TOPICS > Politics

In Pakistan, Shahzad’s Claim of Training in Waziristan Investigated

May 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Following the arrest of a man accused of trying to detonate a bomb in New York City's Times Square, Jeffrey Brown explores Faisal Shahzad's ties to Pakistan and the the U.S. security implications with Declan Walsh, a correspondent for The Guardian, in Karachi, and Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the National Security Council.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Now to more on the Pakistan angle on this story. Earlier today, I talked with Declan Walsh, a correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian. He’s in Karachi.

Declan Walsh, thanks for joining us.

It has become clear in the last day that Faisal Shahzad actually comes from a well-off background in Pakistan. Tell us what is known about him and his family. ~

DECLAN WALSH, The Guardian: Well, yes. Indeed, that’s one of the more unusual aspects of this case.

Faisal Shahzad comes from a family of privilege and a family of some prestige here in Pakistan. His father was a fighter pilot who rose through the ranks of the air force to become a serving three-star general. And his uncle was the commander of the Frontier Corps, which is the force that, ironically, fights the Taliban in the tribal areas along the border. So, this is a very unusual set of circumstances, for a young man from this type of background to be involved in terrorist activity, either here in Pakistan and certainly in the U.S.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, several people there have been arrested. What can you tell us about them?

DECLAN WALSH: These are all people who are, in various ways, connected to Faisal Shahzad.

One is reportedly his father-in-law. Others are people with whom he has been in e-mail contact before he travelled to Pakistan last summer. And one is a man who was picked up from a mosque related with an extremist sectarian group here in Karachi yesterday.

That man’s name is Mohammed Rehan. And, according to reports, he travelled with Faisal Shahzad across Pakistan towards the tribal belt last year. And we don’t have any information about what they’re saying, simply because they were not picked up, if you like, by the police, but they are in the custody of the intelligence agencies.

So, there has been very little information leaking out, either about their whereabouts or what they’re saying.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do authorities there have any idea how Shahzad became radicalized? What leads are they pursuing?

DECLAN WALSH: No, that’s really, in a sense, the big question hanging over this investigation at the moment.

JEFFREY BROWN: Shahzad has claimed to have received training in Waziristan. Have investigators looked into that anymore? Is there any reason to accept or doubt his claim at the moment?

DECLAN WALSH: Well, as we understand it, this is a~ claim that he himself made very early on in his interrogation, after he was arrested last Monday.

It has — it has cast new light on claims by the Pakistani Taliban, who are also based in Waziristan, that they are somehow involved in manipulating this attempted attack by Faisal Shahzad. But we don’t have any hard information at this stage to either corroborate what he is saying or to refute it.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the Pakistani military is casting doubts on claims of Taliban involvement in this, right? What is that based on?

DECLAN WALSH: It is based on history, really. And the Pakistani Taliban have a history of making false claims in relation to attacks in America.

Just over one year ago, when there was a gun attack in Upstate New York in Albany, the then Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, claimed that he was responsible. It subsequently turned out that that attack was carried out by a Vietnamese immigrant who had no ties to militancy.

So, there certainly is some doubt over their bona fides. But since Faisal Shahzad has made this claim that he was trained in Waziristan, that has caused the authorities to examine the claim with more seriousness this time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, you mentioned both Pakistani and U.S. authorities are working on this. How seriously is this being taken over there, and does there seem to be cooperation on the investigation?

DECLAN WALSH: I think this is being taken with great seriousness here in Pakistan, if for no other reason that than the government realizes what a problem for the country’s image this association is going to create, both from the president, Asif Ali Zardari, down to the interior minister and the foreign minister.

All have made very strong and unequivocal statements that they’re going to cooperate with the U.S. And, as we understand it, U.S. and Pakistani investigators are jointly interrogating some of the people who have been taken into custody already.

JEFFREY BROWN: Declan Walsh in Karachi, thanks for joining us.

DECLAN WALSH: My pleasure.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, late this afternoon, I spoke with a top American official, Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the National Security Council, from the White House Briefing Room.

Denis McDonough, welcome.

Let me start with the Pakistan connection. Do you now believe that Faisal Shahzad had ties to the Pakistani Taliban, or was he acting alone?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, chief of staff, National Security Council: Thanks a lot for the opportunity to be with you.

The bottom line is. As the attorney general said yesterday, and, frankly, as our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have been working since Saturday night, we’re going to trace — chase all leads here and make sure that we have the firmest understanding of why he did this, where he learned and trained about how to do these kinds of things, and what it tells us about what others might be trying to do similar to what he has done here.

So, I’m not willing to lay any conclusions down now. But I am willing to say this: We’re going to follow this intelligence where it leads. We’re getting good intelligence, and we’re going to use that intelligence to keep the American people safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, there are numerous questions today about whether authorities have essentially, for a while, lost Mr. Shahzad, how he was allowed to get on a plane. And now there is changing the no — the no-fly rules here.

