President Bush used his commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday to roll out once highly classified information on alleged al Qaeda plots to attack the United States.
Specifically, Bush outlined a plot that connected Osama bin Laden and the head of al Qaeda in Iraq to terror plans intended to hit U.S. interests and the United States itself.
Bush said that the United States had broken up a plot that had targeted "military academies" just like the one where he was delivering the speech.
"It has never been declassified before, certainly never acknowledged by the president before publicly," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Declassified Plots Previously Reported
The president outlined several plans that he said U.S. authorities had thwarted, including a plan to hijack an airplane and fly it into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and another aviation attack that involved "hijacking multiple airplanes and then crashing them into targets in the United States."
He revealed a few new details of these plots, but much had already been reported.
In January of this year, ABC's Pierre Thomas reported that "documents captured in a raid on an al Qaeda safe house in Iraq revealed the group was planning terrorist operations in the U.S."
Thomas' report continued: "Sources tell ABC News the documents show al Qaeda in Iraq was developing a plan to slip terrorists into the U.S. using student visas, the same technique used by the 9/11 hijackers. According to officials familiar with the documents, the U.S. has the names of as many as 20 suspects who apparently had been picked to carry out the attack."
Bush Tries to Rally Troop Support
So why did the president release information from these two-year-old documents now?
White House spokesman Fratto said it was because the United States now has "a greater understanding of what bin Laden and al Qaeda's intentions were … and we've had the opportunity to investigate it further over the last two years. And that's why the president is talking about it today."
But the declassification of this information, which is rarely done, comes at a time when the president needs all the help he can get to continue the current course he is on in Iraq.
Few would argue that Iraq was the central front on terror before the United States invaded the country, which puts the president in a difficult position.
But he is convinced that if the United States pulls out troops, Iraq will become a training ground and sanctuary for al Qaeda.
Wednesday Bush seemed to make a determined effort to convince the country that the biggest threat in Iraq was not sectarian violence but al Qaeda.
"The danger has not passed," the president said. "I see the intelligence every day, dangerous winds are swirling, and these winds can reach our shores at any moment."