Nightly News   |  October 29, 2010

Obama calls suspicious cargo 'credible threat'

After confirming that two suspicious packages intended for delivery to the U.S. from Yemen contained explosive material, U.S. officials said Friday that they believe all hazardous materials had been intercepted. NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The president of the United States called what happened today a credible threat, but here's the evidence. A couple of toner cartridges, the kinds we all have in our offices, with at least some form, some amount of explosives on them apparently, sent via cargo from Yemen , addressed to some synagogues in Chicago . A strange series of events that received blanket news coverage today. As we learned, several UPS cargo jets were stopped and searched at a number of US and UK airports. This story stretches from Yemen to Great Britain , across the Atlantic to Philly , Newark , New York , Chicago . Our justice corespondent Pete Williams has been following it all day. He's in our Washington newsroom to start us off. Pete , good evening.

PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Brian , so far there is no indication that any hazardous packages actually made their way into the US. In fact, it's still not clear tonight what these packages were intended to do or what the target could have been. By 10:30 last night, the US security community was alarmed enough to notify the president. Acting on a tip from an overseas intelligence service , authorities in England searched for and found a suspicious package addressed to the US. Inside a photocopier toner cartridge, obviously tampered with, protruding wires, a crudely attached circuit board coated with white powder and containing explosives.

STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: This is Stephanie Gosk at the East Midlands Airport , where that package was intercepted. A freight distribution building was evacuated and the package examined before being turned over to the London police for further testing.

P. WILLIAMS: A second similar package, also addressed to the US, was intercepted in Dubai in the Persian Gulf . Both were sent from Yemen , and US officials suspect they originated with the same al-Qaeda group that was behind the attempted bombing of the US passenger jet on Christmas Day .

TAMRON HALL reporting: A UPS plan searched at several US airports and in the UK after...

After a day of intensive cable TV coverage of planes stopped and searched, the first definitive explanation came from the president himself.

P. WILLIAMS: I want to briefly update the American people on a credible terrorist threat against our country, and the actions that we're taking with our friends and our partners to respond to it. An initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material .

President BARACK OBAMA: The packages were addressed to two Chicago locations, a Jewish community center and a synagogue, neither of which knew anything about the packages , the FBI says. As a precaution, planes carrying any cargo from Yemen were searched the moment they landed in the US, about 15 packages in all. And a passenger plane from the United Arab Emirates was escorted by fighter jets as it made a scheduled landing in New York because it too was carrying a package from Yemen . Nothing hazardous was found. Officials say they don't yet know precisely how the two packages were designed, though they assumed for now they were meant to detonate.

P. WILLIAMS: The materials that were found and the device that was uncovered was intended to do harm.

Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (United States Counterterrorism Adviser): One possibility, analysts say, is that whoever sent the packages didn't know for certain how they'd fly to the US.

P. WILLIAMS: We shouldn't assume that cargo planes was the intended mode of transportation. They may have believed these packages would have been placed on passenger airliners.

Mr. ROGER CRESSEY (NBC News Terrorism Analyst): Both UPS and Federal Express have now suspended all shipments to the US from Yemen , and British authorities stopped shipments to the UK , as well. Officials stress here that only two hazardous packages were found, both overseas, and tonight they believe they've accounted for all the packages from Yemen that were intended for delivery to the US. And also tonight the White House has now publicly acknowledged that the original intelligence information that got this all started came from Saudi Arabia . Brian :

P. WILLIAMS: Well, Pete , devil's advocate here. A whole lot of people watching tonight may wonder why the evidence here doesn't quite match the words being used even by some of our public officials. It may not add up. And when is someone going to explain to us how these toner cartridges equal a threat to national security ?

B. WILLIAMS: Right. What I'm actually told, Brian , is that what was sent in these packages was the entire laser printer. That was what was sent to these two addresses, but it was the toner cartridge inside the printer that had been tampered with. Now, we still don't yet know how much explosive material was in there or how there was -- how they were suppose to work. We believe it was the explosive material called PETN that was in the Richard Reid shoe bomb and also in the underwear bomber that came to Detroit on Christmas Day . But we still don't know the mechanism, how these were supposed to work, when were they supposed to go off. Those are big questions, Brian .

P. WILLIAMS: All right. Pete Williams , who again has been reporting out this story all day in

B. WILLIAMS: