economics

May 8, 2010

Scare in the Square: Tracking the Failed Times Square Bomber

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By SHANNON DOYNE AND HOLLY EPSTEIN OJALVO
FBI in BridgeportMark Lennihan/Associated Press F.B.I. agents on May 4 in the garage of a house in Bridgeport, Conn., where Faisal Shahzad, the terror suspect, lived.Go to related article »
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Current Events

Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

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Overview | How did the authorities find and apprehend Faisal Shahzad, the man who confessed to placing a bomb in Times Square? In this lesson, students learn how one person passing through one of America’s busiest places can be tracked down through technology and detective work. They create a flowchart that shows each step—and misstep—in the process, then research how Shahzad’s experience with law enforcement. would differ had he not become a U.S. citizen. They finish the lesson by debating all sides of a related civil rights issue.

Materials | Computer with Internet connection and projector, copies of the handout, board or chart paper and markers, research materials

Warm-up | As you go about your usual start-of-class procedure, have a person unfamiliar to students enter your classroom, hand you an object such as a book, envelope or piece of paper, then leave without saying a word.

Afterward, ask students to describe the person’s clothing, physical features such as height and hair color, name the object he or she gave you and characterize his or her demeanor. Ask: Are you absolutely sure about everything you said about the person? Was there anything out of the ordinary about the person’s actions? Did he or she seem nervous or otherwise suspicious?

When students are finished, have the person re-enter your room so that students can evaluate their descriptions, and reveal that this was staged to focus students’ attention on their powers of observation. Lead a short discussion about how activity and distractions (such as taking out books and other materials) can diminish capacity to observe changes and details in surroundings. Ask whether they think they would be more likely to notice the stranger if they were walking down a crowded street with friends, or perhaps walking alone while using a cellphone.

Without explaining what they will see next, have students watch the soundless, twenty-second “Person of Interest Found Near Bomb Site” video:

Before playing it again, ask students to describe what they saw. Then play it a few more times, until students are satisfied that they have seen everything.

Tell them that though the man seen in the video is not Faisal Shahzad, the man allegedly responsible for placing a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, early in the investigation, New York City police officers were studying the footage closely because they believed it showed a person connected to the attempted bombing.

Ask students to picture themselves as one of these officers. What telling details might they glean from the video? Ask: What is the man in the center of the screen doing? Does he seem suspicious? Are you able to get a good look at him? Would you be able to identify him if you saw him again?

Tell students that at the beginning of the investigation, authorities interviewed hotel guests, workers and theater-goers who may have been on the street as the suspect fled the scene and sifted through video footage. Ask: What would you do next, if you were in charge of the investigation? Jot students’ ideas on the board. Or, if students already know some or all of what transpired, have them tell what they know.

Distribute copies of the 5 W’s and an H handout (PDF) before showing them the short “Bomb Found in Times Square” video.

Ask students to jot down every who, what, where, when, why and how as they watch and listen. Consider showing the video a second time to ensure that students did not miss anything.

Tell them they will return to this handout after reading today’s article, which tells about how the authorities tracked down and apprehended the suspect in the bombing attempt.

Related | In “Smoking Car to an Arrest in 53 Hours,” William K. Rashbaum and Al Baker write about the process of tracking down the would-be bomber:

In the most basic calculus, the success of the investigation of the attempted car bombing in Times Square is measured by the authorities only one way: a suspect was caught and charged, and now faces life in prison if convicted.

But based on interviews and court records, those 53 hours included good breaks, dead ends, real scares, plain detective work and high-tech sophistication. There were moments of keen insight, and perhaps fearsome oversight.

Read the entire article with your students, using the following questions.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

1. Who was the first person to alert the authorities about the smoking vehicle in Times Square?
2. What did New York police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly call “the break” in the case? Why?
3. Why was it difficult for Mayor Bloomberg to reach the scene of the attempted bombing?
4. Where had Faisal Shahzad been living before the attempted bombing?
5. Where did Mr. Shahzad attempt to go? How did this lead to his arrest?

You may wish to supplement this article with others about Mr. Shahzad and his arrest.

RELATED RESOURCES
From The Learning Network

* Lesson: Terrorism Today: Investigating Al Qaeda’s Presence About the World
* Lesson: Safe and Secure: More or Less?
* Lesson: Calamity Sane

From NYTimes.com

* Times Topics: Times Square Bombing Attempt (May 1, 2010)
* Times Topics: Faisal Shahzad
* Timeline: Faisal Shahzad

Around the Web

* The Department of Homeland Security
* The White House Blog: But as Americans, and as a Nation, We Will Not Be Terrorized
* Carnegie Magazine: Whodunit? The Science of Solving Crime

Activity | There are two directions you might choose for this activity: You can have students continue to trace the events leading to Mr. Shahzad’s arrest and the developing revelations about his motives. Instructions follow.

Or, if you prefer to focus on issues related to civil rights, privacy versus security or immigration, you might move swiftly to the Going Further activity (see below) after students have finished their 5 W’s and an H handout, omitting the making of the flowchart.

Have students continue adding to their 5 W’s and an H handout, using information from today’s article. Encourage them to use their critical thinking skills to identify topics that require further thought and research, or use our list below.

For example, the article called Mr. Shahzad’s purchase of the Pathfinder a “strange transaction.” What was strange about it? Encourage students to research how the paperwork should have been handled, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Connecticut, the state where Mr. Shahzad purchased the vehicle.

Students might be divided into groups to research the following topics. They should look into the roles their topic played in the crime-solving process in this case as well as into the related questions provided below. The Times Topics pages listed above are good starting places.

Security cameras: Do they catch criminal acts and the people who commit them, serve as a deterrent, both? What civil rights issues arise with the use of surveillance cameras?

Law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security: How did the Homeland Security Department come about, how has it evolved since 2001 and how it is responding to the Times Square incident? How are local and federal officials involved in this case? Why did the F.B.I. get involved?

Ground transportation: What is a Vehicle Information Number, or VIN? What purpose do they serve? How did a VIN help police find Mr. Shahzad? What clues about Mr. Shahzad’s Pathfinder suggested to police that the parked car might be involved in an attempted attack? How did he drive to the airport? What was found in that vehicle?

Bomb building and weaponry: What kind of gun did Mr. Shahzad own? How did he buy it? What components did he use to build his bomb? Why did he include fireworks? Why did it fail? How were police first made aware of the car bomb?

Communication: What type of phone did Mr. Shahzad use in connection with this case? What other communications are police aware of? How did police track him using telephone data?

Airport security measures: What are they and what protocols are on the way? How and why was Mr. Shahzad able to board a plane, given that he was on a do-not-fly list?

International support: What links to Pakistan and the Taliban does Mr. Shahzad have? Why do officials believe there may be Taliban involvement in this case?

Location: Why might Mr. Shahzad have chosen Times Square as his target?

Biography: Who is Faisal Shahzad? Why might he have turned to attempted violence?

When research is complete, come together to create a flowchart that shows every step in the process of finding (and re-finding) Faisal Shahzad, complete with detours that turned out to be breakthroughs, like having to track down the vehicle’s previous owner when it was revealed that the Pathfinder was not officially registered to Shahzad.

As Rashbaum and Baker say in “Smoking Car to an Arrest in 53 Hours,” the investigation had both “keen insights” and “fearsome oversights.” Have students label each event as such, explaining why.

As they create the flowchart, have students jot down further questions that arise about Mr. Shahzad’s actions and motives, such as why he was heading to Dubai. Have students look for answers to their questions as new articles appear.

Going Further | Tell students that because Faisal Shahzad is a naturalized citizen of the United States, he was read his Miranda rights under a public safety exception that allowed this process to be delayed until it was determined that there was no imminent threat and that he will be guaranteed a jury trial, also as stipulated by the U.S. Constitution.

Have students compare how this process would differ had Shahzad not become a U.S. citizen. They should do this by writing research-based essays about the rights of detainees and the interrogation process.

As they do their research, other issues such as U.S. immigration, citizens’ personal privacy versus public safety, rights of terrorism suspects (as opposed to those accused of other types of crimes) will likely arise. Have students choose one of these issues to craft a specific question for individuals or small groups to debate, such as: Should the United States more fully investigate individuals wishing to emigrate here? Should U.S. citizens accused of terrorism be allowed their Fifth Amendment rights?

Host the debates, allowing time for the audience to ask questions at the end.

Standards | From McREL, for grades 6-12:

Civics
8. Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society
9. Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy
11. Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society
13. Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity
14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
22. Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy
23. Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations

World History
43. Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up
44. Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
45. Understands major global trends since World War II
46. Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history

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