Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – I have invited my dear friend Andy McCarthy on the program, from Pajamas Media and National Review Online. Andy old friend, good to have you. I just wanted, number one, your comments about CNN and the media’s rush to judgment yesterday. Then number two, just to describe to the folks how an investigation like this actually transpires, in that it probably takes a lot longer than three days to find someone like a marathon bomber. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: I have invited my dear friend Andy McCarthy on the program, from Pajamas Media and National Review Online, not only because he’s a dear friend and a good guy, but because in 1993 when the World Trade Center was bombed, before anyone knew that the blind sheik, Sheik Abdel-Rahman — I think I’m pronouncing that right — that he was the mastermind behind all this, there had to be an investigation and they had to have forensic teams do this. Of course, Andy was the U.S. attorney at the time. Andy, old friend, good to have you. I just wanted, number one, your comments about CNN and the media’s rush to judgment yesterday. Then number two, just to describe to the folks how an investigation like this actually transpires, in that it probably takes a lot longer than three days to find someone like a marathon bomber. How are you, buddy?
Andy McCarthy: I’m doing great, Mike. You’re quite right about the performance of CNN yesterday, which was something to behold. I’m afraid that it’s kind of the eternal problem of these kinds of investigations. I always tell people, if someone who is identified as a source is not willing to put their name on whatever it is that they’re putting out there, it should be regarded with great suspicion. In my experience, and this goes for high-ranking officials as well as people doing more of the scud work, the anonymous people are usually levels of attenuation removed from what’s really happening in the facts on the ground, so to speak, of the investigation. There are too many esoteric terms that can be too easily confused and miscommunicated, even if they’re not trying to mislead people. You might tell somebody we’ve got a lead on someone. By the time that story gets told the third time, you have a suspect in custody. It’s like that old game telephone, right? The government should not speak unless it’s ready to charge somebody. That’s when you speak publicly. Until then it’s not only good investigative protocol but it’s also the only way to be fair to people who have not been charged with anything to do your work in silence and basically in secrecy until you’re ready to come forward and actually back it with information to charge someone.
Mike: I concur with all that. Of course, you were out there writing about this as John King and Anderson Cooper were blundering all over themselves. You had already posted: Be very, very cautious of anonymous, high-ranking sources, or “very reliable” as Fran Townsend had called her sources.
Andy: What happened to that whole thing about the first thing you should do is stop digging? Just because you have a shovel doesn’t mean you have to keep going deeper.
Mike: Forgive me because I don’t know the entire history of your involvement, but in 1993 after the World Trade Center was bombed, we didn’t know who had perpetrate the act. There had to be an investigation, much like trying to find who it was that perpetrated the bombing of the Boston Marathon, on a much smaller scale than 1993. There had to be an investigation to try and figure out who it was who did it. I imagine there must have been a phenomenal untold story of the forensic process that went into this. Can you just enlighten us a little bit about how that came about?
Andy: Sure, Mike. I wrote a memoir about this several years back called Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.
Mike: I have it.
Andy: It’s the story of the investigation. This is interesting on two tracks. Let’s stick with the forensics because this is what they would do in every investigation. Most people look at the scene of carnage in a bombing and they can’t make anything out of it other than it looks like the seventh ring of hell. Bomb techs — and now even I because I’ve had enough training from these bomb techs — can look at a scene like that and figure out the physics of an explosion. The first thing they want to figure out is where the bomb went off. You look at, for example, the basement of the World Trade Center and you would see a bunch of smashed up cars. They would look at it and notice that some cars appear to be smashed in and windows broken in one direction and other cars appear to be in another direction. Then you have something like the van that was ultimately found to be the vehicle that housed the bomb that doesn’t seem to be blown in but blown out. They look at all these circumstances and realize: Here’s the center; this is where the explosion happened.
If you figure out where the explosion happened and roughly how much force there was to the bomb, how powerful it was, they can go about then the most important business of their work, which is to find the casing that the bomb was in. Most people think that because of the explosive force of the bomb, the material that it’s in must kind of evaporate with the explosion. That’s wrong. The casing usually survives. The explosive material is consumed but you can almost always, once you’ve figured out where the bomb went off and how powerful it was, reassemble a lot of the casing of the bomb. In this instance, by not only finding shards of the bomb but by figuring out where the bomb must have exploded, that is the van that it exploded in, they were able to reassemble important things like a piece of the van that had the vehicle identification number on it. That led them to the rental place. This was a Ryder van that one of the bombers had rented in order to use it in the bombing. When that rocket scientist went back to try to get his deposit a couple days later, they were able to nab him.
