Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Politics and Terrorism

From The New York Times:

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

The Bush administration has established a clear pattern of deceit through the years, to the point where I, at least, cannot take a word they say at face value. So when I heard about this terrorism alert, my first thought was of Fahrenheit 9/11 - there they go again, inventing fear. (It didn't help that I saw a clip on CNN with a reporter acting all jumpy when an ice cream truck went by. Could Michael Moore invent a better illustration of his point?) Later, I saw the news about the information found after the recent arrests - maybe they had something, I thought. But even if they do, why do they think this is going to happen this week?

So today the reports come in that the information they are using pre-dates 9/11. I wonder, then, what the odds are that this was done to counter the DNC's impact, and to support Bush's announcements about implementing the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

Oh yeah, on that subject - read Josh Marshall today. He says that while Bush claims to be implementing the commission's recommendations, in fact, he is changing them in significant ways - primarily, by gutting their recommendation that there be an centralized intelligence overseer, with budgetary powers and powers to hire and fire. It's all there.

Combined with the terrorism alert - doesn't this add up to nothing but another piece of theater? The President claims to be implementing the commission's recommendations - he does it in the context of a high alert, with armed soldiers walking the streets and subways of New York - hoping (knowing) people will read the headlines, see the clips on the news, and say, "gosh, he is taking this seriously!" But in fact he is watering down the commission's recommendations to near irrelevance (creating another bureaucratic post that duplicates at least one post (the Director of Central Intelligence) and possibly a couple others (what is this position supposed to do that the Department of Homeland Security shouldn't be doing? for instance), while allowing a major disruption of the country based on old information, timed, well, you get the drift.

The more paranoid among us will perhaps speculate that they are working on getting the public used to seeing armed guards on the subways, and making high profile terrorist alerts common enough to erode resistance and skepticism to them. It may not work that way of course - getting used to them might lead people to never trust anything Bush says or does (and by extension, nothing the government says or does). Who knows. That is the obvious risk, though - that their overt manipulation of terrorist warnings and the like for political ends will undermine real efforts to prevent real terrorism. Again - one of the themes of Fahrenheit 9/11, though not the one people tend to talk about. (Because talking about it would imply the critics were paying attention and not playing stupid, pretending not to understand Moore's arguments.)

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