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January 18, 2004

Homeland Security Threat Levels

I made an off-the-cuff comment a bit earlier, saying that: "The alerts have been falling quite regularly on holidays and also whenever the war makes a big media splash for some reason. No relation to actual intelligence about terrorism, of course, but you can't have everything." It was more an impression than anything else, so I have gone back to review the information released by the White House on each threat status change. The White House has a nice Homeland Security website with a bunch of archived announcements and speeches. Here are (I think all) the dates of the changes and cited reasons.

March 12, 2002 Homeland Security Advisory System created. Starts at Yellow. Ridge actually explains what Federal agencies are supposed to be doing for a couple colors.

September 10, 2002 Yellow to Orange "Based on debriefings of a senior al Qaeda operative, of possible terrorists attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States"

September 24, 2002 Orange to Yellow "Contributing to this decision were the recent arrests of six men in suburban Buffalo who are alleged to have provided material support to al Qaeda."

February 7, 2003 Yellow to Orange "Recent reporting indicates an increased likelihood that Al Qaida may attempt to attack Americans in the United States and/or abroad in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February 2003." Bush SOTU on Jan. 28, Blix report setback wasn't out until Feb. 14

February 27, 2003 Orange to Yellow "Among the factors we considered was the passing of the time period in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February 2003."

March 17, 2003 Yellow to Orange "The Intelligence Community believes that terrorists will attempt multiple attacks against U.S.and Coalition targets worldwide in the event of a U.S led military campaign against Saddam Hussein." "There are many recent indications that Al-Qaidas planning includes the use of chemical, biological, and/or radiological materials." On March 18, Bush announces that Saddam has 48 hours to leave Iraq. Gotta love the WMD line.

April 16, 2003 Orange to Yellow Major fighting declared over by the Pentagon on April 14

May 20, 2003 Yellow to Orange "While there is not credible, specific information with respect to targets or method of attack, the use of tactics similar to those seen in recent terrorist attacks overseas include small arm equipped assault teams, large vehicle borne explosive devices, and suicide bombers. These attacks underscore terrorists' desires to attack soft targets. Weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted." This is mainly about the Memorial Day holiday, but I think that the White House claims of the WMDs having been transferred out of Iraq may also have something to do with it. Not confident about that though.

May 30, 2003 Orange to Yellow "The U.S. intelligence community has also concluded that the number of indicators and warnings that led to raising the level have decreased and the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday has passed."

December 21, 2003 Yellow to Orange "The U.S. intelligence community has received a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond."

January 9, 2004 Orange to Yellow "With the passing of the holidays and many large gatherings that occurred during this time, we have made the decision to come down to Yellow."..."The holidays have passed; the potential danger that large gatherings present during the holidays has passed."

We were hit hard on September 11th 2001. The question immediately afterward was "how organized are these guys"? The anthrax attacks which followed answered that question for a lot of people.

But not for me. To me it seems that the evidence points to a domestic source for the anthrax mailings. Almost certainly a Republican ticked off by the Jeffords defection and driven bonkers by September 11. He sends letters to NBC, the New York Post, Daschle, and Leahy. I.e. the liberal media and a couple of Democratic Senators. Daschle, as well as being majority leader had a Republican Governor. I do not see how the targets fit with foreign terrorists. (Ashcroft's Senate loss was also hotly contested by Republicans.) I am a conservative, so I hope that this does not sound like sour grapes.

I do not think that the Islamic terrorists are all that organized or especially competent even. Let me be clear, though, that I far more worried about terrorism for preciously those reasons. More than a dozen men armed with knives and acting without much central control were able to hit this country harder than Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan ever were able to. The hate that the Bin Ladens of this world spew does not need much in the way of special organization to thrive. It just needs to be communicated to dissatisfied Muslim men where it can take seed. Hate is information, and we are facing an information war.

The pattern of threat levels convinces me that the Bush administration understands this to a degree. They know how good their intelligence information is. They know that they are not going to have information about most attacks. So they are raising the threat level based on what is in the media at the time, and what holidays and anniversaries are coming up. I wish that they were a bit more competent at managing their media image. (Whoever came up with the phrase "homeland security" has a tin ear. And seems responsible for a lot of phrases that come out of the White House.) The whole threat level concept has serious flaws. But it is a good thing at least that they are keeping the threat of terrorism in the public view.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 12:52 PM