It seems more and more like Shahzad was part of a larger terrorist network. He was trained. He might have been a sleeper. There’s lots of evidence to believe this.
But if that’s true, then the fact that the bomb was so low-rent doesn’t jibe. “Super-sophisticated terrorist network plants half-assed dud in Times Square” isn’t the headline the Jihadis are looking for, right?
One possibility I’ve heard is that he wasn’t fully trusted by the Jihadis in Pakistan (they thought he might be a CIA plant), so he wasn’t given access to the best techniques and training. That seems possible, but hardly a slam dunk argument at this point. Another possibility: This was intended to be distraction for some other attack that didn’t transpire for some reason. I can think of a couple others, but they all seem to be a bit of a stretch.
Just to be clear, I think the terrorist threat is real and deep. But there’s a real disconnect in how so many people I respect are so eager to insist that Shahzad was a sleeper agent for an advanced terror network without taking into account the fact that a few afternoons surfing the web would be sufficient training for how to build a much better bomb.
Update: See follow-up here.