Swift Response to Times Square Plot Shows We Can Handle Terror Suspects Without Unconstutional Maneuvers

At approximately 6:30 p.m. on May 1, a Muslim street vendor in New York City's Times Square alerted a police officer to white smoke collecting inside an idling Nissan Pathfinder. By 7 p.m., the bomb squad had arrived, and the area was cordoned off. A mere 53 hours later authorities apprehended a suspect, Faisal Shahzad, aboard an Emirates Airlines jet bound for Dubai, just as it was about to pull away from the gate at New York's John F. Kennedy airport. Shahzad, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year, "is from a military family in Pakistan, where he spent five months before returning in February to his home" in Shelton, CT. According to law enforcement sources, Shahzad admitted to "training in explosives in the past year with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan" in Pakistan's North Waziristan region and said he had been driven to terrorism by the recent killings of Taliban leaders in Pakistan. 


Fifty-three "

is a pretty good number

," New York City Police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the number of hours it took for investigators to identify and apprehend the suspect. "The break in this case took place when a New York City detective was able to go under the vehicle and get the hidden VIN [vehicle identification number] number," Kelly said at a news conference in Washington yesterday. The VIN helped identify the original owner of the vehicle, which in turn led investigators to identify Shahzad. The government has also begun "

requiring airlines to check no-fly lists

much more quickly as a way to screen out terror suspects" after revelations that Shahzad was able to board an international flight even though his name was put on a watch list. Ken Gude and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress write, "

Conservatives often deride using law enforcement

and intelligence techniques against terrorists," but "the swift capture and arrest of the Times Square bombing suspect shows that

effective intelligence and law enforcement work

-- a component of successful counterterrorism operations for decades -- is a crucial part of an integrated strategy to keep Americans safe."


Though somewhat slower with their hysteria this time than they were reacting to the failed Christmas bomb plot last December, conservatives quickly amped up their rhetoric. Apparently under the mistaken impression that Mirandizing a suspect grants rights rather than informing a suspect of existing rights, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told radio host Don Imus, "

I think obviously that [Mirandizing Shahzad] would be a serious mistake

until we've -- at least until we find out as much information as we have, and there are ways -- legal ways -- of delaying that." Rep. Peter King (R-NY) expressed similar fears, telling Politico, "I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did

discuss this with the intelligence community

. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he's an American citizen, but still." Some conservatives have gone even further. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) "

is planning to introduce a bill

that would allow the government to take away citizenship from Americans" who are associated with foreign terrorist organizations. Lieberman told Fox News, "I think it's time for us to look at whether we want to

amend that law

to apply it to American citizens ... whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act." While Lieberman's support for simply stripping Americans of their rights is troubling enough, he seems unaware that any method for doing so would inevitably add several layers of legal complexity, and not simplify the process as he apparently believes. Shahzad, "

a U.S. citizen, was properly and legally Mirandized.

" And, just like attempted Christmas bomber

Umar Faouq Abdulmuttalab

, Shahzad "

is cooperating with investigators

and apparently providing good information." Having been properly informed of his rights under the law, the evidence that Shahzad is now reportedly providing will be admissible in court.


While effective coordination between federal and local investigators resulted in the apprehension of the suspect, the fact remains that thousands of lives were saved by the suspect's own incompetence and sloppiness. The Wonk Room's Matt Duss wrote that, while "

counting on the stupidity of terrorists

is not a sufficient anti-terrorism policy ... there are a whole host of other tactics being used by the Obama administration to track and

put pressure terrorist organizations

," and it's fair to surmise that "these tactics and policies bear some measure of credit for the poorer players that extremists have been able to field lately." By tightening border controls and working more closely with allied intelligence agencies to track extremists, "the U.S. shrinks the pool of potential infiltrators, resulting in far slimmer pickings for terrorist commanders." It also makes training those infiltrators much more complicated and costly, resulting in cut corners that in turn result in botched attacks. Gude and Katulis write that "

it's too soon to tell

, but this attempted bombing in Times Square may be a desperate reaction to the increased pressure the United States is putting on militant groups in Pakistan. The investigation will determine whether this was a lone, 'self-starter' militant or an individual connected to a broader network and plot.

" But the effective response thus far "demonstrates that if we respond in the right way

-- acting without overreacting -- our country can move forward effectively and keep Americans safe without compromising on the ideals and principles that make our country strong."


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