Holder: Zazi's plot "one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001"

And all resolved using civilian law enforcement. From the DOJ press release:

The Justice Department announced that Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York to a three-count superseding information charging him with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction (explosive bombs) against persons or property in the United States, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and providing material support to al-Qaeda. Among other things, Zazi admitted that he brought TATP [Triacetone Triperoxide] explosives to New York on Sept. 10, 2009, as part of plan to attack the New York subway system.

Zazi, 25, a resident of Aurora, Colo., and legal permanent resident of the United States from Afghanistan, entered his guilty plea today before Chief U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie. Zazi faces a maximum statutory sentence of life in prison for the first two counts of the superseding information and an additional 15 years in prison for the third count of the superseding information.


As Zazi admitted during today’s guilty plea allocution and as reflected in previous government filings, he and others agreed to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and fight against United States and allied forces. In furtherance of their plans, they flew from Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., to Peshawar, Pakistan at the end of August 2008. Although Zazi and others initially intended to fight on behalf of the Taliban, they were recruited by al-Qaeda shortly after arriving in Peshawar. Al-Qaeda personnel transported Zazi and others to the Waziristan region of Pakistan and trained them on several different kinds of weapons. During the training, al-Qaeda leaders asked Zazi and others to return to the United States and conduct suicide operations. They agreed.


“This was one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001, and were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it could have been devastating,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This attempted attack on our homeland was real, it was in motion, and it would have been deadly. We were able to thwart this plot because of careful analysis by our intelligence agents and prompt actions by law enforcement. They deserve our thanks and praise.”

Note how the superseding information includes conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country (but not such a conspiracy here in the US). I guess that’s a signal that from this plea deal DOJ expects to get a lot more on the people in Pakistan Zazi was working with.

  1. Hmmm says:

    Makes ya wonder whether Zazi could have been an info-source for all the recent actions in Pakistan.

    Also makes ya wonder whether a threat to send him to Gitmo could have played any role in the plea bargaining… those are pretty draconian penalty ranges he’s wound up with — 2x life + 15 years — so how much worse were they before the bargaining started?

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t think he has been cooperating that long. I think they finally put together indictments against his family and friends, and Zazi saw the value in cooeprating.

  2. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Well, Jeebuz, whaddya know?
    Law enforcement can work…. (not that Cheney will ever believe it)

    This is surely a tribute to a lot of people’s hard work, and stellar ‘dot connecting’. Nice to see.

  3. al75 says:

    I’m puzzled: media accounts of the plea indicate that Zazi manufactured explosives in Colo, drove with them to NYC, and “disposed of them” before he was arrested:

    He admitted building homemade explosives with beauty supplies purchased in the Denver suburbs and cooked up in a Colorado hotel room, then driving them cross-country to New York City just before the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

    Zazi told authorities he disposed of the explosives once arriving in New York

    So…where are the goods?

    Either a) the explosives are missing, possibly in the hands of co-conspirators who aborted the mission after Zazi was arrested (tipped by rash action by the NYPD?) or b) they’re not missing, but the US gov’t isn’t telling us something.

    Option a is really scary, option b would indicate a level of investigative discipline unheard-of in recent years.

    Can anyone guide me on this.

    • MadDog says:

      I heard on the news earlier this afternoon (MSNBC?) that after getting stopped by the cops in New York, in his(?) apartment there, he freaked out and flushed them down the toilet.

      • behindthefall says:

        Flushed explosives down the toilet? They fit? That doesn’t sound like very much. Also, there could have been some interesting consequences — wasn’t there an ancient TV story (somebody Connors, ex-“Rifleman”?) about nitrogen tri-iodide being flushed down the toilet at West Point and making all kinds of ruckus as it became even more unstable than it usually is?

        • MadDog says:

          Flushed explosives down the toilet? They fit? That doesn’t sound like very much…

          I’m guessing it mixes with water fairly well, and then they didn’t say how many times he had to flush.

          And the DOJ Press Release says this:

          …However, shortly after arriving in New York, Zazi realized that law enforcement was investigating his activities. Zazi and others discarded the explosives and other bomb-making materials…

          (My Bold)

          So it may have been multiple toilets in multiple places.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          If so, they got the science wrong. Nitrogen tri-iodide is perfectly safe to handle when wet.

