Dick Cheney’s Counterterrorism Incompetence Continues to Endanger Us

When I was out tromping around Yosemite (!!) on Friday, one of Najibullah Zazi’s co-conspirators, Zarein Ahmedzay, plead guilty to two terrorism-related charges.

Mark that up as yet another counterterrorism victory for civilian courts.

But it’s more than that. As Isikoff and Hosenball emphasize, the government revealed on Friday that Zazi and Ahmedzay received instructions from two top al Qaeda figures–Saleh al-Somali and Rashid Rauf–in 2008. Here’s how DOJ reveals the detail in their press release:

As Ahmedzay admitted during today’s guilty plea allocution and as reflected in previous government filings and the guilty plea allocution of co-defendant Najibullah Zazi, Ahmedzay, Zazi and a third individual 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. Ahmedzay and the third individual attempted to enter Afghanistan but were turned back at the border and returned to Peshawar.

Within a few days, Ahmedzay, Zazi and the third individual met with an al-Qaeda facilitator in Peshawar and agreed to travel for training in Waziristan. Upon arriving, they met with two al-Qaeda leaders, but did not learn their true identities. As the government represented during today’s guilty plea, the leaders were Saleh al-Somali, the head of international operations for al-Qaeda, and Rashid Rauf, a key al-Qaeda operative. The three Americans said that they wanted to fight in Afghanistan, but the al-Qaeda leaders explained that they would be more useful to al-Qaeda and the jihad if they returned to New York and conducted attacks there. [my emphasis]

Now, that’s interesting for several reasons. Rauf, as you might recall, had a key role in planning the foiled 2006 attempt to use liquid explosives to blow up airliners (potentially using the same TATP Zazi was going to use in his plot). The British were busy conducting a solid law enforcement investigation of the plot and were working with Pakistan to extradite Rauf. But partly in an effort to shore up Bush’s crappy poll numbers, Cheney and the guy who ordered the destruction of the torture tapes, Jose Rodriguez, asked the Pakistanis to pick up Rauf before the Brits could finish their investigation. Here’s how Ron Suskind described what happened.

NPR: I want to talk just a little about this fascinating episode you describe in the summer of 2006, when President Bush is very anxious about some intelligence briefings that he is getting from the British. What are they telling him?

SUSKIND: In late July of 2006, the British are moving forward on a mission they’ve been–an investigation they’ve been at for a year at that point, where they’ve got a group of “plotters,” so-called, in the London area that they’ve been tracking…Bush gets this briefing at the end of July of 2006, and he’s very agitated. When Blair comes at the end of the month, they talk about it and he says, “Look, I want this thing, this trap snapped shut immediately.” Blair’s like, “Well, look, be patient here. What we do in Britain”–Blair describes, and this is something well known to Bush–”is we try to be more patient so they move a bit forward. These guys are not going to breathe without us knowing it. We’ve got them all mapped out so that we can get actual hard evidence, and then prosecute them in public courts of law and get real prosecutions and long prison terms”…

Well, Bush doesn’t get the answer he wants, which is “snap the trap shut.” And the reason he wants that is because he’s getting all sorts of pressure from Republicans in Congress that his ratings are down. These are the worst ratings for a sitting president at this point in his second term, and they’re just wild-eyed about the coming midterm elections. Well, Bush expresses his dissatisfaction to Cheney as to the Blair meeting, and Cheney moves forward.

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