Monday, August 2, 2004

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Evaluating the threat from Al Qaeda

Dan Byman, a counterterrorism specialist at Georgetown, has a counterintuitive Slate essay on why the U.S. homeland is safer than commonly thought -- despite the recent terrorist advisory for certain East Coast locales:

The greatest blow to al-Qaida has come from the removal of its haven in Afghanistan and the disruption of the permissive environment it enjoyed in numerous countries in Europe and Asia. The leaders of the organization are under intense pressure, with killings and arrests commonplace. As a result, attacks that require meticulous planning and widespread coordination are far more difficult to carry out.

Al-Qaida has changed in response to these pressures. As former CIA Director George Tenet testified earlier this year, "Successive blows to al-Qaida's central leadership have transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously." Before Sept. 11, al-Qaida worked closely with various local jihadist movements, drawing on their personnel and logistics centers for its own efforts and working to knit the disparate movements together. Since 9/11, local group leaders have played a far more important role, taking the initiative in choosing targets and conducting operations, looking to al-Qaida more for inspiration than for direction.

This shift from a centralized structure to a more localized one has made the U.S. homeland safer. The United States, in contrast to many nations in Europe and Asia, does not have a strong, well-organized, radical Islamist presence on its shores. Although there are certainly jihadist sympathizers who might conduct attacks on their own or be used by foreign jihadists as local facilitators, the vast sea of disaffected young Muslim men that is present in Europe and elsewhere has no U.S. parallel. Similarly, the logistics network of forgers, scouts, recruiters, money men, and others is far less developed.

Safer does not mean safe, and the risk of less sophisticated attacks remains particularly high. Attacks on U.S. allies where jihadist networks are better organized and more resilient are a grave concern, and Americans traveling abroad are particularly vulnerable. Nor is the homeland necessarily secure, as al-Qaida has adjusted to U.S. vigilance. FBI Director Robert Mueller has warned that the organization is seeking recruits who will easily blend in to the United States. Tenet also darkly noted that for groups sympathetic to al-Qaida's ideology, attacks on the U.S. homeland remain the "brass ring."

There's another reason to believe that an Al Qaeda attack might stoppable. Although the U.S. might still not be prepared to protect critical infrastructure, this Washington Post story suggests that Al Qaeda isn't targeting it either. For all the talk about Al Qaeda's flexibility, they appear to be relatively orthodox in targeting symbols. The key paragraph:

The information that emerged appears to confirm that al Qaeda continues to plan operations and conduct surveillance against targets inside the United States. It buttresses the warnings of law enforcement and intelligence officials that al Qaeda has operatives in the United States and that U.S. financial institutions -- particularly ones in New York and Washington -- remain favorite targets of the terror network.

More on this point from Knut Royce of Newsday.

None of this means that the Al Qaeda threat has been eliminated -- but it's still worth noting.

UPDATE: Douglas Jehl and David Johnston report in the New York Times that, "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." However, both the Times account and this Chicago Tribune story make it clear that while most of the information was old, it was only in the past few weeks that it was obtained by U.S. intelligence. The Tribune report also states, "The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while much of the surveillance predated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some information about one of the targeted buildings was from 2004."

Tom Maguire (who's been on a roll as of late) has some relevant thoughts.

posted by Dan on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM


For all those who claim that the Bush Administration has done "nothing" to make America safer -- looks like you're wrong.

Still, it doesn't make sense to rely completely on the expectation that al Qaeda will only attack high-value targets.

I've asked before why the Bush Administration isn't spending more money on national security and homeland security. The response I received was that we can't protect every target. That's certainly true. However, our annual GDP is 11 trillion dollars. Can't we try a little harder to strengthen our defenses? Can't we afford to spend a mere 6 percent of GDP on the U.S. military, and a mere 1 percent of GDP on homeland security?

posted by: Arjun on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]


Drudge tonight seems taken with the idea that the info that raised our alert levels over the weekend was in fact a couple years old... some of it pre-dating the original 9/11 attacks.

The implication appears to be that this is old stuff and not worthy of our attention.

However, I would point out that the 9/11 attakcs, too, were in the planning stages for years. AQ has set itself inot a long drawn our terror war... one of long-term attrition, long before the US and the remainder of the west recognized it for thw threat it is.

Given the mindset of AQ, those plans as have been discovered should be taken more seriously than most 4 year old plans. Your point about them targeting symbols is right in line with this thinking. AQ is of the impression time is on their side. They figure to wait a good amount of time between attacks. We know they're coming, we know what they're about in terms of targets.

The only question to my mind, is "when".

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Don't be so sanguine about Al- Qaeda not targeting infrastructure. They had never hijacked airliners before September 11, nor had anyone used airliners as flying bombs.

posted by: John Lynch on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

This post is almomst TOOO RICH. Seriously, the times updated it's front page @ midnight -- so 40 minutes later, there is a gigantic egg on someone's face. The horror! The Horror! The bush administration plays politics with terrorism and terror alerts. Shock! Shock! This post comes on the heels of the July Surprise coming true -- and apparently no caveats.

I really wish there was an automated way to keep track of these wingnuts sticking their neck out for the Bush administration, and how long before something that utterly contradicts everything they just state occurs. Dan probably has some stiff competiton from Baghdad Brooks and Instaidiot, but Brooks only publishes a few times a week -- and FORTY MINUTES is definitely gotta be up there.

posted by: Jor on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Let, me also irrationally update my p-value weighted towards recent events and irrelevancies 0.10 in favor of Bush, i.e. p=0.64 Bush.

posted by: Jor on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

That´s is true but not in a sense that another 911 like damage is impossible, 911 is still possible just look that a japanese cult with very few resourses was able to do with sarin (when it is easy to make WMD we must more than ever look to the nature of the governements than to weapon existence). . The Iraq invasion is helping because Al-queda is rushing fighters without much training to combat there. That drawing of resources is weakening al-queda
because it isnt able to "teach" recruits for high
profile public relations operations
(for me Terror is a PR operation - 60 deaths in Iraq is diferent from 60 deaths in Paris)
Lets suppose that 1000 insurgents have died and from that 1000 - supposing 800 are indigenous 200 were al-queda fighters what they could have achieved if werent there?
Al-queda was growing in Afhghanistan and what military operations stopped was 911 damage attacks every 6 months

posted by: lucklucky on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

It's really, really stupid to point to Afghanistan as some great accomplishment in the war on terror by Bush. Only a complete idiot would not have attacked Afghanistan after 9/11. Let's look at how badly it has gone since the initial success though to evaluate the competency of this administration. 1. No Osama Bin Laden. 2. Humanitarian aid efforts difficult, if not impossible due to lack of security. 3. Taliban resurgence. 4. Warlords control the country. 5. Elections perilous and likely will be disputed.

This administration can't even do the obvious right.

Look at North Korea for another obvious screw up.

posted by: elliottg on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

I am one of the very few people who (so far, knock on wood) has accurately predicted that the Islamic terrorists will unlikely launch another major attack on America. What made me feel so confident? Political correctness hindered us from preventing 9/11, but now we take a second look at those who might be Arab. Few blond hair Swedes are suicide bombers. That’s the blunt reality of the situation. More importantly, I sensed that most Arab-Americans have little interest in Islamic nihilism. They want to become full fledged citizens able to live the good life. Also, our open society may ironically intimidate terrorists! Our willingness to say hello even to total strangers and engage them in conversation might be offsetting to those who prefer to operate in the shadows.

posted by: David Thomson on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

I'm sorry, but this concept of strengthening defenses at home when the potential targets are plenty and the threats are vague and non-specific for the most part. Securing the country would be extremely expensive and would probably involve taking measures that would either lead to inflation or recession or both. Security would just end up being like excessive regulation. The best approach is to force Arab countries to reform so they quit exporting their people and their problems to the US and especially to Europe. Europe is incapable of integrating large numbers of Muslims and is far more intolerant of foreigners than the US. The result is a seething, struggling Muslim underclass. The problem for us is that Europe seems to employ the same strategies that Arab countries do deal with the poor living conditions. They try deflect the hatred towards Israel and the US.

posted by: Atm on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Ah, but that was the point of the info released on Saturday; The info is not qite so vauge, anymore.

The the charges of using the alerts poliically is expected from a group of people who are backing the likes of Kerry; they have little else to run on, than to attack anything that moves. The attacks don't have to make sense, they just have to be noisy. Kerry's complainst seem to fit right into that scenario.

However, the facts Kerry's people would like you to forget are are that AQ has never regarded terrorism as a short-term occupation. The 9/11 attacks were years in the making. We know that once a target is set, it remains an objective until it's no longer standing. The only hting to so with this info was to act accorindg to the idea that these places are still objectives. We have no indication that these targets are off the table, as it were. IN fact, if past is prolouge the only safe course is to assume they're still targets. Particualrly since this guy they captured had these files in his computer as active.

And it should be pointed up; Can you imagine the howling from the Kerry camp had the administrattion not acted as such? They'd claim Bush wasn't doing enough...

Bush and his people are figuring, apparently corretly, that the complaints from the Kerry camp are going to continue no matter what is done or not done.

This is, after all, an election year.
And Kerry has nothing else to run on.

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

I thought we were safer because we took out Sadaam Hussein and liberated the Iraqi people?

Seriously though, if we did not make it harder for Al Qaeda to attack the US since 9/11 that would have been a failure that even Bush could not dodge. But he did the obvious things and we are safer in some ways. But he also did someother things, like invade Iraq, which I really believe are going to make us less safe in the decade to come.

posted by: Rich on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Although terrorism as defined by the STate Dept. is on the rise, the ability of Al Qaida specifically to attack the US in dramatic ways specifically like 9/11 may be lower due to the strike in Afghanistan. However, I doubt this guy from Georgetown's point can be spun to mean more than this very specific point.

As the invasion of Iraq looked like an attack on a Muslim country by the US to most Muslims, I would argue that it made the US and American citizens less secure. It certainly did not help make Al Qaida less effective. It just moved the Al Qaida sympathies towards "jihad in Iraq" as has become increasingly clear over the past several months. Also, it is hard to dispute that hardline, "pre-emptive" US policies have helped Al Qaida recruit. So in the short run the attacks on Afghanistan certainly did hurt Al Qaida; in the long run both the Afghanistan and Iraq attacks are going to help them. Bin Laden and his sympathizers have money and they have time and they are not in a hurry. To truly make his movement ineffective the US should quit making itself the bogeyman of the Middle East by changing its policies.

posted by: Anna in Cairo on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Tenet says, "Successive blows to al-Qaida's central leadership have transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously."

So, now there are many mini-bin Laden's running around, with harder to trace linkages between them. How are we ever now going to eradicate them all? Are we really making any progress towards long-term safety?

posted by: Michael Weiksner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while much of the surveillance predated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some information about one of the targeted buildings was from 2004."

So these plans are old ones, but AQ are updating them to fit in with new information, probably trying to work out ways around post-9-11 security measures at these places. Am I reading this properly?

posted by: sam on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

I have to admit I had fully expected the Bush administration to pull out another terror warning right after the DNC.

