In his first comment after Faisal Shahzad was arrested in connection with the Times Square bomb car, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, May 4: "The American people can be assured that the FBI and their partners in this process have all the tools and experience they need to learn everything we can. That includes what, if any, connection this individual has to terrorist groups. And it includes collecting critical intelligence as we work to disrupt any future attacks."
This reassurance was timely, but his remark, "That includes what, if any, connection this individual has to terrorist groups," was odd, considering that Shahzad had admitted to his interrogators that he had trained in bomb-making at camps in Waziristan, the Taliban's home base.
Was President Obama choosing his words to cover himself against any future discovery that the suspect had past ties with American intelligence before working for Taliban? Or, even worse for his purpose, was Shahzad a double agent who went bad? If so, he would have been the third Muslim double agent recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Taliban or Al Qaeda ranks – only to betray his American handlers.
The first such double agent was an American, David Coleman Headley of Chicago, original Pakistani name Daood Gilani, whom US intelligence recruited to infiltrate Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda's special operations branch in Pakistan. He was soon employed as the terrorists' operations scout and planner of attacks in the United States, India and Denmark. His work on their behalf during 2007 made Headley a key accomplice in the massive terrorist siege of Mumbai in November 2008, in which 166 people died, including all but one of the perpetrators, and hundreds were wounded.
(Thursday, May 6, an Indian court sentenced the only surviving gunman Mohammed Ajmal Kasab to death by hanging)
At least two CIA double agents crossed the lines
Even after his part in the Mumbai outrage was discovered, US intelligence let him return to India four months later in March 2009, hoping he would keep faith and bring back an inside view of Pakistani terrorist activity. But Headley used his freedom to revert to his former services to the L-e-T, selecting targets for their attacks, performing advance reconnaissance, plotting the terrorists' getaway routes and arranging for weapons hideouts close to target.
In October 2009, his American handlers, for reasons not fully known, put a stop to Headley's run as a double agent and arrested him.
The next double agent to turn coat not only betrayed his American handlers, but murdered them. The Jordanian doctor Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was drafted as an undercover line into the inner workings of Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. On Dec. 30, 2009, Balawi set up a rendezvous with top CIA personnel at their base near Khost and blew himself up killing seven American agents. (See the first item in this issue).
If Faisal Shahzad proves to be the third American agent in two years to have crossed the lines and worked for Al Qaeda and Taliban, the CIA will have suffered extreme damage on a scale that recalls their unfortunate duels with the Russian KGB and GRU military intelligence in the '80s and '90s.
Some DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence and counterterrorism sources in the West and the Middle East have begun considering this theory, drawing on an number of possible clues:
Did Shahzad fake the bombing incident?
One: Why did Faisal Shahzad blaze a wide trail leading to himself before parking the SUV, packed with gasoline, propane, fertilizer and fireworks, on Times Square? His purchase of a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder for $1,300 on April 24 through an ad on eBay was quickly discovered. And why did he neglect to hide himself and the bomb vehicle from the security cameras studding the area, before abandoning it off Broadway?
In fact, he made every effort to attract attention: He parked in a no-parking zone, switched the flashers on, clumsily hid the original identification number on the engine block, and left a bunch of keys in the ignition which included the key to his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut and his white Isuzi Trooper. Finally, he changed his shirt in plain view of the security cameras, right after getting out of the car and leaving it smoking, where it was bound to catch someone's notice very soon.
No terrorist would act like this in a major operation unless he wanted to be caught.
On the other hand, there may have been reason in his rhyme.
1. If he was indeed a double agent loyal to US intelligence, he may not have seriously intended to cause an explosion, but only to rig it so that it would be discovered before it went off and caused untold harm. He needed the ensuing worldwide publicity to convince his Taliban handlers thousands of miles away of his bona fides. The more they trusted him, the deeper he would be able to burrow inside their upper echelons and serve his US intelligence controllers. His deliberately amateurish assembly of the device may have been part of this plan. Or –
2. Faisal meant to go through with a real bombing attack in the heart of New York, but wanted his American handlers, the CIA or the FBI, to identify him as the culprit, and so perform a double service for his real masters, the Taliban – to kill a great many Americans and to show he could outwit US intelligence on their behalf.
Why did Shahzad not head straight for the nearest airport?
Two: Instead of heading straight to the airport and boarding the first plane flying out of New York well ahead of the hue and cry – or departing the city by some other means – Shahzad felt confident enough to go home first and stay there until Monday night, May 3, when he drove in another car to JFK and bought a ticket to Pakistan via Dubai for cash.
So why didn't the New York police and federal security personnel, who had his home under surveillance from Sunday night, arrest him there and then?
And why, seven hours after being red-flagged on the no-fly list, was he was still allowed Monday afternoon to pack at leisure, leave the house, drive to the airport, undergo security checks and board Emirates Flight 202 bound for Dubai? Were it not for an alert Customs and Border Protection clerk, who noted his name had been added to the no-fly list when the Emirates plane with Shahzad aboard was already taxiing away from the gate, Shahzad would have got clean away.
Was his near-escape due to major security holes in airport security? That's hard to buy. After all, he was not just a regular passenger whom no one suspected, but a person who had been under heavy federal surveillance for twelve hours.
In the 53 hours and 20 minutes between the bomb car's discovery and Shahzad's arrest, could the several hours' break in physical surveillance be explained by negotiations of an unknown nature going on between him and US investigators?
After claiming credit for NY car bomb, Taliban spokesman calls it a US plot
Three: Shahzad's putative association with US intelligence may go back twelve or thirteen years. He first arrived in America aged 18, after growing up in Peshawar and Karachi as the privileged son of a Pakistani air vice marshal who retired in the 1990s.
Young Shahzad appears to have attended a university program in Pakistan that was affiliated with the University of Bridgeport, from 1997. He also attended a program in Karachi affiliated with Southeastern University, a private, nonprofit school in Washington that shut down last year after losing its accreditation.
In 2000, he enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, where he received a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering and an MBA.
In January 2002, the authorities said, Shahzad got an H1-B visa for skilled workers. He then married an American citizen named Huma Mian, and in January 2006, was granted a green card.
A year ago, on April 17, he became a naturalized US citizen at a ceremony before a federal magistrate in Bridgeport. His wife and two children meanwhile left for Pakistan.
During all those years, he traveled back and forth between the United States and Pakistan, saying he was visiting his family. He used three passports, one American and two Pakistani documents in his possession. His last trip to his homeland was in February, when he admitted he had undergone bomb-making training in Waziristan, the tribal area which is home to Taliban strongholds.
Four: Finally, Thursday, May 6, after Taliban chiefs had claimed credit for the Time Square incident, the Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq, suddenly came forward to deny that Faisal Shahzad was "part of our network" while praising his action as a "noble deed."
Tariq said that the failed Times Square car bombing was a plot "hatched by the US and its allies to trap Muslim and Pushtun youth in terrorist activities" – a hint that Shahzad had been recruited to set this trap.
The Taliban spokesman vowed "new zeal and style" in attacks to be launched against the US and its allies.
Activists, he said, had been sent to the United States and European countries to launch further attacks soon.