men were also said to have targeted unnamed political and religious figures.
But State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed to reporters today that U.S. Embassy officials in London "are aware of this, are working quite closely with British authorities and appreciate the high level of cooperation that we have with them, and are obviously taking suitable security precautions."
When he was asked if the information had come first-hand from British authorities, he said, "I think you asked me if we were aware that we were on the targeting list? and I confirmed that."
The State Department is also warning U.S. embassies around the world to review mail screening procedures after parcel bombs were presumably sent by an anarchist group to various embassies in Rome last week. Toner said, "We have notified all U.S. embassies worldwide to review current mail screening procedures and to continue vigilance when opening mail."
Specifically for Rome, he said, "We are monitoring the situation with local law enforcement. We have alerted all U.S. Embassy Rome personnel that if they receive anything suspicious, either at the embassy or at their residences, to inform the Regional Security Officer immediately."
The arrest of the 12 men Dec. 20 made international headlines, but U.S. attention focused on the nation's top intelligence official's lack of knowledge of the arrests.
Clapper seemed stumped by Sawyer's question of how serious the events in London might be. "London?" he replied quizzically. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan then stepped in to answer the question, noting that British authorities had informed the United States about the arrests earlier in the day.
Later, Sawyer told Clapper she was surprised "You didn't know about London." Clapper replied, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't. "
In a White House briefing two days later, Brennan told reporters that Clapper was unaware of the news because he was focused on other issues at the time. He said corrective steps had been taken to ensure that he is briefed on similar events in the future so "if that happens again, I'm sure that he is going to be au courant as far as a takedown overseas."