- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2010

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban directed the Times Square car-bomb plot and is actively recruiting more agents to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.

“We know that they helped facilitate it; we know that they probably helped finance it, and that [the suspect] was working at their direction,” Mr. Holder said in an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week.”

Mr. Holder joined another White House official, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, on the Sunday talk-show circuit to defend the administration’s handling of the latest near-miss terrorism strike.

Both men said the Pakistani government was cooperating with U.S. officials in the effort to track down the Taliban contacts who trained 30-year-old Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad.

“They’ve been cooperative with us, and I think we have been satisfied with the work that they have done,” Mr. Holder said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS “60 Minutes,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton darkly hinted at “very severe consequences” if Pakistan-based terrorists were to strike the U.S.

“We’ve made it very clear that if — heaven forbid — an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences,” Mrs. Clinton said.

She also said that while Pakistani authorities, some of whom are seen as sympathetic to the Taliban, have overseen a “sea change” in attitude toward anti-terrorism cooperation with the U.S., “we want more.”

Mr. Holder said information uncovered in the ongoing investigation had clearly outstripped earlier assumptions — including . Holder’s own — that the suspect was a “lone wolf.” The Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for the attack the day after it happened, but the claim was quickly discounted by local law enforcement and federal officials.

Mr. Brennan stopped short of predicting more arrests in Pakistan, but told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “there are individuals who have been identified.”

“We are uncovering information … to determine what else is out there,” he said.

Mr. Holder said terrorist groups are recruiting people with “clean skins” — legal passports and no criminal records — who can travel easily to and from the United States.

Mr. Brennan said the May 3 arrest of Mr. Shahzad, a Pakistani-born naturalized U.S. citizen accused of parking an explosives-laden sport utility vehicle in New York’s Times Square two days earlier, showed that the nation’s security measures work.

“The system was able to put the information out, and we were able to take action,” Mr. Brennan said.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Brennan said, “The lesson is, we need to maintain vigilance. … We rely heavily on vigilant citizens.”

Sunday’s announcements marked, if not a turnabout, something of a course adjustment for the administration. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano last week called the plot a “one-off” attempt.

Still, some are calling for heads.

“On Christmas Day, we were lucky. In Times Square, we were very lucky,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, said on CNN.

“Luck shouldn’t be our policy,” Mr. Shelby said. “The fact that a lot of people weren’t killed in Times Square or also on the plane Christmas Day, we are very fortunate there. But something is going to happen, and we are not going to be so fortunate. … We’ve got to recognize it’s not just big groups or lots of people on one hit day; it’s individuals spread out all over the country.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Brennan pushed back: “We’re not lucky. We’re good,” he said.

“We’ve stopped many, many operations … from taking place here in the United States and overseas. On a daily basis, we are being successful at finding them, arresting them, killing them,” Mr. Holder said.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani criticized the administration for reading Miranda rights to suspects like Mr. Shahzad.

“I would not have given him Miranda warnings after just a couple of hours of questioning,” Mr. Giuliani said on “This Week.” “I would have instead declared him an enemy combatant.”

Amid the growing criticism, Mr. Holder announced Sunday that the administration would seek to expand the “public-safety exception” to Miranda warnings to cases of terrorism.

In an announcement that immediately drew fire from the administration’s critics on the left, Mr. Holder said agents need more flexibility in questioning suspects.

“If we are going to have a system that is capable of dealing in a public safety context with this new threat, I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception. And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress to do, to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional, but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face,” Mr. Holder said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The liberal Firedoglake website blogged about the appearances Sunday by Mr. Holder, who in more than a year as attorney general hadn’t previously appeared on any of the Washington Sunday chat shows, under the headline “What’s It Take for Holder to Be Allowed to Do a Sunday Show? Kill Miranda!”

Rick Ungar of True/Slant wrote that it appeared likelier that softening Miranda had less to do with terrorism than with “the political threats faced by the Obama administration.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, Mr. Giuliani, who led New York City during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, still criticized the administration as lackadaisical on terrorism and related issues such as Miranda rights.

“I really, at this point, am frustrated by the lack of urgency that is shown about these terrorism matters. … It’s about time that we stop thinking about and we stop studying it. I don’t know how often the attorney general said he was studying things. How about we stop studying and we start doing things — like we change Miranda; like we fix what appears to be a policy of political correctness, in which we missed every signal that related to [Fort Hood slayings suspect Maj. Nidal Malik] Hasan and promoted him in the military,” he said.

In another issue related to the administration’s perceived lack of interest in the war on terrorism, Mr. Holder also refused to rule out a New York City criminal trial for accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others connected to the plot.

The Obama administration had said a civilian trial would take place in New York. That follows through on Mr. Obama’s campaign promises to close the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his attacks against the Bush administration’s military tribunals.

But after strong criticism from New Yorkers, the Obama administration has since stepped back from that decision, which Mr. Holder said Sunday was not “being politicized at all.”

“This is a national security matter, and I think it’s appropriate for the president to be involved in that decision,” he said.

Mr. Holder continued: “We are working to see exactly where the trial will be held. Nothing is really off the table at this point. We’re going to come up with a place where these people can be brought to justice as quickly as we can, taking into consideration a variety of things that we have to consider.”

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