Once it became clear to the FBI that Najibullah Zazi posed a real threat, some of the police and intelligence reforms instituted after the 2001 terrorist attacks worked just as planned.
Wiretaps helped reveal what Zazi was saying. Travel records were mined to build a record of Zazi’s journeys.
The arrest of Zazi, and apparent disruption of an alleged bombing plot, “is a situation brought about by the changes in the way we do business since 9/11 — knocking down the walls (between law enforcement agencies) that allows us to work collaboratively here and overseas,” Denver FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis said in an interview.
But it is still too early for anyone outside of law enforcement to gauge whether the techniques and cooperation that led to Zazi’s arrest make the United States considerably safer than on Sept. 11, 2001.
If, for example, Zazi was able to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, move from his New York neighborhood to Colorado, collect bomb-making chemicals and test them in a hotel suite kitchen without drawing the attention of the CIA, FBI or other federal agencies, then there’s still much work to be done, according to intelligence experts.
“It’s impossible to say, based on the facts of the investigation that have been made public so far, what breakthroughs were involved in the investigation and what can be claimed as a success,” said Paul Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, a 28-year CIA veteran who currently runs graduate security studies at Georgetown University.
Not knowing whether information about Zazi’s activities in Pakistan was developed by agents abroad or solely through police questioning in the United States, “there’s not a basis for drawing conclusions about pre- 9/11 vs. post- 9/11 differences,” Pillar said.
Zazi is charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.