From The New Yorker
Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad’s profile—especially a U.S. citizen—turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack—without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a “freebie,” the former officer said—if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.
Whatever the narrative behind Shahzad’s case turns out to be, we can take solace that we will hear it in a court of law. Amidst the country’s often self-defeating search for a justice system to address terrorism, his is not a particularly hard case—a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil for a crime against Americans carried out in New York. We can nonetheless look forward to “The Daily Show” clips showing cable television anchors railing about the Obama Administration’s failure to recognize him as a warrior. Fortunately, like one of those Eleven O’clock News bank robbers who tries to rob an A.T.M., only to topple it over on himself, Shahzad’s case may help to illuminate a truth larger than himself: Terrorists are criminals, and the great majority of criminals are prosaic.