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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 05/10/2010

Holder & Company jump the gun on Shahzad

By Jeff Stein

"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.

That’s just some of the context that made Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks Sunday disappointing.

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.

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By Jeff Stein  | May 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Military  
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When we first began corresponding with Khalid Awan in 2007, we had no idea why he was serving time in U.S federal prison.We soon discovered Awan was one of the first of thousands of Muslims taken prisoner in the post-9/11 U.S "terror War". As the story began unfolding in our letters, we began to realize that this honest, humble and sincere man was not only innocent, but the ongoing injustice being done to him provides critical insight into the mindless, mean-spirited, bureaucratic-yes-men idiocy fueling the illegal U.S. "War on Terror" (and just about everything else that is going wrong in this country). At our insistence, Awan wrote his story and supplied us with whatever documents we requested. And now, after three months of cooperative efforts, the story of Khalid Awan can be told. We have come to know Awan as a peaceful man engaged in peaceful work, who has been wrongfully accused, detained and repeatedly convicted of crimes he did not commit because he was a Muslim with international connections and an office in New York on 9/11. Anyone who might of the Muslim belief, especially a person raised overseas who has difficulty understanding our language and our corrupt judicial system, can be arrested and detained indefinitely in this country, certainly without a trial before a jury of his peers. Khalid is one of these Muslims.

We present this to you in faith that you will realize a deeper understanding of the levels of complicity necessary for the "land of free" to tolerate the phony war on terror year after year and in hope that Awan --- and all the other million or more political prisoners being held by this country---will one day be reunited with their families.

(Thanks from the bottom of my heart to you, Mr. Don Harkin and Ms. Anne W. Chaimberlain for your devoted, caring attention in helping me expose my plight and injustices being suffered by myself and others. Your humanitarian devotion, on-going help and attitude truly an inspiration to me in my life!)

Khalid Qayyum Awan (From USA Federal Prison)


Khalid Awan # 50959-054
USP Marion
P.O.BOX : 1000
Marion, IL 62959

Posted by: Arifmuhammad41 | May 10, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Next year, instead of National Prayer Day perhaps we'll hold a Muslim Milk and Cookie Day.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | May 10, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Great article Jeff Stein. For all we know Indian intelligence acting the part as a Taliban fanatic moved this guy along

One thing I know about government workers. I mean all governmental workers high level, or not. They take the path of least resistance. In this case it was easy for Holder to blame Pakistani Taliban because he would not be criticized.

Posted by: bm66535 | May 10, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

....smack of politics, however understandable as a preemptive move against the far more crass Republicans and Tea Baggers who smear the Democrats....

You really show intellectual immaturity by using the derogatory name for the Tea Party movement. I am not a member, but think your disrespect casts a shadow on your work. You seem to write a nuts-and-bolts column about the intelligence world, which is worthwhile, but the crass remark was unnecessary. Why not just stick to factual issues and leave the insults to the editorial page? It is becoming increasingly difficult to get matter-of-fact information w/o cheap political shots that add no value to the matter at hand.

Posted by: zzzxxx11 | May 11, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I am sure that using the term "Tea Baggers" buys you street cred at the WashPost water cooler, but like "zzzxxx11" above I viewed this blog as a safe place for intelligence news and context. You can achieve that without lewd name-calling...leave that to the theoretical utopians of the editorial board.

Posted by: dexter72 | May 11, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil because I'm the meanest SOB in the place. I get no respect. I'm so ugly that when I open the door on Halloween the kids give me candy.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 12, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Firstly, Mr.Stein's entire article appears to be written by someone who is much more SYMPATHETIC to the Islamic Jihadist cause than that of the just and compassionate American people.

Mr. Stein not only portrays utter IGNORANCE of the inherent nature of radicalism in Islam (which is nothing but religious intolerance.....pure & simple) but also total lack of knowledge of the causes of Jihadism and hatredness of America amongst the Pakistani Diaspora and general public (which is due to the large scale Pakistani GOVT sanctioned INDOCTRINATION going on at all levels of their society).

I would STRONGLY advise Mr. Stein to EDUCATE HIMSELF well, NOT through the numerous anti-Islamic sites that abound on the internet, BUT from widely RESPECTED MUSLIM COLUMNISTS like Kamran Shafi, Irfan Hussein, Nadeem Paracha in PAKISTAN's OWN most respected daily "The DAWN" (, especially on what they have to say about radicalism in Pakistani society including the govt, army, intelligence agencies, police and lastly & most importantly EVERY STRATA of the Pakistani public/Diaspora.

Finally, the CLIMAX of Mr. Stein’s IGNORANCE BE-LITTLING the sacrifices /contributions that the great American people have already made is when he says "Obama has extended an olive branch to our enemies before. He should keep doing it -- including to Pakistanis trapped in the vortex of terrorism".

This is in line with the EVERY DAY utterances of the Pakistani govt. which DEMANDS more & more from the already hard pressed American public, while GLEEFULLY using those VERY SAME MONEY/RESOURCES to aid OUR ENEMIES to kill Americans.

God Bless America!

Murali, Atlanta, USA

Posted by: Murali_Atlanta_USA | May 12, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Here's another EXCLNT article that I would advise Mr.Stein to read, and a very brief excerpt that SUMS IT ALL!

Title: "Why Pakistan Produces Jihadists" in the Wall Street Journal May 3rd 2010

"Why do Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora churn out such a high proportion of the world's terrorists?

Indonesia has more Muslims than Pakistan. Turkey is geographically closer to the troubles of the Middle East. The governments of Iran and Syria are immeasurably more hostile to America and the West. Yet it is Pakistan, or its diaspora, that produced the CIA shooter Mir Aimal Kasi; the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (born in Kuwait to Pakistani parents); 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnapper, Omar Saeed Sheikh; and three of the four men behind the July 2005 train and bus bombings in London."

Murali, Atlanta, USA

Posted by: Murali_Atlanta_USA | May 12, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

It is not only Afghanistan and Pakistan. It involves an Israel and India cabal. They play this false flag game churning out Islamic terrorists.

They are good at playing this psychological game play. Israel has done it for years against Arabs. They even encouraged Hammas at their beginning against the PLO.

Posted by: bm66535 | May 13, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

The prison industry has been privatized. The more prisoners there are, the higher the stock's value, the more money they make.Plain & simple.

Posted by: ezr2c | May 13, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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