Monday, May 31, 2010

Al-Jazeera in English: Onscene on Gaza Ships

It was as if the mainstream journalists were following an unwritten rule: that is, whatever the relevance, the former President was not to be mentioned as a culprit in these catastrophes.
Even when there were references to how the problems had been getting worse for 10 years at the Mineral Management Services, the federal agency which has been rubber-stamping plans for deepwater oil rigs, it was as if no one was willing to do the math and calculate who was in charge during most of that time.
Similarly, when the nation’s $1.2 trillion budget deficit was discussed as a grave threat to the economy, it was never mentioned how the nation got to this point, how the Congressional Budget Office had been projecting $850 billion annual surpluses when Bush took over in 2001.
Back then, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was fretting about the technical complexities for the Fed to set interest rates if the U.S. government paid off its entire debt. Well, that was one “problem” that Bush solved.
The simple truth is that Bush’s policies, implemented by Republican-dominated Congresses in the first half of the last decade, set the stage for all the recent catastrophes – debt caused by massive tax cuts for the wealthy and wars paid for by credit card, hostility toward government regulation of industry (and especially the coal and oil industries), blind faith in the “magic of the market” to set things right.
Yet, the major U.S. news media behaves as if this context must be blacked-out. Bush-43 must get a pass and the blame must be dumped on President Barack Obama for having “failed” to fix these problems in the past 16 months...(more)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Video: Trailer for film on Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dutch woman who joined the FARC

War Inquiry Met Second-Tier Bush Officials

By Mark Hosenball, Newsweek

The British official inquiry team examining the origins and conduct of the Iraq War met with some relatively senior former officials of the George W. Bush administration on a weeklong visit to the U.S. earlier in May. But neither Bush, Dick Cheney, nor any other very senior Bush-era policymaker, military, or intelligence official appears to have been willing to speak to the inquiry team, which is led by Sir John Chilcot, a former senior civil servant.
In an official statement issued on Friday, the inquiry committee said that it had held a series of "private discussions" between May 17 and May 21 with "people from the current and former administrations," as well as the current ambassadors. Although the committee has held public hearings in London in which most of the top U.K. officials involved in war-relateddecisions—including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and many of their top advisers—gave testimony in public, the inquiry commission said that while the Americans they met had agreed to have their names released to the public, because the meetings "were not formal evidence sessions, records of the conversations are not being published." (See the complete list of former Bush administration officials who spoke to the inquiry whose names were released today, but whose contributions are not spelled out in any detail, here.)... (more)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spy v Espion: NYT on Blair resignation and France

May 21, 2010
Dispute Over France a Factor in Intelligence Rift


WASHINGTON — An already strained relationship between the White House and the departing spymaster Dennis C. Blair erupted earlier this year over Mr. Blair’s efforts to cement close intelligence ties to France and broker a pledge between the nations not to spy on each other, American government officials said Friday.

The White House scuttled the plan, officials said, but not before President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had come to believe that a deal was in place. Officials said that Mr. Sarkozy was angered about the miscommunication, and that the episode had hurt ties between the United States and France at a time when the two nations are trying to present a united front to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.

Officials said the dust-up was not the proximate cause of President Obama’s decision to remove Mr. Blair, who announced his resignation on Thursday, from the job as director of national intelligence, but was a contributing factor in the mutual distrust between the White House and members of Mr. Blair’s staff. The episode also illuminates the extent to which communications between the president’s aides and Mr. Blair had deteriorated during a period of particular alarm about terrorist threats to the United States. ...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Shahzad: The Rube Goldberg of Terrorism

This little video of Rube Goldberg made in 1940 digresses into a seriously silly demonstration of the power of gasoline. It's a plug for the petroleum business -- but it also suggests a critical failing of the Time Square bomb, of which gasoline cans were a part: liquid gasoline burns, as the video says, "like a candle." It's vaporized and compressed gasoline that explodes.

Faisal Shahzad may have returned from Pakistan to Connecticut on a mission of mayhem earlier this year, but the more we know about the way he planned and executed the attempted bombing of Times Square, the more hapless and incompetent he appears.