And yet, when it actually happened it sounded real enough that I was willing to suspend disbelief and trust them that this was only a coincidence. After all, this time the threats seemed new and specific and they were actually closing tunnels and bridges into New York to commercial traffic to prevent a truck bomb from blowing them up. I was actually driving past New York yesterday and heard the traffic advisory on the radio. It sounded like a horrible mess. They couldn't possibly inconvenience hundreds of thousands (millions?) of commuters just for a little political gain, could they? And with each and every new fake terror warning people will become less and less likely to take future warnings seriously - you can only cry "wolf!" so often.

Well, so much for that theory.

So now we are told it was 3-year-old intelligence that was only recently uncovered. Presumably the World Trade Center was identified as one of those targets in the Financial District... There is no reason to believe an attack was planned for yesterday, when the road closings started, or this week or this month. What are they planning to do? Put New York City under indefinite lockdown?

This is completely insane.

Here is another question: If they are really so worried about an attack on New York, wouldn't it be irresponsible for so many members of the government to come attend the RNC in New York? Shouldn't they let Bush deliver his speech from a secure location? Or move the convention to a different city?

They wouldn't just keep it all in New York for a little political gain.

Or would they?

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

What a stupid pov. By that theory had the initial 1999 planning for the 911 attacks been discovered Sept 10, Bush should have filed it away.

For gods sake, cant you people stop playing gotcha for 2 seconds? We can only act on intelligence we have at a given moment. You guys wouldnt be so kind if those buildings went down tomorrow and Bush had the intel but ignored it because it seemed dated. We all know AQ plans take years to mature. We got the information, it was passed on within 36 hours, isnt that whats supposed to happen?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"The former senior National Security Council official said he was told by British intelligence that they are interrogating an al-Qaida operative who confirmed that financial institutions are being targeted and that an attack was planned for September.

And a U.S. official familiar with the ongoing analysis of the computer said, "There are references to other things [buildings]" in the al-Qaida computer's data, including a picture of the Bank of America building in San Francisco. "There is mention of other places."

The laptop computer was seized on July 25 following the arrest after a 12-hour gun battle of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who is wanted for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa",0,2200894,print.story?coll=ny-homepage-big-pix

That's right, Bush should have kept his mouth shut about attacks thought to be planned for September... because some of the information is several years old.. even knowing AQ plans years in advance... just so people like qw and Howard Dean wont feel like they're being manipulated. At least we all have our priorities straight.
Great platform dems, whats really important is that everyone sleep better at night, not to worry about bad people out their actively planning our destruction.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"The surveillance actions taken by the plotters were "originally done between 2000 and 2001, but were updated - some were updated - as recently as January of this year," Fran Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show.

"And from what we know of al-Qaida's method ... they do them years in advance and then update them before they actually launch the attack," she said.

Townsend and other officials noted that the information - dating back to 2000 and 2001 - was just recently discovered in Pakistan. "We've only gotten the intelligence, I would say, in the last 72 hours," she said Tuesday."

I would just apologize to the Bush administration and move on, but that's me.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Mark Buehner: I would just apologize to the Bush administration and move on, but that's me.

Feel free to apologize. :-)

While you are at it, you might want to address my question when these new security measures in New York City are going to be lifted or whether they will just remain in place indefinitely. And the safety of Bush and other top-level administration officials at the RNC - what about that?

I don't know why you think it is so important to defend this administration against any kind of criticism, I don't know why you think it is important enough to abandon all common sense, why you wouldn't yourself ask why it wasn't revealed immediately that some of this information was many years old, why you wouldn't be at least a little bit concerned after reading articles like this one:

I don't know why, but I'm sure you'll continue to ignore all that and keep insisting it's all a big coincidence, that the threats are real and yet we are safer thanks to Bush, that we squashed the terrorists and yet they are coming after us again.

I don't know how or why you do it, but it's kind of admirable.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

And i'll leave it to you to keep thinking there is no threat but Bush has failed to eliminate it. What would you have done differently with this intelligence, simple question.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

PS, publically announcing to the terrorists when the security measure will be lifted could be slightly wreckless.
Might as well run an add on CNN, 'If you're planning on bombing this building, you might want to wait 2 weeks until we lift the security. That way qws wont feel like he's living in a police state, and that after all is what matters'.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

It's interesting if you read about the terror warnings in US vs. European media. The US ones, even CNN, NYT and others, don't try and play up the "terror threat used to take away attention after the DNC" card that European press (esp. the Baathist Broadcasting Corp.) continuously use. The BBC said that Kerry received too much positive attention after the DNC for the GOP's liking. Maybe they didn't see him sweating buckets, fidgeting, cutting short applause, rushing the speech and chewing words (terrorist actions...ahh, counter-terrorist actions). But luckily for them, I doubt too many Europeans actually saw the entire speech (at least not as many Americans...I'm sure the Beeb showed only clips where Kerry actually looked ok and got applause from the crowd without trying to cut it off..either that or they just showed transcripts) So the fact that the US media doesn't try and play that card to the same extreme desreves some credit. However, that doesn't mean they don't take other routes to try and discredit the threats, such as the shocking revelation that *gasp* some the info is a couple years old. Maybe they were thinking that the terrorists were currently operating out of the Waldorf in NY, who knows. I guess we need to remind them that planning for 9/11 started years before 2001, but they don't like to be reminded of the fact that most of the planning took place on Clinton's watch.

