Did the FBI Arrest The Terror Suspects Too Soon?

Pundits raise concerns that the Afghan men accused of plotting attacks may have been part of a larger cell that's still operational

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The arrest of three Afghan men suspected of plotting what could have been the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 has prompted concern that they may have been taken into custody too soon. Could a larger conspiracy have been uncovered? And is the evidence marshaled against the men--scanned PDF's of bomb-making charts, an admission of al Qaeda contacts--sufficient to convict?

A number of analysts think the details of the arrests indicate that authorities moved prematurely, and they wonder if this episode will prove to be the latest in a series of botched prosecutions against suspected terrorists.

  • FBI Wanted to Snare a Larger Terror Cell, writes Gerald Posner at the Daily Beast. Posner interviewed agents and found that many were furious at two NYPD detectives who tipped off the suspects, ruining "the chance to see how al Qaeda planned its first post-9/11 U.S. attack, from support personnel to financing."
  • This Is Why We Need a Domestic Spy Force, suggests Andy McCarthy at National Review. McCarthy speculates that the the NYPD blew the FBI's case against the suspects by interviewing a local imam, who then alerted the men and thereby forced the arrests. He cites as proof that the worst charge they could justify was lying during interrogation. He suggests that he "hopes" this scenario "isn't what happened, but, sad to say, I would not be surprised if it did. And if it did, expect a renewed debate over whether we need a British style MI-5 because, critics have long contended, our law-enforcement agencies are not competent to do effective spying."
  • U.S. Has a History of Blowing Terror Cases, says Ron Scherer at the Christian Science Monitor. Scherer gives a brief history of terror arrests and suggests that the U.S. has had less success than Britain due to a tendency to rush in too early: "For example," he writes, "in May of this year, the New York Police Department arrested four men - three of them Muslim converts, according to the Associated Press - as they allegedly tried to plant a bomb at a synagogue in the Bronx. The supposed bomb was actually an FBI-altered device, and the men's defense attorneys are claiming entrapment." The British, by contrast, "have been willing to let plots more fully develop before moving against suspects."

Yet the suspects may have hurt their own case by hiring a lawyer unfamiliar with terror prosecutions. Jeralyn at TalkLeft, a valuable source of legal analysis on the arrests, explains:

Folsom [a suspect's lawyer] is not a federal criminal defense lawyer and he has no experience in terrorism cases. He chose a strategy for his client that has had profoundly negative consequences. Without knowing a shred of evidence the feds had compiled against his client, or even whether his 24 year old client whom he met a day earlier was telling him the truth, he trotted him down to the feds and in front of the media... I hope it's not too late for whoever succeeds him to repair some of the damage.
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