That all sounds like fabulous investigative work, and it absolutely is. In my mind it was miraculous what they were able to do. As you suggest, there’s always a backstory to these things. What did I hear you say a couple minutes ago, there’s always history behind the history?
Mike: There’s history behind history.
Andy: In this case, there was history behind the history. The FBI actually had an informant into the investigation, that is into the cell that was plotting the bombing. In a dispute with the informant, they basically booted him out of the investigation seven months before the bombing happened. It wasn’t exactly like they had to recreate the wheel in that case. There was an investigation going on on the forensic track where you were able to nail down exactly how they had done the bombing, but they also had leads on people who were likely to have carried it out. When those two tracks merged, that’s why they were able to make arrests. In my recollection, within six or seven days we had five or six people in custody.
Mike: And that was just with a speed with which, because of the amount of evidence that they left behind, and, as you said, because of the expertise of those that were able to piece it together, that was, as you say, miraculous. There’s probably not going to be that, even if you find the pressure cooker or the pot that was used — I went and looked at my pots last night and I couldn’t find a serial number on any of them.
Andy: There are a couple things about that. First of all, with these cases, if they’re not solved pretty quickly, there’s a chance they’ll never get solved. A lot of these, the FBI has managed in the last 20 years to get very good leads and have people in custody within days of the thing happening. Even though Al-Qaeda, for example — not that this is necessarily an Al-Qaeda operation. I just throw this out as an example. They’re a sophisticated operation. Their guys make mistakes just like everybody else does. You can’t conflate the brutality of these attacks with knowledgeability on the part of the people who carry them out with the things that are of importance to law enforcement.
For example, to be more concrete about this, these shards and casing pieces that we’re talking about, most people don’t realize not only that they survive, but they can survive with fingerprints on them, with DNA on them, with hair follicles on them, stuff like that. When you can obtain those things, they really often do contain very significant investigative leads. What you have today, which I didn’t have back in 1993, is the ubiquity of video. Forget about it being the Boston Marathon. Even if it was just any Monday, a lot of these stores, and unfortunately these city governments as well, have cameras virtually everywhere. We’re not London yet but we’re getting there. Then you add to that the fact that you have an event like the Boston Marathon where lots of people are taking pictures and video and the media is out there taking pictures and video. They have a wealth of video evidence that they can painstakingly go through.
You think about the idea: How do you possibly go through all that video? They know the two places where the bombs went off. They know approximately when the bombs went off. Using that information, plus the fact that these devices, as I understand it, were such that they probably couldn’t have been carried very far from wherever they were assembled to the places where they were detonated. You take those things into account and you can really narrow down the video that you need to look at and study.
It’s not surprising to me that they have people at least who they are saying are people of interest. That itself, by the way, is an interesting neologism. We didn’t used to say people of interest back in 1993. You were either a suspect or you weren’t. I think in this age of terrorism and mass murder attacks, everybody gets the sense that there’s something sort of unfair about having somebody who you’re not ready to charge with a crime yet held out as possibly responsible for a mass murder attack. We use this term “person of interest” rather than “suspect” because I think they don’t want people to take things into their own hands probably.
Mike: Kevin Gutzman once gave me props for a neologism — I didn’t know what that was. He said that’s kind of Greek for you created a new word or a new term. I created “nitwittery.”
Andy: That’s not only a new term, that’s a very useful term.
Mike: I’ve used it many times. Feel free to use it. A final question because this segment is just about over for Andy McCarthy, who you can read online at National Review Online and at Pajamas Media. When you talk about the video footage, it could be available at a Sears or a Best Buy or wherever you can buy one of these pressure cookers, or maybe even at a Lord & Taylor if it was a really fancy one. I was holding out the prospect yesterday that if the perps of this had any brains whatsoever, and I’m not saying that they do, then they probably would have either picked these things up at a swap and shop, a flea market, a garage sale or something to that effect. That would kind of put — of course, then you may be able to identify the original purchaser. That could also provide some manner of a false lead, couldn’t it?
Andy: Yeah, sure. There are rabbit holes in these things you’ve got to worry about. I would be much more interested in — obviously if you’ve got a serial number or something off a pressure cooker that would be a good thing. You could at least follow it up and get an answer quickly about whether it was going to be useful or not. I’d be much more interested in whether there was DNA or fingerprint evidence on the stuff that they recovered, which would be much more valuable and a much more direct route to whoever did it.
Mike: Andy, as always, thank you for your time, my friend. God bless and we’ll talk real soon.
Andy: Thanks, Mike.
End Mike Church Show Transcript