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Shahzad the Sleeper

May 6th, 2010 - 6:32 pm

ML: Well if you’re going to Dubai you’re going to take Emirates, aren’t you?

JJA: It’s not the only airline to Dubai. I think United flies there, for example. But I’m not entirely convinced that he was put on the plane simply because the “no fly list” hadn’t reached the attention of the airline’s personnel.

ML: Really? I thought that TSA or some such had admitted they blundered.

JJA: Yes, and perhaps they did. But if it were my investigation I would look very carefully at the staff at Kennedy Airport. They may have received a message telling them to put Shahzad on the plane. It’s only a theory, mind you, but it’s the sort of thing you have to do in counterintelligence work. Don’t always assume that “little people” are unimportant. Do you remember that wonderful Father Brown story where the criminal turns out to be the mailman, and he got away with it because nobody noticed him?

ML: Good point. What else?

JJA: Well there is the good news, so to speak. The good news is that we clearly knew that he was a sleeper. Just look at what happened when he sold his house in Connecticut: security officers searched the house. The new owner told a journalist he was surprised to see counter-terrorist guys rummaging around his new home. So we knew.

ML: If we knew then how come he was permitted to park his truck bomb and walk away?

JJA: We screwed up the follow-up. Counterintelligence isn’t just figuring it out; there’s a lot of very difficult and boring work that goes along with it. Legwork, surveillance, listening to telephone conversations in a foreign language, getting good photographs to the right people, all that sort of thing.

ML: There was a wonderfully fanciful story put forward by some academic expert. He thought that we followed Shahzad every step of the way, up to the ticket counter (where the ticket agent, he said, was probably a federal official), and onto the plane. Why? So that we could detect the presence of a confederate on the plane.

JJA:  Ha ha! If we were that good, he would never have made it to Times Square.

ML: Roger that.

He just kept on laughing, and then the coughing started, and pretty soon smoke started to come out of the Ouija board, and I had to turn it off to save as much of it as I could.

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