Test Runs

As we read in the U.S. attorney’s complaint against Shahzad, he bought the Pathfinder for $1,300 cash in the parking lot of a supermarket out in Connecticut on Saturday, April 24. According to one of my best law enforcement sources, who does not want to be identified more specifically than that, there was no paperwork and there were no records of the transaction in the hands of the seller. Shahzad might have gotten away for quite a while without being traced as the buyer if he had not made the fatal mistake of calling the seller back to check the last time the car had had its oil changed. But more about that later.

On Wednesday, April 28, according to my source, Shahzad drives the rusty Pathfinder into Manhattan to recon the route he would take later and the traffic situation around Times Square. He then drives back out to Connecticut.

On the evening of Friday, April 30, Shahzad drives his Isuzu Trooper, registered to him, into the city and parks it just a few blocks from Times Square, on West 38th between 8th and 9th Avenues. His plan was to use it as his getaway car the following night. He locked it up tight, then went to Grand Central and took the train back out to Connecticut.

The Night of the Would-be Bombing

On Saturday, May 1, Shahzad drove the Pathfinder to Manhattan and headed up the FDR Drive, turned off on 49th, drove a block or so and stopped. As it happens, he was near the United Nations, which is probably not the smartest place to pull over, not least because he was on candid camera. He checked the cargo in the back of the Pathfinder, and may have set the timer going. He then drove to 2nd Ave. and turned left, went four blocks and turned right onto 45th. He took that straight across town, crossed Broadway and pulled over, leaving the emergency lights flashing and the keys in the ignition, as if he were just running an errand. He had tinted the windows after he bought the car and he may have hoped that anyone passing by would think there was still someone inside it. Of course, the tinting also hid the cobbled-together bomb from public view.

In fact, Shahzad headed straight for his Isuzu on 38th Street. (He may have gone through Shubert Alley between 45th and 44th, but the cops say he was not the man caught on CCTV who stripped off a black shirt to reveal a red one and seemed to be looking furtively behind him. ) Then, a surprise. As my source put it, “When he gets to 38th Street, I don’t know what he says to himself, but probably it was ‘Oh, shit!’ He realizes that he left the keys to the Isuzu on the ring of keys that he left in the Pathfinder.” So the “getaway car”  remains parked just where it was and, once again, takes a train back to Connecticut. He may also have been wondering by that point why he hadn’t heard an explosion.

On Sunday, apparently still secure in the idea he’d covered his tracks, Shahzad came back into town to pick up his Trooper. It is not clear to me whether he had a second set of keys – he may have called AAA or a similar group to help him. Anyway, a minor point. He got into the car, got it going and drove back out of town.

By then, however, the NYPD and FBI were exploring the wealth of evidence Shahzad had left behind in the unexploded Pathfinder. After several hours in which the bomb squad took apart the device, apparently modeled on plans by Rube Goldberg, the Pathfinder was loaded onto a flatbed truck and carted out the NYPD forensic lab in Queens.

What my guy calls “the Eureka moment” came when a detective who specializes in “auto crime” was called in to try to I.D. the vehicle. The dashboard VIN, or vehicle identification number, had been removed, but the detective crawled underneath and identified one on the bottom of the engine block. Because of his experience with stolen cars and chop shops, he was able to say right away that the engine belonged to the car (a 1993 model – the engine might have been changed), and once that I.D. was made, law enforcement computers kicked into high gear.

The Follow-Up

The VIN quickly led to the registered owner in Connecticut, who told police he’d asked his daughter to handle the sale, and she’d put it on Craigslist. She had been the person who met with Shahzad in the parking lot to make the cash transaction. She said she didn’t really know his name and she didn’t think she had any contacts for him.

But because Shahzad had called her a few days later to ask about the last oil change, the cops found his number in her mobile. Even though he’d used a prepaid throwaway phone, they reportedly pulled up the records of the numbers called from the throwaway and linked one to Shahzad. All this would have been on Sunday, so essentially within the first 24 hours. “We closed in on him,” said the source.

Now, there’s been some confusion in the press about when or whether the case was moved somehow from the NYPD to the FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Force. My guy says this is misleading, that the FBI and JTTF were involved all along, from the first briefings on the scene on Saturday night.

As the focus of the investigation and surveillance of Shahzad moved to Connecticut, the NYPD was not directly involved and my source said he did not have much to add to accounts that the Feds may have lost track of him for a while.

