When Blawgletter heard yesterday about the foiling of an Islamist terror plot — to blow up fuel tanks and a pipeline at New York’s JFK International Airport (reports here and here) — we wondered how authorities discovered the conspiracy. Did covert interception of phone calls provide an essential clue? Did waterboarding of an unlawful combatant at Guantanamo or at a secret prison overseas break the case? How about eavesdropping on suspects’ meetings with their lawyers?
Our curiosity led us to read the criminal Complaint in United States v. Defreitas (E.D.N.Y. June 1, 2007). But it reveals a mundane story. A drug trafficker squealed to cut his sentence and get money:
The government has been working with the Source since 2004. The Source was convicted on federal drug trafficking and RICO charges in the Southern District of New York in 1996. The Source was also convicted on drug trafficking charges in New York Supreme Court in 2003. His sentence in that case is pending as part of his cooperation agreement with the government. In addition to the expectation of a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation, the Source also receives financial assistance.
Complaint at 7 n.2.
What can we conclude from the fact that a terrorist plot came to light through normal law enforcement methods? Only that normal methods still work. And that the effectiveness of new and extraordinary ones remain a question mark.