Crying Wolf or Protecting The Homeland?
The problem with creating a terror warning system is that you might actually have to use it. The Bush Administration saw the lack of a nationwide notification system as a serious shortcoming in the new world of international terrorism.
The answer was to create a multi-tiered, color-coded system to alert a city, a region, or the entire nation that threats had been received or intercepted suggesting immediate danger. Security experts from private industry and emergency management had lobbied for years for something similar.
As an immediate response to a bad situation, a mechanism like the Terror Threat Warning System is both an emotional comfort (they're doing SOMETHING) and structural protection (they're telling US to do something).
The emotional value is short-term, and can be exploited for political purposes. The structural protection is more lasting, and can actually save lives and protect property.
Case in point is the recent change from Yellow to Orange for Washing, New York City, and suburban New Jersey. Specific targets, notably our more important financial centers, had been mentioned in intelligence going back several years.
More recently, as recently as two weeks ago, computer records captured in raids on known terrorists' hideouts provided an alarming level of detail on the buildings long thought to be possible terror targets.
How many guards per shift, the type of weapons and equipment they carry, the ease of ingress and egress into and out of these same buildings, and the street level access for the purpose of parking a truck near the entrance, clearly indicate a threat to the building and its occupant's safety.
The fact that this intelligence was updated in the last few months, even though the original data was several years old, is merely confirmation of al Qaeda's tactics. Remember that the September 11, 2001 hijackings took over three years to plan and execute.
Bush Administration critics pounced on the date of acquisition of the original intelligence on these buildings, suggesting on at least one national news show that the "Bushies" were using old terror threats to reduce Kerry's post-convention bounce.
Imagine the hew and cry if the administration had been aware of the old data, had acquired the newer data, and had failed to inform the Congress and the American people. That alone would have been tar and feather material, but what if the interval between learning about the terror data and disclosure had resulted in an actual terror attack?
Excuse my skepticism, but the Democratic contender for President and Vice President may not be the most valid critics on this question. Their desire to win an election in November trumps their concern over the American people and our personal security.
I do not recall either Senator John Kerry or Senator John Edwards as loud voices of criticism against the Clinton Administration's plans to defang the U.S. intelligence gathering capability.
Even more ridiculous is the idea that the Bush Administration is solely responsible for the present level of danger presented by Middle Eastern-based terror organizations. The acts of terror perpetrated on September 11th had been in the planning stages during the first Clinton term.
No doubt there are other ideas, plans, and plots that have been in development by the same gang of murderers. They would love nothing more than to see the Bush Administration stymied by public opinion, handcuffed by international hand-wringers and appeasers. France, Germany, Canada, and Russia have already lent significant comfort to our enemies, suggesting that regardless of the quality and detail of intelligence, we cannot act alone.
So here we are. Our Capitol is in full protective mode, with D.C. Police and Capitol Hill law enforcers carrying fully automatic weapons, wearing full body armor in 90+ degree heat. New York is back in jersey wall lockdown, 'look carefully at strangers' mode. Even northern New Jersey got drawn in, with folks having to relive the awful days after 9/11.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has had to defend his decision to raise the level, finding his most vocal critics, not among potential terrorists, but the media and the Democrats. One national news anchor recently reported that there might be a connection, however tenuous, between terror warnings and lower national polling results.
Most of us slumber nightly in peaceful bliss, unaware or unconcerned about the serious threats to our safety constantly being studied, evaluated, and categorized. Those of us with local government experience know the worry that accompanies protecting our neighbors from threats of which they are not aware, but that's our job.
We try to develop structures and processes to assist us with this important work. On the local level, we tighten security at utility plants; we screen visitors to important buildings; and we try to speed up and streamline our communications with the general public.
At the federal level, our government creates warning systems and security protocols to both defend and prevent. People of good will accept that this process is intended to defend our homeland, people of political motive suggest this is crying wolf.