Terrorists’ explosives - out there somewhere

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

As the sun rose over New York Tuesday morning, law enforcement officials were expanding the security corridor around the Brooklyn federal courthouse where terror suspect Najibullah ZAZI was scheduled to be arraigned at 11:00. Police barricaded Tillary Street with their vehicles and stood vigil against any potential threats to the legal proceedings. Meanwhile, news crews were jockeying for position near the building entrance where ZAZI would be led by federal marshals.  Television reporters began filing their live reports on location well before the sun began to rise. Just two blocks away, vehicle and pedestrian traffic moved at a pace normal for a Tuesday morning, most apparently oblivious to the forthcoming arrival of a suspected terrorist.

Three hours before ZAZI’s arrival, I walked with a NYPD officer and member of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to a nearby coffee shop.  We talked about the case and the raids they conducted in Queens. Just as he was saying that many New Yorkers don’t understand the gravity of the terror plot, a sharply dressed middle-aged woman walking in our direction approached the officer and asked what all the “commotion” was about at the federal courthouse. “ZAZI is being arraigned this morning,” the officer told the woman. As the woman still looked perplexed, he added “you know, the terror suspect - the Afghan suspect who was planning something with explosives.” Exhibiting an eerie detachment that seems to mirror most Americans, she said “Oh, I guess I did hear something about that” and continued walking.

Over coffee, I had obtained a more detailed account of the investigation that led to ZAZI’s arrest and the items found on his computer, in his vehicle and at the locations where he lived and stayed in New York. The “alleged” plot and other possible operations were indeed insidious and would have been quite deadly. As I suspected, and based on other law enforcement sources I have interviewed, the threat has not yet been neutralized. Other “unsubs,” or as yet unidentified operatives continue to walk the streets. The investigation continues in Queens, Brooklyn and elsewhere, and police are continuing their search of explosives they have good reason to believe are out there. After coffee, I too have every reason to believe that there is a cache of explosives stowed away somewhere, waiting for the right person and the proper time.

Political officials and those who occupy positions in law enforcement that necessitate being politically correct might say otherwise.  So too will top law enforcement officials who are hamstrung by intelligence that must be polished with the rag of political correctness before it is served up to a mind-numb public by an impotent media. Their statements are far removed from the truth possessed by the gritty streets of Brooklyn and Flushing, where the unpolished truth takes the form of long, grueling hours of surveillance and field investigation in an environment most reasonable people would consider hostile. Unlike television, cases are not wrapped up in an hour. Some, not even in a “season,” and the people with information that could possibly prevent a terror attack often show disdain to such efforts. They are the people who envelope themselves in the freedoms provided by the US while quietly working to destroy her. “Just like ZAZI,” said the officer as we finished our coffee.

The investigation continues, and is now international in scope. Surveillance of suspects continues in New York, and three or more suspects are under constant, 24-hour watch by federal, state and city law enforcement officials in this area. Investigation is ongoing in other areas of the US, and our intelligence agencies are looking at individuals in other countries as well. Just like the threat, this investigation is far from over.

Back at the courthouse, ZAZI stood in front of the federal judge, saying nothing. His attorney passed through the gauntlet of reporters outside of the federal building and seemed to lap up the attention. He told the press that the charge of conspiracy was not proven as others have not been identified or brought forward. As such, “there can be no conspiracy,” he boasted.

The New York officer and I looked at each other. “Just wait,” we said almost in unison to no one in particular. Standing quiet, side by side, we both momentarily contemplated the extent of the existing threat. Without the need for any more words, we parted, both of us having work to do well beyond the lights and cameras of the media.