Thursday, May 13, 2010

Top members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have called for “new defenses” in the wake of the Times Square bombing attempt that would tighten the screening and tracking of travelers and money flowing between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“We are facing a new kind of attacker,” one that is “already here, hiding in plain sight,” said committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.

Mrs. Feinstein and other members of the panel were briefed in private Tuesday by intelligence and law enforcement officials on the investigation into Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad and how similar cases could be prevented.

Mr. Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who returned from a visit to his homeland in February, is accused of abandoning a bomb-laden sport utility vehicle in New York’s Times Square on May 1. The homemade bomb malfunctioned, and Mr. Shahzad was captured two days later while trying to fly out of the country.

Mrs. Feinstein and her Republican counterpart, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, agreed that Mr. Shahzad had some sort of connection to the Pakistani Taliban.

But Mr. Bond said investigators failed to prove to his satisfaction that the group funded the attack and sent Mr. Shahzad on the mission, as administration officials asserted in television interviews Sunday.

“I am not convinced that there was adequate, confirmable intelligence to confirm the statements that were made on Sunday television shows,” Mr. Bond said.

He added that prematurely blaming the Pakistani Taliban instead of casting a wide net for guilty parties could misdirect U.S. resources on the ground, which he likened to a policy of “Fire, ready, aim.”

Mrs. Feinstein said, “We know he received explosives training in Waziristan” in northwestern Pakistan, and she thought there was a high likelihood that he did have training by the Pakistani Taliban.

Investigators told the senators in the top-secret session that nothing in Mr. Shahzad’s background might have tipped them off. “Shahzad was almost completely under the radar,” Mrs. Feinstein said.

The senators had feared there was a replay of the Christmas Day bombing attempt of a Detroit-bound airliner, where, as Mrs. Feinstein put it, “there was a significant amount of intelligence that wasn’t tracked” that may have helped catch bombing suspect Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian.

Not so with Mr. Shahzad, she said.

Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Bond called for greater tracking of travelers who move between Pakistan and the U.S. every year.

Roughly 180,000 people travel from the U.S. to Pakistan every year, and presumably return, and about 160,000 people travel from Pakistan to the U.S. annually. The senators also said they want better tracking of the flow of cash between the two countries.

“We don’t want to harass people unnecessarily, but there are things we should look at, like how money is transferred,” Mrs. Feinstein said. “Bottom line is we have to follow the money. We have to find better ways of doing that.”

Mrs. Feinstein also called for sending the no-fly list to airlines every 30 minutes, more frequently than the Obama administration’s plan to update airlines every two hours.

Mr. Shahzad nearly escaped the U.S. on an Emirates airliner bound for Dubai. Although his name had been posted to the no-fly list hours earlier, the airline had been working off an hours-old version of the list.

Mr. Bond and Mrs. Feinstein expressed frustration that the Justice Department instructed intelligence agencies to wait until Tuesday to share details of the investigation with their committee. “I have been kept completely in the dark,” Mr. Bond said.

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