August 03, 2004

Terror Alerts Part Two

On the other hand, this makes the Bush Administration look truly ridiculous.

Ken Layne:

After getting through the insane security at CitiBank Headquarters -- caused by four-year-old Evidence of Terror Plans released Sunday to scare the bejesus out of you -- you get to say "Hi" to Laura Bush in the lobby! That's neat.

It's neat when schedules work out that way.

Oh, and the Immediate Alert Scary-Ville terror info? Now they're saying it actually refers to an attack planned for Sept. 2. You know, the last day of the Republican Convention in New York, when Bush gives his big speech?

This stinks. Go ahead and say, as Tom Ridge did this morning, "This is not about politics. It's about confidence in government." If you have to deny it's about politics -- while your party is actively campaigning in the locked-down buildings of New York City filled with teevee cameras and photographers and frazzled employees who wonder if today's Terror Day -- then you have done a Poor Job of showing us otherwise.

I'm not about to romp off to moonbat land, but this doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Who is the bright bulb behind this stunt, anyway?

Do I think the Bush Administration made up a bogus terror alert to get a jump start on the convention? No. Keep your Kool Aid. But they sure are trying to score points off it, aren't they? Say hello to Laura Bush in the target building's lobby. Please.

Kerry got no bounce - no bounce - from his own convention. If I were advising either Kerry or Bush I'd tell both of them to be quiet and stay away from the cameras. Quit bugging the bejeezus out of everybody. People aren't voting for in this election, they're voting against.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 05:02 PM
Comments

They are trying to prevent panic and get people to go to work. Remember, these buildings have a great big fat bullseye painted on the side and we all know what happened last time that happened. We also can't afford to have everyone stay home from these -- let me say it precisely -- enemy targets.

That's why so many VIPs have been in the various targetted buildings. A show of confidence and strength, meant to steel nerves.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at August 3, 2004 05:38 PM

Matthew: A show of confidence and strength, meant to steel nerves.

I don't think I'm a cynical bastard, but I just can't buy that. No, they didn't make the whole thing up, but come on. Bush is campaigning for re-election right now. That's pretty much what every public appearance is all about, at least in part. Not by Tom Ridge, but by Laura? Definitely. If I worked in that building I'd be pissed.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 05:47 PM

In other words, Matthew, I would feel manipulated. No, not because Bush pretends there is a threat to those buildings, but because he (and she) are getting glad-hands and photo-ops out of it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 05:55 PM

As far as I'm concerned, he can take his political points where he wants -- as long as we don't get surprised again.

Posted by: jj at August 3, 2004 06:00 PM

If I worked in those buildings, my wife wouldn't let me go to work. Except I could say "They must have the threat under control because Bush let his wife go today" and go to work.

It's critical that we don't respond to these threats the way we responded to the anthrax attacks two years ago.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at August 3, 2004 06:06 PM

This is also a way for the Bush administration to express solidarity for the workers in these buildings -- who have to be feeling VERY worried.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at August 3, 2004 06:08 PM

It is amazing at how cynical you and much of your commenters are. You seem pre-disposed to think bad of the Bush administration and put the worst interpretation upon what they do.

The Democrats seem to be the guys who can talk and put any spin they want on things. They could say and do the very same thing, and you guys would eat it up.

I would prefer to not take chances. If you suggest that attacks could take place at these specific places, perhaps it will deter the potential attackers. But then you would complain that it was a bogus alert.

Would it hurt to give these guys a chance?

Posted by: Jim Bender at August 3, 2004 06:10 PM

Oh for crying out loud.
This was NOT a photo-op; it was as stated earlier just a confidence building measure.I frankly think the intelligence services SUCK in a big time way and that these warnings are just about USELESS, but having said that,Michael you are losing perspective on this issue.
Unless the administration knew that these warnings were total BS,these actions are all justifiable even if they also fulfill a self-interested PR purpose.Does any administration have to simply disappear from public view when these advisories are issued? And why would Laura Bush campaign in NYC. It's a LOST CAUSE and is filled with the usual leftist suspects.NO VOTES THERE.
As far as I am concerned they should NEVER issue any threat advisory UNLESS the truck-bomb is already enroute to the target.They NEVER seem to be valid and even if they MIGHT prevent an attack it only DELAYS the inevitable as the terrorists will simply hit someplace else.
What would US citizens do if they had to live in Israel for a year or so.EVERY day would be code red.
Let's have a debate on the merits of this whole warning system but PLEASE let's not all wander off to Deanville at the earliest opportunity.

Posted by: dougf at August 3, 2004 06:16 PM

Doug, I'm not wandering off to Deanville. Just annoyed at what look to me like a cheap campaign stunt. This is just what politicians do. It's no news flash, and it certainly isn't a conspiracy theory.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 06:20 PM

"Doug, I'm not wandering off to Deanville. Just annoyed at what look to me like a cheap campaign stunt. This is just what politicians do. It's no news flash, and it certainly isn't a conspiracy theory"--- MJT

Good news. You had me worried.I think Rove is WAY smarter than that but who knows. Maybe everything now is so debased that it's hopeless to expect any minimum amount of good taste.
But on the bigger issue, how do you feel about simply NOT ISSUING ANY ALERTS?

