The CIA learned about Najibullah Zazi through one of its sources and alerted domestic agencies, including the FBI, the officials said.It would appear that Zazi's communications were intercepted at some point, whether he was outside the US at the time or not isn't clear. If he was inside the US and someone from al Qaeda was communicating with him, that means that FISA and the Patriot Act as amended by Congress was invoked; in particular it relates to the interception of foreign communications into the US, which was one of the areas that civil libertarians were so concerned with. It would also explain why Congress was alerted to the investigation and subsequent arrest of Zazi.
US intelligence first became aware of Zazi in late August, a senior administration official said. Interest in Zazi surfaced just weeks before prosecutors claim he was planning to strike on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The intelligence and administration officials declined to offer more details on the operative.
The fact that intelligence officials learned of Zazi through a CIA source sheds more light on the government's claim that the charges against him are part of a broader, international case.
So how is the Obama Administration handling this particular terror plot and investigation? Well, they want to distinguish themselves from the methods used by the Bush Administration, and that's primarily a media tactic. They want to show that the Adminnistration is engaged without hyping the threat, but using all the tools at their disposal, including the very kinds of tactics that the left lambasted the Bush Administration over:
In interviews, senior Obama officials stressed their efforts to set a different tone than the previous administration; the White House says it avoided trumpeting either the elevated threat level or the averted crisis, while portraying Obama as highly involved in monitoring developments. As Zazi drove across the country under heavy surveillance, John O. Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, briefed the president three to four times a day on Zazi's activities .For all of the vilification of the Patriot Act, it appears that it has been tweaked sufficiently to find itself getting reauthorization support from the President.
Shortly after taking office, Obama discarded the term "global war on terror," along with some of its most controversial tools, and aides describe a president who has been deliberative in implementing his own security policy. He has come under fire for not abandoning some of George W. Bush's policies, such as warrantless wiretapping and rendition, and faced criticism for jettisoning others, including enhanced interrogation techniques and secret prisons.
At the same time, the Obama administration is pressing Congress to move swiftly to reauthorize three provisions of the USA Patriot Act set to expire in late December. They include the use of "roving wiretaps" to track movement, e-mail and phone communications, a tool that federal officials used in the weeks leading up to Zazi's arrest.
Moreover, while law enforcement has Zazi in custody, it is all but clear that the terror plot has been fully exposed, along with his coconspirators. The CIA and other national security agencies have to track down Zazi's contacts overseas, which involves rolling up a terror cell that may lead back to top al Qaeda terrorists operating in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Zazi plot was one of the most serious terror plots disrupted since 9/11.