On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh baselessly asserted that "the NSA [National Security Agency] domestic spying program" alerted U.S. officials to a Lebanese plot to bomb New York City's mass transit system. In fact, neither the July 7 New York Daily News article, which broke the story and to which Limbaugh referred, nor any subsequent news report, has indicated that any of the communications made in connection with the purported plot involved a party inside the United States.
On the July 7 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, nationally syndicated radio show host Rush Limbaugh baselessly asserted that "the NSA [National Security Agency] domestic spying program" -- President Bush's authorization of the NSA to intercept communications of U.S. residents without court warrants in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- alerted U.S. officials to a Lebanese plot to bomb New York City's mass transit system. In fact, neither the July 7 New York Daily News article, which broke the story and to which Limbaugh referred, nor any subsequent news report, has indicated that any of the communications made in connection with the purported plot involved a party inside the United States.
While there have been reports that Assem Hammoud, one of the Lebanese men arrested, has visited the United States at least once, U.S. law enforcement officials have said that Hammoud's visit was considered unrelated to the New York bomb plot.
The New York Times reported on July 8 that, according to law enforcement officials, "The eight 'principal players' planning the attack ... had not visited New York -- or even the United States -- to conduct surveillance." But that same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that there were "some discrepancies" about whether Hammoud had been to the United States. The article noted that after FBI assistant director Mark J. Mershon stated that Hammoud had never been to the United States, and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reported that Hammoud had been to New York and New Jersey "to survey possible targets," an FBI official "confirmed that Hammoud had visited the United States at least once" but stated that "we have no reason to believe it had anything to do with this plot." Moreover, none of the reports gave any indication that the communications intercepted by law enforcement involved anyone in the United States. From the Los Angeles Times:
By late Friday, there were some discrepancies about whether any of the alleged plotters had ever been to the United States. At the news conference, Mershon said the FBI believed that none of the principal players had visited the country.
But the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. issued a report Friday saying Hammoud had traveled to New York and New Jersey on several occasions using a Canadian passport to survey possible targets.
The respected Beirut-based television station also said Hammoud was recruited into Al Qaeda in 1994 while he was in Canada.
Later, an FBI official confirmed that Hammoud had visited the United States at least once. But, the official added, "we have no reason to believe it had anything to do with this plot. So we don't see any nexus between that visit from several years ago and his activities."
The FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not say whether Hammoud had entered the country on a Canadian passport. The official also would not say whether the ongoing investigation extended into Canada, which has long been considered a haven for terrorists bent on launching attacks on U.S. soil.
The Associated Press similarly reported on July 9 that law enforcement officials said Hammoud's only documented visit to the United States "occurred long before authorities say the tunnel plot began to unfold":
The Lebanese man accused of masterminding a plot to destroy Hudson River train tunnels to bring death and flooding to lower Manhattan had visited the United States at least once [on] a trip to California six years ago, a federal law enforcement official said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said 31-year-old Assem Hammoud was in the U.S. on a legitimate visa for a brief stay, and that he was believed to have been visiting either family or friends. The visit occurred long before authorities say the tunnel plot began to unfold.
Authorities are still trying to trace Hammoud's steps during that trip but say they have no record of him going to New York. They have not ruled out the possibility that Hammoud had come to the country using different names.
The July 8 Los Angeles Times report noted that the original New York Daily News article had mistakenly stated that the Holland Tunnel was the intended target of the bomb plot: "At a press conference, authorities said the historic Holland Tunnel was not the intended target, as the Daily News had reported. Instead, they said the plot focused on bombing the commuter PATH trains."
From the July 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, in which Limbaugh responded to a caller's assertion that Hammoud's arrest was "another benefit of the Iraq war." The caller stated that Hammoud's arrest "would not have happened if the Lebanese had not first pushed back on the Syrians," which they "would not have done that if we had not first attacked Iraq":
LIMBAUGH: All right, now, what was the plot? We are told -- and I'm now confused because [Sen. Chuck] Schumer [D-NY] said it was the Lincoln Tunnel. The New York Daily News, which broke this as an exclusive today, said the Holland Tunnel.
CALLER: Rush, did you realize -- well, you probably did -- the ringleader of that bomb plot in -- on the Holland Tunnel was arrested in Lebanon. That would not have happened if the Lebanese had not first pushed back the Syrians. And I guarantee you that the Lebanese would not have done that if we had not first attacked Iraq. Now, I think this is another benefit to the Iraq war.
LIMBAUGH: Yeah, the -- you call it the Khadafi affect.
LIMBAUGH: That's -- that's a good point, [caller]. In fact, all three of these suspects are in three different countries. This was the foreign surveillance that everybody -- the NSA domestic spying program where George Bush was spying on you and me, [caller].
LIMBAUGH: It -- this was, this investigation has been under way for a full year.
LIMBAUGH: And these Democrats who oppose this -- they don't oppose it. They just want to use it as a political issue and say: "Bush is spying." But not one of them has suggested canceling the program.
CALLER: Well, I want to thank the president and our troops for one more benefit to that thing. Especially, New Yorkers ought to be thankful even more than anybody.
LIMBAUGH: That's an excellent point. I appreciate that, [caller]. Thank you so much.