The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, August 03, 2004



I was about to criticize Howard Dean. I was about to say to him, "Look, if the administration has specific intelligence of this nature about possible impending attack, then they should get it out to us, regardless of what some might say about the timing. Howard, suppose the Clinton administration had urgent intelligence of this nature, and they swiftly went public with it, even though it was a mere few days after Bob Dole's acceptance speech at the GOP convention. How would you have reacted under those circumstances?"

That's right, I was prepared to take this new terrorist warning seriously. I was willing to look the other way when Tom Ridge, while making the announcement, praised "the president's leadership in the war against terror", a nice politicizing touch. (Krugman and others noticed this) Yes, I had concerns about the timing of previous warnings, particularly the last one in May I think, with Ashcroft's rather transparent press conference. But this time, I thought it was dead serious.

Oh , well!
Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday. They reported that they had not yet found concrete evidence that a terrorist plot or preparatory surveillance operations were still under way.

But the officials continued to regard the information as significant and troubling because the reconnaissance already conducted has provided Al Qaeda with the knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against the sites in Manhattan, Washington and Newark. They said Al Qaeda had often struck years after its operatives began surveillance of an intended target.

Taken together with a separate, more general stream of intelligence, which indicates that Al Qaeda intends to strike in the United States this year, possibly in New York or Washington, the officials said even the dated but highly detailed evidence of surveillance was sufficient to prompt the authorities to undertake a global effort to track down the unidentified suspects involved in the surveillance operations.

"You could say that the bulk of this information is old, but we know that Al Qaeda collects, collects, collects until they're comfortable,'' said one senior government official. "Only then do they carry out an operation. And there are signs that some of this may have been updated or may be more recent.''

Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said on Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports, apparently collected by Qaeda operatives had been "gathered in 2000 and 2001.'' But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January.

The comments of government officials on Monday seemed softer in tone than the warning issued the day before. On Sunday, officials were circumspect in discussing when the surveillance of the financial institutions had occurred, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited the quantity of intelligence from "multiple reporting streams'' that he said was "alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.''

The officials said on Monday that they were still analyzing computer records, photos, drawings and other documents, seized last month in Pakistan, which showed that Qaeda operatives had conducted extensive reconnaissance.
Okay, sorry, but this is fuckin fishy. First you check the date, then you scare everybody.

This appears to be the terror-alert version of all those WMD "discoveries" in Iraq. Big loud headlines on page A1 about "mobile weapons labs" being found in Iraq, then a few days later an article deep inside the paper explaining that the offending trailers actually had a non-military purpose.

So Howard, I'm sorry, let's never fight again. And frankly, you and Kerry had a good-cop-bad-cop thing going, very nice.


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