Increased Terrorism Alert Based on Political Needs, Uses Outdated Info
By WILLIAM D. McTAVISH
Capitol Hill Blue - Aug 3, 2004
The increased terror alerts in New York, New Jersey and Washington are based more on President George W. Bush's political campaign needs than any actual threat and the information used to justify the alerts is three years old, intelligence pros complain.
The alerts, planned weeks ago, came right after the Democratic National Convention in Boston as a carefully-orchestrated attempt to play on Bush’s strengths in the war against terrorism and blunt any momentum challenger John F. Kerry might have coming out of the convention.
Much of the "new" information cited as reasons for raising the alert dates back to 2001.
“The only real ‘increased chatter’ we’re seeing lately is between the White House and the Bush campaign headquarters in Arlington,” mutters one Homeland Security operative who spoke to Capitol Hill Blue only on condition of anonymity. “There’s no greater threat today than there was six months ago.”
DHS and the Department of Justice began talking up an increased terrorist threat during the Democratic Convention last week and scheduled release of the increased threat level over the weekend as both Bush and Kerry campaigned in the midwest.
Yet those who have seen the raw intel reports circulating between the various intelligence agencies say little information in them supports the claims of an increased threat of attack in the United States.
In fact, intelligence professionals say, the real threat from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network continues to be in Iraq where the almost daily rash of car bombings tries to undermine the U.S. presence. They say White House and DHS warnings of an attack before the November elections are based more on political hope than any actual intelligence data.
“Al Qaeda is regrouping. We know that,” says an agent with the National Security Agency. “We’ve allowed them to rebuild because we diverted our attention from their activities in Afghanistan so we could invade Iraq. That was a strategic error and, somewhere down the road, we will pay for it. But they are not ready yet to launch another coordinated attack on the level of September 11, 2001.”
The buzz within the intelligence communities has also reached law enforcement agencies in New York, New Jersey and Washington where millions of dollars in resources must be committed to the increased terror alerts.
While Washington police Chief Charles Ramsey publicly endorses the terror alerts, he complains bitterly to his staff that he and other police agencies have become “taxpayer-supported campaign workers for the Bush re-election campaign.”
Sources within the Department of Homeland Security say DHS Secretary Tom Ridge argued against raising the terror alert and going public with a list of specific buildings but Attorney General John Ashcroft overruled him.
Ridge has told aides he will quit his job even if President Bush is re-elected, saying he is tired of seeing politics take precedence over security. Ridge also complains about having to deal with Ashcroft, a Bible-quoting zealot who has Bush’s ear.
“This whole alert game is a cosmetic saber-rattle, a show of force to try and convince the American public that we’re on top of things,” says one FBI agent. “Sadly, we’re not. When the next attack comes, it will be when we least expect it and when we don’t have an increased alert.”
Asked in morning television interviews whether material gathered more than three years ago was out of date, White House homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, claimed this was not the case.
She admitted, however, that al Qaeda had originally collected information about key financial buildings in the United States in 2000 and 2001.
The Washington Post and The New York Times reported in Tuesday editions that officials were still analyzing documents seized late last month in Pakistan that showed al Qaeda was gathering information about specific U.S. targets.
Federal authorities admitted they were unsure whether al Qaeda's surveillance continued, the newspapers reported.
The Post today cited officials as saying that much of the information al Qaeda gathered on buildings in Washington, New York and Newark, New Jersey, was obtained through the Internet or other "open sources" available to the general public, including floor plans.
"What we've uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack," a senior U.S. official told the Post.
Spokesmen for the White House and the Department of Homeland Security did not return phone calls seeking comment on this report.