Thursday, May 6

The Garage-Sale SPECTRE

Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, "Evidence Mounts for Taliban Role in Car Bomb Plot". May 5

HERE'S a fun rainy-day activity for the kids: have 'em read this article--as I write it occupies the Sweet Spot on the Times homepage--and Find the Evidence! Have them circle anything that isn't rank speculation, groundless fear-mongering, a factoid already in evidence, or downright risible given the facts of the case. First one to one wins.

Look, guys: these are the people who brought you the Iraq war intel, the Color Coded Terror Alert System, and the death or capture of enough #2 Men in al-Qaeda to fill the Rose Bowl. I'm not saying you don't report the Twinkee filling "American officials" are squeezing out; I'm just saying you might give some indication that you realize some air might've gotten whipped into the mix at some point.
WASHINGTON — American officials said Wednesday that it was very likely that a radical group once thought unable to attack the United States had played a role in the bombing attempt in Times Square, elevating concerns about whether other militant groups could deliver at least a glancing blow on American soil.

A glancing blow?
Officials said that after two days of intense questioning of the bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, evidence was mounting that the group, the Pakistani Taliban, had helped inspire and train Mr. Shahzad in the months before he is alleged to have parked an explosives-filled sport utility vehicle in a busy Manhattan intersection on Saturday night. Officials said Mr. Shahzad had discussed his contacts with the group, and investigators had accumulated other evidence that they would not disclose.

Yeah. Because they hope it will lead them right to The Pakistani Taliban's #2 Man.

Okay, so, a couple things: one, what sort of terrorist threat is supposed to come from an organization which names itself like a Bush administration (I or II) military operation in reverse? "Operation Eternal Freedom From Above". "Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia". "The Pakistani Taliban". "Quad Cities Islamofascist Club". It's like the DYMO™ label you'd stick on your collection of terrorists if you wanted to keep them organized. Two, how is it the Couldabomber threat has increased the farther we are away from it, y'know, not exploding an' killing all those people? Are we now supposed to treat the initial reports of amateurishness as inoperative? Propane tanks, fireworks, gasoline, and (non-explosive) fertilizer. That's not "an explosives-filled sport utility vehicle"; it's a wish list for an incompetent 13-year-old suburban kid who's planning on offing some neighborhood pets. It's actually "a vehicle filled with shit that might explode, under certain (and very different) circumstances". What sort of training do you need for that? We're certainly not privy to all the info, but in the absence of any American officials saying otherwise, you appear to have a guy who filled his beater car with stuff that would explode, or he thought would explode, based on nothing more than a cursory familiarity with the concept of "fertilizer bomb", left some ignition source burning, and took off. Lo! and Behold! somebody in Times Fucking Square noticed the thing smoking and sounded the alarm. I guess that's something no amount of high-tech terror training could have prepared you for, but what's next? The M-80s go off? Which accomplishes what? Somebody twists an ankle on the curb while running away? Vast throngs gather around a strange vehicle to enjoy the unscheduled fireworks display? And then what? They set off the gasoline? Maybe. Given the apparent level of expertise we've seen up to now I'm betting against it, but if so, sure, big explosion. Enough to set off the propane tanks? Maybe, assuming the fire burns long and hot enough, at which point you might kill or injure a responding fireman or two, but for any of this to've killed large numbers of civilians they'd practically have had to volunteer.

And, look, as for The Pakistani Taliban "inspiring" Mr. Shahzad's murderous intentions, wouldn't five minutes reading Red State have accomplished the same thing?
The failed attack has produced a flurry of other proposals to tighten security procedures, including calls by members of Congress to more closely scrutinize passengers who buy tickets with cash, as Mr. Shahzad did. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, proposed stripping terrorism suspects of American citizenship

Which reminds me: thanks again, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked Congress to block the sale of firearms and explosives to those on terrorist watch lists.

Which reminds me: whatever happened to John Ashcroft?
One issue that investigators are vigorously pursuing is who provided Mr. Shahzad cash to buy the S.U.V. and his plane ticket to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. “Somebody’s financially sponsoring him, and that’s the link we’re pursuing,” one official said. “And that would take you on the logic train back to Pak-Taliban authorizations,” the official said, referring to the group.

A twenty-year-old Nissan Pathfinder and a $1000 ticket to Dubai. Plus snacks and tips. Are we sure Goldfinger was killed when he was sucked out of that plane?
American officials said it had become increasingly difficult to separate the operations of the militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The region, they said, has become a stew of like-minded organizations plotting attacks in Pakistani cities, across the border into Afghanistan, and on targets in Western Europe and the United States.

