Ten days after the attempted car bombing in Times Square and the arrest of Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, the Senate Intelligence Committee was formally briefed by the FBI and members of the intelligence community, with both the chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking Republican, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., calling that unacceptable.
"It's very hard to understand why this briefing was so difficult to come about," Feinstein puzzled, with Bond adding, "After 10 days, we finally have a briefing. It's very frustrating…I've been kept completely in the dark."
After an hour-and-a-half long briefing Tuesday, both senators emerged to say the country needs new defenses against a new kind of terrorist, like Shahzad, and said the nation's citizens should be prepared to put up with more inconveniences to protect the nation with officials trying to balance civil liberties in the course of doing so.
"In this case, Shahzad was almost completely under the radar, which in many ways is even more ominous. We want to improve our defenses. It's clear, we're facing a new kind of attacker who's already here, able to hide in plain sight, and we need to think about new defenses," Sen. Feinstein told reporters.
The senator targeted the Transportation Security Administration's "No Fly" lists, which recently were updated as a result of the Time Square bomb attempt, to shorten the amount of time by which an airline must update its information once an additional name is added to the list. But the senator said that is not good enough for a tool she called "one of our best lines of defense."
"It's my very strong belief we need to see that the 'No Fly' lists are complete. I understand that occasionally there's a mismatch, and that's very disconcerting to people involved in that mismatch. But there's a certain amount of this that we're going to have to put up with to protect this nation," Feinstein said, as she advocated for shrinking that time to just 30 minutes.
Bond went even further, advocating for something much more instantaneous. "It seems to me when you are chasing somebody who you've just identified as attempting to commit a terrorist act who might be leaving the country, you ought to send out something like an all points bulletin. I mean, this is not something that ought to be waiting on a list hours later."
Feinstein said both Shahzad and Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutullab are "the new prototype" of terrorist with respected family backgrounds and "clean" records.
When asked what can be done about this, Feinstein replied, "What can be done is improving our screening. And this is difficult, because you have 180,000 people going to Pakistan a year, and you've got...60,000 coming back. And you also have other countries which are of great concern. So, this is not an easy magic solution. And we've got a country that respects individual rights and civil rights, and we don't want to harass people unnecessarily, but there are things we should look at."
Both Feinstein and Bond said another useful tool to finding these lone wolves is, as Feinstein put it, "follow the money." Terrorists are known to use a complex, informal system of money transfers known as hawalas, something Bond called, "beyond understanding, beyond regulation." But Feinstein said she has some ideas for shedding light on the organizations, but she would give no details.
"I think there is a need to go further into how money is transferred from this country into groups, as well as from groups who would do us harm back into individuals here. We need to have some process of regulation of these money transfers so that they're not all anonymous, unknown, no audit trail, no record," the chairman said.
"They don't keep very good records. I don't know what you could do with legislation. If any of you have good ideas, let us know," Bond joked with reporters.
In a tense moment of disagreement, Bond criticized the administration of playing fast and loose with intelligence. The feisty Republican accused Attorney General Eric Holder of going too far on Sunday directly linking Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban.
"Definitive statements I heard on Sunday have not been confirmed even at this date," Bond accused.
Feinstein would only say, "I do not agree with my colleague," and said she would not explain why in a public setting.
Feinstein did give a ringing endorsement to a push made by a group of her Democratic colleagues Tuesday for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to place the Pakistani Taliban on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, something the State Department said Tuesday it is discussing. And Feinstein had another group she would add, an insurgent network in the tribal region of Afghanistan and Pakistan with ties to the Taliban.
"I think there is a very high likelihood that there were interactions between (Faisal Shahzad) and the Pakistani Taliban. I also believe that the Pakistani Taliban ought to be on the designated list, the terrorist list, as well as the Haqqani network ought to be on the designated terrorist list. I just looked at the criteria for that, and I believe they fulfill that. So I think that's something that the Administration should do forthwith," Feinstein said.