If you thought the information regarding the Times Square bomber was unusually detailed even before the perp was arrested, you were right.
The media released far too many facts while the police were still trying to locate Faisal Shahzad, who learned from the media that authorities knew his identity. Of course, when the press gets even semi-confidential information, someone will blab and then everyone follows. So the facts of the case were revealed, and that’s why the bomber booked the next flight to Dubai.
Curiously, NPR had a thoughtful piece on the subject:
How Media Coverage Crimped The Times Square Case, National Public Radio, May 6, 2010
Law enforcement officials usually say they can’t talk to reporters about an ongoing investigation, but there were leaks in this case from the beginning – partly because of the dynamic between two powerful law enforcement forces in New York City.
While the NYPD and the FBI talk publicly about how seamlessly they work together, the truth is there’s a lot of professional rivalry. Get detectives or agents out for a beer and one of their favorite pastimes is griping about something the NYPD did or something the FBI missed. Because of that, there tend to be a lot of leaks.
Details about the Times Square investigation were all over the local newspapers, even as authorities were still trying to puzzle out who was responsible. Any element of surprise that law enforcement might have had was evaporating.
To be fair, law enforcement was partly to blame. In many cases, it was the source of the information and leaks. But there seemed to be an extra level of frustration about the leaks in this case. As one law enforcement official told NPR, ”Our operational plans were being driven by the media, instead of the other way around. And that’s not good.”
He said they watched in horror as news organizations started talking about the fact that the vehicle identification number on the Nissan Pathfinder used in the botched bombing had been taken off the windshield. Then another report said that wouldn’t matter, as authorities could find the VIN on other parts of the car. A short time later, the fact that they had found the number was reported. The coverage was providing a lot of clues about the direction the case was going.
On Monday afternoon, basically a day-and-a-half after the attack, a news organization reported that law enforcement officials were looking for an American citizen of Pakistani descent from Shelton, Conn. (NPR also had the information but didn’t report it out of concern that it would affect the investigation before Shahzad’s arrest.)
The NPR reporter may be quite right that inappropriate information burbled out as a result of agency rivalry.
But there is another possibility, namely that one of the 1500 Muslims in the uber-diverse New York Police Department wanted to help a fellow Islamist. I’m not saying that I believe that scenario to be the case, but it is a possibility that no one else has mentioned.
Whatever the truth, it was a very close thing that Faisal Shahzad was nabbed at all because he was rapidly scurrying out of the country as a result of knowing that police were hot on his trail.