The latest Newsweek story on the case, based on reporting by Mark Hosenball, myself and Ron Moreau and Sami Yousufzai in Pakistan, gives this account of what happened:

By Monday, Shahzad was under surveillance by the feds at his Bridgeport apartment. But maybe a little too much surveillance. FBI agents no longer wear regulation white shirts and snap-brim hats as they did in J. Edgar Hoover's day, but Shahzad's neighborhood was soon crawling with burly men in SUVs. Equally noticeable, reporters—tipped off by law-enforcement sources to expect a big bust—began showing up in the area. Something may have spooked Shahzad, because he apparently slipped out the back and—undetected despite all the surveillance—got into his car and drove to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

According to my source, the Feds had the number of the cell phone Shahzad still used after ditching his throwaway, and they were monitoring it on Monday as he headed for JFK, which may be one reason Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he wasn’t worried about losing him. It is also worth noting that the longer they could monitor that phone, if indeed they were doing so, the more likely they could trace Shahzad’s connections. Conceivably, they wanted to see who he would call when he thought he was safe on board the plane – but that’s just guesswork, and it may be far too kind to the Feds, who just screwed up. A last-minute check of the flight manifest by the Customs and Border Protection guys at JFK turned up Shahzad. They stopped the plane and made the collar.

Shahzad did not seem surprised. “Are you the NYPD or the FBI?” he asked. Actually, it was the CPB.

Friday, May 07, 2010

NYTimes: Al Qaeda’s Nuclear Plant

From The New York Times:

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: Al Qaeda's Nuclear Plant

Did an American nuclear-plant maintenance worker arrested in Yemen
give Al Qaeda vital information?

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

CNN Video: Attorney General Eric Holder on Arrest in Times Square Bomb Case

New York (CNN) -- A U.S. citizen has been arrested in the Times Square bombing probe, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced early Tuesday.

Faisal Shahzad was arrested at JFK airport in New York as he prepared to board a flight to Dubai, Holder said.

"It is clear the intent behind this terrorist act was to kill Americans," Holder said. "We will not rest until we bring everyone responsible to justice."...

WNYC Brian Lehrer Show: See Something, Say Something

Reports indicate that a street vendor was the first to act in this weekend's thwarted Times Square bomb attempt.  Karen Greenberg, Executive Director of The Center on Law and Security at NYU Law School, andChristopher Dickey--blogger, Newsweek's Middle East Regional Editor, and author of Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force--The NYPD--look at the balance between professional security and the “see-something-say-something” approach.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

CNN Video: Bloomberg and Kelly on Times Square Bomb

How do you protect New Yorkers from this kind of attack?

If you look at the last chapter of Securing the City, which you can browse on Amazon, I go into considerable detail about the measures taken at Times Square on New Year's Eve. They give an idea of the extreme means used when the risk is highest. But at normal times you have to depend on the vigilance of the public, the quick response of cops on the scene, and on aggressive, proactive intelligence work that tries to stop this kind of thing long before it gets to the stage of fireworks popping in the backs of cars. Two examples would be the Herald Square case in '04 and the Zazi case last year. 

We are all helped by the fact that most terrorists are idiots and they're inept. But unless you have multiple layers of defense you really are vulnerable. Fortunately that is what the NYPD, working with the Feds (and occasionally in spite of them) set out to achieve - and so far, it has to be said, the cops have been pretty effective.

Most analysis of this incident so far focuses on some threat related to Al Qaeda. The design of the bomb -- and the incompetence of the bomb maker(s) -- are reminiscent of attempted attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007. Those were inspired by Osama bin Laden's war of terror, but none of the people involved ever trained with AQ or took orders from its leadership. 

We should not discount the possibility that this attempted mass murder was the work of an individual or small group with no Muslim ties and no sympathy for AQ whatsoever. Anarchists out to mark May 1, right-wing crazies looking to send some demented message of their own against taxes (like Joe Stack, who flew his little plane into some Texas IRS offices), or someone who hated "Lion King" ticket holders, or had a vendetta against the Bank of America ... Never underestimate the range of people who look to make their point by making mayhem in New York City. The potential list of perpetrators is long and will remain so until more evidence has been analyzed.

-- C.D.