Obama administration reverses itself on Times Square bombing conspiracy

The Washington Post calls Eric Holder’s admission that the Pakistani Taliban plotted the Times Square bombing a “sharp escalation,” but it’s more like a U-turn.  Initially, as the Post notes, the White House tried claiming that Faisal Shahzad had acted alone and that the Taliban claim of responsibility was hogwash.  That U-turn hasn’t kept the White House from pushing its other favored response, that the system supposedly worked:

Senior Obama administration officials on Sunday blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attempted car bombing in Times Square, saying in the most definitive terms to date that the militant group was responsible for planning and financing the botched attack.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said investigators had “developed evidence that shows the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” a sharp escalation from the initial assessment that Faisal Shahzad had acted alone and without sophisticated training. Holder’s remarks, coupled with similar statements by other senior U.S. officials over the weekend, highlighted the emerging role of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group that appears to have only recently moved to follow through on its ambition, expressed for years, of striking inside the United States. …

John O. Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser at the White House, said the administration is “taking very seriously” the threat posed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, calling it a “very determined enemy.” But Brennan suggested the many errors in the execution of the Times Square plot on May 1 also illustrate that the administration’s existing counterterrorism strategy — which hinges on striking targets abroad using Predator drone aircraft — is working.

“Because of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas, preventing them from carrying out these attacks, they are now relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training,” Brennan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In the first place, an “escalation” is an increase in direction or scope.  That’s not what Holder did yesterday.   He and the Obama administration changed directions, thanks to an avalanche of evidence that Shahzad had traveled to Pakistan for five months, trained with the Taliban, and suddenly had a lot of cash to spend on his return in February.  The White House wanted to spin the attack right away as one conducted by a one-off lone wolf, which would not prompt the kind of questions the Obama administration wants to avoid at the moment.

That brings us to Brennan’s laughable statement, that the system worked because Shahzad’s an idiot.  That’s not exactly the full expectation of counterterrorism.  We have had three attacks now in six months, two of which failed only because of dumb luck and poor design.  The goal of counterterrorism is to stop plots before they get to the point of exploding in mid-air or Times Square.  It’s nice to be lucky, but it’s better to be good, and eventually our luck will run out.  The next time the Taliban park a car in Manhattan, we might be unlucky, so instead of patting ourselves on the back over Shahzad’s incompetence, maybe we need to focus on stopping the next Shahzad before he parks that car.

And maybe our national news media can actually report on the facts rather than spinning for the administration, too.

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