          When dry, if stepped upon by a moderately energetic housefly, it will separate violently into it’s constitutant parts.

          As a teenager, I used to make it out of household ammonia and disinfectant. Much to the distress of my father, who for some reason considered the entire manufacturing process unsafe.

          Boxturtle (Potassium perclorate is good fun too, though once again my father thought differently)

          • PJEvans says:

            I’ve heard some truly wonderful stories about nitrogen tri-iodide.

            One of my father’s work buddies told us about some of the azides, a few of which go bang if you look at them funny; they’re seriously unstable. Specifically called out: gold and lead azides (they’re ‘just’ a metal and nitrogen). Pyrotechnics was his field of expertise.

            • BoxTurtle says:

              The detonator in your car’s airbag is likely lead azide.

              My NI3 story: I was annoyed at my Bio teacher, so I packed the keyhole of his classroom door full of it one evening and the next morning, after it had dried, I put a strip of scotch tape over the keyhole.

              In walks the teacher. He spends a good 30 seconds trying to fit his key in the keyhole before he notices the tape. For an “old” trick, it sure took him awhile. He glares at me and I snicker politely. He th3en rips the tape off and jams the key into the keyhole. The key blows out of his hand and down the hall with a LOUD crack as the papers he’s holding go flying in a most satisifying cloud.

              Boxturtle (NO evidence against me at all, yet I got 3 night detention!)

      • al75 says:

        Ah…that clears things up. I believe that Zazi was stopped & (i guess ineffectively) searched by agents of the NYPD Intelligence Division (which had been alterted to Zazi’s arrival by the FBI).

        The NYPD “intelligence” operatives further compromised the investigation

        from Huffpo 9/09

  4. news4u says:


    Federal Bureau of Invention: CASE CLOSED ( and Ivins did it )

    FBI gave this report its best shot. The report sounds good. It includes some new evidence. It certainly makes Ivins out to be a crazed, scary and pathetic figure. If you haven’t followed this story intently, you may be convinced of his guilt.

    On the other hand, there are reasons why a conspiracy makes better sense. If the FBI really had the goods, they would not be overreaching to pin the crime on a lone nut.

    JFK, RFK, George Wallace, Martin Luther King, all felled by lone nuts. Even Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin was a lone nut. Now Bruce Ivins. The American public is supposed to believe that all these crimes required no assistance and no funds.

    Does the FBI stand for the Federal Bureau of Invention?


  5. MadDog says:

    OT here EW (since I don’t know which of your earlier posts on the Ghost Detainee FOIA Release you are monitoring):

    Did you notice on pages 12 and 13, the following in the Subject column:

    …Full Detainee Program, including 13 EITs

    Based on some of your recent postings regarding the OPR report, I thought the conclusion was that number of EITs was 12.

    So what is the 13th EIT?

    • MadDog says:

      And in relation to your Pat Roberts post, I didn’t see anyone comment on the very last sentence about the Torture Tapes and the CIA’s intended destruction that didn’t that you didn’t quote:

      …I find the description of what CIA told Roberts about the torture tapes fascinating.

      Pavitt and Muller briefly described the circumstances surrounding the existence of tapes of the Zubayda debriefing, the inspection of those tapes by OGC lawyers, the comparison of the tapes with the cables describing the same interrogations. According to Muller, the match was perfect and [redacted] who did the review was satisfied that the interrogations were carried out in full accordance with the guidance. Muller indicated that it was our intention to destroy these tapes, which were created in any case as but an aide to the interrogations, as soon as the Inspector General had completed his report. (In a subsequent briefing to Congressmen Goss and Harman, Muller said that the interrogators themselves were greatly concerned that the tapes might leak one day and put themselves and their families at risk.)

      That last sentence:

      …Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his assent

    • emptywheel says:

      No, actually there are just 10. The thirteen is not formalized until 2005 (which is what the Bradbury memos are for). They add belly slap, food manipulation, and water dousing.

      But yes, I did notice that they claimed there were 13 already approved at that point.

