The criminal complaint in the case of Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square car bomber, has been unsealed. Law enforcement has done a very thorough job here detailing Shahzad’s movements, his obtaining the SUV and the fertilizer to create the makeshift bomb, etc. They also get a confession:

On May 3, 2010, FAISAL SHAHZAD, the defendant, was arrested at the Airport as he attempted to leave the United States by means of a commercial flight to Dubai. After his arrest, SHAHZAD stated that he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, SHAHZAD admitted that he had brought the Pathfinder to Times Square — and attempted there to detonate it.

A few things are interesting here. First, if the suspect hadn’t be Mirandized, his own confession would be inadmissible as evidence. Second, despite the very thorough and quick arrest, Shahzad almost slipped past everybody. He got on the no-fly list just minutes before his plane was to depart for Dubai, and officials recalled the flight before it took off. However, Customs and Border Patrol officers knew of Shahzad’s intentions to leave the country and were dispatched to the airport to intercept him. No planes were leaving that night without being sure Shahzad wasn’t a passenger.

Shahzad is a naturalized US citizen who traveled often to Pakistan, holding passports from both that country and the US. On a somewhat more unexpected note, Shahzad just defaulted on his home and faced foreclosure. Obviously you cannot speculate how that played into his mental state or if it led him to extremism, but it does make for a comprehensive story taking in terrorism and the financial crisis, if you like. Don DeLillo will probably have a book on this soon.

Once again, I’d like to point out that Shahzad didn’t know what he was doing as far as bomb-making. That won’t help him in court, but it should allay some of the more irresponsible fearmongering sure to result from this episode. The second point to make is that this incident was a textbook example of how to properly respond to a potential threat and neutralize it, from a law enforcement standpoint. Jack Cloonan, a 30-year veteran of the New York Field Office of the FBI, had this to say about the Shahzad arrest:

“The arrest of Faisal Shahzad was the culmination of good, old-fashioned police work. Mr. Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen, not an enemy combatant picked up on the battlefield. As such, he was first questioned by FBI agents and New York City detectives under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. After agreeing to answer questions, Shahzad was placed in a custodial situation and then read his Miranda rights. According to reports, Shahzad is cooperating and providing valuable information concerning the plot to detonate a bomb in Times Square. Reading Shahzad his Miranda rights in no way impeded the continuing investigation. And, approaching Shahzad in the manner described was effective, lawful and will stand up to scrutiny in a court of law. Shahzad was after all an American citizen and he will have his day in court. Due process in my view has been vindicated and this case illustrates how following the rule of law does not put U.S. citizens at risk or weaken our national security.”

Exactly. We can respond to and prevent terrorist actions, acquire solid intelligence and protect Americans from harm without engaging in the deprivation of civil liberties or experimenting with unnecessary wars. Hopefully, that’s the lesson from this episode. After all, the continuing conflict in Afghanistan did nothing to protect the country from a man who studied there trying to kill Americans. Police work did.

David Dayen

David Dayen