I think the adminstration made the right choice. Obviously the best thing to do would be to proactively go after the terrorists, which they are doing. However, there's also the necessity to remain vigilant regarding current threats. It's a 2 part process that has been in essentially every briefing or version of the National/Homeland security strategy that this administration has issued.

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Mark Buehner: If you're planning on bombing this building, you might want to wait 2 weeks until we lift the security.

Oh, really?! Well, thanks for that insight.

But keep ignoring that this is effectively what they have gotten us into. Rather than keeping the newly gained information low-profile and step up security discreetly, they made a big media splash "Hey, we know what you guys are up to, and for a few days we'll pretend we are serious about stopping you!"

The only justification for this public spectacle could have been the anticipation of an attack on these very days. The drastic measures taken could have persuaded the terrorists to postpone their attack. But now we hear there was no reason to believe an attack was imminent. Perhaps next month. Gee, so what now? Are we going to keep New York locked down for a whole month? But then, that's when the attacks were meant to take place, so we'll have to throw in another month, presumably.

You don't think the terrorists would now be thinking that maybe October would be a good month to actually strike? (Or perhaps this month, but in Los Angeles?) You don't think that New Yorkers will get tired of all this and become less and less vigilant? Being on "high" alert all the time makes that "high" pretty meaningless.

One more attempt at getting through to you: Imagine Bill Clinton were President right now and he'd be taking the exact same "measures". You'd support his every move, right? You would suspend your natural distrust of Big Government and believe everything Clinton says, right? You wouldn't point out that precious little has been done over the last three years to actually make us safer, would you? You wouldn't blame Clinton for the perceived terror threat still being this high, would you?

If so, then I guess you have a whole lot more faith in the ability of our government to do all the right things than I have.

And to Danny: That was pretty amusing. You might want to check out Paul Krugman's op-ed in the NYT today - You're trying that script here, aren't you? But don't worry, it's working - Mark, I'm sure, will agree with you on every point.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"Rather than keeping the newly gained information low-profile and step up security discreetly, they made a big media splash "

How exactly do you search every large vehicle around a bunch of major finanicial centers secretly in the age of Michael Moore? His next movie would have been BUSH TAKES MANHATTAN. Besides that, what if keeping it low profile failed? I'm sure you and your ilk would be totally understanding if Bush has the info and didnt share it. Lets be realistic instead of playing gotcha politics for a minute. You cant do anthing secret in this country.

"The only justification for this public spectacle could have been the anticipation of an attack on these very days"

Thats clearly not the only justification. Protecting those building might be a good one, no? How exactly do you put guys with machine guns and mirrors on poles in Newark without attracting attention? The point is, we dont know the dates with any certainty, but we do know that now there are millions of eyes watching some very specific targets. Essentially an Amber alert for terrorists.

Did it ever occur to you waiting for suicide bombers with a van full of explosives to pull up on a busy NY street might not be the safest way to catch these guys? On the other hand, could protecting these buildings force the terrorists to change their tactics, maybe make a mistake? Flush them out? You can believe that or not, but you cant say its not a possible rational justification. Hold the hyperbole.

"You'd support his every move, right? You would suspend your natural distrust of Big Government and believe everything Clinton says, right"

Yes. Just as I supported him in the Balkans because I believed it was right.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

If Bush would have withheld this intelligence a single _day_ you and Krugman would flay him alive. No matter what the man does, you will argue the opposite, hence, you have nothing valuable to add to the debate. I have attacked Bush as much as anyone for screwing up the reconstruction, I've held him to a higher standard than almost anyone on his failures. But neither will I stand around while the fundamentally unserious hurl every single decision back in Bush's face no matter which way it goes. All that leads to is deviciveness and confusion, and that costs lives in war.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Bithead writes: "The the charges of using the alerts poliically "

The alert *was* used politically.

Tom Ridge's statement contains an explicitly political passage:

"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."

Rather than just relating the facts, like a NOAA hurricane warning would, he has to go stick this political hagiography in.

posted by: Jon H on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

How exactly do you search every large vehicle around a bunch of major finanicial centers secretly in the age of Michael Moore?

Yeah, yeah, it's all Moore's fault, isn't it? ;-)

But yes, you are asking a good question. That's the kind of question our homeland security experts should have been asking (and answering!) since 9/11/01, i.e. for almost three full years!

I'll even throw in some possible answers that could have at least been considered:

1. permanently re-route truck traffic away from potential targets

2. reinforce likely attack targets at street level

3. develop new bomb detection technology (if we can spend billions on "Star Wars", why not a few hundred million here and there to do something useful?) - why aren't all vehicles entering New York driving through some sort of big X-ray machine by now? (for bonus points, the machine could also process the EZ-pass payments!)

You can believe that or not, but you cant say its not a possible rational justification.

I already addressed that point - it's only rational if an imminent attack was expected. A month in advance - that's irrational and counter-productive. It gives the terrorists enough time to change their plans in an organized fashion, it makes it LESS likely for them to panic and screw up, it makes it MORE likely for the general public to become tired of vague threats and become less alert overall.

But since we are now down to "rational justifications" - I hope you will agree that another one of those would be that they simply were looking for another reason to get Kerry off and terror alerts on the front pages again, right?

You also repeated yourself with that "gotcha politics" line. First it was 2 seconds, now it's a minute. In fact, as I wrote (which you ignored), I initially was willing to suspend my disbelief for much longer than that. From when I first heard about the new warnings to when I saw the front page of the New York Times this morning. So that was somewhere between 36 and 48 hours, if I remember correctly. You got a lot more than you asked for, and yet you aren't happy - how come? (Hint: Maybe you should pick a different metaphor from your script...)

