Best Defense

Steve Coll on how to understand the Times Square wannabe bomber

There are certain events that are made for certain reporters. For example, everything in Anthony Shadid‘s career prepared him to cover post-invasion Iraq. Likewise, if you want to understand the guy who tried to bomb Times Square, you need to read the New Yorker‘s Steve Coll, the only person I can think of who has ...

Francisco Diez/flickr
Francisco Diez/flickr

There are certain events that are made for certain reporters. For example, everything in Anthony Shadid‘s career prepared him to cover post-invasion Iraq. Likewise, if you want to understand the guy who tried to bomb Times Square, you need to read the New Yorker‘s Steve Coll, the only person I can think of who has written books about the South Asian subcontinent, the Taliban and Islamic extremism terrorism, but who also understands New York City, and indeed co-authored a book about Wall Street.

Take it away, Steve:

Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad’s profile — especially a U.S. citizen — turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack — without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a ‘freebie,’ the former officer said — if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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