Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Shahzad, FBI Mystery Deepens

| Thu May 6, 2010 3:47 PM EDT

The mystery deepens. Yesterday I highlighted an intriguing paragraph buried in a New York Times piece on alleged Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. It described how George LaMonica, who purchased his Norwalk, Connecticut condo from Shahzad in 2004, had received a visit by investigators from the national Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) shortly after moving in. According to LaMonica, they questioned him about the transaction and about Shahzad. The JTTF is the same FBI-led interagency unit that caught Shahzad as he attempted to flee the country to Dubai on Monday—and, if the Times account is accurate, the implications could be significant. It suggests that Shahzad was on the radar of federal counterterrorism investigators at least six years before he parked his bomb-laden Pathfinder on West 45th Street. Recently, the intelligence and law enforcement communities have been criticized for possessing vital intelligence yet failing to put together the pieces when it came to Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. How long the FBI has been aware of Shahzad and what brought JTTF investigators to LaMonica's doorstep seems like a major unanswered question.

So I asked FBI spokesman Paul Bresson whether LaMonica's account was accurate and, if it was, why JTTF investigators had been asking questions about Shahzad back in 2004. Here's where things get strange. "We have no record of interviewing him," Bresson replied in an email.

That didn't mean it didn't happen, so I followed up:

Was Shahzad the subject of an earlier investigation that would have entailed visiting people like LaMonica? And is the FBI following up to confirm whether or not the JTTF did in fact interview LaMonica?

Bresson responded:

The answer is no to your first question. I would not comment on your second question.

What to make of this? I have a call and email in to LaMonica to see what he has to say. I'll update the post when I hear back.

UPDATE: LaMonica maintains that he was contacted by a detective for an FBI-led task force. More here.
 

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Shahzad: On Feds' Radar in 2004?

| Wed May 5, 2010 1:00 PM EDT

How long has Faisal Shahzad been on the radar of federal counterterrorism investigators? Read most press accounts and it sounds like the terrorism suspect, who's admitted to the failed Times Square bombing, never raised any red flags up until the day he parked a propane, fireworks, and fertilizer-laden Pathfinder on West 45th Street and fled the scene. For instance, as Time reported earlier, "…So far, the only indication that Shahzad had raised any suspicion among U.S. officials is the fact that he underwent secondary screening at the airport upon his return to the U.S. earlier this year."

But that may not be true. Shahzad, who lived in the US on and off since 1999, apparently drew the scrutiny of federal investigators long before the failed bombing that led to his dramatic arrest at Kennedy Airport. According to an intriguing paragraph buried deep in a New York Times story published Wednesday, members of the national Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), the same FBI-led interagency group whose agents hunted down and apprehended Shahzad on Monday, were keeping tabs on him as many as six years ago. The Times reported:

George LaMonica, a 35-year-old computer consultant, said he bought his two-bedroom condominium in Norwalk, Conn., from Mr. Shahzad for $261,000 in May 2004. A few weeks after he moved in, Mr. LaMonica said, investigators from the national Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed him, asking for details of the transaction and for information about Mr. Shahzad. It struck Mr. LaMonica as unusual, but he said detectives told him they were simply "checking everything out."

If the Times' account is correct, why did JTTF investigators zero in on Shahzad back then?

So far, the media attention has focused largely on the lapses that lead to Shahzad's near-escape—the fact that he eluded the federal agents who'd been surveilling him and was able to buy a plane ticket and board his flight even after his name had been added to the no-fly list. But a bigger question may be how long the feds had Shahzad in their sights and how he came to be there to begin with. The matter was addressed briefly at Wednesday's White House press briefing, when ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper asked Robert Gibbs about the passage in the Times story:

TAPPER: And do you have any response to reports that this individual Shahzad, Faisal Shahzad -- the Joint Terrorism Task Force did know about him, had been alerted about him years before? Is there any new information you have about it?

GIBBS:  Not that I'm aware of.  No, not that I'm aware of.  I have not seen that report.  Let me take a look at it and see where the best place is --  

I have a call into the FBI for comment. I'll update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE: Well, I heard back. Only the FBI's response deepened the mystery rather than solving it. You'll see what I mean.
 

Report: America's Worst Governors

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 10:07 AM EDT

Since 2005, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has compiled an annual list of Washington's most corrupt lawmakers, and this year it added a new group of elected officials to its hall of shame: the nation's governors. In its "Worst Governors" report, CREW highlights "the unethical and incompetent actions" of 11 state chief execs. Who made the cut? You know your guv did, South Carolina. Yours, too, New York. The full list, along with what CREW says landed them there, below the jump.

Afghan Police Training: "An Unbelievably Incompetent Story"

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

Handing out Sen. Claire McCaskill's prepared remarks Thursday afternoon as a hearing of her subcommittee on contracting oversight was about to get underway, the Missouri Democrat's press secretary warned reporters that her boss might go "off the cuff." Sure enough, after striding into the room and calling the session to order, McCaskill didn't bother consulting her notes. She stared straight ahead at the witnesses before her and launched into a freestyle assault on police training efforts in Afghanistan. "It is an unbelievably incompetent story of contracting," she said. "For 8 years we have been supposedly training the police in Afghanistan. And here's what we've done. We've flushed six billion dollars. Six billion dollars!"

If only she were exaggerating. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who has been in charge of training Afghanistan's security forces since November, informed Obama recently just how dire the situation is, according to a recent story co-published by Newsweek and ProPublica. "It's inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren't training the police," he told the president. "We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform." 

Gordon Heddell, the Pentagon's Inspector General, delivered a similar assessment to McCaskill's committee. "Just about everything that could go wrong here has gone wrong," he said, adding, "we have to start at the very beginning."

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