Just as I supported him in the Balkans because I believed it was right.

Well, good for you. You do realize that many (most?) of your fellow Bush supporters fought Clinton's Kosovo decisions at every turn and even refused to support our troops back then? It's a true travesty how Republican politicians turn what they did themselves for no good reason under Clinton into anti-American, unpatriotic treason a few years later, i.e. question the decisions of a President at a time of war.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]


I read Krugman's article. As usual with Krugman, it is based on the laughable premise that there is a conservative bias in the media. Of course, whenever he makes this claim, his examples are almost always limited to FOX, WSJ and a scattering of right wing radio talk shows. Impressively, this time he used CNN a couple times. Using Kerryesque nuances such as "they didn't support abortion on demand, they supported keeping abortion laws as they are now," Krugman desperately tries to convince himself that Kerry's speech was a smash hit. I guess that vast right wing conspiracy henchman Tom Brokaw was in on the attack against Kerry when he was talking about how Kerry rushed the speech because he is such a big Bush supporter...or something.

Regardless, Krugman proves my point that much of the media was critical of at least parts of Kerry's speech, and more so of his delivery. Whether or not the speech was good, the fact that the media didn't think so (which you and Krugman seem to agree with) goes directly against the Beeb's claim that Kerry's speech was portrayed favorably by the media, thus necessitating the Bush administration to publicize these terror threats. In the last 2 paragraphs Krugman contradicts the rest of his article when he claims as well that the terror warnings were a result of Republicans feeling threatened by the DNC. This contradiction is typical of Krugman and leads me to my next question: does anyone actually take Krugman seriously anymore? Did they ever?

Finally, you assume that I think Bush can do no wrong. Trust me, I think Bush has done plenty wrong, most recently by throwing yet another level of bureaucracy into the intelligence apparatus by creating yet another position that will be tasked with doing the same job as about 4-5 other people whose positions have been created under similar circumstances dating back to 1948. That's just the tip of the iceberg. It would take a while for me to list bonehead moves Bush has made. I simply think Kerry would make even more boneheaded moves. That is, if he's willing to actually make a decision and stick by it.

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"1. permanently re-route truck traffic away from potential targets"

Impossible. High rises require delivery trucks for everything from food to garbage removal. Truckers dont navigate city streets cuz they like the urban atmosphere.

"2. reinforce likely attack targets at street level"

Been done to a major degree. But its impossible to do completely. I dont _think_ AQ can knock down a building with a car bomb at this point, but they can sure kill a bunch of people with one.

"3. develop new bomb detection technology"

Being done, you should be happy because its being kept relatively quiet.
Its not helping that anarchists and protestors are advocating dousing themselves with powder residue to intentionally through off the detection.

"A month in advance - that's irrational and counter-productive."
You're assuming we knew when to expect the event with a high degree of certainty. When AQ got wind of our intel coup what if they decided to move up the schedule? Thats a lot of lives at risk to keep Kerry on the front page.

"I hope you will agree that another one of those would be that they simply were looking for another reason to get Kerry off and terror alerts on the front pages again, right?"

Its rational, its plausible. Occum's razor suggests its highly unlikely considering a _major_ AQ cell was rounded up 72 hours before the intel broke. Can you imagine the panic when all sorts of unexplained government surveylence showed up in NYC immediately afterwards? The conspiracy nuts would have a field day. I thought people wanted Bush to be less secretive?

"So that was somewhere between 36 and 48 hours, if I remember correctly"
If you would have waited another 24 hours for the news cycle to correct the NYT (always wise) you would have heard that the intel was in fact fresh and as late as this January, also that even more high ranking AQ were being arrested in Pakistan. Instead you jumped on the 3 year old intelligence meme and now you are stuck on a limb and unwilling to admit your error.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

>>2. reinforce likely attack targets at street level

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]


2. reinforce likely attack targets at street level


You're talking as if there was 0 security up until Sunday when these threats were publicized. Ignoring the fact that the Prudential building in Newark would be most people's last choice of a likely target being as how it is a mere 20-something story building and the ugliest hunk of 1970s concrete in the ugliest city in NJ when there are much more likley targets, such as the World Financial Center buildings right across the river in NY. Ignoring the cases of the Statue of Liberty (which just reopened a few months ago) and countless other cases. Ignoring all that, I used to work at the New York Stock Exchange, and let me tell you what it was like to get into that building.

First, automobile traffic was closed off around the building for 2 blocks on most sides (unless, like the Wall St and Broad St sides, the blocks were particularly long). Simply to get into the buliding, meanwhile, one had to pass through no fewer than 4 security checks, most of them with multiple security guards at each station. Once you got in the building, depending on which direction you went to get to the floor, you had to first pass metal detectors, xray machines (including a special one for any food you were bringing back for lunch orders, etc.), and no fewer than 3 more security checkpoints.

Once you were on the floor, if your ID badge was not prominently displayed at all times...let's just say you wouldn't forget to display it after that. This was not just NYSE security. There were regular NYPD, SWAT, K9 units, and more. And this security system had been in place since at least May 2002 when I started there.

And then, of course, there's the national guard armed to the teeth everywhere you turn in places like Penn Station and Grand Central. So as much as you'd like to think homeland security was an inept venture up until this weekend, simply being in NYC (and I'm sure DC is the same way) clearly disproves that assumption.

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Danny: Krugman's point is not that there is a conservative bias in the media, but that the media eagerly pick up "scripts" provided and reinforced again and again by Republicans. I personally think this is out of incompetence and lack of originality more than anything else. (Except for Fox News, where it's deliberate.)

