Failed Times Square Car Bombing, Another Terror Plot Averted?

Posted on Mon 05/03/2010 by


By Jena McNeill

Saturday at 6:30 p.m., authorities were alerted that a Nissan Pathfinder was billowing smoke in the middle of Times Square, New York City. Upon investigation, they found the car was rigged with explosives including “three propane tanks, consumer-grade fireworks, two gasoline containers, [and] wires and two clocks.” No one was hurt, and authorities were able to stop a potentially deadly explosion. New York Governor David Paterson has recently stated that this attempted car bombing was in fact “an act of terrorism.”

Both the timing (Saturday night) and location (Times Square) suggest the bomb was intended to do a lot of damage—in fact the gas tanks inside the car were intended magnify the explosion. Fortunately, those in Times Square were safe when several citizens alerted authorities that there was smoke coming from the automobile. This type of “see something, say something” is a vital tool of public safety—lives and property were saved as a result of these reports.

While there is in fact a report from MEMRI of a Taliban leader claiming responsibility for the attack on a website, there is still a significant investigation remaining—it is important to wait and see what law enforcement authorities discover before leading to conclusions on attribution. No city in America is perhaps better able to deal with these types of threats than NYC. And since the bomb did not go off, there will likely be a lot of physical evidence such as fingerprints that will allow for a robust investigation by authorities.

It remains vital that in terms of next steps, the nation’s leaders move forward with the understanding that it is impossible for America to child proof its way out of danger. There remains no silver bullet for dealing with car bombs, and there is little to be gained from fixating on the danger of the day.

If reports are correct and this is indeed an act of terrorism, this would make at least 31 unsuccessful plots on U.S. soil since 9/11. Some like today, are the result of sheer luck or the quick-thinking of everyday folks. Continuing to stop acts of terrorism requires vigilance in finding and stopping people from doing this before they launch their attack. Effective intelligence collection, information-sharing and counter-terrorism operations are the best tools we have, making investigative authorities such as those granted under the PATRIOT Act so very important. Congress, however, recently made the mistake of punting reauthorization of the Act down the road (giving it a short term, one year extension). Such a move is unfortunate given that the PATRIOT Act provides just the type of investigative tools the U.S. needs for the foreseeable future.

The response to this attempted bombing by law enforcement, the press, and American citizens has been reasoned and appropriate. It is vital that Congress and the Administration follow suit.

Jena Baker McNeill is a homeland security policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. She handles homeland security and science and technology issues.

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