Tackling the Terrorist Threat at Home and Abroad

The Failed Times Square Bomb Plot

The Obama administration took the right approach with the recent Times Square bomb suspect—and it’s taking the right approach against terrorists abroad, too, write Ken Gude and Brian Katulis.

Police officers stand watch in front of the United States Court House in New York on May 4, 2010. Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport late Monday, is scheduled to appear in the court building sometime today. (AP/Craig Ruttle)
Police officers stand watch in front of the United States Court House in New York on May 4, 2010. Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport late Monday, is scheduled to appear in the court building sometime today. (AP/Craig Ruttle)

The Obama administration’s integrated approach to meeting the threat posed by terror networks at home and abroad is paying dividends, but the country needs to remain vigilant in the wake of last weekend’s failed bomb attack in Times Square.

The seamless cooperation between local, state, and federal counterterrorism officials that led to an arrest just 53 hours after the failed Times Square attack is the result of a coordinated effort to deploy all available resources to protect the American people from further attacks. The investigation is still ongoing, but counterterrorism officials must use the most effective means of interrogation to obtain information from the suspect—lawful interrogation by counterterrorism professionals led by the FBI.

It did not take conservatives long to begin calling on the Obama administration to abandon these effective counterterrorism tools once the suspect was arrested and identified as a Muslim American. They urged military prosecution and a denial of Miranda rights for the accused. Their arguments fell apart almost as quickly as they were made. Faisal Shahzad, the suspect, is an American citizen and is not eligible for a military commission because the commissions only have jurisdiction over noncitizens. Attorney General Eric Holder also confirmed that Shahzad provided useful information both before and after he was read his Miranda rights.

Remember that the Bush administration’s failed experiment with military detention for suspects captured in the United States—the failure conservatives now want to repeat—ended without obtaining any useful intelligence information from either of the two suspects. That poor record stands in stark contrast with the extensive record of the criminal justice system to produce actionable and reliable intelligence.

Conservatives often deride using law enforcement and intelligence techniques against terrorists. But the swift capture and arrest of the Times Square bombing suspect shows that effective intelligence and law enforcement work—a component of successful counterterrorism operations for decades—is a crucial part of an integrated strategy to keep Americans safe.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s approach of combining quick steps to protect the homeland with aggressive action against terrorist networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan is producing results in those countries. In stark contrast to the previous administration—which under-resourced efforts in Afghanistan and ignored threats coming from Pakistan—the Obama administration has put militant groups in the crosshairs. It is working to complete the mission left unaccomplished in Afghanistan, and has taken out three times more suspected militants in Pakistan in its first 15 months in office compared to the Bush administration’s last five years. 

Gone are the days when President George W. Bush would claim that America was fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here, even while the Bush administration was turning a blind eye to the growing terrorist threat emanating out of Pakistan.

This latest bombing plot—just like a number of other attempts and foiled plots last year—demonstrates that America needs to act swiftly at home and abroad, and we need to use the full range of tools at our disposal to keep Americans safe. These include building strategic partnerships with key governments including Pakistan and India, advancing intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, and using targeted strikes against militant groups when all other reasonable means have been exhausted.  

It’s too soon to tell, but this attempted bombing in Times Square may be a desperate reaction to the increased pressure the United States is putting on militant groups in Pakistan. The investigation will determine whether this was a lone, “self-starter” militant or an individual connected to a broader network and plot. 

Nevertheless, the Times Square bombing attempt demonstrates that if we respond in the right way—acting without overreacting—our country can move forward effectively and keep Americans safe without compromising on the ideals and principles that make our country strong.

Ken Gude is the Director of the International Justice and Security Program and Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at American Progress

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Ken Gude

Senior Fellow

 (Brian Katulis)

Brian Katulis

Former Senior Fellow