On Sunday morning, Janet Napolitano twice suggested that the attempted attack in Times Square was a "one-off" event during an interview with ABC News. ABC's Jake Tapper had asked Napolitano directly about the possibility of international involvement, given the similarities (superficial, at least) between the crude bomb discovered in the Nissan Pathfinder in New York City and those used in attempted bombings in London and Glasgow in 2007. "Well, right now, we have no evidence that it is anything other than a one-off, but we are alerting state, local officials around the country, letting them know what is going on."
Calling the attempted attack a "one-off" wasn't directly responsive to Tapper's question. But it's clear that Napolitano, who also described the bomb as "amateurish," wanted to downplay the seriousness of the attack.
She wasn't alone. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speculated that the attacker could be a mentally deranged person upset with the Obama administration's health care policy. New York Senator Chuck Schumer said the "odds are quite high this was a lone wolf." An email late Tuesday morning from the National Security Network, a liberal group with close ties to the Obama administration, highlighted an AP story citing an official skeptical of any connection to international terror. In fact, at the time that email went out, there were numerous credible reports that Faisal Shahzad had serious connections to international terrorists in Pakistan. One of those reports ran in the Washington Post some 24 hours earlier.
We now know more about Shahzad's ties to terror. Shahzad has admitted, according to The Wall Street Journal, to training in terrorist camps in Waziristan, Pakistan.
As many as eight other individuals have been arrested, including several in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attack -- or at least an attack on U.S. soil -- in a video that was uploaded one day before the attempted bombing on an internet video channel also set up one day before the attack. The official in the first Pakistani Taliban video was Qari Hussain Mehsud, described as “the Pakistani Taliban master trainer of suicide bombers.” (See Bill Roggio’s excellent report at The Long War Journal.)
We have seen this before.
Within hours of the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, with the base still on lockdown, an FBI official told Fox News a link to terrorism "was not being discussed." When reports surfaced that the shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, had been in contact with al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al Awlaki, the FBI claimed that email traffic between the two was "benign." When media outlets printed excerpts of those emails that were anything but benign, the FBI claimed that they were consistent with Hasan's research.
Six weeks later, Obama administration and law enforcement officials followed the same playbook with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Napolitano and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs first tried to claim that "the system worked" in stopping Abdulmutallab. Three days after the attack, President Obama called Abdulmutallab "an isolated extremist," despite the fact that the bomber had acknowledged in interviews with FBI agents that he had trained with al Qaeda in Yemen.
Why does the Obama administration -- and its allies on the left -- go to such lengths to portray these kinds of attacks as the work of isolated extremists?
One possible explanation: an attack conducted by an "isolated extremist" would be almost impossible to stop. The more people involved in a plot, the easier it is to disrupt it.
And that’s one important area where the investigation should be focused now: on the other terrorists who assisted Shahzad.
At a press conference attended by various Obama administration and security officials earlier today, there were a lot of congratulations going around because Shahzad was apprehended in short order. Indeed, there was some good detective work in this case – after the fact.
If Shahzad’s bomb hadn’t fizzled, the post-attack law enforcement successes would be overshadowed by the intelligence failure. We need to learn more about this intelligence failure.
When was Shahzad first recruited by foreign terrorists? Did he only first meet them, or talk with them, on his last trip to Pakistan? Or was he in fact recruited beforehand?
Did Shahzad become a naturalized U.S. citizen in order to make his travel (both before and after the attack) easier?
What red flags, if any, were missed during the naturalization process?
Why weren’t Shahzad’s ties to the Pakistani-based terror network detected in the first place?
Was there any intelligence beforehand suggesting such a plot was afoot? (We know that Waziristan, where Shahzad trained, is one of the most heavily monitored terror hubs on the planet.)
What clues did we pick up, or fail to pick up, in our intercepts of communications coming out of Waziristan?
Who else was working with Shahzad, if anyone, here on U.S. soil? What are their ties to the Pakistani terror network?
Was this an attack orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban, as a video posted beforehand suggests?
Instead of celebrating Shahzad’s post-attack capture, now is the time to find out why he was able to leave the U.S. for several months of training in the terror cauldron that is Waziristan, and then come back into this country without any alarm bells going off.
We were lucky Shahzad’s bomb fizzled. Next time we might not be as lucky.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.