Sunday, July 11, 2004
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American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned.
The prospect that Al Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election was a major factor behind last week's terror warning by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Ridge and other counterterrorism officials concede they have no intel about any specific plots. But the success of March's Madrid railway bombings in influencing the Spanish elections—as well as intercepted "chatter" among Qaeda operatives—has led analysts to conclude "they want to interfere with the elections," says one official.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said today he saw no contradiction in the government's renewed public warning of likely terrorist act and its unwillingness to raise the official alert status.
Since September 11th, 2001, we have had intelligence that al-Qaeda intends to launch more attacks against the homeland. Credible reporting now indicates that al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process...While we are not raising the color-coded threat level today, we are constantly reviewing threat reporting and strengthening the nation's security. We have permanent protections in place today that did not exist a year ago.
Question: And can you give us some indication of how, since the last big serious concern around the holidays, what is the -- compared to that, what is the volume of the kind of information that you're following here? Is it at those kinds of levels?
We all remember the momentous occasion when Tom Ridge, after months of apparent inertia, unveiled our new national terrorist alert system, a.k.a “The Color Wheel of Terror.” What a dandy tool that is, eh? While most Americans spent the week before Memorial Day trying to decide whether to look for a picnic area or a bomb shelter, Tom Terrific’s Color wheel remained an un-dramatic, and unhelpful, shade of yellow. “What did that mean?” wondered astute citizens. Were the threats not serious enough to warrant a color change? Were the sources not credible enough? Could it be that the Color Wheel of Terror was – gasp! – broken?
It was a code blue day last December in Anne Arundel County in Maryland. And code yellow. And code green, depending on which agency was doing the color-coding.
With almost the same fanfare as Ashcroft’s satellite announcement from Moscow announcing the capture of alleged “dirty bomb dreamer,” Jose Padilla (as much remembered as Osama bin Someone), the much criticized, color-coded threat level security alert went from Dijon mustard to terracotta orange (depending on the color settings of monitors and televisions). A sudden, dramatic spike in sales of plastic sheeting and duct tape suggested that Americans were taking heed of the advice represented by the threat level alert system -- which although previously had specified shopping as a response – had failed to add such blatant product specification. It’s only a matter of time before color-coded security alerts turn into full-scale branding opportunities. Burnt Orange brought to you courtesy of Dupont.
However, color coding is only the half of it. Be Ready, the new buzz phrase being flaunted by the biggest bureaucracy in the history of government (created to give Tom Ridge a real job and deflect attention from intelligence failures leading up to September 11), offers some practical advice as to how to spot one, never mind protect oneself, in the event of a chemical attack with the launch of a new web site www.ready.gov.
The presence of “many dead fish, birds and small animals” are “cause for suspicion,” but should not induce anyone to rush to conclusions that might be nothing more than the obvious symptoms of the Bush administration’s environmental policy. “If your eyes are watering, your skin is stinging, and you are having trouble breathing, you may have been exposed to a chemical”, or simply driving home from work in Texas. Or perhaps you were inhaling the toxic fumes of a private jet rushing Arianna Huffington to promote electric cars at an anti-SUV rally.
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