A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.
The New York Times was deeply impressed by the tightly coordinated spin operation:
That picture of Republican disunity eased dramatically this week with the defeat on Tuesday of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut and the news on Thursday that Britain had foiled a potentially large-scale terrorist plot.
The White House and Congressional Republicans used those events to unleash a one-two punch, first portraying the Democrats as vacillating when it came to national security, and then using the alleged terror plot to hammer home the continuing threat faced by the United States.
By the time the president’s top political strategists met at his ranch on Friday for an annual summer fund-raiser, the events had given them an opportunity to pull together the Republican Party as it headed toward the home stretch of the campaign, rallying once more around Mr. Bush’s signature issue, the fight against terrorism.
The entire effort was swiftly coordinated by the Republican National Committee and the White House, using the same political machinery that carried them to victory in 2004. It began in the days before the anticipated loss of Mr. Lieberman, a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq, to Ned Lamont, a vocal war critic whose victory Republicans used to paint Democrats as “Defeatocrats.”
That word originated in a White House memorandum by Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, suggesting ways to frame the debate, that was shared with officials, including Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, and Karl Rove, the president’s top strategist.
The effort continued with the news of the British intelligence breakthrough, with the message that the plot had highlighted the stakes of a fight that the Democrats, according to Republicans, were not equipped to face.
But Democrats, seeing a political opportunity, began to focus on national security, making a vigorous case this week that the Republicans were mismanaging the war and making the country more vulnerable to attack.
“If the Republican Party thinks this is a good political issue for them, they are mistaken,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
And a top Republican strategist cautioned that the party’s candidates still faced serious challenges in states where the war and Mr. Bush were overwhelmingly unpopular.
But at the very least, news of the plot helped the White House and the Republican Party achieve something they have struggled to do all year: bring the party forcefully together with the president.