Faisal Shahzad's car bomb sucked, but the technology that caught him was cutting-edge: Army intelligence planes scrambled over New York, armed with Shahzad's cell phone number. They intercepted his call reserving a plane ticket to Dubai; authorities nabbed him.
Update: The details about the Army intelligence planes have been scrubbed from the WCBS story since we posted this. This could be because they were wrong, or because of some sort of security concern. We'll try to get in touch with WCBS to see what's up. [Update 5/5: WCBS has issued a response.]
Meanwhile, the Nation's Jeremy Scahill has done some reporting on the intelligence plane issue. He interviewed a US Special Operations Force source, who said Army Special Ops forces were likely involved in Shazhad's capture, and that the planes—if they were used—were probably RC-12s, which look something like this:
The planes are equipped with a Guardrail Signals Intelligence system which, according to Scahill, "sucks up" all electronic communications in an area, allowing authorities to pinpoint their location. It's likely that parts of the domestic counter-terrorism system the Bush administration set up were activated by the bombing. Scahill writes that these counter-terrorism programs "gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks." Army spy planes were within their rights to be flying over New York, sucking up all our electronic communications as they rushed to track Shahzad's cell phone activity.
Here's the Google cache to prove it: