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Terror Alerts & Recent Arrests: Case Blown by NYPD?

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By Caleb Groos on September 23, 2009 3:21 PM

Since Friday, federal officials have issued a flurry of bulletins to law enforcement officials around the country warning that major targets such as sports stadiums and transit systems could be attacked. Last weekend also saw the arrest of three men for allegedly lying to FBI officials investigating a purported terror plot. It appears as if the FBI's investigation was blown prematurely. If so, this could be why the threat level has been raised everywhere without specific information about any particular targets.

The USA Today reports that from Friday to Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI have notified police departments across country that entertainment complexes, hotels, sports staduims and transit systems could be targetted for terrorist attacks. While thousands of such bulletins have gone out since 9/11, the recent notices affect the widest array of potential targets since President Obama took office.

Why are the warnings so vague? According to Gerald Posner's reporting for the Daily Beast, it may be because the New York Police Department (NYPD) botched a year long federal investigation before it could run its course and lead to specific information and possibly other suspects.

As widely reported, last weekend's three terror related arrests involved one younger Afghan born man, Najibullah Zazi, his father Mohammed Zazi and his imam, all legal residents in the US.

Though prosecutors allege that Najibullah Zazi had bomb making notes on his computer from training he allegedly received in Pakistan, none of these men were charged with plotting terrorist acts. They were charged with lying to the FBI. [Najibullah Zazi has subsequently been charged with conspiracy to use one or more weapons of mass destruction.]

The flurry of activity appears to have come after NYPD investigators, without coordination with the feds, questioned the young Zazi's imam, Masjid-al-Saaliheen. Subsequently, al-Saaliheen allegedly tipped off Zazi and his father that investigators were inquiring about them.

The Daily Beast cites unnamed FBI officials stating that the feds were furious that NYPD detectives spoke with al-Saaliheen. They say it blew a year long investigation that may have led to specific threat information, as well as to larger parts of any networks with which Najibullah Zazi may have worked. The investigation was relatively unique because it involved a person the feds believe to have received explosives training from al-Qaeda and who could operate freely in the US as a legal resident.

As explained by Posner, the tactics of terrorism investigations have changed since the early days after 9/11. Instead of pouncing on all suspects, federal investigators now seek to run longer term probes, in search of more important and more specific information.

After this case was compromised, one FBI agent told Posner that the feds had to "jump and collect what we could."

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