Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced new warnings of possible immenent attacks. The announcement was laden with key phrases intended to impress the public with the looming nature of the threat by focusing on the detailed nature of the intelligence. The intelligence indicated an al-Qaeda focus on a few specific areas, all of them East-coast financial centers.

In the following days, roads have been closed around the World Trade Organization and Internation Monetary Fund in D.C. and police armed with automatic weapons have been seen patrolling the financial centers in New York and New Jersey. The visible response is, of course, intended to reassure the public that the administration is responding to the threat of attack quickly and with any and all resources.

Yet despite the prominence given the warnings from Ridge, it turns out the information is at least 3 years old, perhaps older. The Washington Post was one of the first to address the fact quoting one senior official as saying,
"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," one senior law enforcement official told The Post. "Why did we go to this level? ... I still don't know that."

The The New York Times and other papers have also pointed out the age of the information. It has been said before by adminstration critics that the Homeland Security post and the warnings it issues have more to do with politics than with actually addressing possible threats to targets in the U.S. While many Republicans have dismissed the critics as playing politics themselves, Secretary Ridge's comments tend to lend some credibility to the critics claims.

In his statement announcing the new threats, Sec. Ridge added, "But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror, the reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan." While it may be appropriate to credit the agencies involved in developing the information, stressing the role of the president's leadership in developing this information adds an undeniable level of politics to what should be a vanilla statement. In addition to make such a statement given the volatile political environment (one in which the President is running almost entirely on his fight against terrorists) of an election year is to bring politics right to the top.

The adminstrations emphatic denials of attempting to politicize issues of national security have begun to ring a bit hollow. The problem is not with the Homeland Security Department alone, John Ashcroft and the Justice Department have also issued similar warnings. Earlier this year, in fact, the Ashcroft held a press conference asking the public to be on the lookout for several possible terrorists and displayed pictures and information about them, a'la America's Most Wanted. The administration then backed away from its announcement because several members might have already been in custody and that the information was not accurate.

The issue of national security is one that must be taken seriously. The White House does nothing but hurt the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agents when it is more interested in playing politics with the agencies involved.

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