Belmont Club

The Gorgon's Stare

The Washington Post reports that authorities are closing in on a US citizen of Pakistani extraction for questioning in connection with failed Times Square car bomb. And now, the NYT reports, they have him.

Authorities were closing in on a man who they said was a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, according to a senior Obama administration official. … Investigators and agents also were scouring international phone records showing calls “between some of the people who might be associated with this and folks overseas,” according to a U.S. official who has discussed the case with intelligence officers.

The growing evidence of terrorist connections in the Times Square case led the New York-based terrorism task force to become the lead agency in the investigation, which had been overseen by the New York Police Department, a senior U.S. law enforcement official said. That indicates that the failed bombing is being investigated as a terrorist incident with international connections, the official said.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Richard Kolko of the New York field division said in a statement Monday night that the “FBI JTTF [Joint Terrorism Task Force] and NYPD are working this case jointly and have been since the beginning.” The New York police force, known for its expertise in terrorism matters, is represented on the task force and will remain heavily involved in the probe, officials said.

According to the New York Times, Faisal Shahzad was arrested at a New York-area airport “apparently trying to flee”. “Charges against Mr. Shahzad, who had returned recently from a trip to Pakistan, were not announced.” Shahzad was connected to the purchase of the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder which was parked in Times Square with a load of explosive.

Keith Johnson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, believes that even if links are found they are likely to be looser than those which bound the 9/11 attackers to al-Qaeda. The era of the superattack may now have been superseded by an emphasis on numerous smaller attacks, like a swarm.

“No one would think of New York as a soft target, with the world’s biggest police force, and some of the best counterterrorism units,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst at Georgetown University. “And yet, in the past few years, terrorists are continuously targeting New York, which shows there’s no such thing as complete security.” …

But not only are the threats getting more numerous, they are at least in the public mind, becoming more diffuse. Mentioned among the threats are “the Austin, Texas man who flew a small plane into the local office of the Internal Revenue Service in February, killing himself and one other person, and the March arrest of the Christian militia members in Michigan, who allegedly planned to murder U.S. law-enforcement officials.”

The “War on Terror”, if that word may still be used, is suddenly with everybody. Speculation about the identity of the perpetrators has run the gamut. Robert Dreyfuss writing in the Nation said “it seems far more likely to me that the perpetrator of the bungled Times Square bomb plot was either a lone nut job or a member of some squirrely branch of the Tea Party, anti-government far right.” Election Ink said that “Anonymous sources have reported that a suspect is currently being questioned in the Bridgeport / New Haven CT area. The suspect is a middle age white male, has a history of strong political views, and considers himself a Tea Party activist. An arrest is expected within days. In a strange twist, the suspect worked in the past as an informant with law enforcement agencies.”

Quotes from NY Magazine captured the wide range of thoughts going through the minds of public officials. Mayor Bloomberg said the motive “could be anything”. The White House actually managed to utter the “T” word though in this case it primarily meant “terrorize”.

Attorney General Eric Holder said investigators have some good leads, though he wouldn’t elaborate. Bloomberg told Katie Couric he thinks it could have been a domestic terrorist acting alone: “If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that. Homegrown, or maybe a mentally deranged person, or somebody with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something. It could be anything.” Kelly said it is too early to tell if this was the act of an individual or a larger network. Whoever it was, the White House used the T-word to describe the bomber: “I would say that was intended to terrorize, and I would say that whomever did that would be categorized as a terrorist,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

America is a country with a considerable number of enemies nearly all of whom would sue it for defation should it mention their names. One of the fundamental problems with this investigation — and concerns over who is handling it — revolves around the problem of who the perpetrator will turn out to be. Unless it happens to be an alien from another dimension, an arrest will explode one of several cherished political world views. If the perpetrator turns out to be a Tea Party male that will be one thing; if it turns out to be an American of Pakistani origin, that will be another. Nobody will be happy. And being happy is the whole point of things today. As Lee Smith pointed out in his essay The Trouble With Proxy Wars, every action and perception is judged in the scales of “the political effects in Washington”. That balance beam drove actions in Iraq; it is driving actions in Afghanistan and to some extent, it will shape the direction of the Times Square investigation. Wars are no longer fought with victory on the battlefield in mind. Rather they are waged with victory in Washington as the foremost consideration. Smith writes:

How did this come to pass? How did it happen that adversaries like Iran and Syria are able to shape US strategy, so that we have failed to win in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan and have deterred ourselves from taking action against the Iranian nuclear program, and have jammed up our strategic alliance with Israel? It is because American leadership of the last two administrations failed to act against those states that have attacked our troops, allies and interests. We did we not win in Iraq because states like Syria and Iran did not pay a price for the acts of force they used to shape political effects to their own advantage; when we failed to do so we abandoned our Middle East policy to the mercy of our enemies, who, as we are repeatedly told, can ruin Iraq and Afghanistan whenever they decide to take off their gloves. We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come.

A wide range of actions is precluded because “we don’t want to go there”. Whether it is the question of retaliating against Syria or Iran, using the “T” or “TP” word, or questioning the legitimacy of certain religions and agendas, finding the solution becomes driven less by the facts than by allowable political space. Public policy freezes up when it comes face to face with what it cannot abide; the mighty Federal Bureaucracy turns into the stone at the first glimpse of the Gorgon’s Stare.

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