The arrest of a Saudi man for allegedly plotting to blow up the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush is being widely portrayed as a lucky break for the FBI.
Carolina Biological Supply called the FBI to report that Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year-old college student from Saudi Arabia, had tried to buy large quantities of concentrated phenol, which can be used to make a high explosive. The order was sent to a freight company, which called police in Lubbock, where Aldawsari lived, and the police also notified the FBI.
That sequence of events led many commentators to call the arrest a matter of “luck,” as former CIA officer Michael Scheuer put it on Fox News.
In fact, the arrest is a direct result of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s strategy after 9/11 of transforming the FBI from an agency that emphasizes prosecutions to one that focuses on stopping plots before they happen.
As part of that strategy, the FBI began working with chemical supply houses and shippers to develop profiles of items that should trigger suspicion and a call to the FBI. The FBI refers to these red flags as trip wires.
In addition, the FBI changed the paradigm for investigating such suspicious purchases. For my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack,” Arthur M. “Art” Cummings II, who headed FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations, gave an example of the change in approach.
When the FBI investigated a report of a man buying chemicals that could be used for explosives, it could have dismissed the purchases as innocent because the man was buying the supplies from a swimming pool company, and his business shipped pool supplies.
“That explanation wasn’t good enough,” Cummings says. “It’s not OK to say, it looks like pool supplies, we’re done. You don’t finish there. Who at the pool company, specifically, did he buy them from? What specifically was the transaction, and what happened from there? Is it a friend, is it an associate, is it somebody who wants to do us harm? There was a day we would have said, ‘It’s a commercial transaction, don’t worry about it.’”
Now, Cummings, says, “Each and every lead is followed all the way down to the most minute detail.”
Before 9/11, “It’s unlikely the Aldawsari arrest would have happened,” Cummings tells me.
Besides pinging in on trip wires, the bureau changed the paradigm for declaring that a lead or tip was not valid. Now if a lead turns out to be useless, the FBI concludes that “information has been developed to indicate they’re not a threat, as opposed to we couldn’t verify the information,” Cummings says.
In two covert entries of Aldawsari’s Lubbock apartment, agents found a hazmat suit, chemicals for making explosives, and bomb-making paraphernalia. In his journal, the team found this entry: “And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad.”
The journal said he obtained a scholarship and came to the U.S. with the intention of carrying out jihad.
The subject line of one e-mail message Aldawsari allegedly sent to himself said “Tyrant’s House” and included Bush’s Dallas address. Other e-mails listed “nice targets,” including reservoir dams, nuclear power plants, and hydroelectric plants.
The FBI’s success in rolling up plots before they kill tens of thousands will never be acknowledged by The New York Times and other liberal media.
The Washington Post, which has become fair and balanced under new publisher Katharine Weymouth and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, played the story of the Aldawsari arrest as the second lead. But the New York Times ran the story on page A16.
That is part of a pattern. Back in June 2007, when the FBI foiled a plot to blow up fuel tanks, terminal buildings, and the web of fuel lines running beneath John F. Kennedy International Airport, the New York Times buried the story on page A37 of its final edition.
Despite the efforts of some news outlets to deny the FBI credit and minimize the terrorist threat, the FBI is doing a remarkable job of protecting Americans.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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