Regardless, Krugman proves my point that much of the media was critical of at least parts of Kerry's speech, and more so of his delivery.

That wasn't your point. YOU were criticizing Kerry's speech. YOU were claiming that the BBC (!) probably (!) gave it too much credit. You also said that the US media didn't do that, but that was it.

Krugman, on the other hand, urges people to actually read the transcript, listen to the speech and see for themselves. He states that a focus group organzied by a Republican pollster "found it impressive and persuasive". But he predicts that there will be people - just like you - coming out in the next days trashing the speech, pretending that nobody ever liked it in the first place. It's the usual attempts at rewriting history shortly after the fact that we have all gotten so used to that we barely notice them anymore.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

I heard it, I read it, I re read it. Those criticizing Weeble's speech were right on the money. Long on siss, boom, bah, short on specifics.

And while I have the edtor open, Krugman still having a job is the only proof one needs to se a tilt left in the press.

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]


Krugman ALWAYS harangues about conservative bias in the press (again, only using FOX and WSJ editorial page as his references)

Regardless, my original post said that the US media isn't criticizing these new terror alerts as trying to take away from the positive coverage of the DNC like the Beeb and other European news outlets are precisely BECAUSE they know it wasn't covered favorably since they were the ones doing the covering. But yes, I also happen to agree that it wasn't a very good speech.

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

While we're on the subject of pollsters, how about the Gallup poll that said, if anything, the speech and convention slightly favored Bush? Is Gallup in cahoots with the wings of the neo-conservative cabal that Krugman sees everywhere he turns?

posted by: Danny on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

qw, you make some good points. i get frustrated when they are wrapped up in hyperbole and scorn (as im sure you do too the other way). Bush isnt always wrong, and in this case we'd better leave politics at the truck bombs edge. Lets take a moment to recall we all want the same thing ultimately, to live without fear. First we have to be alive to do it, so lets get these guys.
Jeff Jarvis says it well:

"Can't have it both ways, folks: Can't scream they they don't tell us what they know -- and then when they tell us what they know, it's not good enough for you. It's what they know. Can't scream that they're not connecting the dots and when they connect some, you scream because you don't like the picture it draws.

I'm no fan of Bush or Cheney. I think Tom Ridge is an incompetent dolt. I think John Ashcroft is a dangerous fanatic. But you don't hear me heh-heh-hehing this morning. You hear me thanking the lady at the security checkpoint for X-raying my loafers.

Enough with the gotchas. Enough with the demonizing. Enough with thinking that the bad guys are our guys. Enough with the naive, simplistic blame game."

Thats what has me hot today and I apologize. But as Jarvis rightly says, we better pull together or it will be the bad guys saying gotcha.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

It's just a matter of time for U.S. to get hit again. Whether any of you theorists like it or not, this is a war on us--on several fronts. The soft yuppie and bobo times are over if we desire to maintain our country. We are fools not to prepare as such, including National Guard traiing for all of military age.

We are fools not to: Close the borders, get illegals out, screen non-citizens, and cut off most visas; we must screeen all containers and even stop the numbers of containers imported if necessary; and we must inspect all trucks set to roll on our roads; and guard all nuclear and chemical plants, and probably more.

posted by: Alex on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Let's see. They suddenly got a bunch of old information about a collection of also-ran targets for 9/11. One of them had been updated more recently. So it's reasonable that those might still be targets, and they hadn't had any of this information before.

Did they have some reason to think an attack was planned for early september on one or more of these targets? Maybe 9/11 again? It would really make us look bad if they could pull off an impressive attack annually. And if they knew we knew, they might do the attack early. On the other hand, the old list of alternative 9/11 targets might not be very relevant any more at all.

The question has been raised, what could we do different.

First, de-institutionalise profiling. It probably won't work against al qaeda, they can get fake documents and hair dye and contact lenses etc. And as early as next year we may find we're also fighting a terrorist war against neonazis or fanatic environmentalists or whoever, who're likely to be american citizens. If we concentrate too much on al qaeda we lose. Being vulnerable to terrorist techniques means we'll get attacks by any enemy who's willing to use those techniques. Al qaeda isn't the enemy, al qaeda is the guide who pointed out to us what sort of thing we need to protect. The enemy is everybody in the world who has the money and can get the methods to do terrorism, who wants to attack us.

So, we have some specific buildings targetted. Check the basements and the maintenance staff of each building. Al qaeda might have gotten janitors hired who have been bringing in a truck bomb one garbage can at a time.

Next, I'd want a thorough review of the methods to stop big bombs from getting in. Probably airliners are out now. Small planes carrying truck bombs? Moving vans carrying *big* truck bombs? LNG trucks that can be turned into powerful bombs? The point is not to catch al qaeda attacking these particular buildings, it's to look at how we can catch anybody attacking any buildings, and then how we can improve on that for these particular ones.

I would not do disruptive techniques unless there was evidence that al qaeda was already moving toward an attack. Best would be to catch the immediate perpetrators, next best would be to divert them. Possibly do disruptive things as a training run, but get it over with quick. Too much disruption for too long would cause as much damage as an attack.

Do not disrupt traffic over bridges and tunnels unless you expect attacks that couldn't be arranged without crossing them. Like, I could rent a moving van in manhattan, maybe I could get a lot of ammonium nitrate there, definitely I could get a lot of fuel oil. Why cross a bridge or tunnel? Only if that was the target....

