Alberto Gonzalez’ statement this morning (aired on NPR & BBC News) regarding the rather startling news of a domestic terrorist plot being hatched in Miami, was a little bit too measured for my taste.  In a quite restrained tone, Gonzalez spoke of the need to be vigilant about homegrown terrorists. 

This leads me to wonder about the timing of these arrests, coinciding with news regarding secret CIA and Treasury Department surveillance, since 2001, of domestic and international banking transactions (the “Swift” program).  As with other Bush administration surveillance operations, no “court-approved warrants or subpoenas” were sought for this monitoring. 

Based on information provided in this morning’s New York Times article, the alleged terrorist threat was in its early planning or “talk” stages, no explosive equipment or other WMDs had been procured, and there was no imminent threat to the potential target(s).  Given these facts, one wonders if the arrests couldn’t have taken place tonight, tomorrow, Sunday, next week, next month, or at a later time when the government would be able to gain more solid evidence.  Since those arrested were under constant surveillance, wouldn’t the government have had a better case if they had been caught red handed, with some purchased explosives, for example, or drawn up plans?  A BBC News article on the story includes a characterization of the alleged terrorists as "wannabes."

It is curious that these arrests occurred at the same time that Bush administration officials tried to prevent the NY Times and the Los Angeles Times from publishing the story about financial transaction surveillance.  According to the NY Times, “Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value” and, according to the LA Times, “Bush administration officials asked The Times not to publish information about the program, contending that disclosure could damage its effectiveness and that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the public.” 

Curiouser still, were the NY Times and LA Times decisions to lead with the domestic surveillance story rather than the terrorist plot story.  Were this homegrown terrorist plot anything significant, one would expect that to be the lead story.

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