The Cable

What the secretary MEANT to say...

When U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that she believed the attempt to bomb New York's Time Square was a "one-off" event, she wasn't making a judgment about the suspected bomber's associations with other terrorists or groups, according to a DHS official. If she was, she would have called him a "lone wolf."

Napolitano made the new claim to ABC News on Sunday, stating that there was no evidence the failed attack was "anything other than a one-off," based on the information she had at the time. Conservative critics, opinion writers, nonpartisan experts, and even Democratic strategists are comparing the statement to her now-infamous remark just after the attempted underwear bombing on Christmas Day that "the system worked," a statement she later retracted.

By saying publicly that the current view of the incident was that it was a "one-off" event, Napolitano was signaling to local law enforcement groups all over the country that the federal government did not expect an imminent follow-up attack, a Homeland Security official told The Cable.

"She was referencing that at that time, there was no evidence to suggest that there were other trucks parked with explosives in other parts of New York or other cities across the country," the official said. "Law enforcement expects that kind of threat assessment from us."

That's quite different from saying that bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad was acting alone. Leading critics are already complaining that Napolitano's "one-off" comment has been proven wrong by revelations that he has admitted to having trained in Pakistan, according to a complaint (pdf) filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York, and that he received "a series of calls from Pakistan" after he bought the Nissan SUV that he later used to carry the failed bomb.

If she were alleging that, she would have used the term "lone wolf," according to the official.

"She not afraid to use the term lone wolf and has many times," the official said. "But in this case that was not what she was talking about."`

Making any "definitive statement" about a fresh attack or attempt is unwise, according to Frances Townsend, a former top DHS official and counterterrorism advisor in the Bush White House. Townsend nonetheless praised the overall government response to the incident, as did Napolitano in a press briefing today touting Shahzad's arrest.

"Immediately after an attack you've got to be careful," said Townsend, noting that the New York Police Department took a more cautious tone. "She thinks she didn't go further than the facts at the time. What she made was a very definitive statement and inevitably those statements turn out to be wrong."

"She went through this once before," leading Democratic strategist Paul Begala said on CNN. "The first reports are always wrong. You just don't know where, you don't know how. ... She seemed not to have learned that lesson. We don't know if this is a one-off, yet."

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Failed Times Square attack comes at delicate time for U.S.-Pakistan ties

Amid reports that would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad may have traveled to Pakistan's North Waziristan, the U.S. and Pakistani governments are still working out details on a new agreement that would expand intelligence and military operations in that very region.

The basic tenets of the agreement, according to diplomatic sources, were hashed out during the inaugural session of the U.S.-Pakistani strategic dialogue in March. Neither side has completely signed off and our sources caution that implementation is another matter, but the provisional agreement shows the growing cooperation between the two countries in the military and intelligence spheres as well as growing coordination on the way forward in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Times Square bombing attempt comes at a very bad time for U.S.-Pakistan relations, said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council.

"The U.S. and Pakistan have been doing very well at increasing their cooperation and joint efforts in combating terrorism in that area recently," he said, referring to North Waziristan. "This is the kind of incident that can kind of derail some of those efforts and I hope it doesn't."

Nearly two years after the unhappy exit of Pervez Musharraf, the former Army chief and president, U.S.-Pakistani relationship is still very much a military- and intelligence-based interaction, with the key figures on the U.S. side being Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta. On the Pakistani side, all roads go through Musharraf's successor as Army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was given red-carpet treatment when he came to Washington for the March talks.

Kayani is increasingly seen as both an interlocutor for U.S. officials as well as a constructive link between the Pakistani military structure and the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been steadily losing power to Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. Meanwhile, the day-to-day relationship is still managed in Washington by Amb. Husain Haqqani, who despite being a Zardari ally, doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

And the relationship is getting very close attention from senior Obama administration officials, with a flurry of high-level visits there in recent weeks. On the sidelines of the strategic dialogue, there was a private session that involved Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Mullen. From the Pakistani side, only Kayani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar attended.

That's where the new agreement on military and intelligence cooperation was discussed. Here is a readout that Sourabh Gupta, a senior researcher with Samuels International Associates (SIA), published in the Nelson Report, a daily Washington insider's newsletter published by SIA's Chris Nelson. Our sources say this readout is "almost exactly right."

Key Pakistani political demands: Non-negotiable requirement for friendly successor regime in Kabul; significant downgrading of Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan, including New Delhi's training of Afghan military; preference for extended-term American presence in Afghanistan/strategic neighborhood, notwithstanding drawdown of forces next year.

Secondary set of political-military demands: faster delivery of upgraded weapons package; expedited payment for outstanding dues related to AfPak support operations and assistance with civil infrastructure rebuilding in frontier territories; U.S. to lay-off from Islamabad's nuclear program (given latter's need to ramp-up fissile material production in absence of bestowal of India-equivalent civil nuclear deal); U.S. to intensify diplomatic effort to facilitate productive Islamabad-New Delhi dialogue on 'core' issues - Kashmir and water (upper riparian/lower riparian) issues.

Key U.S. demands:  Islamabad to re-direct primary counter-insurgency energies against key Islamist groups based/operating out of North Waziristan (Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban Haqqani network, local talibanized tribal warlords); unfettered drone strikes in N. Waziristan/other tribal territories to continue; expanded CIA intel. operations/listening posts in Pakistani cities - Islamabad to subsequently allow access to Taliban leaders arrested by way of real-time communication intercepts;  Islamabad to rein-in larger infrastructure of jihad that it has casually tolerated, even supported. 

Gupta goes on to say that Islamabad is also arguing for a seat at the table for any discussions about a successor regime in Kabul and that if the current U.S. ground offensive in Afghanistan doesn't produce results, the momentum will shift back to the Pakistani Army and intelligence services, which could upset the balance of the current U.S.-Pakistan negotiations.