BASED ON what US officials have been saying since
Sunday, it's at least clear what the government
says it doesn't know.
doesn't know whether there was ever a specific
plot to attack five buildings here, in Newark,
and in New York -- all involved with big-time
finance. If there was one, it doesn't know whether
it is ongoing or long since abandoned. It doesn't
know whether the planning information found on
the computer of a terrorist suspect in Pakistan
was sent up or down a chain of command. It doesn't
know how much, if any, other detailed information
exists about facilities in this country that might
become, or might have become, targets of a specific
doesn't know whether there is a connection between
general intelligence information about possible
attacks this election year and the specific information
apparently uncovered last week. It doesn't know
whether what intelligence officials are calling
a "treasure trove" of information is an insight
into Al Qaeda's strength (past or present) or
its weakness (current).
official compared the breakthrough to a homeowner
getting a call from the cops informing him that
a man they had arrested had drawings of his home,
a listing of his family's comings and goings,
information about his private security service,
and a detailed memorandum about what kinds of
explosives and delivery vehicles might best be
used to blow up the house.
would you feel? I'd feel relieved that the authorities
were able to warn me in advance of something horrible
so I could take precautions. But I'd also feel
insecure not knowing what else was going on and
realizing that I might be up against sophisticated
in that mixture of feelings is the politics of
terrorism nearly three years after the 9/11 attacks.
President Bush likes to cite the phrase in the
9/11 commission report that makes him most comfortable:
that the country is safer but not safe. That is
gibberish, a word game that ought to make Americans
wonder about a guy who has been a lot more than
a day late and countless dollars short in every
one of his responses to terrorism.
fixation on the nearly unilateral invasion and
occupation of Iraq should also disturb those who
have terrorism more clearly in their sights. It's
too late to go back two years, but the price of
getting rid of Saddam the way we did has been
a distraction from fighting terrorism, a loosening
of vital ties to other countries, and the creation
of a huge recruiting poster for terrorists everywhere
in the form of the occupation.
another immense Bush goof was on display for those
living with the latest alert. In front of the
World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings
here, just a few blocks from the White House,
were all the people whom we look to for protection
-- cops, firefighters, and emergency people, not
"suits" from federal agencies. The warped Bush
budget policies that are reducing instead of increasing
the numbers of these people are unconscionable.
nearly three years, Bush has had to be dragged
into responding effectively to the 9/11 attacks.
Had it not been for the dogged insistence of people
like Joe Lieberman, there wouldn't be a Department
of Homeland Security to consolidate domestic functions.
it not been for the survivors of the victims of
the attacks, there would not have been a 9/11
commission to tell us what went wrong and what
is still wrong. Had it not been for those survivors
and their supporters, Bush's first instinct in
response to the report (kiss it off) would have
been his policy. Only public and political pressure
produced yesterday's Rose Garden announcement
that clear lines of responsibility that could
have been created at least a year ago will now
is, in short, an abundance of evidence to support
Kerry's assertion that fresh leadership can produce
a more vigorous and effective war on terrorism.
At the least, we would have a president who wouldn't
feel the need to indulge in Bush's silly contradictions:
We're fighting the terrorists successfully; we
have Al Qaeda on the run; we already have two-thirds
of its top leaders, but Al Qaeda is just as capable
as it was three years ago of launching devastating
assaults and is planning to do so right now.
is also an abundance of evidence that Kerry is
committed to more than fresh leadership. As one
of his closest advisers -- Senator Joe Biden --
likes to say, one way you would know Kerry was
president is that $60 billion not now being committed
to inspecting shipping containers, fortifying
chemical plants, and keeping police officers and
firefighters on the job would get committed.
Kerry can show leadership and forcefully swat
away supporters like Howard Dean and their unsupported
suggestions that politics had something to do
with the weekend's alert, he can make a powerful
case. The contents of that terrorist's computer
do not represent a success story; they are another
warning that our defenses are far from constructed.
Oliphant's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Posted: August 6, 2004