Loose Canons

Stopping the Next Shazad

Why do we need a smoking SUV to tell us that a terrorist attack is under way?

By 5.10.10

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Why do we need a smoking SUV to tell us that a terrorist attack is under way?

Though Attorney General Eric Holder said he "was never in any fear that we were in danger of losing him" Faisal Shazad -- the would-be Times Square bomber -- slipped his tail and boarded an Emirates Air flight bound for the United Arab Emirates despite the fact that he was on the "no-fly list."

Shazad was taken off the aircraft late Monday after it had been pushed back from the gate and was about to leave. 

It wasn't just good police work that led to his identification and arrest. It was, from what we can glean from open sources, good intelligence work that traced his disposable cell phone calls, identified him as the purchaser of the Nissan Pathfinder used in the attempted bombing, and enabled federal agents to put him under surveillance and on the much-touted "no-fly list" on the day of his arrest.

But the "no-fly list" is checked only daily by the airlines. When Shazad made his flight reservation by cell phone on the way to the airport, Emirates Air apparently was unaware that the "no-fly list" had been updated, and had no obligation to check it against the passenger list for that flight.

How -- in an age when every animal that can walk upright and has opposable thumbs uses them to "tweet" on "Twitter" and blog on "Facebook" and whateverthehellelse from their cell phones and BlackBerries -- could there not instantly be an e-mailed urgent notice to all airlines about Shazad?

Perhaps, amidst their self-congratulatory celebrations, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and AG Holder could figure that out.

There are Federal Air Marshals in every major airport, especially those such as JFK from whence Shazad nearly escaped. I know a bit about the FAMs: they are well-trained not only to shoot but to share and act on intel information among themselves and with other law enforcement agencies. They could easily have been put on alert for Shazad by Blackberry e-mail and prevented his getting on the plane. Why, when he was added to the no-fly list, wasn't a FAM alert sent? And why, when the Feds tailing him lost their man, wasn't a "bolo" -- be on the lookout -- alert blasted to them for immediate action?

All of that can be fixed so easily that even a caveman -- or Janet Napolitano -- could do it. But the second level of concern arising from the Shazad case is a much more difficult. It would require a willingness to act against terrorism uncharacteristic of the Obama team.

Our attention has -- yet again -- been diverted to the question of what to do with Shazad and his ilk when we catch them in the act, or after. Much more important is the issue of interdicting these attackers before they can do harm.

Shazad was a classic sleeper terrorist. A native Pakistani naturalized by marriage to a U.S. citizen, he visited his homeland last summer and we now know met with at least one of the terrorist varsity -- a Jaish-e-Muhammed commander -- and an unidentified "foreign diplomat" going by the name of Williams.

Shazad has apparently told his interrogators that he received bomb-making training (thankfully, not enough to make him competent) in a Taliban camp in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. He returned to the U.S. on or about February 3, having spent months in Pakistan.

There is no evidence that his itinerary triggered any investigation or that he was questioned at all on his return.

Shazad has two things in common with Adam Gadahn, the California-born al-Qaeda spokesman and imam to the terrorist stars Anwar al-Awlaki: all three are U.S. citizens and all three are Islamic terrorists. How do we deal with those such as him?

The Obama administration has placed al-Awlaki on the "kill or capture" list, entitling him to his very own Hellfire missile if he's spotted. Gadahn is the first American charged with treason since 9-11, and has evaded capture.

But Shazad -- and an unknown number of others like him -- are US citizens who are also dedicated Islamists who live lawfully before called upon to attack. All it will take is someone such as Gadahn or Al-Awlaki to shout "shazam" and the Shazads will turn from apparently quiet citizens into mass murderers.

What should be done?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct) has legislation that would strip people involved with terrorist groups defined by the State Department of their citizenship. My friend Andy McCarthy suggests amending the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress after 9-11 to enable such people to be treated as enemy combatants ("unprivileged enemy belligerents" under the current version of the law.) McCarthy's solution is better, as it provides more flexibility to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and will require fewer Congressional and court actions to carry out.

But both deal with the aftermath, once a terrorist suspect has been caught. What can we do -- right now, today -- to prevent the next attack?

From evaluations I've seen, there is -- judging from the messages the Pakistani Taliban have sent -- a high likelihood that more attacks will be made in the next weeks or months. We need to do something right bloody now, or innocent Americans will be killed and maimed.

Shazad is -- dare we say it? -- a Muslim man between the ages of 18 and 45. That population cohort, more than any other, contains Islamic terrorists. Pakistan -- at best a sometime ally -- has enormous territories where the writ of the government doesn't run. Shazad visited Waziristan -- in northwest Pakistanis bordering Afghanistan -- one of those territories controlled by terrorists and warlords.

Any American citizen who travels to Pakistan -- especially those who visit the areas such as Waziristan -- should be interrogated upon their return. And the same should be true for those that visit -- legally or otherwise -- any of the nations that sponsor or harbor terrorism.

And here's the kicker: anyone who travels to any of those nations should be the subject of intense electronic surveillance, especially if they are Muslims, male or female, in the 18 to 45 age bracket. That travel should be enough for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to issue a warrant allowing all of their electronic communications to be monitored.

If, perchance, CIA Director Leon Panetta can entice Eric Holder to take time from planning civilian trials for Khalid Sheik Mohammed et al., they should be putting a plan to do just this into operation forthwith.


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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.