FBI director defends NYPD's actions in terror probeby Anthony M. DeStefano
October 1, 2009
FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday appeared to throw cold water on speculation the NYPD jumped the gun and tipped off terror suspect Najibullah Zazi that he was being investigated.
Controversy over the way city detectives handled the case erupted when it became known a Flushing imam they interviewed later tipped off Zazi that police were asking about him and others.
Wednesday, law enforcement sources told The Associated Press other possible plotters were under heavy surveillance and officials believe there is no longer any threat of a bomb attack.
Investigators have apparently not uncovered the chemicals Zazi and at least three other alleged plotters were stockpiling to make a bomb.
Zazi, 24, was interviewed last month in Denver by the FBI, arrested and then indicted by aBrooklyn grand jury on charges he plotted to set off homemade bombs in New York.
Under questioning by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Mueller indicated he didn't think the NYPD actions compromised the case.
"Was there any kind of disconnect between, I guess, the local police in that case and the FBI?" Levin asked. "Was there a problem?"
Mueller replied that this investigation was no different from others: "In every investigation, particularly advanced, moving investigations, there are steps that are taken that may or may not work out."
He added that in retrospect there are always things one would do differently, but didn't think there was any lesson to be learned from the New York case.
A number of law enforcement officials said that prior to the time NYPD contacted Imam Amad Afzali, with FBI encouragement, Port Authority Police had already stopped and searched Zazi's car at the George Washington Bridge. That search was done with the knowledge and direction of the special federal task force running the probe, said the sources, none of whom wanted to be named.
"He may have been spooked by the [bridge] stop," said one of the officials.
More importantly, Zazi had already made plans to fly back to Denver before Afzali called him, said the official. Afzali, 37, a police informant, was later charged with lying to the FBI.
While Mueller has said the FBI has worked well with the NYPD, some on Capitol Hill are privately talking about whether the FBI's role in counterterrorism should be changed.
Responding to a report over the weekend in Newsday that U.S. attorneys decided not to prosecute nearly 66 percent of terrorism cases brought by the FBI, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said a more specialized terrorism investigative unit might be needed.
A DOJ spokesman said last week the agency had significantly improved its ability to penetrate and dismantle terrorist plots because of structural reforms.