How ironic [and convenient] for President Obama to cite the case of Colorado-based terrorist Najibullah Zazi to justify his eavesdropping on citizens by stockpiling their telephone logs and emails.
Until he revealed last week that the government was first alerted to Zazi's New York City subway bombing plot through an intercepted email with a Pakistan address, that information was apparently classified under "national security" -- so secret that it could not be disclosed at the trial last November of Zazi's terrorist co-defendant, Adis Medunjanin.
As Medunjanin's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, put it Sunday: "I am certain as we speak that l was not aware of the connection between that initial contact, whether by email or another means, and this secret program that now has come out."
This week, to take the heat off him, it's suddenly okay for the President to disclose it to the world. So much for national security.
Now let's turn to the irony of Obama's Zazi disclosure.
Irony because the Zazi case provides an example of something other than how technology led to his capture.
Rather, it is that human failing nearly derailed it.
And Obama, who apparently has no qualms in addressing the importance of technology in fighting terrorism, has, at least in the Zazi case, shied away from addressing this human issue.
We have told this Zazi story before but it bears repeating -- over and over until President Obama or Mayor Michael Bloomberg or someone at the nation's highest level of law enforcement publicly addresses it so that it doesn't happen again.
As Obama described it last week, the intercepted email from Pakistan, in Sept.,2009, was traced to an email address in Aurora, Colorado.
This led the FBI to pursue Zazi as he drove across the country to New York City, where with two high school friends from Queens he planned to place bombs in the city's subways during the anniversary week of 9/ll.
The FBI monitored him so closely that, as the NY Times put it in reporting Obama's remarks: "What followed was a cross-country pursuit in which the police stopped Mr. Zazi on the George Washington Bridge, let him go, and after several false starts, arrested him in New York."
What actually occurred was far more complicated.
According to testimony at Medunjanin's trial, Port Authority police searched the trunk of Zazi's car and, for reasons never fully explained, did not discover the triggering chemical device necessary to assemble his bombs.
Instead, they allowed Zazi to proceed into New York, where the FBI, now joined by the NYPD, continued to track him.
Then, the trouble really started.
Apparently to take the lead in the investigation, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen, with the apparent approval of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, authorized detectives from the NYPD's Intelligence Division to contact an NYPD informant, Queens Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali.
On Sept. 10, they showed Afzali photographs of Zazi and his two conspirators.
The NYPD did not inform the FBI of their plan to contact Afzali. Nor did they inform the FBI after they contacted Afzali.
On Sept. 11th, Afzali, telephoned Zazi's father.
Mercifully, the FBI had placed a wiretap on the father's phone.
We now reprint a portion of a Justice Department affidavit of Sept. 20, 2009, that spells out what happened.
"On or about Sept. 11, 2009, pursuant to a legally-authorized electronic surveillance, FBI agents intercepted a telephone conversation between Individual A [Zazi] and Individual A's father. During the conversation, the father advised Individual A that the defendant Ahmad Wais Afzali called him and told him that "they" had showed Afzali's photographs of Individual A and others ..."
On Sept. 12, Zazi cut short his trip to New York and flew back to Colorado. The FBI arrested him shortly afterwards.
Zazi and a third co-conspirator pleaded guilty. Medunjinan went to trial and was found guilty. Afrzali was deported.
On Sept 17th, the NYPD disciplined a mid-level deputy inspector from the Intelligence Division, transferring him to the Trials Bureau, where his assignment was to prepare the schedules of the department's five police trial judges, an obvious demotion.
After the media - i.e., NYPD Confidential and the NY Times - suggested he had been made a scapegoat for the mistakes of Intel's higher-ups, he was transferred him again - this time to the position of commanding officer of the Highway Unit - a full inspector's position, suggesting a future promotion.
Although the NYPD's actions defied common sense and protocol, FBI Director Robert Mueller subsequently praised the NYPD in a misguided display of law enforcement unity.
That Christmas, Obama personally called Kelly at Police Plaza to congratulate him on Zazi's capture, a call that Kelly's spokesman, Paul Browne trumpeted to the media.
No mention, at least publicly [and probably not privately], was made then of the NYPD's attempt to circumvent the FBI. Nor has any public explanation ever been offered.
The vetting of the full story continued last fall at Medunjinan's trial.
No mention was made of the NYPD's contacting the imam. Instead, Zazi testified that the car stop at the George Washington Bridge caused him to abort his plot.
Deputy Commissioner Browne then pointed out to reporters - [not this one] - that Zazi's version of events disproved the notion that the NYPD had acted inappropriately. [As though secretly contacting its own informant without notifying the FBI in a joint investigation is accepted procedure.]
Question that Browne has never answered: If the NYPD was as blameless as Browne suggested, why dump the deputy inspector?
Maybe Obama knows but his explanation remains classified.