      • MadDog says:

        I guess Mikey Hayden didn’t get the message. Here’s his statement (page 64) on 12 April 2007:

        …(TS//[redacted…probably the SCI codeword GST]//NF) The CIA interrogation program from late 2002 until the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 included the use of 13 “exceptional interrogation techniques (EITs) derived from the Department of Defense’s SERE training program, which is used to prepare US servicement for possible capture, detention, and interrogation in hostile areas…

        (My Bold)

  6. Jim White says:

    I’m still having trouble believing that Zazi actually accomplished concocting something could have done much damage. I thought that the last we heard from his chemistry efforts he was sending out increasingly frantic messages for help with what he was doing. Is there another report I missed?

  7. orionATL says:

    holder: “…this attempted attack on our homeland…”

    i ain’t exactly young.

    i NEVER heard the united states,

    i never heard “america”,

    referred to as “the homeland” until the dept of homeland security was proposed in the bush admin.

    god, how i hate the word “homeland” in a govt context.

    it reeks of eastern europe, and of the soviet union in particular.

    it is a word from the toolkit of political propagandists.

    department of homeland security = interior ministry of the soviet union (and all of its satellite eastern european states).

    of course, it was a name chosen for its propaganda value.

    like, for example, “no child left behind” – propaganda cover for a proposal specifically geared to not promoting unless merited by performance.

    think george orwell.

  8. orionATL says:

    john in sf @22

    i’m with you on that one.

    wonder if they’ll replay some of the torture tapes at
    his private memorial service?

    i wonder which ring of hell should be assigned to our american napolean bonaparte.

    perhaps the lowest ring, where satan sits on the ice with his long, thrashing tail.

    • PJEvans says:

      Somewhere around there, because he should be farther down than B Arnold, who merely sold plans to the enemy, and wasn’t having people tortured. (I want B Arnold to excrete upon Darth’s head; following Arnold’s release, someone else can have that job. Tokyo Rose, maybe.)

      • rosalind says:

        it gets better. here’s what miguel estrada had to say about former CA Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso:

        Several groups of lawyers have urged the court to let the suit proceed. One brief by legal ethics professors stressed the importance of applying ethical standards to lawyers advising the president. Signers included former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and one of Yoo’s UC Berkeley colleagues, Robert Cole.

        Estrada described them as “purported ethics scholars” and called their analysis of Yoo’s opinions “absurd.”

        (emphasis mine)

    • rosalind says:

      (anyone know where I would find a link to Miguel Estrada’s filing on behalf of John Yoo Friday in Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco? thx)

  9. MadDog says:

    OT – Steven Aftergood over at Secrecy News had this up today:

    Some Belated Answers on Electronic Surveillance

    The Justice Department has released its responses to questions (17 page PDF) originally posed by the House Judiciary Committee in 2007 about the Department’s views on the legal framework governing electronic surveillance under the amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    In questions for the record from a September 18, 2007 hearing, House Committee members probed the potential use of electronic surveillance against U.S. persons, the exclusivity of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the claimed scope of independent presidential authority, and the basis for mandating telecommunication carrier immunity…

    One question that appears on page 15 is this:

    30. Does the Department of Justice still take the position that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) related to the invasion of Iraq presently constitutes a basis for the President to disregard FISA? If so, please explain.

    As stated in response to Question 27, FISA has been and continues to serve as the framework for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. Section 109(a)(I) of FISA, 50 U.S.C. § 1809(a)(I), contemplates that Congress may authorize electronic surveillance through a subsequent statute without amending or referencing FISA. The Department of Justice has articulated the position that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40. 115 Stat 224 (“Force Resolution”), passed by Congress on September 18, 2001, provides another congressional source of electronic surveillance authority (specific to the armed conflict with al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist organizations). See Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President at 2-3, 23 -28 (Jan. 19, 2006). That remains the position of the Department of Justice.

    I’m guessing this hasn’t changed under AG Holder and the Obama Administration.

    • MadDog says:

      And I guess I should have included this one also:

      31. On December 22, 2005, the Department of Justice, in a letter to Congress, set forth the position that the President’s inherent Artlcle II powers permitted it to conduct certain terrorist surveillance outside of FISA. Is this still the Department of Justice’s position?

