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NORTHCOM Was on Guard Against Plot to Bomb Planes, General Says

By Steven Donald Smith

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2006 – U.S. Northern Command was aware of the terrorist plot to bomb commercial airplanes that came to light this week, and was prepared to act if necessary, the command’s operations director said yesterday.

“We were working with other agencies and the Department of Homeland Security well in advance,” Army Maj. Gen. William Webster told a CNN reporter. “Our job is to deter, prevent and defeat threats to North America. It probably wouldn't be helpful to talk about how long but we’ve been working on this, but we’ve been working on this a long time.”

The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based command had also been coordinating with international intelligence agencies prior to yesterday’s arrest by British authorities of more than 20 terrorists suspected of plotting to bomb U.S.-bound commercial airplanes using liquid explosives.

“We work closely with our allies and federal agencies on a daily basis to keep track of threats we know about, those that are evolving, and those that are heavy against us so we can take the right actions and prevent them,” Webster said.

NORTHCOM was established in October 2002 to provide command and control for the Defense Department’s homeland defense efforts and to coordinate military assistance to civil authorities.

If an aircraft becomes a threat to North American infrastructure or civilians, NORTHCOM will direct fighter planes to either try to get the aircraft down on the ground safely, or, if ordered by the president, shoot it down.

“Part of our command is NORAD. Our fighters are on guard all the time,” the general said. “Our job 24/7 is to watch the skies and make sure those kinds threats are not to be carried through. We had fighters ready to take off (during the plot investigation), but we’re fortunate we didn’t have to do that.”

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a bi-national U.S. and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America.

NORAD and NORTHCOM remain vigilant to potential terrorist threats and are prepared to respond to threats in all domains, whether on land, in the air or at sea, NORAD officials said.

In related news, following the lead of several other states, including New York and Massachusetts, New Mexico put its National Guard on alert and beefed up security at the Albuquerque International Sunport airport in the wake of the terrorist plot.

Because of the recent threat, the U.S. raised the nation’s threat level for commercial flights originating in the United Kingdom and bound for the United States to its highest alert level of Severe, or Red. The threat level for all other flights was raised to High, or Orange.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said his office was in contact with Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation, and we stand ready to provide whatever assistance necessary to support DHS and the TSA and to ensure the safety of all New Mexicans, especially those traveling by air,” Richardson said in a news release.

Source: American Forces Press Service

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