As you might imagine, I have been trying to get in touch with the spirit of my old friend James Jesus Angleton, the late, legendary former chief of CIA counterintelligence, ever since the failed bombing attempt in Times Square. At long last I got to the Ouija board to connect, and after the usual throat clearing (I can’t figure out whether smoking in the world to come is a form of punishment or bliss) there he was.
JJA: I know just why you’re calling. What took you so long?
ML: I couldn’t get the effing device to connect…
JJA: What, you too? The usual jihadi technology?
ML.: Ha ha! Nowadays we are all great admirers of their technology. Saves our lives, seems to blow them up as often as not.
JJA: Which gets us to the first question after all: was Mr. Shahzad supposed to blow himself up or what? He seems to have been trained by experts in suicide terrorism, after all, and the jihad doesn’t like to leave witnesses behind. As my old Israeli friends can tell you, once a terrorist decides he doesn’t want to go to paradise, he’s likely to be very cooperative with those who love life.
ML: Yes, he seems to be quite happy to talk to interrogators, doesn’t be? But that’s a good question. I remember that in Iraq, Al Qaeda recruited young men who were told that they were not going to die, that they only had to place the car bomb or truck bomb close to the target and then walk away. It was always a lie, however, and there was some very grisly evidence. One poor chap was blown out of his truck and ended up in the hospital. When he realized what had happened he went on Iraqi television to warn his fellow jihadis that they shouldn’t believe the recruiters. I wonder how Shahzad feels. He’s certainly got away from his truck in a big hurry, didn’t he?
JJA: Of course he did. His handlers may have made a mistake. On the one hand, he was almost certainly a sleeper. He came here legally, he had assimilated, and he became a citizen. Then they brought him over for training and sent him back to the battlefield. It’s standard operating procedure.
ML: Right. He clearly knew his mission in advance, didn’t he? He got his truck and the bomb components.and he rehearsed it. He drove to Times Square, parked, and went home.
JJA: Yes, and you can see from that little episode that he was very nervous and not very well trained. He locked his keys in the truck, at least according to one account that made it up here. So he went home to get a spare key, heh.
ML: What about the escape? That doesn’t seem to have been well planned.
JJA: Why do you say that? He knew where to go and he knew which airline to take.
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.