Mystery Solved

As information about Faisal Shahzad accumulates, a number of misconceptions are being dispelled. It turns out that the Times Square would-be bomber was not, Mayor Bloomberg’s speculation notwithstanding, someone who was unhappy about Obamacare. Nor was the bomber the random “white man” who was filmed by a security camera removing his shirt a block away from Shahzad’s Pathfinder. Nor was he, to Contessa Brewer’s deep regret, one of those dreaded Tea Partiers. Nor was his “motivation” a mystery, as suggested by the Associated Press. No, to the surprise of some–but not us–Faisal Shahzad was a jihadist.
A pretty dedicated jihadist, it seems: ABC reports that Shahzad “had a web of jihadist contacts that included big names tied to terror attacks in the U.S. and abroad.” Shahzad’s connections were both broad and deep:

[These contacts included] the figure who has emerged as a central figure in many recent domestic terror attempts – radical American-born Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki.
Besides Awlaki, sources say Shahzad was also linked to a key figure in the Pakistani Taliban, its Emir Beitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone missile strike in 2009. The Mehsuds had been family friends of Shahzad, who is the son of a former high-ranking Pakistani military officer.

What a coincidence! But there’s more:

Sources told ABC News that Shahzad was childhood friends with one of the alleged masterminds of the Mumbai massacre of 2008, in which more than 170 people died.
Shahzad is also said to be linked to a man named Muhammed Rehan, whom Pakistani authorities reportedly have in custody. Sources said Rehan helped Shahzad travel to Peshawar and then to Waziristan and made introductions to the Taliban.

Of course, Shahzad’s most significant “contacts” were the Taliban terrorists who trained him–thankfully, not very well–as a bomber.
It turns out that Shahzad was not only well-connected, he was also well-known to American intelligence agencies. In fact, CBS reports, via Jim Hoft, that Shahzad was “on a Department of Homeland Security travel lookout list – Traveler Enforcement Compliance System (TECS) – between 1999 and 2008 because he brought approximately $80,000 cash or cash instruments into the United States.”
I travel abroad relatively often, but have never found it necessary to bring $80,000 in cash into the country upon my return. Actually, I would find it hard to raise $80,000 in cash at any time, either coming or going. No wonder Shahzad wound up on the intelligence agencies’ watch list!
Not to worry, though. Apparently he was deleted from the “travel lookout list” after 2008. Why? Beats me. Maybe it was part of the Obama administration’s “open hand” policy toward Islamic extremists.
Speculation continues as to whether Shahzad was a “lone wolf.” From what we know so far, he doesn’t seem especially lonely. No doubt the truth will come out, eventually; unless, perhaps, it is inconvenient for the administration. In the meantime, many wonder whether our anti-terror strategy consists of hoping that our good luck holds. Byron York reports on Robert Gibbs’s press briefing:

In light of the terrorist attack in Ft. Hood, Texas and the attempted terrorist bombing of a passenger jet in Detroit on Christmas Day, many people are concerned that a Taliban-trained radical was able to operate freely in this country, place a car bomb in Times Square and very nearly escape the United States before being caught. But the White House wants you to “celebrate the success” of the apprehension of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. At Wednesday’s briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked this question:

After the Christmas Day incident, the president used the words “systemic failure.” Would you put this suspect’s ability to plant a bomb and almost get away from the country in the same category as a systemic failure?

Not at all, Gibbs answered. Shahzad was identified and taken into custody quite quickly, and federal, state and local authorities worked together on the investigation. “So in many ways, we want to celebrate the success of, rightly so, of what law enforcement was able to do,” Gibbs said.
The reporter persisted. “Well, if it wasn’t as grave, say, as a systemic failure, would you concede then there were some failures that allowed both the planning of the bomb and his ability to re-enter the U.S. and plant this bomb and almost get away — there were a number of failures?”
Gibbs claimed not to understand the question. “I guess I would just ask you to be more specific about each one of your — I don’t want to try to parse what you’re saying, but I don’t — ” he said.
The reporter spelled it out for the press secretary: Shahzad left the U.S. He went to Pakistan, came back, was interviewed by authorities on his return, made a bomb, drove to Times Square, where he planted the bomb, etc.
Gibbs still claimed not to understand. “I guess I’m not entirely sure what would — I’m not the police commissioner for New York. I’m not the mayor of New York…”
Gibbs never answered the question. He wouldn’t even say whether the president would order a full-scale investigation of the security lapses involved. As for the actual mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, Shahzad’s near-escape is a matter of more concern. “Clearly the guy was on the plane and shouldn’t have been,” Bloomberg said. “We got lucky.”

President Bush and Vice-President Cheney used to say that the problem with defending against terrorist attacks is that we have to be lucky every time, and the terrorists only have to be lucky once. They made this point to illustrate the importance of going after the terrorists where they live, rather than waiting for them to come after us, time after time. The Obama administration seems to have lost track of the point, while basing its counter-terror strategy largely on the hope that we will always be lucky, as we were on Christmas Day and in Times Square. Personally, though, I can’t say that I feel especially lucky these days.

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