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Are Justice Department Terror Warnings Political?

[ Is the Justice Department’s “extraordinary public announcement” of possibly impending terror attacks an attempt to create more fear in order to sway voters toward Bush? From the article:

Although the U.S. intelligence community says it has been concerned for some time about the potential implications for the United States of the Madrid bombings, some U.S. counterterrorism officials told Newsweek they were aware of no sudden surge in ?chatter??intercepts of terrorists communications?or other indicators of a possible imminent attack…. Notably, the Department of Homeland Security did not participate in today’s announcement…

After all, polls show that in voters’ minds Bush leads Kerry in ability to handle terrorism (see, e.g., the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll from May 7-9, 2004). –BL ]

An Overreaction? Not everyone thought John Ashcroft?s warning was justified

May 26, 2004 | Newsweek

by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

Even as Attorney General John Ashcroft warned on Wednesday that Al Qaeda planned ?to hit the United States hard? in the next few months, U.S. intelligence officials were privately divided about whether the government had obtained any fresh information that justified such an extraordinary public announcement.

Armed with what he called ?disturbing? and ?credible? intelligence from ?multiple sources,? Ashcroft appeared with FBI Director Robert Mueller and urged the public to increase its vigilance over the next several months, when a number of events, including an upcoming G-8 summit in Georgia and the political conventions, might present inviting targets. The FBI also issued bulletins for seven Al Qaeda-linked suspects. One of them was Adam Yahiye Gadahn, (formerly Adam Pearlman), a 25-year-old former resident of Orange County, Calif. Gadahn converted to Islam and, according to Mueller, attended training camps in Afghanistan and associated with Abu Zubaydah, once one of Al Qaeda?s top leaders.

In his briefing, Ashcroft cited no specific new information other than a claim that was sent to an Arabic newspaper in London immediately after the March 11 Madrid bombing. In it, a shadowy group asserted that a major attack against the United States was ?90 percent ready.? But the authenticity of the group?and whether it really spoke for Al Qaeda?was questioned at the time by some U.S. officials.

Although the U.S. intelligence community says it has been concerned for some time about the potential implications for the United States of the Madrid bombings, some U.S. counterterrorism officials told NEWSWEEK they were aware of no sudden surge in ?chatter??intercepts of terrorists communications?or other indicators of a possible imminent attack. ?We?re always getting new threat information, but I wouldn’t point to a steep spike in chatter? said one U.S. official. Another counterterrorism official added: ?What we?re seeing is a lot like what we?ve seen before.?

The new warning from Ashcroft in some ways underscored the difficulties U.S. counterterrorism officials face in attempting to make sense of murky and fragmentary bits of intelligence about terrorist threats and then determine how much to alert, if not alarm, the public. Notably, the Department of Homeland Security did not participate in today’s announcement at the J. Edgar Hoover building. There is also no talk of raising the official ?threat level? from Yellow to Orange. One reason, officials say, is that the increased costs to law enforcement and others of an Orange alert simply ?can’t be sustained? over an extended period of time, one official put it. In addition, officials say there is still some division within the U.S. intelligence community over whether the last jump to Orange in December was a legitimate response to a real ongoing terrorist plot?or yet another false alarm.

One senior law-enforcement official, while acknowledging the paucity of any fresh intelligence pointing to an imminent attack, said the public warning was still justified as a ?proactive? effort to disrupt any ongoing attacks prior to the election. One element of that was the release of the fresh BOLOs?Be On the Look Out bulletins?for the seven Al Qaeda suspects. But six of them have been released before by the bureau, including one for Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a former Florida resident who Ashcroft said today has been known to have ?scouted sites across America? for attacks and, before he disappeared several years ago, has tried to get back into the United States using different passports.

The only new suspect identified today was Gadahn, the former Californian, who according to an essay he apparently wrote in 1995 for a Web site, was once ?obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music? before converting to Islam. ?Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be,? he wrote.

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