Senators from both parties praised the quick arrest of the Times Square car-bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad, but Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday also heard a lot of grumbling that Shahzad should never have been able to board a plane bound for Dubai.
“There’s a lot of concern out there about why the suspect was not apprehended until the jet has pulled away from the gate,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Holder during the appropriations hearing. “One really has to wonder: where was the failing here? What happened with this watch list? It makes you wonder whether or not there was a lapse in communication between the FBI and the TSA or the FBI and other law enforcement agencies working at the airport.”
“Talking to me about watch lists is like chalk on a blackboard,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, adding that airports and border stations should have been on “red alert” for Shahzad. “We’re really grouchy about the watch list and what happened…..The President of the United States was volcanic after the Christmas Day bombing and ordered significant reforms. Once again, the watch list seemed to be dysfunctional.”
Holder said all aspects of the operation were being examined and he noted that the Transportation Security Administration has already imposed new rules requiring airlines to update the lists more frequently.
“I’m never satisfied, even with an operation like this one, which I think we all have to understand was successful,” the attorney general said. “We have to always look at our failures, our successes, and figure out ways that on the next occasion we can be even better….if we were faced with a similar situation, I suspect that we would have detected him earlier than we did.”
FBI agents tracking Shahzad on Monday apparently lost him as he headed for JFK Airport in New York. There, he reportedly purchased a ticket with cash and managed to board an Emirates Airlines flight for Dubai. The plane’s door had been closed in preparation for departure before agents brought the jetway back and took Shahzad off the flight.
Mikulski indicated that Holder was not exactly the right person to address weaknesses in the watch list procedures, since the list is administered by the Department of Homeland Security based on data provided by an office under the Director of National Intelligence.
Holder also stressed that the questioning of the Shahzad before he was read his Miranda rights went far beyond the 50-minute interrogation of Christmas Day airplane bombing suspect Omar AbdulMutallab. The brevity of that questioning triggered sharp complaints from Republicans.
“The questioning under the public safety exception [to Miranda] far exceeded the amount of time that we had with Mr. AbdulMutallab,” Holder said. Questions asked, he said, can include: “Are you acting alone? Are there other bombs that we need to be worried about? Are there other people flying in who are going to be helping you?”
“We made extensive use of the public safety exception before the decision was made to give them their Miranda warnings,” Holder said, adding that “a very substantial amount of information” was obtained through the un-Mirandized questioning.