The NY Daily News reported today
that terrorists planned to attack the city's transportation system by attacking tunnels. Frightening story, but strange in many ways.
The first thing that stands out in the AP version
of the story is that "FBI agents monitoring Internet chat rooms used by extremists learned in recent months
of the plot." The story goes on to mention that "Lebanese authorities, acting on a U.S. request, have arrested one of the alleged plotters, identified as Amir Andalousli" but doesn't say when that arrest took place.
For that information, or something resembling that information, you have to go to the Daily News story, which says "The News has learned that at the request of U.S. officials, authorities in Beirut arrested one of the alleged conspirators, identified as Amir Andalousli, in recent months."
Why the months-long delay in making the announcement? This seems oddly reminiscent of John Ashcroft's announcement (from Moscow) of the Jose Padilla arrest (in Chicago). In that case, the announcement
was made June 10, 2002, though the arrest was made on May 8.
For an explanation of why the Padilla case went down the way it did, consider Paul Kurgman's take
For an example of changing the subject, consider the origins of the Jose Padilla case. There was no publicity when Mr. Padilla was arrested in May 2002. But on June 6, 2002, Coleen Rowley gave devastating Congressional testimony about failures at the F.B.I. (which reports to Mr. Ashcroft) before 9/11. Four days later, Mr. Ashcroft held a dramatic press conference and announced that Mr. Padilla was involved in a terrifying plot. Instead of featuring Ms. Rowley, news magazine covers ended up featuring the "dirty bomber" who Mr. Ashcroft said was plotting to kill thousands with deadly radiation.
Since then Mr. Padilla has been held as an "enemy combatant" with no legal rights. But Newsweek reports that "administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention — that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological 'dirty bomb' — has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used in court."
Another problem is that every single source used in the Daily News story is unidentified, and the paper doesn't even bother to explain why that is. It's not until the 22nd paragraph of the 24-graf story that the paper finally points out that one of the sources "spoke on condition of anonymity." Did the other sources request anonymity, or did the paper just not bother to identify them? Maybe the reporters forgot to ask their names.
In addition, it's difficult to say exactly how many sources the paper DN used for the story. Well, maybe it's just me. See if you can tell how many people the paper talked to for the story. Here's how the sources are cited, in the order they're cited:
a counterterrorism source
another senior counterterrorism source
a counterterrorism souce
one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity
Not one person spoke to the paper on the record. Kind of strange considering the story ostensibly is about an intelligence and law-enforcement success.
The only person to speak on the record was Washington-based FBI special agent Richard Kolko, who issued a statement to AP Radio. The FBI declined to comment on the record to the Daily News.
And what did Kolko say? "At this time we have no indication of any imminent threat to the New York transportation system, or anywhere else in the U.S." Not exactly a confirmation. In fact, the statement doesn't address anything in the Daily News story at all.
But the weirdest thing of all is that the AP and DN don't even agree on the alleged target of the alleged plotter(s). The Daily News:
The FBI has uncovered what officials consider a serious plot by jihadists to bomb the Holland Tunnel in hopes of causing a torrent of water to deluge lower Manhattan, the Daily News has learned.
The plotters wanted to detonate a massive amount of explosives inside the Holland Tunnel to blast a hole that would destroy the tunnel, everyone in it, and send a devastating flood shooting through the streets of lower Manhattan.
In the next to last graf of the story, the paper refers to the plot as "the Holland Tunnel plot."
The AP, however, is not so sure about that:
The Daily News reported that the plotters wanted to blow up the Holland Tunnel, the southernmost link between Manhattan and New Jersey, in the hopes of flooding New York's financial district. The desired effect would be akin to the flooding that ravaged New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the newspaper said.
A government official with knowledge of the investigation said while the alleged plot did focus on New York's transportation system, it did not target the Holland Tunnel.
So it's not clear who's announcing the foiling of the alleged plot, or what was targeted by the plot. What we know is a person named Amir Andalousli was arrested "in recent months" for allegedly plotting, uh, something against something at some point in the sort-of recent past.
Lest the lack of clarity in this story remind you of the odd announcement of the arrests of the "Miami Seven" that the feds annouced with such fanfare last month, even while announcing that the alleged plot was more "aspirational than operational," the DN has got that covered.
Sources contrasted the chat room jihadists to the seven wanna-be Al Qaeda cell members arrested in a poor area of Miami by the FBI last week, who appeared to have no capability of carrying out plots they hatched to bomb FBI offices in several cities including New York.
"This is more advanced than the Miami Seven," said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An anonymous source making an unsubstantiated and apparently unquestioned claim. Good enough for me.
Other nitpicky observations from the DN story:
"The plotters wanted to detonate a massive amount of explosives inside the Holland Tunnel to blast a hole that would destroy the tunnel, everyone in it, and send a devastating flood shooting through the streets of lower Manhattan." This description of the alleged plot isn't attributed to anyone, and should be.
"It is assumed by officials the thugs would try to use vehicles packed with explosives." ... It's as though they were determined to use the passive voice.
"Al Qaeda founder Bin Laden has often urged his followers to "bleed" America financially." ... Nice first reference. Note to editors: "Bin" is not this scumbag's first name. Makes you wonder who they think "Osama" is.
Considering how little we know about this alleged plot, the timing of the annoucement an unspecified number of months after the arrest, the lack of on-the-record corroborating sources, the proximity to the November elections and the Bush administration's track record regarding such annoucements, I'm going to go on record (somebody has to) as saying this "announcement" is probably bullshit.