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'Dirty Bomb' Plot Uncovered, U.S. Says
"U.S. authorities announced yesterday that they had broken up a terrorist plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, saying they had arrested a U.S.-born al Qaeda associate who was allegedly scouting targets after learning how to build such a device in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There was not an actual plan," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said at a news conference yesterday. "We stopped this man in the initial planning stages."

Administration officials have come under considerable criticism in recent weeks for mishandling clues to the Sept. 11 attacks. They stressed yesterday that foiling the alleged plot involved substantial cooperation between the FBI, the CIA and other agencies.

"He [al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaida, currently in US custody] described this guy only generically, probably in a way he didn't expect would lead us to him," one senior official said. "But based on other information we had developed, we were able to track him down.""

They've had al Muhajir in custody since early May, so it's quite obvious that the timing of this announcement was politically motivated. The administration has been taking a lot of flak for not putting together the clues about September 11, and for trying to keep us in gung-ho September 12 mode by issuing uselessly vague warnings about future attacks. So they announce that they foiled a specific plot, to make us feel like the threat is real and they're successfully defending us.

But if you read deeper into the coverage of what happened, the dirty bomb suspect arrest undermines the defense the government has used against critics of its handling of September 11. Their mantra has been "the information we had was too vague." The problem is, the information they had about al Muhajir was pretty vague, too -- Wolfowitz even said there wasn't an actual plan yet, so there were no specifics to be had. Yet we still caught this guy. How? Coordination among agencies and piecing together different strands of evidence.

On a slightly different topic, the Post reports this tidbit:

"After concluding that building a case would be difficult, prosecutors believed they were running out of time. They faced a secret hearing Tuesday before a judge, officials said, and turned in recent days to another option: transferring him to military custody."

So they didn't think they could convict him in a regular court, the way the Constitution says they have to (which sort of undermines the validity of the arrest and makes the announcement look even more obviously political posturing). So they forget the fact that he's an American citizen and hand him over to the military. Lovely.


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