Did the system work?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Here is what I know.

We had an individual who, 53 hours hence — prior — had tried to kill and maim thousands of Americans in Times Square. As a result of excellent coordinated intelligence and law enforcement work, our FBI, NYPD, Customs and Border Patrol, and others apprehended him on a plane at Kennedy Airport in New York.

We have a system that is built with layers and redundancy. In this instance, that redundancy was very important. You had a foreign carrier that had not updated against the no-fly list. So, dedicated professionals, heroes, in fact, at Customs and Border Patrol and at our watch list agencies recognized that fact, stopped the plane, and got the — the alleged terrorist.

So, in this instance, we have a situation where a guy, literally, just two-and-a-half days early tried to kill — earlier — tried to kill thousands of Americans. And, as a result now, he is sitting where he belongs.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the system did have to be tightened today.~ The no-fly rules were changed today just to deal with that. So…

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Oh, you know what? We’re a very nimble operation here. We’re, again, operating against a terrorist adversary that has to be right one of any number of times. We have to be right all of the time.

So, what we’re going to do is, we’re going to get the best intelligence. We’re going to learn lessons from every one of these efforts and every one of these operations, and we’re going to fine-tune the system.

So, today, Transportation Security Administration, TSA, has tightened up the watch listing system. But let’s remember this. The fact of the matter is, because of the redundancy built into the system, the fact that we’re not going to rely on airline carriers to ensure that these people don’t get on no-fly lists, we had other individuals identify the problem and stop this — stop this alleged terrorist.

So, bottom line is that we’re going to get better at this each time. We have to. We have to be nimble. We have to be tough on this. And we’re going to continue to do just that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me go what it is you’re up against. In this case, a well-off Pakistani, we now learn, comes to this country, gets an education, has a job, is able to go back~ and forth between Pakistan and the U.S. How do you guard against that?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Well, we guard against it in the first instance by continuing to do the fine work that several of our intelligence, law enforcement and others did over of the course of the last several days.

But the other thing is, we want to make sure that we stand for what — what it is that we believe in. You have individuals here, isolated as they are, who somehow believe that they can get notoriety or — or fame somehow because of these — these extremist acts. The fact of the matter is, the United States is a symbol of great hope the worldwide.

You have individuals all the time from Pakistan, from Mexico, from countries all around the world getting great opportunity and new opportunities here. That’s exactly what we’re going to highlight. And, at the end of the day, hope trumps fear every time.

JEFFREY BROWN: But some people have talked about the new face of terrorism. Do you have to recalibrate the counterterrorism effort against — less against organizations and more at individuals like this who might have loose links, who might have training, who might have some support, but are not really affiliated with organizations, and, therefore, slip notice?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: We are, in fact, recalibrating the system all the time.

We have intelligence, law enforcement, military experts who are drawing on the best information, the best intelligence, the best training, learning from each of these — each of these efforts, and getting better, frankly.

I think, over the course of the last several months, you have seen something interesting. You have seen the al-Qaida senior leadership in Pakistan pinned down quite aggressively as a result of our coordination with our Pakistani friends.

As a result, they’re trying to use out of Yemen, a story that you have reported very aggressively on this show, trying to use Yemen and extremists there to attack us. So, we know that the adversaries are going to try different — different efforts and different options.

But the fact of the matter is, we’re going to remain nimble, remain ahead of them, and draw on all the great strengths of this country. Consider this. In Times Square, you had vendors who recognized a situation was not right. You had them working with local cops on the beat.

All of these people, incidentally, the president spoke with over the last couple days. That’s a system that, from American citizens on the street, right up to our most sensitive and sophisticated intelligence experts, is working hand in glove. And I think that’s — that is, at any rate, a very — a recipe for great success.

JEFFREY BROWN: But do citizens — at the same time, do you tell them we need to be prepared for more attempts like this? There has been a lot of talk about — car bombs, for example, have been used in many parts of the world, less so here. Is there a chance of more of those now?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Well, look, I think that we have to recognize that — that the extremists will stop at nothing to — to ply their trade. That is why it is so impressive what the vendors and what the local police did in this instance.

But the bottom line is that the United States is a symbol of great hope, of great opportunity, and there is no reason that, any day of the week, we have to give into the fear or the — the terror that these isolated extremists peddle.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, bottom line here, this was an inept attempt, unsophisticated. Is that a comfort? Do you take comfort from that fact, or is that cold comfort?

DENIS MCDONOUGH: No, I think that it is cold comfort.

The bottom line is, what I take — what I take comfort in, in this instance is the great work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals from New York City, down here into the nation’s capital, and then all around the world.

And the fact of the matter is this. We’re going to draw additional information from this case, from this individual, and we will use that in other instances to make sure that we are understanding what the adversary is up to and stopping them before they can undertake it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Denis McDonough of the National Security Council, thanks so much.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Thanks for having me.