      The position articulated in the December 22, 2005 letter remains the position of the Departmeut of Justice.

      Still in effect as well I’m guessing.

      • MadDog says:

        And continuing to read, this one is likely still the DOJ/FBI’s position:

        32. DNI McConnell said tbe intelligence community is not doing massive data mining. But the FBI retains information from NSLs even where the information demonstrates the subject of the NSL was innocent. Why is this data being retained if not for data mining?

        The FBI has legitimate investigative reasons for retaining information properly collected during the course of authorized investigations, even if the data pertains to individuals who are initially determined not relevant to the investigation (for example, the target called a telephone number ten times, but the contact is determined to be innocuous).

        The FBI retains such information for at least two investigative reasons. First, by retaining the records that form the basis for our determination that a person is not of investigative interest, the FBI is able to ensure that an audit trail exists so that the FBI does not re-investigate the person each time he or she appears in an investigation. Instead, FBI agents and analysts can simply revisit the infonuation previously collected and satisfy themselves that the judgment previously made, that the person is not of concern to the FBI, is still valid. That can generally be done without intruding again on the person’s privacy and without again collecting personal information about the individual. In contrast, if the FBI were to destroy the data, it would have to re-investigate the person each time be or she became pertinent to an investigation.

        The second reason to retain information is equally important: in order to fulfill the Department’s mission of keeping the country safe, we have been exhorted by Congress, the 9/11 Commission, the WMD Commission, and the American public to “connect the dots.” The reality of analysis and investiga1ive work is that connections between people that may seem entirely innocuous today can seem anything but innocuous when additional information is obtained. For that reason, the FBI needs to retain data and analysis regarding individuals so that, should the factual background change, the FBI still has the lawfully obtained information regarding those individuals. In short, using the jargon that has become prevalent, the FBI cannot “connect the dots” if it does not maintain the “dots” to connect.

      • bobschacht says:

        So, it’s just a charade for Congress to pass laws & stuff?

        Or is it just that its OK for Congress to give the President more power (via the AUMF, for example), but its not OK for Congress to take any power away from the President?

        I think the President’s Article II powers have been greatly exaggerated.

        Bob in AZ

  10. rosalind says:

    Toyota-related: new article up at LA Times: Toyota’s fractured structure may be at root of safety problems

    But Toyota lacks a single U.S. headquarters; its units can operate as fiefdoms that report independently to Japan. The complicated tasks of gathering information about sudden-acceleration reports, analyzing the problems and engineering fixes, as well as reporting the issues to federal safety regulators, were handled by different Toyota subsidiaries, each managed separately in many cases from Japan, former Toyota managers and employees say.

    • rosalind says:

      the article is just damning:

      “You know the joke that every bank branch has a president — well, every Toyota facility has a president, and one can’t tell another what to do,” said John Jula, former engineering manager at the company’s technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

      Jula, who left Toyota in 2003 after eight years, said he had almost no interaction with the sales or dealership organizations that were collecting safety data from consumers, because all of the information flowed to Japan and all of the key engineering decisions came out of Japan. He left the company, he said, convinced that its dedication to safety had deteriorated.


      “They let Americans do what they do best, advertising and services, and in that area they left us alone,” said Laurence Boland, who left Toyota in 1995 after a 25-year career at the automaker’s sales organization based in Torrance. “But when it came to money and technical matters, they kept the control in Japan.”

      Boland, who handled regulatory compliance, recalled that he was assigned in 1979 to collect information requested by U.S. safety regulators about sticking gas pedals in the Celica model. The pedal was attached by a hinge, which would rust over time in wet climates and then stick. The records he amassed, however, were sent to Toyota’s engineering operations in Japan, he recalled.

      When he later visited Toyota’s Washington office and reviewed the submission to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he found that much of what he had collected was gone.

      “It got cleansed in Japan,” he said.

      (emphasis mine)

      • PJEvans says:

        Oh that’s just dandy. And damning.
        I’m guessing that there will be some apologies in Japan in a more traditional (and permanent) form. Possibly not the ones who should be apologizing, though.