How can we keep new york's bridges and tunnels from being destroyed? We can't. The inspections it would take to protect them would render them useless. So what we must have is a way to quickly build temporary bridges to replace what we might lose. Likewise look at temporary bridges for SF etc. If we can't build them high enough for shipping then we must build them where the shipping doesn't have to go, and lots of them, and deal with the new traffic patterns.

Maybe we can arrange to do enough inspections in parallel that the tunnels and bridges could keep up their traffic. Then they'll last longer. But in general we can't expect static targets to survive indefinitely.

The financial entities that are targets -- and the others -- must be decentralised. Keep backups of the files, spread out the operations, don't provide central nodes to attack. We don't really need that kind of symbolism. Why give them the targets? We didn't decentralise for a nuclear threat, maybe because we didn't really believe in it. We probably won't decentralise for this one either, because in reality it won't amount to much. Al qaeda doing a few symbolic attacks, and probably nobody else will actually do much sabotage. Some american anarchists talk big about freeing the country from the soulless minions of orthodoxy but they never do anything.

But if it was my job to respond to the new al qaeda information, I'd look for other plausible targets that aren't on the list, targets that al qaeda might want to hit if it would hit those. Preferably targets that people have heard of, or else targets that people might be surprised to find out about that they haven't heard of. For example:

IRS headquarters (DC)
CIA headquarters (Langley, VA)
IMF headquarters (DC)
School of the Americas (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, Fort Benning, GA)

If al qaeda bombed the IRS headquarters americans would all act outraged. But a lot of them would not feel as outraged as they did for 9/11.

posted by: J Thomas on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Mark Buehner: Bush isnt always wrong, and in this case we'd better leave politics at the truck bombs edge.

I can certainly agree with you on that (even the first part!), but that's the point: it doesn't seem as if the administration is capable of leaving politics out of this - as Jon H very correctly and more soberly than I pointed out somewhere up there in between our exchange.

It's simply unfair to accuse those who are pointing out what looks to me like political maneuvering (rather than seriously responding to terror threats) of engaging in political maneuvering themselves. As I said, I really wanted to and did suspend disbelief for a while. But the news this morning was just a slap in the face - like "how could you, after all that's already happened, even consider trusting them on this?".

Oh, and the NYT story did contain the note (also on the front page) that according to "the White House homeland security adviser" some of the information "may have been updated as recently as January". I haven't seen any news article that went into the details of that - only some articles (including one by the supposedly partisan LA Times that Rush Limbaugh immediately picked up) paraphrasing that part to emphasize it more. (The LA Times even put the headline "Fresh Details Back Threats" on the story, even though the details reported are pretty much the same as in the NYT and equally vague as far as the "updating" is concerned that supposedly occurred this year.)

As for double standards (your Jeff Jarvis quote) - well, that's an interesting accusation given how the Bush administration tried to get out of accepting any responsibility for not averting 9/11. Remember the "bin Ladin determined to strike in US" memo? Supposedly it only contained "historical" information which didn't require any immediate action. In fact, when it was finally declassified it turned out that the memo contained some information dating back to three months before the memo. Three months. Somehow that detail didn't make too many headlines. But now 6-7 months (January) is supposed to be more recent and way more actionable?

Back then the response was to do pretty much nothing. And somehow this was justified. I bet you found it justified in retrospect. I bet you thought Rice's testimony before the commission was satisfactory.

But now, suddenly, the response is to go into anti-terror hyper-drive. And now the critics are silenced by telling them - "well, if you didn't like our non-reaction then, you gotta love our exaggerated reaction now".

No, not like that. A child might respond like that, but not public officials in charge of our security. Except they did. For me that's a serious problem.

I do appreciate your (unexpected) apology, and I would like to apologize myself for the scorn earlier on. I agree that we should all try to focus on the common enemy rather than seeing enemies in each other. But I'm not sure that's the motivation behind the administration's actions.

Maybe we really do have to go into hyper-alert state until the election. It would certainly be a good thing to avoid a terror attack before the election. As I have stated before I believe that Bush will win the election if there is an attack shortly before the election. I hope we'll never find out whether I was right on that one...

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

qw, let me just ask you a single question:

If Bush didnt move to protect those buildings, and they were indeed attacked this week, would you have declared he had done the right thing?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Mark, Bush hasn't been doing the right thing in the war on terror - period. So the answer to your question is "no", but it doesn't have anything to do with whether or not he would have protected those buildings.

But as I said before, the opposite of doing nothing is not going into anti-terror hyper-drive. A measured response would have been the right thing. Leaving politics out of it would have been the right thing.

How believable is anything that Ridge says if after his politically charged statement that was reported yesterday he announces now that "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security"?

And after you told us yesterday that this time we are getting all the information and still aren't happy, we here now told that there is actually more information than had been released and if we only knew this additional information we would agree that the measures taken were appropriate. Haven't we heard that before? It's the same old story, and it doesn't get any more believable over time.

Let's recap:

1. First we are told there is new and specific evidence that Al Qaeda will strike certain buildings in New York and possibly other cities any time now.

2. Then we are told the evidence is actually several years old, possibly pre-9/11, possibly related to alternate targets for the 9/11 plot.

3. But some of it has been "updated" in January. No further details on the updating.

4. No, actually, there is much more information, but they won't tell us.

5. Oh, and that information updated in January, well, someone opened and closed a Word document and the date got updated. Or maybe they did more with it, we just don't know.

This sequence of events alone seems a little weird and suggests at least some level of incompetence, doesn't it? And these are the people we are supposed to trust to protect us? No, thanks.

P.S.: It's "gw", not qw.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Also, can anybody tell me why this isn't receiving much attention:

Is it just too detailed? Too much damning information to process, so we'll just ignore it completely and hope it will just go away?

