Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gary Schmitt Counterterrorism in America and the Jose Pimentel case

This past Sunday, New York City’s Police Department arrested 27-year-old Jose Pimentel on state charges of plotting a bomb attack. According to the NYPD and the prosecuting Manhattan district attorney, Pimentel maintained a jihadist website, published materials on how to make bombs, tried to reach out to Anwar al-Awlaki (the American-Yemini terrorist leader whom the United States recently killed with a drone strike), talked about killing American marines and soldiers and bombing sites around New York, and was nearing completion of making at least three pipe bombs.
Over the past few days, a number of stories, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times to the New York Daily News, have run in the press “explaining” why federal prosecutors and the FBI declined to take over the case, including doubts about the NYPD’s use of a particular confidential informant and, according to one official, “The FBI also had doubts over whether Pimentel would be capable of carrying out a terror plot on his own, because they believed he had mental problems.”
I suppose it’s inevitable that the press would ask why the feds had not taken the case on given the high priority of countering terrorism these days. But that said, it seems to be extremely bad form for the Bureau to be dumping on the case after the arrest, especially since the FBI is always touting how state and local police have to be their eyes and ears on the streets. Plus, on its face, New York authorities had every reason to arrest Pimentel. The fact that he might have had mental problems or the confidential informant is not clean as a whistle would have been cold comfort if one of those pipe bombs had gone off in a crowded post office this holiday season.

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