Posted by: dougf at August 3, 2004 06:27 PM

As stated above, this was a confidence-building measure. Is Bush making political points where he can? Of course. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Moreover, it is appropriate for him to demonstrate how he is responding to threats. Every other politician would do the same thing.

Some people will view everything as having been done for politics. If there is a warning and no attack, the warning was issued for political reason. OTOH, if there is intelligence that says a particular building is under threat and there is no warning, and an attack does in fact occur, the same people who would have said the warning was political will now say the President is ineffective. Some people cannot be pleased, but for my money, where loss of lives in concerned, you should err on the side of caution.

In fact, I suspect that any sane politician would issue a warning whenever there is any chance at all of an attack. The political consequences of not issuing a warning would be too severe if an attack did occur. Even if this were not an election year, the calculus would be the same from non-partisan government bureaucrats. Anyone who doesn't believe this calculus doesn't understand bureaucracy.

Posted by: Ben at August 3, 2004 07:05 PM

I also think it is a way of trying to build confidence for the workers. But, as a woman I gotta tell ya, I'm not sure what I would be thinking right now if my husband sent me into an "enemy target area".

Posted by: Cathy at August 3, 2004 07:05 PM

Oh come on.

Showing up to demonstrate what a good job they are doing countering a threat that no-one would have known about if they hadn't spent Sunday scaring the bejeezus out of everyone?

It's just fucking transperant.

Yank the chain one way one day. Yank it the opposite way the next.

Good dog.

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 07:09 PM

"It's just fucking transperant"-- Mork

Usually I avoid pedantry at all costs but for you Mork I am happy to make an exception.Since it is clear that no meaningful sense will ever manage to pierce your conspiracy ridden world,may I at least contribute toward your better understanding of English.
The word you want is TRANSPARENT. The 'fucking'adjective is optional and is truly not preferred in the best circles.
Hope I have been helpful.

Posted by: dougf at August 3, 2004 07:24 PM

Doug:

1. Thanks for the help with spelling.

2. Thanks, too, on your advice on using adjectives. I'll be sure to remember that if ever I find myself in the best circles.

3. I don't remember referring to anything worth dignifying with the term "conspiracy". It is just ordinary shameless political opportunism. No-one would have any trouble recognizing it but for the fact that well meaning people, knowing their own values, cannot bring themselves to believe that someone would be prepared to engage in that behavior with such an important topic.

But who're you gonna believe? The folks who have misled you about WMD, the budget deficit, the environment and the cost of Medicare ... or your lyin' eyes.

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 07:38 PM

This is also a way for the Bush administration to express solidarity for the workers in these buildings -- who have to be feeling VERY worried.

OK, I don't work in one of those buildings. I have the exciting thrill of working at the top of the skyscraper directly across the f*cking street from Citigroup, which isn't going to be a lot of comfort if Citigroup falls down, or a bomb goes off downstairs. Plus the joy of the new security measures, the extra policemen, the gawking idiots.....You know what we're feeling right now?

(1) This has been an extremely crappy 2 days.
(2) Hey! What....what is that guy doing right over there? I wonder......nah.
(3) Somebody get these #$&*%@!! TV crews the hell out of here!
(4) As much as I enjoy being the rest of the country's emotional pinata, this had better be based on something real, because if I just went through all this crap for no good reaso (including having to reassure every extended family member in the Western Hemisphere that no, everything's fine, really), somebody is going to pay for this.

In case you were wondering. That's what me & most of my co-workers are thinking. Except for the ones I can't talk to because they skipped work due to "sudden dental emergencies" (seriously, we had 3 Monday).

Posted by: jeremy at August 3, 2004 08:24 PM

It would certainly make sense for the businesses located in known target buildings to decentralise their operations. Keep backups of all important records, in different places. Let a whole lot of people work from home most days. Rent meeting rooms scattered across the city and use them when face-to-face meetings are needed.

It would make sense for a whole lot of businesses in NYC and elsewhere. It would make sense for these businesses to scatter. Why group up so they can get you all with one shot?

I strongly doubt that New York's bridges and tunnels can be defended. If you defend them well enough, you'll block traffic so thoroughly that they won't do you much more good than they would blown up. So we should get the Army engineers or somebody to figure out how to put up temporary bridges quickly, to replace the ones that get destroyed. Of course, the more people who use those things who can work at home the better off the city will be even while the tunnels last.

This isn't rocket science. It is just plain common sense. It doesn't seem to be getting any publicity though. But as long as it happens, it doesn't need to get publicised.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 3, 2004 08:58 PM

Mork: Yank the chain one way one day. Yank it the opposite way the next. Good dog.

Who are you talking to? Me? Who's "dog" am I supposed to be? Not one person who reads my blog and comments in here has agreed with me the past two days in a row. That's cool. Whatever. But I'm not anybody's dog. Not yours. Not Kerry's. Not Bush's. Not anybody else's. Nobody tells me what to do, think, say, or write.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 09:45 PM

Not you, Michael. Everyone's chain is being yanked. I was trying to illustrate the contempt in which this Administration holds us all.

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 09:53 PM

Mork,

Okay. We're all supposed to be the dog?

I still think it's okay to release that warning, though. The information was old, but they only found that information a few days ago. My only gripe about the warning itself is that they should have told us it was new and yet old. They aren't acting like Big Brother, they're acting like Dad. And if the conservative spin in this thread above is right, today they acted like Mom.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 10:00 PM

They aren't acting like Big Brother, they're acting like Dad.

Really, Michael?

One day, they're trying to scare us. The next, they're up there telling us not to worry, they've got everything under control, and we should go on as normal. In some states, that type of "parenting" would get you locked up.

Now, if they've got everything in hand ... if the fricken place is safe enough that they can all show up there together, then what in god's name was the point in scaring people in the first place? Surely, they would be looking after us a lot better if they just quietly went around making sure that the threat had been countered, and not worrying our pretty little heads.

But there aren't any votes in that.

And so, we get this constant rhythm: be scared ... don't worry, we're looking after you ... be scared ... don't worry, we're looking after you ... we're a nation in danger ... and America is a safer place.

So, what do you think? That they're completely clueless, or they're deliberately sending out a mixed message.

And if the latter, what do they hope to gain?

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 10:17 PM

Mork, the objective of a terror alert is not to scare us. I shouldn't have to say that.

If/when Kerry is president will you say he's trying to "scare" us when an alert goes out? You don't expect the alerts to just stop all of a sudden, do you? That could only happen if Al Qaeda is a manufactured "bogeyman."

We are going to get terror alerts for many years. Now would be a good time to get used to it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 10:31 PM

Mork, the objective of a terror alert is not to scare us. I shouldn't have to say that.

Then what are they for?

They don't tell us to change our behavior. In fact, quite the opposite: they tell us to carry on as normal. Nor do they suggest anything that we can do to reduce the risk. They don't tell us to look out for anything in particular (and we couldn't be more alert than we are now, anyway).

In other words, they tell us that there is this threat out there that we cannot and should not do anything about.

So what's the warning for?

And don't even tell me this is ass-covering. If there's an attack, people aren't going to complain that they weren't warned. If the government knew about it, then people are going to complain that they didn't stop the fricken' thing. Of all the post 9/11 fuss, was anyone's complaint really that they weren't warned??

So ... my question again ... what are the warnings for?

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 10:41 PM

>>>"In other words, Matthew, I would feel manipulated. No, not because Bush pretends there is a threat to those buildings, but because he (and she) are getting glad-hands and photo-ops out of it."

Yup. A really REALLY stupid stunt. Unbelievable.

If this was to further confirm in the conspiracy nut that the bomb scare was political, I wouldn't blame them.

Posted by: David at August 3, 2004 10:53 PM

Hi MJT!

Yeah, Jeff Jarvis was all over my ass about this today. (Not really; He just linked to this same post at the bottom of his "It's serious, grow up" post, which I don't disagree with, but ....)

Every admin. is going to try to run the news cycle when the election is coming up. This has been true since I was born (1965) and probably has been true ever since the telegraph went into widescale use. That's to be expected.

But the thing that creeped me out was a) the "new & horrible" stuff from Sunday, when it quickly became apparent they were hiding the "old" part; and b) putting Laura Bush at Citibank. That's when I thought, "Oh boy, this isn't serious."

If it was serious, you don't bring the First Lady there to shake hands. Yeah, you might want a Show Of Strength from the Guv, or Mayor, or even DHS chief Ridge ... but not the First Lady. That's soft campaign work. If you really think the building is going to blow up, you don't put the wife of the president in there to shake hands and make points.

I've gotten into a few arguments about this, obviously. But I am with my pals on the right -- and center! -- on taking these things seriously. Yes, let's take them seriously. Let's not send the first lady to stand there in the middle of what is supposed to be the Big Target. Let's not praise the great leadership of the president when this info is released, as Ridge did Sunday (and before he said politics play no role at DHS. Sure.) Let's not hide stuff when you know it will be in tomorrow's papers to undermine whatever threat there is.

I know, it's campaign season. And if they have any chance at winning, the Kerry folks will play just as dirty. And we all get cynical about Terror Alerts, trying to parse the real threat from the convention news cycle. That sucks. A terror alert has yet to save a single person or building. The terror alerts just come out there now & then. Getting used to them is a natural defense -- hell, what has a Public Terror Alert predicted so far? But to have a majority of the population ignore them (as polls today showed) is sad. It means when something truly scary is going down and maybe U.S. intelligence finds out in advance, most people will say, "Eh, more color-coded nonsense."

(And how scummy was it for the Kerry people to send out Dean to make this accusation on Sunday, and again on Chris Matthews today? If you're running against Bush and you really believe this is a political stunt disguised as a real terror scheme, then you should come out and say it. Nice move, Kerry!)

Posted by: Ken Layne at August 3, 2004 11:15 PM

Mork,

A warning will make some people slightly more likely to report something suspicious and feel slightly less paranoid for doing so. Also, if the warnings are related to specific buildings that is doubly so.

Do you think the warning system should be abandoned? Do you think the government should not share any information on this front at all, even when that information is occasionally specific, even if dated?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 3, 2004 11:19 PM

Mork, how do they explain closing bridges and tunnels and basically shutting down cities if they don't issue a warning? Imagine how scary it would be to see all that happening and a warning not be issued? Are you suggesting that our govt. should do absolutely nothing at all? Because, when they react to threats then they have to offer an explanation for those actions. We don't live in the same safe world that we enjoyed prior to 9/11 and we probably never will again. We have to get use to that.

