Trust and Terror


The color of emergency alerts does not matter if the people producing the alerts cannot be trusted. That's the problem facing the White House and, more important, the citizens of the United States. The Bush Administration sounds the trumpets--An attack may be coming! An attack may be coming!--just after the Democrats conclude a successful convention but claims it is only doing its job. Still, the audience--the public at large--is justified in questioning the timing of the alerts or viewing them with outright cynicism, for this Administration has completely shot its credibility.

In launching the Iraq war, Bush peddled false information and maintained that the threat was far more serious than the intelligence (even the overstated intelligence) claimed. He opposed the creation of the Homeland Security Department, then flip-flopped after he was assailed for not paying sufficient attention to pre-9/11 warnings of terrorist attacks. He opposed the creation of an independent 9/11 commission until he could no longer resist pressure mounted by the 9/11 families. And he showed little interest in restructuring the intelligence establishment until the 9/11 commission and John Kerry made intelligence reform a campaign issue. In the middle of the latest terror-alert controversy, his Administration leaked the news that a computer whiz who had been passing on information about Al Qaeda had been arrested in Pakistan. This leak seemed designed to support the decision to raise the security level, but it came at a cost: Pakistani officials have complained that it enabled other Al Qaeda suspects to escape. When CIA chief George Tenet resigned, Bush said he would not quickly replace him. But facing criticism for his go-slow approach, he switched course and nominated Representative Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former CIA case officer.

One result of such questionable actions and misuses of intelligence (often barely challenged by a supine press) is that Bush has made it difficult to fulfill one of the most vital job duties of a President: to warn the public at home and abroad about true threats and to persuade people here and overseas to take appropriate measures. …

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