Well, it's a good thing we're there, then.
The C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan, which was accelerated in 2008 and expanded by President Obama last year, has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington in part because it was perceived as eliminating dangerous militants while keeping Americans safe.

Well, it's a good thing we're there, then.
Denis McDonough, the chief of staff for the National Security Council, said the Times Square attempted bombing showed that Pakistan and the United States faced a common enemy, calling it “a pretty stark reminder that the same collection of terrorists that are threatening them are threatening us.”

And the only thing standing between us and them is a massive military, a nuclear arsenal, and our Strategic Steet-Corner Vendor reserves.
But the attack in December on a C.I.A. base in Afghanistan, and now possibly the failed S.U.V. attack in Manhattan, are reminders that the drones’ very success may be provoking a costly response.

Reminders? Then could you please remind me the first time that possibility was part of the national debate on our Mideast adventurism?


Butch Pansy said...

And that strategic street-corner vendor is a Senegalese Muslim immigrant.

John said...

"Failed SUV attack."

Is that when you're thinking about keying the Hummer in the Whole Foods parking lot, but lose your nerve at the last minute?

Keifus said...

You're considering a public that's learned counterterrorism from 24, marksmanship from video games, and crime prevention from innumerable televised cop shows. If there's one iron-clad rule in those media, it's that a car going over a cliff, within a ten yards of an ignition source, or in a fenderbender, that a ricochet off a gas cylinder or oil barrel, even jostling a jerrycan... that shit always results in a conveniently plotted fireball.

Uncle Omar said...

As the discussion of this incident at Balloon Juice stated--before it went off the rails into an unfortunate succession of "I live in New York, so fuck you!" and "I used to live in Manhattan and don't anymore, so fuck you back!" comments--anyone who watched Mythbusters would know that it is damned near impossible to get a propane tank to explode. Doesnt the Taliban have basic cable? And don't the Timesmen have it either? Or, is it easier to smoke crack and make shit up?

By the way, my verification word is an actual word today. What's up with that, Riley?

Edward_Blum said...

Shouldn't the organization's name be 'Pakistan Bananastand' or 'Pakistani Talibani' or something that rhymes?

Shahzad is obviously a monocle and hairless cat away from conquering the world. Thank Dog for the street corner pencil salesman of the Times Square Irregulars.


Maturin42 said...

Pretty sorry substitute for a nuclear-armed evil empire when the game is justifying our level of military spending. Osama is getting a little dog-eared and moth-eaten as a supervillian, and his Yemani replacement still looks like a minor-leaguer. I guess we could double the number of Times Square vendors on the job.

Drone's success? If the goal is to keep the Paki's and the Afghans pissed off at us, couldn't we just make rude noises at them, or send them a lot of spam?

arghous said...

The Senate is much too late, Doghouse. Recall it was William Jizzerson Clinton who turned airline counter staff into de facto DEA agents, on the lookout for people with wads of cash asking for one-way tickets, and that was ramped up for other terra suspects long ago.

loretta said...

Follow the money? Now they want to follow the money? I seem to recall that some real money was followed from Atta to the Pakistani ISI and nobody said a peep about it back then.

In the real world, the FBI and CIA couldn't find their azzes with both hands. And if this is the skill level of our terr-ists (see also Bomber, Underpants), I'm not too skeered. I have more to fear from a random lightning strike.

Aaron said...

I'm with Maturin42. We cannot allow a street-vendor gap. As a national security measure, President Obama and Congress should institute a crash "Street Vendors for America" program that will put thousands of currently unemployed hobos, drifters, and immigrants to work in all our nation's cities, where they can make a quick buck selling delicious roasted nuts (and frankly disturbing processed meat products) while making sure that incompetent idiots don't accidentally set themselves on fire in Dubuque, Iowa or Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It's For YOUR Safety, America!

lawguy said...

Actually, I don't think it was M-80s I think it was smaller fireworks, but I could be wrong as I am not a crack news person.

R. Porrofatto said...

Sure that manure was non-explosive, but the danger here was dispersal- those M-88's could have atomized that crap into a veritable shitstorm, or at the very least turned the Nissan into the stinkiest of 4th of July punks.

My question: is there a government job title "official?" Is its job description "anonymously speak to NY Times reporters to provide a patina of authenticity to thousands of words of sheer speculation?"

American officials, speaking about the continuing inquiry only on condition of anonymity, gave few details about what Mr. Shahzad had told investigators...

And for this they had to be promised anonymity?

Anonymous said...

It wasn't the number 2 guys, I think we've missed him.

Number 3 guys though...that's a job with less job expectancy than The Two Guys That We've Never Seen Before That Beam Down With Kirk, McCoy And Spock.