Posted by: Cathy at August 3, 2004 11:24 PM

I was in the WTC in 1993 when the bomb went off. It would have been nice to know what was possible beforehand since:

1) Nobody knew what had happened at first, the rumors included a transformer explosion, subway crash and bomb;

2) Nobody began formal evacuations until some time had passed and nobody had really practiced evacuation procedures before (we regularly ignored fire alarms); and

3) Nobody knew what to do or where to go once we hit the street.

Warnings this specific insure that at least 2 and 3 have been thought about in advance. Had the WTC had threat warnings of ANY kind in 2001, lives would have been saved.

Posted by: spc67 at August 3, 2004 11:28 PM

Anyone else notice a trend the last couple months? Like news stories coming out that make Bush look bad, then Bush being vindicated down the line?

Anyone wanna explain how Wilson, Clarke, or Berger would handle things more competently?

Its not the first alert and won't be the last.

Posted by: Raymond at August 3, 2004 11:28 PM

A warning will make some people slightly more likely to report something suspicious and feel slightly less paranoid for doing so.

I disagree. It might do if there were something specific to look out for, but there never is.

But I simply don't believe that these things have the slightest impact on people's "general alertness" level ... mostly because it couldn't be higher. I know that when I was living in NYC post 9/11, it didn't take much for me to look sideways at someone doing anything out of the ordinary.

I think the danger may well be the reverse: what happens when the threat level goes down? Will people drop their guard? Is the government really capable of determining when an attack is not imminent?

Do you think the warning system should be abandoned?

Yes. I don't see what useful purpose it serves. And you only need to watch five minutes of FOX to see how it can be used as a propaganda tool.

Do you think the government should not share any information on this front at all, even when that information is occasionally specific, even if dated?

No: I'm completely in favor of the government sharing information about everything. But I want the information that's provided to me to be presented honestly, in its complete form, and properly contextualized. In other words, I want the government to trust me to make my own judgments.

And that is something that never happens with this administration, which never tells us anything unless they've diced and spun it to suit their political ends.

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 11:35 PM

Mork, how do they explain closing bridges and tunnels and basically shutting down cities if they don't issue a warning?

Cathy, all they need to do is tell us what they are doing and why and what we should do about it. It's not that hard. People are inclined to give the government a lot of leeway on this score.

But unless they need people to change their behavior, they should be trying to make us less, rather than more scared.

At least if they are doing this for our benefit, rather than theirs.

Posted by: Mork at August 3, 2004 11:45 PM

And the Queen Mum was showboating when she walked the streets of London during the Blitz. Old info? From what I've read the computer was last updated in January. And according to Lawrence Wright's New Yorker article planning for the March 2004 Madrid bombings started a year before 9/11--uh, that would be four years ago.

Posted by: Robert Avery at August 4, 2004 01:54 AM

Robert Avery,

I didn't accuse Rudy Giuliani of showboating on 911. Because he definitely wasn't.

Agreed about Madrid.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 4, 2004 02:02 AM

I get the feeling Bush-haters want to watch thousands of Americans be murdered in an instant. I already know anti-American Europeans want to see dead Americans but, up until today, was unsure about Bush-haters.

Posted by: syn at August 4, 2004 06:05 AM

Nothing to see here, people. New intelligence (combined with old) was made available to the government about specific targets. Should the gov. have sat on it or issued the alert?

Obviously, they should have issued the alert. Mork's comments about their effectiveness are irrelevent. It may be true that they are indeed not that effective, but the government should not be making judgements about what we as citizens are capable of with information. What if I wanted to start up a citizen's watch organization to patrol these sites? Or, what if I prefered to discontinue my employment at these locations because of these threats? It's a judgement call; One that I'd like to make, and not have made for me by big brother. The government must release as much information as they can to us, regardless of percieved utility.

Once you have established that the information should be released when found, what to make of Laura's appearance at one of the sites? It's either 1: A political ploy. or 2: A confidence-building effort.

Why is #2 impossible? Or, more accurately, how is it not the obvious conclusion? It makes perfect sense to me. What better way to show solidarity with the workers in those buildings than to appear there yourself? MJT, you're analysis is usually spot on, but it seems like sometimes you don't give any benefit of the doubt to this president in an effort to to appear non-partisan and impress the hateful Morks of the world. Surely you see where he and those like him are coming from. It's all about Bush.

Posted by: Zymurgist at August 4, 2004 06:37 AM

The fact that the first Lady of The United States, is in a building that we were told was "a potential terrorist target" sets off alarm bells like you wouldnt believe.

Follow me down the road of "What If".

What if you were scoping out buildings for potential terror attacks, you had all the entrances, exits, guard shifts etc down pat, and suddenly, in the same town, some of your buddies take out two huge skyscrapers and the entire city locks down like Attica?

What if, after that, the government makes all of these buildings you had been scoping out for ages, change their entire security structure? Would your data be useful anymore? Would knowing the old guard rotation and the old security systems do you any good?

What if you were President and you found out that someone had documented all of the old security models for some buildings? It would warn you that those were perhaps 'interesting' targets to the enemy. So you should warn your people.

However, if you had a thinking brain, you would realize that, for example, Citibank had completely changed their security posture. So the likelyhood of old intel actually being used to strike under current conditions would be very slim indeed. Therefore, you would have justification to Warn, but you would know that the actual DANGER and THREAT were next to nil. So you let your wife head over and get some good press.

What If?

I have spent years with security systems, security mindsets and breaking such systems. I've hacked Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 1000 companies, Banks, Steel Mills, Government Installations (all as a paid White Hat Hacker). I've also done Tiger Strikes for those sorts of companies. On Site, slip past the guards, plant the pretend bombs or steal as much useful data as possible (depending on the scenerio).

The Number One Rule when running an attack is to have EXCELLENT RECON. If, once you have your recon, you find something has changed, you back out completely and do more recon, or (in my really early days as a Black Hat) find another target.

You never go in half-assed, you never go in if the rules change and you never go in if there are two guards where there are supposed to be one.

The changes to security in 9/11 rendered all previous recon intel useless, for all practical purposes. All it provided us was a list of buildings that, at one time, were of interest to Al-Q (and still may be).

Was it a 'wag the dog'? No, I don't think so. But, I'm inclined to consider the possibility that all s not exactly as it appears.

Of course, as always, I could be wrong.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 06:47 AM

Tosk --

I am most inclined to believe it was CYA. Specific intell was discovered relating to specific sites. The gov't was thinking: (1) If a warning is issued and there is no attack, the Morks of the world will blow a gasket, but otherwise, no harm, no foul; (2) If a warning is not issued and there is an attack, mass casualties occur and it is reported that the gov't had the intell before the attack and sat on it, everyone in that chain of command is out of a job. Given that, would you issue or not issue a warning?

Posted by: Ben at August 4, 2004 07:15 AM

Ben,

As I said in my post, "you should warn your people".

I think that could have been a more clear message, something along the lines of:

"Based on information recently discovered, we now know that at one time, Al Queda had extremely good intel on a number of financial institutions. These institutions are now on Orange Alert and need to increase their security accordingly."

This:

A) Gets out a warning.

B) Doesn't put the more frail members of our society into a panic.

C) Cannot be construed as a political ploy.

D) (my favorite, but rare in Politics) Is honest

E) Actually focuses the threat on the specific areas of concern, making the Alerts more useful. If a single possible threat in one city, piuts the entire Nation on alert, they will become less effective, because people will say "Oh its not for this town..."

It is possible that Al Queda has completely recon'd these places again post 9/11, but were it me, I would have started hunting easier targets.

If the mall bombing had happened in Columbus, imagine the state of the country today... Ohio, The Heart of It All gets ripped open by Terrorists, now not only have they shown that they can take out the established Financial and Business centers (taking out more of those would have a limited impact), but they've taken out 2000 Joe Six-packs who were just hanging out at the mall, in the middle of the midwest. If you co-ordinate well, then you take out 3 to 5 malls across the country and the entire country errupts in panic.

It all depends on how smart Al-Q really is. Why risk the Big job, when a couple smaller jobs will work just as well, if not better?

But, what do I know, I'm just a squirrel.

Ratatosk

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 07:30 AM

You guys are still trying to convince the tomfool Mork?

LOL, carry on.

Posted by: David at August 4, 2004 08:05 AM

Well, I suppose it would be better for everyone if the Bush administration just suspended doing anything, saying anything, or even appearing in public until after the election in order to avoid being accused of trying to manipulate the vote. It's not like anything could possibly happen between now and November anyway that might influence the outcome is there?

Posted by: MB at August 4, 2004 08:15 AM

jeremy,

I think we work in the same building. I'm in 599 Lexington, right across from the Citigroup building also.

Ahem. I see Mork, chased away from BuzzMachine, is here and amazingly demonstrates his open ignorance of the potential reasons for issuing an altert. As on Jeff's blog, Mork's main problem seems to be the fact that a private broadcasting company might spin this alert into "propoganda."

The fact of the matter is, right now the Citigroup tower is like Fort Knox. There are swarms of police everywhere. They're directing trucks away from the building, and they're heavily armed. At this moment, the building has probably never been more secure in its entire history. So it's perfectly safe for the First Lady to visit the location to show support to the workers there. When there are swarms of police protecting a location, a terrorist is likely to be deterred from attacking it because the chances of success are minimal, and operational efficiency is lost.

The alert accomplishes that, and forces the terrorists to change tactics. We gain valuable time from that, giving us a greater opportunity to kill those involved.

I didn't even know that the First Lady visited here until long after it was over. I think it was a nice gesture. Those who insist that her presence there makes it more dangerous really don't understand the operational realities of these sort of things.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at August 4, 2004 08:35 AM

MB,

Oh if only we could see them all sequestered until Kerry takes office. Who knows, there still might be a couple freedoms left for citizens.

;-P

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 08:36 AM

Sydney,

I agree completely, which is why I think the Terror Alert being raised to Orange was a bit over the top. I think the chances are insanely small that anyone would try to hit an American target based on pre 9/11 security info, and especially not if they added troops of Police with automatic weapons. Not saying there should have been no warning, but perhaps a more rational one.

And I still think the Bush's used it for a photo-op.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 08:44 AM

"One day, they're trying to scare us. The next, they're up there telling us not to worry, they've got everything under control,..."

I don't think this comment by Mork is factual. He's interpreting to support his dislike for the administration. I don't hear anyone saying don't worry. The warnings give people some bit of control over a horrible situation. They are enabled to decide for themselves if going to work in a targeted building is worth whatever they get paid.

It strikes me as more of a supportive role. "We know that this concerns you, as it does us, so we want you to have as much of the information as we can divulge to you."

If indeed everything was under control there would be no need for the warnings. If the problem is resolved there is no point in calling attention to it.

Posted by: J.R. at August 4, 2004 08:55 AM

It is, of course, not all old material that was captured, either. And of course mere age of some of the newly captured documents hardly removes their importance. We've captured documents about the Madrid bombing that date to 2000, as well as information about planning for the September 11th attacks that goes back to the early '90s.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 4, 2004 08:56 AM

Ratatosk,

The security measures for the Citigroup building really didn't change after 9/11. The only difference they made is that you had to sign your name in a ledger to enter the upper floors of the tower if you didn't have a pass (the atrium and the shops were all open). Getting in was VERY EASY.

The problem with the Citigroup building is that it's built on stilts, and one of those stilts is no more than a few feet from 53rd street. A truck bomb could possibly destroy that stilt, resulting in the tower crashing down onto my building (599 lexington). It'd be a remake of the original 1993 WTC bombing, where they wanted the 2 towers to crash into each other. That's what would happen here.

A guard presence around and inside the tower really can't protect against that. You need a police presence to secure that stilt, directing trucks and traffic away from it. And eventually, I think they'll have to either close off 53rd street to most traffic, or put up some kind of barrier.

As far as I can tell, the terrorists had cased the tower as recently as this past January. I have no doubt that this building was a target and that this alert might've saved the building. Working next door, I didn't have to go to law school to realize that this location was always dangerous.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at August 4, 2004 09:01 AM

Observaton on Bush sending Laura into danger: Uh, where does she sleep most nights? Don't you expect that spot - 1 foot from a sitting US President - is rather high on the "most desired target" locations for most every terrorist and loonytoon in existence? I suspect she is safer in the Citybank building on a random Monday than at any campaign appearance where she is standing near her husband.

Posted by: rvman at August 4, 2004 09:07 AM

Or even the Citibank building.

Posted by: rvman at August 4, 2004 09:12 AM

Sydney,

Thanks for the info. Though from what I've read, the file containing information on buildings (not that one in particular) had been accessed in January. At least thats what we've been told.

If Citibank did nothing more than add a ledger, I'm frightenly surprised. We're in Columbus and our entire security structure is different, post 9/11. We're a large company, but nowhere near the target Citi would be. That's just irresponsible

---

As an aside, I will be surprised if Al-Q attacks before November. An attack now would seal GWB's reelection. Unless they did it and framed the administration... ack, damn paranoia!!!

;-)

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 09:13 AM

not so sure about your poll numbers:

http://mediamatters.org/items/200408030010

Posted by: mac1 at August 4, 2004 09:17 AM

Ratatosk: Yeah, I know what your saying. There's been alot of black helicopter activity around my area lately (I can hear them, I just can't see them). I've heard fourth hand that they're constructing Gitmo-style internment camps in the outlying areas (which would explain the shortage of razorwire at the local Walmart). It's also rumored that they've been disappearing anyone wearing birkenstocks, driving hybrid cars, brown-skinned folks (people are even afraid to go to tanning booths), and anyone who donates to NPR, PBS, or has a library card. ;-))

Posted by: MB at August 4, 2004 09:18 AM

more interesting numbers:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/02/business/02jobs.html

Layoffs occurred at the second-fastest rate on record
during the first three years of the Bush
administration, a government report has found.

In the government's latest survey of how frequently
workers are permanently dismissed from their jobs, the
layoff rate reached 8.7 percent of all adult
jobholders, or 11.4 million men and women age 20 or
older. That is nearly equal to the 9 percent rate for
the 1981-1983 period, which included the steepest
contraction in the American economy since the Great
Depression.

Recession and weak economic growth characterized most
of the period from 2001 to 2003, and millions of jobs
disappeared. But while layoffs normally rise in hard
times and fall in prosperous years, the new survey
published Friday by the Labor Department's Bureau of
Labor Statistics added to the statistical evidence that
layoffs are more frequent now, in both good times and
bad, than they were in similar cycles a decade ago.

The anecdotal evidence is abundant on this point, but
the statistical evidence is only beginning to tell the
same story. "It appears there is more displacement now;
this latest number is quite high," said Henry S.
Farber, a Princeton University labor economist who has
challenged the anecdotal evidence, wondering whether it
overstated the case.

The layoff rate over the last three years, for example,
was greater than in the 1990-1991 recession, the
displacement survey found. The rate was also higher in
the late 1990's boom years than in the late 1980's, a
parallel period of strong economic growth.

Posted by: mac1 at August 4, 2004 09:20 AM

mac1,

Yep, the numbers are bad, but I'm not sure this is a Bush issues as much as it is the culminaion of several issues:

1. The Internet Bubble Pop - Lots and lots of my peers came straight out of school and into some Internet startup at 60k per year. Most of those startups were bad business plans, coupled with bad management, so they went belly up and turned out thousands of computer geeks. There isn't now, nor will there likly be in the near future, nearly enough IT jobs to employ those people.

2. 9/11 - The effects of 9/11 on the economy and mindset of business owners has yet to be completely understood. The immediate effect led to major layoffs. We've recently seen major increases in "productivity" but not new employees (old employees are working 60 hours a week instead).

