CBS Highlights New York Terror Plot, Downplayed Similar Plots Under Bush

Maggie Rodriguez and Juan Zarate, CBS At the top of Thursday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez reported breaking news of a terror plot in New York foiled by the FBI: "The FBI busts a home-grown terror plot, arresting four men who planned to bomb synagogues and shoot down aircraft." Later, Rodriguez spoke with terrorism expert and former Bush aide, Juan Zarate, about the failed attack: "There's no question these guys were serious. When they were captured they were planting what they thought were three real bombs inside cars. My question is, how common is this? Are these guys just the minority? Or is this type of thing rampant?"

Zarate responded by specifically citing similar domestic terror plots that were prevented under the Bush administration: "I don't think this is unusual. The FBI has taken down other cells like this in the past. Recall the Fort Dix plot in New Jersey, recall a plot in Chicago to go after malls and civilians walking around malls. So we've seen this kind of home-grown terrorist cell and activity before." In May of 2007, the CBS Evening News actually downplayed the arrest of six suspects in the Fort Dix case, with correspondent Armen Keteyian declaring: "...more than 400,000 names have come under one form of government surveillance or another -- from watch lists to wiretaps. But only a handful of terrorists have been convicted in cases with concrete ties to al-Qaeda."

Keteyian went on to cite a report by the NYU Center on Law and Security that claimed: "..of the 550 terrorism cases since 9/11, only 163 individuals have been prosecuted on terrorism charges, 387 were charged with lesser crimes like fraud and immigration violations." He then featured a quote from the center’s Karen Greenburg, who argued: "The conclusion would be that we've made a lot of hoopla about a number of cases on the grounds of terrorism at the beginning, and they haven't panned out to be terrorism cases."

Meanwhile, during Thursday’s report, Rodriguez went on to stress the seriousness of the most recent plot, asking Zarate: "We know that they had been working with an FBI informant for quite awhile. And they purchased inactive missiles and inert C-4 explosives from them. I wonder where they got the money. Who's funding these things?...Would you say that home-grown terrorists are a bigger threat now to us than foreign terrorists?" The only explanation for the dramatic change in tone between the 2007 Evening News story and Thursday’s Early Show report seems to be a change in presidents.

Rodriguez concluded her discussion with Zarate by wondering: "And finally, Juan, how difficult is it to protect the American people from this type of threat? What kind of massive resources does it take?" Zarate explained: "Well, intense resources. You have here the FBI doing incredibly good work, I think, as well as NYPD. There's, you know, 24/7 coverage on these kinds of cases...Thankfully, the FBI's been doing a great job, and I think they've built a good track record."

Here is the full transcript of the Thursday Early Show segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Breaking news. The FBI busts a home-grown terror plot, arresting four men who planned to bomb synagogues and shoot down aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They had bags set up they believed to be bombs, carrying about 30 pounds of explosives.

7:00AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First that home-grown terror plot. Four men will be in court in New York today to face charges in an alleged plot to set off bombs and shoot down military planes with guided missiles. CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston is outside one of those targets in Riverdale, New York.

RANDALL PINKSTON: Anger, revenge, rage, among the possible motives, according to federal authorities, of a terror plot which targeted Jewish Americans and the U.S. military. The alleged ring leader's parents are from Afghanistan. He says he was angry about U.S. military actions there and intent on doing something to America. The four men thought they were armed and dangerous. Late Wednesday night, the group drove to Riverdale, New York, just north of Manhattan, where an FBI informant had parked cars in front of two synagogues, about one block apart. The men put what they believed to be bags of plastic explosives, C-4, a total of 30 pounds, into the cars. But when they returned to their SUV, officers rushed the vehicle, smashed the windows and made the arrest.

RAY KELLY: The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians. They were totally inert.

PINKSTON: A top FBI official told CBS News the remainder of the plan was to drive 60 miles north to Newburgh, New York, and detonate the bombs by remote control from there. And then shoot down military planes flying out of Stewart Air National Guard Base. For that the men had a surface-to-air missile, similar to the one seen here. Again, supplied by the FBI, again, a worthless weapon. Their motive, reportedly two-part. One, anger over the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and anti-Semitism. The four reportedly expressed what the FBI called 'a strong distaste for Jewish people.' The suspects are due in federal court in White Plains, New York, later today. The first step towards a trial which could lead to a conviction and a sentence of life in prison. Randall Pinkston, CBS News, New York.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Joining us now to talk more about this is CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate, who served as a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN ZARATE: Good morning, Maggie. How are you?

RODRIGUEZ: Good, thank you. There's no question these guys were serious. When they were captured they were planting what they thought were three real bombs inside cars. My question is, how common is this? Are these guys just the minority? Or is this type of thing rampant?

ZARATE: Well, I don't think we could call it common. But I don't think this is unusual. The FBI has taken down other cells like this in the past. Recall the Fort Dix plot in New Jersey, recall a plot in Chicago to go after malls and civilians walking around malls. So we've seen this kind of home-grown terrorist cell and activity before. The good news is the FBI has, in all these cases, infiltrated early and been on top of the case.

RODRIGUEZ: We know that they had been working with an FBI informant for quite awhile. And they purchased inactive missiles and inert C-4 explosives from them. I wonder where they got the money. Who's funding these things?

ZARATE: Well, in some cases, it doesn't take a lot of money to fund this. They probably have engaged not only with their jobs, but they may have been engaged in some other criminal activity that we may not yet be aware of. It does not appear yet, though, that there are any ties to international terrorist groups or outside funders. So that's the good news. The bad news is these guys were home-grown Americans living among us, and they plotted some pretty serious things.

RODRIGUEZ: Would you say that home-grown terrorists are a bigger threat now to us than foreign terrorists?

ZARATE: I don't think -- it's hard to compare. I think both need to be -- we need to be wary of. I think the foreign terrorist threat is possibly more serious, in that Al Qaeda has cataclysmic attacks in mind. They talk about weapons of mass destruction. They talk about other things that they want to do here in the homeland. The problem is Al Qaeda has trouble getting into the country. And what you see with these home-grown threats is we have people living among us who are angry, who have motivation, and who are clearly plotting against U.S. interests.

RODRIGUEZ: And finally, Juan, how difficult is it to protect the American people from this type of threat? What kind of massive resources does it take?

ZARATE: Well, intense resources. You have here the FBI doing incredibly good work, I think, as well as NYPD. There's, you know, 24/7 coverage on these kinds of cases. This is a case that was worked for about a year. And so there's a lot of intense attention to this. And this is just one cell of many. The FBI is worried about all sorts of things around the country. Somali Americans in Minneapolis who've disappeared and who may have gone to east Africa and other things. And so, it's work intensive. Thankfully, the FBI's been doing a great job, and I think they've built a good track record.

RODRIGUEZ: Juan Zarate. Thank you, Juan.

ZARATE: Thank you Maggie.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC