There's been a sudden and substantial shift in the Obama administration's rhetoric with regard to terror…even to the extent of actually using the word.
In her first confirmation hearing as Homeland Security secretary last year, Janet Napolitano never used the word "terrorism," noted Stephen Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn.
"When asked why she did not utter the word 'terrorism' in the course of her testimony, Napolitano explained that she used 'man-caused disaster' instead to avoid 'the politics of fear,'" they wrote in the Weekly Standard.
Mr. Hayes and Mr. Joscelyn noted that "shortly thereafter, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration had dropped the phrase 'Global War on Terror' in favor of 'Overseas Contingency Operations.' And just last month, we learned that the White House's forthcoming National Security Strategy would not use religious words such as 'jihad' and 'Islamic extremism.'"
Ms. Napolitano and others in the administration initially downplayed the ties of Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Ft. Hood last November, and of Umar Abdulmuttalab, the "underwear bomber," to Islamic terror groups.
The pattern continued after Faisal Shahzad left a car bomb in Times Square May 1.
"Right now, we have no evidence that it is anything other than a one-off," Ms. Napolitano said on ABC's "This Week" program the next morning.
In fairness to Ms. Napolitano, she probably didn't know then that Mr. Shahzad was the prime suspect, or of his ties to the Taliban in Pakistan.
But maybe she should have. CBS News reported May 5 Mr. Shahzad had been on a travel lookout list from 1999 to 2008, then was dropped. Perhaps if Mr. Shahzad had been under surveillance, authorities might have noted his purchase of bomb-making materials before he parked a van loaded with them in Times Square.
On May 6, three days after Mr. Shahzad had been arrested trying to flee the country, and a day after Pakistani authorities arrested eight suspected confederates, the McClatchy News Service reported administration officials had told them there was "no credible evidence" he'd received terrorist training. Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander, described Mr. Shahzad that day as a "lone wolf."
But last Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder declared flatly on NBC's "Meet the Press" program that the Pakistani Taliban was involved in the plot. "We are now dealing with international terrorism," he said.
What caused the abrupt change?
Mr. Shahzad apparently has been talking (a lot) despite being told he has a right to remain silent. Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer, thinks that what he's had to say has scared the administration into a policy reversal.
"The White House obviously fears more terror attacks sooner rather than later," Mr. Peters wrote.
The Obama administration is coming late to the party, but better late than never.
Changes will have to be more than rhetorical if Americans are to be kept safe. In his appearance on "Meet the Press," Mr. Holder urged Congress to modify the Miranda rule to give authorities more leeway in questioning terrorists.
"We want the public safety exception to be consistent with the public safety concerns that we now have," he said.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Ct, would go further. He introduced a bill to strip suspected terrorists of American citizenship under certain conditions.
I'm not sure these are good ideas. It would be better to draw a bright line between terror suspects who are American citizens, and those who are not. Terror suspects who are citizens are entitled to the protections the Constitution provides. To tamper with those rights endangers more than the terror suspects.
But non-citizens have no such rights. The administration should abandon its plans to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, and Mr. Abdulmuttalab in civilian courts, and ship them off to Gitmo to face a military tribunal.
But Faisal Shahzad is entitled to a civil trial…for treason.
We should also be more careful in the future -- meaning by tomorrow -- about who we permit to become a citizen. Mr. Shahzad was naturalized in 2009 (through marriage to an American citizen) despite having been on a watch list for a decade. To be an American citizen is the greatest privilege in the world. It ought not to be granted to those who want to destroy our country.