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Holder: Law Enforcement Has ‘Good Leads’ in Failed NYC Bombing Plot

May 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Law enforcement officials in New York have identified a "person of interest" and continue to search for other potential leads into Saturday's attempted bombing in Times Square. Jeffrey Brown talks to WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly for more on the foiled bombing plot.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Law enforcement office — officials — excuse me — combed through hundreds of hours of surveillance footage today, searching for leads into Saturday’s attempted Times Square bomb plot.

Police said they have identified and talked to the owner of the car that held the explosives, but that person is not considered a suspect. And they continue to seek a man captured on a security camera video walking away from the area after removing his outer shirt and looking back in the direction of the vehicle.

In Washington today, Attorney General Eric Holder said law enforcement officials had some good leads.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. attorney general: I think we have made really substantial progress. We can’t talk about all the things that we are doing. That would give an advantage to the people who we are pursuing. And I can assure the American people that this investigation is solid. It’s under way. It is being run with our partners in New York and with state and local partners around the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we get the latest now from Bob Hennelly, senior reporter for WNYC Public Radio.

Bob, start with the owner of the Nissan Pathfinder in question. How was he found? And is anything more known about him or how the car got to Times Square?

BOB HENNELLY, WNYC Radio: Well, how it got there is not clear, because, of course, we have not located the driver. But what is clear is that the NYPD was able to find the VIN number, which, most motorists know, is on the front dashboard and the windshield. That had been disguised, or — whether acid-burned, but it was only when it went back to the NYPD for forensic capability were they able to find the VIN number in the engine block and then roll it forward and have this conversation with this person who evidently sold this thing online without any kind of paperwork and isn’t really clear on the name of the person he sold it to.

So, that’s kind of like the pointed edge of where it’s going. Also, I might add that the license plate on the car was — on the SUV, the Nissan Pathfinder, its provenance came from a junkyard repair shop in Connecticut. And how that found its way with this SUV is really the critical point of this investigation.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the man in that video that we have all now seen is described as a person of interest, not necessarily a suspect, right?

BOB HENNELLY: And that’s very important. The NYPD and I think the federal officials were concerned today that the drive-by media pretty much used it as a suspect. And that really undermines the investigation, because the — this is the most wired part of America, outside of maybe the Capitol. So, there are many video images.

And, so, this could have been a person who was hot. It was warm that night. And so all we have is a subjective evaluation that there were furtive movements when he took the shirt off and walked south. So, that’s really not enough to go on. And you don’t want to in any way inhibit this person coming forward, because you can’t get on to the next lead.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the Washington Post today is reporting that some Obama administration officials are referring to international links in all this, although it’s very early in that as well.

Have you heard anything along those lines?

BOB HENNELLY: I think it’s very dangerous to use anonymous sourcing in this kind of thing right now. It’s very important for law enforcement to be disciplined, whether it be federal or state, and not, you know, try the case or lay it out.

You know, as they always say, let the paper do the talking, and let’s see what kind of suspects come forward.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s still — along those lines, of course, there’s still the usage of terrorists, of terrorism. Was it an act of terrorism? How sophisticated an effort was this? So, people are being very careful with what kind of language they use at this point.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, I think, whenever someone takes an SUV with propane, gasoline and M-88 fireworks, I think we can say there was a terroristic intent.

The — the really significant story was the miraculous work by local people here responding directly. Up here, we have a local wall where Vietnam veterans are permitted to be street vendors. It was these unsung heroes who pretty much alerted — it’s very Capraesque, actually — a mounted — a mounted policeman, and, along with two rookies, they cleared part of Times Square.

That’s somewhat miraculous. And so what we saw here was something working. And I think that needs emphasis, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what other kind of leads are being pursued at this point? One clearly would be the bomb materials themselves being sent to labs. Tell us what — tell us what you see going on at this point.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, certainly, one of the things is this large metal gun box that weighed 200 pounds when loaded, and then these eight bags of what looks like fertilizer that wasn’t, according to the experts, properly prepared to, you know, detonate.

And, then, also, you have a situation where, where did the propane tank come from? And, again, what was the social nexus, if you will, between that license plate that was evidently lifted, if you will, from this Connecticut junkyard and that SUV?

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, tell us — you referred to this earlier, but we’re — one thing we’re learning about here — it’s really interesting — is just all these video cameras in Times Square, the number of them, what they — what they can show us and what — what they do tell us and what they don’t tell us.

Tell us — tell us a little bit more about that.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, most — most people would be surprised to find out that they’re not monitored on a regular basis. So, in essence, they’re showing us the history of a place. They’re not showing us, if you will, preventive, looking ahead. They’re giving us what occurred.

So, there’s no one actually monitor it on a 24/7 basis. In some ways, it’s very analogous to what happened after 9/11. We realized we had invested all that money in technology to do all that signal intercept, if you will, and there it sat, mountains of that information, never analyzed.

Well, that’s the drudgery being done right now by both the federal and local officials, is going through that, to take the information they have now and apply it to the images that they’re seeing that were from that period of time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you know how long those cameras have been there? How long has this been going on?

BOB HENNELLY: Oh, well…

BOB HENNELLY: Well, let’s see. New York City has about 80-some-odd cameras, and there’s hundreds of others. And there’s also an initiative actually that Commissioner Kelly, Police Commissioner Kelly, wants to have to extend a Lower Manhattan initiative that is currently around the ground zero area that’s built and analogous to what’s in London, the ring of steel, if you will, to midtown.

So, there’s still hundreds of cameras that have to — and all this footage has to be evaluated.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Bob Hennelly, thanks so much for joining us.

BOB HENNELLY: Thanks.