The New York Times reported on this (, but only in the context that this woman may have lost her (contractor) job because of her whistle-blowing.

Anybody TRULY concerned about our security should be outraged by this. I don't see how anybody can claim what's going on right now isn't just political if Edmonds' letter keeps being ignored.

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

So in other words, qw, anything Bush did, you'd complain about.

Got it.

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Gang: Perhaps this is why the info is not as complete as qw would like, hmmm?

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Hit post and not preview before I found the link didn't work. Here it is again. It works. Again, sorry.

Preview is my feind.... err.... freind....

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Bithead: Got it.

Evidently not, because you are still getting my initials wrong.

Did you read Edmonds' letter?

Dan Drezner: How about a blog entry about it? If the Jacobsen scare story was worth several entries, this one should fill your blog for the next few weeks or months... Please take a look, if you haven't already. It's the kind of thing that makes your jaw drop while you read it (if there is such a thing at all). Here is the URL again:

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

And who owns the 'common dreams' site? Who funds it?

Is it the same group funding Atrios, by chance?

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

gw: I don't normally do requests, but I'll admit this case looks disturbing. So click here.

posted by: Dan Drezner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

Dan, I'm glad you agree this looks disturbing. Thanks for doing some additional background research - quite interesting.

You forgot (as of now) to put a link to Edmonds' letter up, though.

If you don't like Common Dreams, you could also link to OpEdNews (which you might not like either):

Or to 9/11 CitizensWatch:

The only news outlet that seems to have picked it up so far is Asia Times (not the greatest news source, I know...):

posted by: gw on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

So, the only sites you've been able to come up with other than the avowed left-wingnuts, are the Asia Times, who you admit isn't the best source.

Well, I'm hitting the questions I am, for one reason; Beause I did a bit of research on this back in April. In short, been there, debunked that.

Since Dan's comment section only opens a partial window I'll pass on the text of that link.

BitsBlog-Friday, April 02, 2004
Over the next several days, you're going to be seeing the name Sibel Edmonds come up. In fact, I'd not be surprised to see it come up in Rice's testimony to the 9/11 commission next Thursday. In fact, I have to wonder if that's why the Democrats are so hot on getting her back in to testify. You'll see why I say that as we proceed.

Who is she?

Well, Edmonds in October 2002 appeared on 60 Minutes and leveled several rather sensational criticisms of the FBI's translation department, where she'd worked until she got fired. She claimed, for example, that her supervisor had told her to translate intercepted documents slowly, if at all, so that the agency's budget would be increased. As such, she claimed, vital intel was lost. This would have occurred in the late 90's under Bill Clinton's presidency.

She went on to claim that many of her co-workers were not only incompetent, but that one, a Melek "Can" (Jan) Dickerson, had tried to recruit Edmonds to a terrorist front organization, had deliberately failed to translate important documents, so as to prevent the discovery of their import, and that this same co-worker, threatened to kill Edmonds and her family. This charge seems to have some serious credibility issues... Dickerson's husband is U.S. Air Force Maj. Douglas Dickerson.

Appsrently this wasn't large enough to attract any attention to Edmonds, so she went on to claim that she was offered a substantial raise and a full time job in order to not go public that she had been asked by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to retranslate and adjust the translations of [terrorist] subject intercepts that had been received before September 11, 2001 by the FBI and CIA.

More recently... January, I think, Edmonds gave an interview to Gail Sheehy. In that interview, she repeated these allegations, and the went on to add some verbiage about how she'd be telling her tale about her supervisors and co-workers to the 9/11 commission.

Apparently now on a roll she want on to level new charges, saying that when she reported the earlier mentioned threat against her and her family to the FBI's executive assistant director, that the director (Dale Watson, at the time I think) asked Turkey to interrogate Edmonds' sister, who was in Intsanbul at the time.

The FBI fired Edmonds in 2002, and she responded by suing them... In February of 2004. The lawsuit case is still pending as this is written.

Now of course the link here, the reason why this is going to come up, is the Democrats are looking for something / anything they can use to wedge the idea that President Bush knew about 9/11 in advance, under the carpet. Which in turn is why I suggest this will come up at the Commission on Thursday.

I've seen several people question why, given such explosive charges, this woman's name hasn't been all over the papers, and the TV.

The reason you've not heard much about this woman is simple... The woman is a nut, and even the leftist press can't make this pig fly. As usual, their 'rock solid' evidence is questionable at best; Edmonds is simpy not credible. I personally think she has strong personal motivations to discredit those who fired her, that have nothing to do with National Security, 9/11 or anything but her job performance. Beyond that, there seems to be some questions about her mental stability in many quarters.

That point aside, there's the issue of why she's only bringing this lawsuit now... Literally years after the event, and why she would wait until an election cycle.

Then, too, there's the idea that all of this went down during the Clinton administration, and so if the Democrats are hoping to hang anything on Mr. Bush, this tactic will backfire.

posted by: Bithead on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"P.S.: It's "gw", not qw."

Lol, wish you would have told me before.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

"But as I said before, the opposite of doing nothing is not going into anti-terror hyper-drive. A measured response would have been the right thing. "

What would that look like? What kind of a measured response keeps a taxi from pulling up next to a specific building and detonating, while at the same time doesnt make the administration look like its hiding something which i know you would hate as well? Guys with mirrors on poles draw attention, people ask questions. Puttin barricades all around certain buildings raises questions. What specifically are you suggesting in _this case_?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.02.04 at 11:33 PM [permalink]

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