Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TERROR WARNINGS....I really don't know what to think about the New York terror alert this weekend that we now know was based on old information. This is from the Washington Post:

More than half a dozen government officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that."

But then there's this in the LA Times:

Several senior U.S. counterterrorism officials said that the surveillance, obtained in Pakistan and reviewed late last week by authorities in Washington, came amid a continuing stream of intelligence corroborating Al Qaeda's determination to launch strikes in the U.S.

....On Monday, [Homeland Security Secretary Tom] Ridge told NBC's "Today" show that on a scale of 1 to 10, the quality of the intelligence prompting the alert was "a 10".

....in a briefing, White House homeland security advisor Frances Townsend described the intelligence as coming not just from Khan but from "multiple reporting streams that came together in such a way to give us real grave concern."

After spending some time reading about the CIA's "multiple streams" of intelligence regarding uranium from Niger, I'm not as impressed by this as I might have been a year ago. Still, even though my trusting nature has taken a beating lately, for now it looks like this is probably the real deal, not just a politically motivated announcement designed to scare everyone into voting for George Bush (The Only Candidate Who's Tough on Terror).

But trust is in short supply these days and mine could disappear in a blink. This is definitely a story worth following.

UPDATE: I see that my loyal commenters want the other side of this story the tinfoil hat side. Glad to oblige. Here's part of what I originally wrote after reading only the Washington Post story quoted above:

I don't know which "government officials" Dan Eggen and Dana Priest interviewed for their story, but you have to figure they're the kind of people who are consulted before terror warnings are issued. So if these people are all scratching their heads about this, who was giving Tom Ridge advice to go public?

Here are the dots to wonder about: we already know that Karl Rove advised Republicans to keep war and terror front and center during the 2002 midterm elections and he probably hasn't changed his mind about this strategy since then. We know that the press practically snickers whenever John Ashcroft announces yet another "terror" arrest. We know that the administration has pressured Pakistan to round up al-Qaeda members before the election. We know that Bush is desperate to look like he's responding the the 9/11 Commission report but in reality wants no part of it. And now we know that highly public terror warnings are being issued based on information that makes even law enforcement officials wonder what's really going on.

After reading half a dozen other stories about the terror warning, I think the bulk of the evidence indicates that U.S. intelligence genuinely thinks something serious is being planned. However, I can't blame anyone for connecting these dots and concluding otherwise. For now, though, my own mind remains open on the subject.

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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