Did the Bush administration move too quickly to stop a plan to bomb subway stations in Manhattan?
That's the gist of Al Baker and William Rashbaum's front-page Saturday report, "3 Held Overseas In Plan To Bomb Hudson Tunnels -- Path Lines Called Target -- Talks Were in Early Stage, F.B.I. Says -- Suspects Were Never in City."
"Authorities overseas have arrested one man and have taken two others into custody on suspicion of planning suicide bombings in train tunnels beneath the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey, officials said yesterday.
"Five other men are being sought in connection with the plan, which law enforcement authorities said presented a genuine threat even though it was in its earliest stages and no attack was imminent.
"The F.B.I. and New York City police officials have been aware of the group and its discussions for about a year, said Mark J. Mershon, the special agent in charge of the agency's New York office. Police presence at the tunnels in Manhattan that could have been targets has been increased in recent weeks in response to the investigation....The eight 'principal players' planning the attack, the authorities said, had secured no financing, had gathered no explosives and had not visited New York -- or even the United States -- to conduct surveillance."
Eric Lipton's Sunday follow-up was even stronger in emphasizing doubts and suggesting politicization on behalf of the Bush administration: "Recent Arrests in Terror Plots Yield Debate on Pre-emptive Action by Government."
"But the Miami and New York cases are inspiring a new round of skepticism from some lawyers who are openly questioning whether the government, in its zeal to stop terrorism, is forgetting an element central to any case: the actual intent to commit a crime.
"'Talk without any kind of an action means nothing,' said Martin R. Stolar, a New York defense lawyer. 'You start to criminalize people who are not really criminals.'"
Lipton doesn’t bother pointing out that Stolar is president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which in their own words "is dedicated to the need for basic and progressive change in the structure of our political and economic system." In other words, they’re far leftists.
After criticizing the Bush administration for years for failing to connect the terror dots, the Times again bizarrely turns around and suggests the administration moved too fast in this case.
"In the two most recent plots, the authorities have simultaneously warned that the suspects were contemplating horrific attacks -- blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago and setting off a bomb in a tunnel between New York and New Jersey -- but then added that as far as they knew, no one was close to actually making such a strike.
"In the Miami case, an F.B.I. official said at a recent hearing that the suspects apparently did not have written information on how to make explosives, details on the layout of the Sears Tower or any known link to a terrorist group.
"In New York, officials said Friday that none of the eight suspects believed to be planning the tunnel attack were in the United States, and that they apparently did not have bomb materials and had not completed reconnaissance work on their supposed target."
The Times dismisses the "modest evidence" of terror capability in some recent cases, as if the paper would prefer the government to wait until a threat is imminent before acting.
"Carl W. Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond in Virginia who tracks terrorism cases, said the modest evidence disclosed so far in some recent cases in relation to the ability of the suspects to deliver on their threats has caused him to wonder if politics might be a factor.
"'There is some kind of public relations gained by making Americans on the one hand feel concerned that the Sears Tower in Chicago or some tunnel in Manhattan is targeted yet on the other hand feel comforted that the government is on top of it,' he said."
"The questions posed about some of the terror-related arrests echo doubts raised when Tom Ridge was secretary of homeland security and the Bush administration half a dozen times raised the color-coded alert warning to orange, signaling a high risk of a terrorist attack, leading skeptics to suggest the up-and-down warning levels may have been driven in part by politics."
The Times itself has often made the same suggestion, especially during the 2004 campaign.
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