Holder & Company jump the gun on Shahzad
"I'd rather be an unemployed musician than an unemployed pipe fitter,"
one band member says to another in The Commitments, the story of struggling rock musicians in hardscrabble Dublin.
I don’t know how much Faisal Shahzad’s unemployment played a role in taking up jihad, but I’d bet even money that he found hanging out with real terrorists for a little while a lot more exciting than working as a financial analyst in Connecticut.
I found the same thing with anti-Castro militants from Weehawken to Miami years ago: Life has a lot more meaning when you’re part of a movement than just selling used cars, or, in Shahzad’s case, crunching numbers for cosmetics giant Elizabeth Arden in Stamford.
Putting aside the propriety of the government’s top law enforcement official pinning the failed Times Square bomb on an individual before he’s entered a plea -- and that’s a big put-aside, no matter what the suspect has told detectives -- how can Holder be so certain that Shahzad is a virtual agent of the Pakistani Taliban so early in the investigation?
And why is Holder suddenly saying the rights of suspects against self-incrimination under duress, even American citizens, need to be "modified" in terrorism cases?
The attorney general’s remarks, echoed by White House terrorism adviser John Brennan on Sunday TV, smack of politics, however understandable as a preemptive move against the far more crass Republicans and Tea Baggers who smear the Democrats as “weak on terrorism” at every opportunity.
As Ahmed Rashid put it in The Washington Post last Tuesday, not even the terrorists know who’s on first from day to day in the lawless regions of Pakistan’s northwest. How would Holder?
Amid the intense civil strife, “What is left is anarchy, as groups and splinter groups and splinters of splinters operate from North Waziristan with no overall control by anyone, not even [Taliban kingpin] Jalaluddin Haqqani,” wrote Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author, most recently, of "Descent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."
Supposedly, Shahzad says he took instruction in bomb-making and small arms from the Pakistani Taliban.
But from what we know of the contraption Shahzad rolled into Times Square last weekend, and his panicky escape from the smoldering Pathfinder, it’s hard to imagine the 30-year-old was, in the common meaning of the word, a hard-core agent of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, AKA the Pakistani Taliban.
The notion that the roughly $10,000 Shahzad brought back each year during a decade’s worth of trips home added up to an $80,000 terrorist war chest sounds absurd. I'd like to see his bank balance first. He didn't make all that much money. He was swimming in debt. The materials in the Times Square bomb cost about $2,000, police say.
Indeed, Gen. David Petraeus, who, as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, presumably possesses the best intelligence on the area, declared that Shahzad acted as a "lone wolf" who was "inspired by militants in Pakistan but didn't have direct contact with them."
Yet Petraeus’s judgment has gotten far less traction than a week’s worth of White House-supplied leaks, and now outright declarations, that Shahzad was an agent of the TTP, and by extension al Qaeda -- the original reason for invading Afghanistan.
"The TTP knows how to make car bombs, set off explosions,” former CIA Middle East counterterrorism operative Robert Baer wonders. “So why didn't they teach him [better]? And why didn't they give him some scratch to pull this off?”
“Petraeus,” Baer said, “seems to be the only one these days feeling secure enough to tell the truth."
Of course, conspiracy sells so much better on TV than lone-wolf (another word for crank).
But it’s also an irresistible narrative for a White House that has to constantly fend off posturing critics and right-wing nuts on Fox News.
Message: We know who they are. We’re on the case.
I’ve been to Pakistan, seen thousands of people sleeping in rags in a city park, sharing a single pipe for water under billboards for BMWs, cellphones and flat-screen TVs. Official corruption seeps down to the lowest denominators, from the pharmacies that sell counterfeit medicines to the electrical workers who demands bribes to keep the power on.
Holy War must have been increasingly more attractive to Shahzad with every trip to Pakistan and back. His Connecticut house, cars, nice clothes and good job didn’t tell him how fortunate he was, but how bad off people back home were. And each night when he returned from the mind-numbing job at Elizabeth Arden, he could turn on his TV and see Pakistani villagers weeping after another U.S. Predator drone attack.
Faisal Shahzad was a walking can of gasoline.
For any administration, dealing with that is much, much harder than placing Shahzad in a terrorist conspiracy and flinging more feel-good Hellfire missiles at Pakistan.
It gets worse. On Sunday, Secretary of State Clinton threatened the Pakistani government over Shahzad.
“We want more. We expect more,” she said on 60 Minutes. “We've made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”
Oh? Like what? Send the drones over the presidential palace in Islamabad? Cut off aid?
This is grandstanding at its worst. And it will do nothing to stem the spreading radicalization of people like Shahzad.
Of course we need to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and its allies, says former Clinton and Bush White House terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke, writing in The Washington Post on Sunday. We’ve taken down dozens of its senior operatives in recent months.
But what about trying something else as well, on top of the drones and shrill demands that Pakistan “do more”?
“Imagine if, after a fatal attack, President Obama responded by proposing greater outreach to Muslim communities domestically and around the world, in an effort to undercut radicalization,” Clarke wrote.
“That is precisely what we and other nations should be doing, but it would undoubtedly be decried as a weak, starry-eyed reaction by our commander in chief, especially after an attack that revealed deficiencies in our counterterrorism system.”
Ain’t that the awful truth?
Obama has extended an olive branch to our enemies before. He should keep doing it -- including to Pakistanis trapped in the vortex of terrorism -- just like the bald eagle in the Great Seal of the United States. Lord knows he's been firing plenty of arrows.
| May 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Military
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