August 04, 2004

The Terror Alerts

I have to say I'm a bit baffled about the whole hullabaloo surrounding whether the latest terror threat alert is based on old information (you know, ancient Roman-era scrolls and such) or information of more recent vintage (particularly given that al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not months).

The pre-Sept. 11 computer files "are corroborated by other intelligence of strong credibility that is of a very, very current nature," one of the officials said, referring to intelligence from detainee interrogations and other documents.

One said the government has "very, very recent information showing a clear terrorist intent related to planning attacks," and said the computer files related to the casings are "part of a larger package of information we gained access to." Taken together, the information makes clear that "this is not information for information's sake," one of the officials said. "The context is attacking."


Intelligence officials would later describe it as the most remarkable "treasure trove" of information about an al Qaeda plot that many of them had ever seen. Officials said the documents showed meticulous and long-running surveillance of the targets, including counts of pedestrian traffic, details about employee routines and discussion about the kinds of explosives that might work best to destroy each building.

President Bush was informed Friday morning aboard Air Force One, during his daily intelligence briefing, an aide said. The CIA, which worked around the clock for the next 72 hours translating and attempting to make sense of the material, told Bush about "emerging information that might require us to take preventive action on certain specific targets," the aide said.

Reasonable lefties are, if reluctantly, accepting that "the bulk of the evidence indicates that U.S. intelligence genuinely thinks something serious is being planned." Meanwhile, the predictable actors, of course, are in a hysterical tizzy about all the political manipulations underway (why not wait for October to pull such stunts, then? Surely no need to use this potent, diversionary Homeland Security Alert ammo to cut into Kerry's mini-bounce--keep the powder dry for when it really counts!)

The NYT complains:

That shifting tone may prove frustrating to the public, providing little guidance for assessing the gravity of threat information whose details remain shrouded in intelligence reports not available to anyone outside the highest ranks of the government.

Heh. Whose "shifting tone"?

Do they mean the Great New York Times Retrenchment on this terror alert story (not to mention the WaPo's too)? Recall, yesterday's theme was that these terror alerts were from a "long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." Today, however, both papers have been
forced to, er, 'update' their stories from yesterday.

Here's the NYT Walk-Back:

Senior government officials said Tuesday that new intelligence pointing to a current threat of a terrorist attack on financial targets in New York and possibly in Washington - not just information about surveillance on specific buildings over the years - was a major factor in the decision over the weekend to raise the terrorism alert level.

The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days.

And here's a quote from the WaPo's Walk-Back:

Paul Brown, deputy commissioner for public affairs at the New York Police Department, said Commissioner Ray Kelly learned about the emerging information late Friday. Brown said the details were alarming.

"It doesn't take a genius to know that bin Laden would like to hit Wall Street," Brown said, referring to Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda network. "Now we go to last Friday. We hear very good reconnaissance, and we put it together with what we know and our past experience, and I'd say that our response was rational from our point of view."

Indeedy (often it takes one of NYC's Finest to cut through the B.S. best).

Oh, in case dim readers didn't get the neo-Rainesian theme of the day hier, loudly and clearly enough, W.43rd had also helpfully editorialized (just to hammer it all in):

But it's unfortunate that it is necessary to fight suspicions of political timing, suspicions the administration has sown by misleading the public on security. The Times reports today that much of the information that led to the heightened alert is actually three or four years old and that authorities had found no concrete evidence that a terror plot was actually under way. This news does nothing to bolster the confidence Americans need that the administration is not using intelligence for political gain.

What's really "unfortunate," alas, is that the NYT hyped a non-story yesterday (some of the intel was new, al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not weeks/months, the info unearthed constituted an unprecedented "treasure trove," of detailed information, and so on--ie. the terror alert, shall we say, was damn well warranted)

Bill Keller might prefer that, henceforth, warnings only be issued when "concrete evidence that a terror plot [is] underway..." exists. Perhaps, as a truck-bomb plunges into the Citi building, Tom Ridge will then be permitted to raise that dastardly color-code warning (that bothers Howard Dean so)--from yellow to orange, or even orange to red--without incurring the scorn of assorted skeptics yammering on about the "politics" of the terror alerts.

Me, I prefer the NYPD's "rational" approach.

Don't you?

P.S. Look, just because A) one of Bush's major campaign themes is that he will be a better steward re: the global war on terror than Kerry and B) every now and again, the legitimate need arises to issue a terror threat warning does not mean the terror alert system is merely a Roveian mechanism to be employed at key junctures (you know, to swing the masses a couple poll points towards the Fearless War Leader when the numbers are sagging a bit too much for Karl's liking).

Put differently, A + B does not = C (C being the politicization of the terror alert system). Why is that so hard to see? Don't scream to me that it's because "Bush lied!" on the WMD. His own DCI told him the WMD intel was a 'slam dunk.' Just like Ridge is telling him, of late, that a major terrorist operation might be targetting financial targets in Jersey, Manhattan, and D.C.

Again, why is Bush being assailed, almost daily, as a scurrilous purveyor of half-truths and/or Big Lies? Because that's a judicious read on the merits--or because the Democrats are now increasingly playing politics with the terror alert issue?

They should be very careful here (as Kerry, sensing this, has been of late). It's a strategy (most recently floated by Dean on Wolf's Blitzer show) that will back-fire on them in a big way. After all, it reinforces the image that the Democrats don't take national (or homeland) security seriously enough. And, believe me, that's not an image the Dems wanna stoke in this first post 9/11 election.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at August 4, 2004 10:05 AM
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