I really don't think Kerry can fix it, I don't think anyone can, its just going to have to work itself out. People may need to be retrained for other work, employed in some new form of business, or employ themselves as whatever they can find.

The government could put some seed money into development of new energy sources, I would, and I think at least some of my peers would work on such projects, even if it meant a little less money. But, I hate government intervention, esp the use of my tax dollars to give some company welfare.

Just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 10:27 AM

Ya know, all this hugger-mugger* about terror alerts and the fact that anyone could be hit with a catastrophe at any time brings one sentiment to my mind: "Welcome to life in an earthquake zone".

*props to Lileks for the fun word.

Posted by: crionna at August 4, 2004 10:49 AM

Syn: I get the feeling Bush-haters want to watch thousands of Americans be murdered in an instant.

What the hell?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 4, 2004 10:58 AM

Mork - Everyone's chain is being yanked. I was trying to illustrate the contempt in which this Administration holds us all.

I'm not exactly encouraged by the Kerry's remarks toward people who dissent or disagree with his views. Yesterday, Kerry called a small group of protestors "goons sent in by Bush". Nice way to marginalize some people with a gentle "shove it" to bring more respect and civility to the White House.

Posted by: d-rod at August 4, 2004 11:12 AM

Michael,

"What the hell?"

Remember, if we're not with them, we're against them.

Or something.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 4, 2004 11:26 AM

Sydney: Yup. 599 Lexington - apparently voted "number one place to park you newsvan and sit for days." Motto: "Closing the side entrance makes you safer somehow. Really."

I do want to point out that there are a couple of other security differences since 9/11 - the concrete barriers, the closer scrutiny (supposedly of the loading dock), the massive reinforcement of those "stilts" - they seem to be worrying about a car bomb more than anything else - I think the rest (other than guarding the venilation systems) has been more to "reassure" people (and, frankly, avoid a lawsuit).

Posted by: jeremy at August 4, 2004 12:26 PM

The 9-11 attacks were first planned in 1996. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to get wind of those plans when they were only 3 years old?

Posted by: Yehudit at August 4, 2004 01:51 PM

"Layoffs occurred at the second-fastest rate on record during the first three years of the Bush administration, a government report has found."

The tech bubble burst in the summer of 2000. I remember the stock market plummeting. The election was that fall.

Then came 9-11 a year later. A big hit to the economy.

We are recovering very well, considering. Score one for Bush.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 4, 2004 01:54 PM

Yehudit: The 9-11 attacks were first planned in 1996. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to get wind of those plans when they were only 3 years old?

I hope you didn't address that to me, because I fully agree. I'm just grousing about the Laura thing.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 4, 2004 02:37 PM

From Tosk's post:

"I think that could have been a more clear message, something along the lines of:

"Based on information recently discovered, we now know that at one time, Al Queda had extremely good intel on a number of financial institutions. These institutions are now on Orange Alert and need to increase their security accordingly."

This:

A) Gets out a warning.

B) Doesn't put the more frail members of our society into a panic.

C) Cannot be construed as a political ploy.

D) (my favorite, but rare in Politics) Is honest

E) Actually focuses the threat on the specific areas of concern, making the Alerts more useful. If a single possible threat in one city, piuts the entire Nation on alert, they will become less effective, because people will say "Oh its not for this town..."

Exactly - that is precisely what you would do if all that you intended was to ensure that the best possible security was in place and that people were fully informed of the information that the government possessed.

The approach you describe would satisfy all the legitimate purposes of releasing the information.

Given that:

*Why the general alert?

*Why the distortion of the information when it was first released?

*Why the spin-laden press conference with paens of praise for the Dear Leader?

*Why the staged appearence in the Citibank building?

Folks, these questions answer themselves.

Posted by: Mork at August 4, 2004 03:48 PM

People aren't voting for in this election, they're voting against.

I would disagree with that statement. The latest poll taken shows that 70%-75% of people voting for Bush are voting for him, while 54% of those voting for Kerry or voting against Bush.

Posted by: Jay C. at August 4, 2004 05:37 PM

Mork --

One problem with Tosk's approach -- if there was an attack at one of those locations, people like you would squeal endlessly about the lack of urgency in the warning. Some people cannot be satisfied, so why try.

Posted by: Ben at August 4, 2004 05:41 PM

Ben - garbage.

This "CYA" stuff is complete bullshit.

If there is an attack, and it turns out that the government had infomation about it in advance, then "people like me" are going to be saying that the goverment should have prevented the fricken' thing ... no one is going to care less about whether we were at red, orange, yellow or pink.

Look at the 9/11 commission. When all the Dick Clark stuff came out, were people upset because they weren't warned or because the government had information that pointed to an attack but failed to stop it?

And, in any case, under Tosk's approach, the information is out there ... their ass is covered.

Posted by: Mork at August 4, 2004 05:50 PM

If it was serious, you don't bring the First Lady there to shake hands. Yeah, you might want a Show Of Strength from the Guv, or Mayor, or even DHS chief Ridge ... but not the First Lady.

The First Lady came with the Governor and the Mayor. And Tom Ridge was in the building yesterday.

God, the left wing makes me so mad sometimes, I have to remind myself to concentrate on the terrorists and not these idiots.

Posted by: Al at August 4, 2004 05:58 PM

When all the Dick Clark stuff came out, were people upset because they weren't warned or because the government had information that pointed to an attack but failed to stop it?

BOTH!

Posted by: Al at August 4, 2004 05:59 PM

Mork --

If you can dismiss CYA as a motivator that easily, you obviously don't have much experience with government. Even bureaucrats at the DMV are primarily motivated by CYA, for pete's sake. I have first-hand experience working with local government emergency services agencies, and I can tell you that CYA is one of the primary motivators for the decision makers, most of whom are not even elected officials in their own right: they answer to elected officials who answer to voters, however. When there is any doubt at all, the instinct of a bureaucrat will be to issue a warning, which warning will be suitably dire to cover the worst worst-case scenario conceivable. Why? Because the decision makers know they will be crucified if there is a disaster and they didn't warn people first.

As an aside, if you confidently expect a hypothetical Kerry Administration to prevent attacks, be prepared for disillusionment. You ask more than anyone is capable of delivering. Do you seriously think that the Bush Administration would not have tried to prevent 9/11 if it knew something was going to happen? Most of the intelligence analysts are non-political professionals who were around long before Bush took office, and NOBODY connected the dots. Doesn't that tell you something about the difficulty of extracting the one or two useful pieces of information from the millions of pieces of information available?

If you want to prevent terrorist attacks, there are really only two ways to do so: (1) kill them before they try to attack, or (2) make them fear your response to any attack. Both approaches involve aggressively taking the war to the enemy, not sitting back and trying to anticipate where they are going to hit you. The most notable problem with the law enforcement model that many of you lefties purport to advocate is that law enforcement efforts only come into play AFTER THE CRIME IS COMMITTED. They do nothing to PREVENT future crime.

Posted by: Ben at August 4, 2004 07:01 PM

This is OT, but you guys have got to check out the swift boats guys ad:

http://www.swiftvets.com/

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at August 4, 2004 09:12 PM

"If you want to prevent terrorist attacks, there are really only two ways to do so: (1) kill them before they try to attack, or (2) make them fear your response to any attack."

These don't work either. Though if you do kill some particular terrorists, you prevent those particular terrorists from committing future attacks.

There is no way to prevent terrorist attacks except to make sure that no one who dislikes you has access to technology.

The idea that you can kill all the terrorists before they do anything is absurd.

And the idea that you can make them fear you is also absurd. You can't make a suicide bomber fear you directly. And it's often the case you can't even slowly torture his family to death in front of TV cameras, some of these guys have already lost their families and they blame us.

The big value for invading other countries looking for terrorists is that it makes us feel better. That probably sounds cynical, but it's nothing to sneeze at. Whatever helps you sleep at night is a value.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 4, 2004 09:35 PM

The big value for invading other countries looking for terrorists is that it makes us feel better.

I'm not sure I agree. I think there's plenty of evidence that the invasion of Afghanistan caused considerable disruption to Al Qaeda. That was a place that really was being used as a base for their operations, where they could do everything they wanted to do in safety.

Iraq, of course, is a different question. Can't kill them where they ain't.

Posted by: Mork at August 4, 2004 11:35 PM

Disruption to Al-Queda is not going to stop terrorists. Thats the whole point of a decentralized system, the entire command structure can be completely decimated and the individual cells can still continue in their activities.

It doesn't take links to the House of Saud to buy fertilizer.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 5, 2004 06:32 AM

It is true that suicide bombers do not fear death. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't fear anything. I think that you make it clear to suicide bombers that terrorism not only will not make us change course, but, in fact, will be self-defeating for their cause. In other words, we need to retaliate for attacks in ways that hurt the suicide bomber's cause.

Posted by: Ben at August 5, 2004 07:40 AM

Ben,

How does one do that without making more enemies?

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 5, 2004 08:12 AM

In the short-term it makes more enemies. In the long-term it makes fewer enemies because potential enemies realize that it's a one-way street to a quick and pointless death. Look at the Japanese experience in recruiting Kamakazis: Initially, there were plenty of recurits. Early successes caused there to be a waiting line to join up. As the US forces developed better defenses and started to take a "shoot first, take prisoners later" approach, the Japanese started having to "lock the cockpits shut and provide only enough fuel for a one-way trip" approach.

Historically, suicide attacks don't work in the long-run against the Western way of total war. In the long run, the only thing this can lead to for the Arab world is a lot of bloodshed, and most of it will be theirs. That's why I support every effort to nip it in the bud.

Posted by: Ben at August 5, 2004 12:08 PM

Ben,

Hope you're right.

Posted by: Ratatosk at August 5, 2004 01:43 PM

But the terrorists have seen that 9/11 did get us to completely change course. I hope that our new course isn't something those particular terrorists want, but they can see that they're definitely very important and they're having a giant effect.

Al qaeda's goal appears to be to unify islamic cultures. They're trying to do that by giving all those people a common enemy -- us. When we buy into it we make them stronger. I'm sure the israelis would breathe easier if we united the whole moslem world against us and then crushed them all. I'm not clear that it's good for us.

It's irresponsible for US politicians to make war whoops against arabs and moslems. Profiling and government discrimination against arabs and moslems makes it worse. Loose talk about which arab nation to invade next is very bad.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 6, 2004 08:52 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn