May 19, 2002
12:53 PM   Subscribe

On the heels of calls for an investigation into the failure of the American intelligence community to "connect the dots" prior to September 11th, Vice President Cheney says that a future attack against the United States is "almost certain." On Saturday an unnamed White House official said U.S. intelligence officials have detected "enhanced activity" that points to a potential new attack against the United States or American interests abroad.
posted by tranquileye (53 comments total)
Keep 'em scared so they'll stop asking pesky questions.
posted by muckster at 1:00 PM on May 19, 2002

Call me cynical, but does this rather smack of a high-publicity piece of stable-door closing, in the wake of recent horse-bolting revelations?
posted by riviera at 1:02 PM on May 19, 2002

Damned if they do, damned if they don't!
posted by HTuttle at 1:09 PM on May 19, 2002

Cheney's a congenital liar. He also claimed the anthrax attacks were probably AQ-related, even as evidence was mounting that they were an inside job.

While I don't doubt we have some sleuthin' to do, and the wascally terrorists are surely agitating for another big one, this sort of rhetoric seems calculated to keep us scared, as muckster noted. Its timing, coming just as we're becoming hypercritical of the administration again, is dodgy.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:34 PM on May 19, 2002

I have to admit that when I first read of the "enhanced activity" on Saturday night, my first thought was that it was part of the spin.
posted by tranquileye at 1:36 PM on May 19, 2002

But because the latest information about a possible attack is non-specific, the government has not issued a public alert.

Do you think that was what happened to Metafilter? It sounds pretty specific to me, just like all of the reports since 9-11. Specific in that they don't really know what the hell is going on.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:47 PM on May 19, 2002

Paranoiac thought of the day:

What if every time GWB's credibility is threatened or his popularity slips, a terrorist attack "slips through the cracks?"

Manufacturing a crisis in order to promote the second term his father never got, the toppling of Saddam, the police state he's verging on and so forth.

Anybody make a study of his governorship that correllates bad things happening either in texas or to his family and his popularity rating?
posted by swerdloff at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2002

Cheney's a congenital liar.

Agreed. But this much is true:

``We don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or next week or next year, partly because I think we're having some success at disrupting the organization, making it more difficult for them to carry out their operations,'' he added. ``But the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real.''

And that is how it is going to be from now on, just as it is in much of the rest of the world. All the more reason to investigate exactly what went wrong so it doesn't happen again.
posted by homunculus at 2:03 PM on May 19, 2002

Joshua Marshall makes the argument that these warnings are political on his weblog. It certainly appears that the Bush administration tried to hide the fact that the president was briefed on the possible threat of Al Qaeda hijackings prior to 9/11. Funny how the whole era of accountability thing only covers warnings the Clinton administration received prior to the attack.
posted by rcade at 2:04 PM on May 19, 2002

Look at the doggie! It's wagging!
posted by owillis at 2:20 PM on May 19, 2002

um, why are government agents eavesdropping on al qeada operatives when they should be killing them? whenever an increased amount of 'chatter' among al qeada operatives is noted, i expect a corresponding increase in the chatter of our military's machine guns, not more terror warnings. wtf?
posted by quonsar at 2:29 PM on May 19, 2002

There is a problem with this Cheney thing. When last he spoke, recently, he lambasted those (Dems) who questioned Bush and his leadership. Now, in addition to those who have said there may be an attack, he gets on TV and makes the point loud and clear. But how to reconcilethis announcement with past behavior when he refuses to turn over Enron documents to Congress? And, more to the point this:
The Man Behind the Hot Memo
It is the Bush administration that wants all Americans to have guns; it is the same group that does not want the pilots to carry guns...
To further defuse things, we see some critics going back once again to blame Clinton! But 9/11 happened after Clinton and so this simply will not do.
Sure something is likely to happen. But then where aqre the air marshalls, the private and trained and decent guards for airports? And why slipping in a bill to permit the illegals to get amnesty--tacked on to another bill? No wonder some are so suspicious. And this is now including some of those in the GOP.
posted by Postroad at 2:51 PM on May 19, 2002

Wouldn't it make sense to at least say something concrete and simple like: "We are issuing a non-specific, nationwide terrorism alert. Please check to see that you have food, water and supplies on hand for 3 days, in case of emergency. Make sure everyone in your home, school, or workplace has someplace to stay in case they get stranded due to power outages or transportation problems. Although no specific, credible threats exist, we urge employers to let workers take time this week for basic emergency preparedness measures, so that we will all be ready in event of a problem."

How can anyone expect the public to take these warnings seriously when the warnings don't tell us what we need to do to be prepared?
posted by sheauga at 3:36 PM on May 19, 2002

``In my opinion the prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain...(It's) not a matter of if, but when.''

Someone will try to attack the United States at a later date? You don't say!

It's almost as though revenge were some sort of cycle or something. As if trying to ensure peace by pissing off zealots with very little to lose were the height of madness, or as though declaring war on some group caused one to reasonably expect some sort of, I don't know, retaliation. This is going to take a little time to digest.
posted by Hildago at 3:43 PM on May 19, 2002

How can anyone expect the public to take these warnings seriously when the warnings don't tell us what we need to do to be prepared?

The best way to respond to a continuous, non-specific threat is to dance faster, sing louder, drink deeper, and love longer.

Or, start a blog.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:58 PM on May 19, 2002

Quonstar: The reason you eavesdrop instead of killing is straight out of Miami Vice, but very real - you listen to the chatter of the underlings so you can go up the food chain. Further, if you can stop an attack in some spectacular fashion, well, you can point to it and say "look what we did!" rather than pointing to some dead Al Quaeda operative and saying "He was gonna do something."

Plus, due process and all that jazz.
posted by swerdloff at 4:14 PM on May 19, 2002

Wow. I actually forgot that we had a Vice President.
posted by Hankins at 4:49 PM on May 19, 2002

MeFier's heads work in mysterious ways. Bush is responsible for 9/11 because he had warnings and didn't release them. Now the administration is releasing warnings of an essentially similar nature to those we had before 9/11, so OF COURSE they're just doing it to control us better.

I think the proper expression is, "the wheel's still turnin' but the hamster's dead".
posted by clevershark at 5:43 PM on May 19, 2002

MeFier's heads work in mysterious ways.

Hardly: as Josh Marshall says (thanks, rcade) the White House has known about this 'increased activity' for either weeks or months, depending on which source you believe. It's just a little too much of a coincidence to accept that this announcement hasn't been timed to douse the calls for greater investigation into what intelligence might or might not have been gathered before September, following Thursday's revelations. Perhaps if Cheney hadn't been so quick to make his first response a condemnation of anyone who asked questions as 'irresponsible' and 'partisan', even while he was well aware of this 'increased activity', this wouldn't have looked like a bit of shameless politicking.

The two issues are quite different, and to confuse them by conflating them is precisely the White House's tactic. On the one hand, people are asking why the shepherd didn't cry 'Wolf' when there were signs of lupine activity last summer; on the other hand, people are asking why the shepherd chooses to cry 'Wolf' right now, when they're already aware that the wolf is on the prowl. It doesn't help that everyone has become accustomed to a climate of secrecy to the point of obstructiveness, so that any hint of openness is rather difficult to take at face value. And it's not about assigning 'responsibility' (because the ones 'responsible' are now being fricaséed in eternal damnation) but following Bush up on his promise to restore 'integrity' to the office.
posted by riviera at 6:08 PM on May 19, 2002

I thought the whole 'restoring integrity' thing was just about not getting blow jobs in the office. You mean it was going to be policy-related, too?
posted by yhbc at 6:23 PM on May 19, 2002

Out of interest, I thought that Osama "isn't that big a threat" and Bush is "no longer concerned about" him. And I believed Al Queda had been "neutralised" and "out of action" as a result of the war in Afghanistan. So how come they can still pull of another attack?
posted by Neale at 6:24 PM on May 19, 2002

did anyone else see diane feinstien on cnn late edition this morning - she seemed quite worried about the missing truckload of sodium cyanide in mexico..... apparently they found the truck bust most of the cyanide is missing.... anyone seen any news on this on the web??

how about how she called cheney out months before september 11th asking for improved cia/fbi cooperation in light of concerns she had about growing intelligence of terrorist operations??... after hearing her... i think she would be better call for director of homeland security than the clod Tom Ridge.
posted by specialk420 at 6:33 PM on May 19, 2002

The problem with that explanation is, that there have been important signs of 'lupine activity' since the mid-90s, not 'last summer'. The subtle signs of that were the bombing of the Khobar towers, the attack on the USS Cole, and two US embassies in ruins.

So what exactly should have been done about this? Deport every young male Arab in America? Begin a program of internment... in peacetime?

Sure, we could have prevented 9/11. At the cost of a fascist state. Instead America has gone the completely opposite way, making every goddam plane since last September horribly late because we have to make sure that some little old lady doesn't bring crocheting needles on board, when we know perfectly well that everyone would be better off if the searches were a little more targeted, political correctness notwithstanding. Heck, even passengers of Arab appearance and/or names would be better off by not having to wait for some $7/hour peon to make sure that the 50 people ahead in the line don't carry nail clippers.

Add to this that the responsible agencies (NSA, FBI, CIA) basically bar any but the most white-bread of candidates from making much of a contribution to the cause of national security, and it'll soon become obvious that there definitely will be more attacks, and that most likely we won't be able to do much to prevent them. Terrorists 1, and counting. USA 0. I for one will not fill out a 300-page job application and go through a bureaucratic rape to get a job where I would have 10 times the stress for 1/3 the pay I get now. I wouldn't be eligible anyway because I am a Canadian citizen (although clearly this is not a concern to terrorists willing to murder innocents at the behest of a psychopathic bastard). However I also know a number of Americans who would be eligible, but refuse to put themselves through that sort of bureaucratic ordeal.

9/11 was a failure on the part of everyone in government, but it was a failure engineered into the system by policy. When I was looking at the first tower fall, dude, there was no question in my mind as to who had orchestrated it, and I know I wasn't alone in that. However the gov't. has some time ago decided that it could do without the analysis and insight that people like myself could provide.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Exactly what will be gained by bringing government activity to a screeching halt while Congress -- itself not entirely blameless -- decides which heads to cut, I am unclear on that. Perhaps you can explain to me how that's not a pure "revenge shot" for the Monica Lewinsky brouhaha. Which normally I wouldn't be against, except that there are troops in Afghanistan being fired on by more of that Al Qaeda scum and the Feds are a little busy figuring out a solid framework for homeland security, with the constraints that we're stuck staffing that office with largely sons-of-military who don't have the skills to work at a job which is, on a personal level, a good deal more sensible.

Of course if you believe those things to be irrelevant then we might as well drop the conversation, as there's 0 chance of meeting each other halfway.
posted by clevershark at 6:41 PM on May 19, 2002

Oh, and I forgot to point out in my long-winded post that one of the reasons the CIA and FBI didn't coordinate their data (or what they claim the reason is anyway) is that the CIA is expressly forbidden from acting in domestic affairs. I remember a stink leading to the systematic application of this policy in the 90s...
posted by clevershark at 6:46 PM on May 19, 2002

I think our government is telling us that we better get prepared for some tough times ahead. I trust them. I think they're working hard to keep us safe.
posted by mikegre at 6:48 PM on May 19, 2002

The problem with that explanation is, that there have been important signs of 'lupine activity' since the mid-90s, not 'last summer'.

I work with wire reports: the hints we were getting about 'something big' started last summer. Incidentally, we now know, that's when John Ashcroft stopped travelling by commercial airlines, because of 'unspecified threats'. Unspecified, in the sense that everybody else had to hope they were simply aimed at Ashcroft.

What should have been done, you ask? First off: there were threats of hijackings, so perhaps the White House should have looked at the report that had been prepared by the previous administration on its piss-poor domestic airline security. That wouldn't have led to a round-up or a fascist state; the argument that 'we didn't know they'd use planes as weapons' is simply diversionary.

Your 'blame it on the political bureaucracy' argument here just won't do, when you look at some of the specifics. Bush introduced a culture of lockdown to the White House; Cheney has given Congress the finger over and again in the name of 'confidentiality'; access to information, including records from past administrations, has been decimated. Is proper oversight (the whole 'checks and balances' thing) to be regarded as a 'revenge shot' or the triumph of bureacracy? I bloody well hope not.

As to your addendum: the CIA can and does, and could and did, investigate non-citizens within the US: "The collection of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence within the United States shall be coordinated with the FBI as required by procedures agreed upon by the Director of Central Intelligence and the Attorney General".
posted by riviera at 7:07 PM on May 19, 2002

Chill out. And walk quickly in the subway.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2002

riviera -- the non-cooperation of the CIA, as I pointed out, is what their excuse is, and does not necessarily have anything to do with the facts of the case.

Nevertheless even now the US is attempting to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind its back. Hardly a winning strategy, and we're supposed to be on a "heightened state of alert", whatever the heck THAT's supposed to mean. That's my point about "bureaucracy" which whizzed right by you.

As for "increasing airport security", bollocks. The only thing which has been increased since September is the annoyance factor associated with flying. No amount of x-raying could have prevented even the "shoe bomber", whose bomb was made of SEMTEX, yet I still have to take my boots off every time I want to get past the 'security' station. This seems to be the best that US 'airport security' can do. Europe is seen as a model for the US to follow, but they let Richard Reid through, who pretty much had the 'trifecta' of terrorism against him -- extremely creepy looking, had known links to terrorism, bought a first class seat with cash AND on the spot, etc. If the European model was really effective we wouldn't even know who he is. Not that even that could have been implemented by the likes of those people employed by Argenbright anyway.

Fact is, short of preventing Arabs from flying for months on end, there was no realistic way of stopping what happened. Heck, carrying box cutters and short knives was not even against FAA regulations back then.

Hindsight's a wonderful thing...
posted by clevershark at 9:52 PM on May 19, 2002

Paranoiac thought of the day:

What if those in power are using the power of terrorist threats to toy with the stock market?

There was a lot of money made between Sept 10 and Dec 31. Those who shorted on the 10th made a freakin' killing when the markets opened on the 14th (?); and those who re-invested in blue chips on the 14th made a killing over the next four months of recovery.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

...there were signs of lupine activity last summer...

"Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore
Riding through the night
Soon every lupin in the land
Will be in his mighty hand"
posted by five fresh fish at 9:58 PM on May 19, 2002

I think our government is telling us that we better get prepared for some tough times ahead. I trust them. I think they're working hard to keep us safe.

This does not mean much to me, as I believe the government is responsible for putting us in this danger. This administration and all the ones since before my mother was born. I trust the government not at all, and consider clinging to it at this time to be perverse.
posted by thirteen at 9:58 PM on May 19, 2002

The absurdity of it all, that we're supposed to believe the Bush administration's desire to keep America safe being timed precisely with (finally) some well publicised skepticism of this War on Terror, which is obviously meant to distract from the real blow-back inducing culprits (namely the Bush administration and its Reagan/BushI ties) underscores the fraudulency in continuing the campaign. Cheney may as well have stated that it is the administration's wish that there are future domestic attacks so that it can ensure, self-fulfill the prophecy that Bush stated in his initial post 9-11 address, which was that "this war may not end in our lifetimes". With all the rife capitalizing by this administration on the great calamity of 2001 to further their agendas, there is no difference with what I saw Cheney say on Meet the Press and what ostensibly, he secretly believes. This war must go on. And as long as there is terrorism to be stamped out, they will allow terrorism to continue, insofar as their playbooks call for an artificial mandate to supplant the democracy of this country in the direction they have, up to now, shown no veneration of.
posted by crasspastor at 11:22 PM on May 19, 2002

I think our government is telling us that we better get prepared for some tough times ahead. I trust them. I think they're working hard to keep us safe.

er, why do you trust them?
posted by niceness at 3:03 AM on May 20, 2002

niceness wrote "er, why do you trust them?"

For starters, because I'm not paranoid.
posted by mikegre at 5:04 AM on May 20, 2002

I think they're working hard to keep us safe.

They're also working hard to keep secrets that would harm them politically if revealed. I'd love to hear one of the Bush backers answer this question: How do we benefit from Bush intentionally hiding details of the warnings he and his administration received prior to 9/11? Those should be part of the dialogue as we decide government preparedness for future attacks, don't you think?
posted by rcade at 5:26 AM on May 20, 2002

For starters, because I'm not paranoid.
poppa is a moneyed republican, huh?
posted by quonsar at 5:28 AM on May 20, 2002

quonsar wrote: "poppa is a moneyed republican, huh?"

Here it is folks, for all to see. The driving animus of those on the left.
posted by mikegre at 5:36 AM on May 20, 2002

Actually, mikegre is George W. Bush, which explains a lot.
posted by riviera at 6:09 AM on May 20, 2002

For starters, because I'm not paranoid.

OK, now where's your main course?
NB: It could do with being a little more substantial.
posted by niceness at 6:39 AM on May 20, 2002

"I think our government is telling us that we better get prepared for some tough times ahead. I trust them."

"er, why do you trust them?"

Why not?! Should it be a surprise to anyone that Bush & Cheney's policies are going to cause tough times ahead, regardless of whether some of us get blown up, shot down, poisoned, or irradiated? At least they're being honest about it... better to be honest now than face the music later.

Maybe they should also mention that they're going to spend the Social Security surplus on the military and on porkbarrel projects, leaving us with more debt to pay off right about the same time the Baby Boomers retire.

When it comes to those in power prophesizing doom, I'm a believer! ;->
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:43 AM on May 20, 2002

Here it is folks, for all to see. The driving animus of those on the left.

This is a really weak defense of the administration. Are you capable of extending your admiration for the president into an actual discussion of why it was OK to hide his pre-9/11 Al Qaeda hijacking threat briefing, or can we assume it's as indefensible to his supporters as it is to his detractors? Frankly, I'm rating it as one of his biggest mistakes in office and hoping that partisan Democrats saddle up and ride this horse for at least a month.
posted by rcade at 8:57 AM on May 20, 2002

Ok, for arguments sake, let's say the Gov't had signs that there might be a hijacking. Why is everyone forgetting that at any given time there are hundreds (thousands?) of planes in the air. We had no signs which planes might be hijacked. No clues as to which airports the planes might be taking off from. No idea of the times or routes. How can you reasonably expect the Gov't to stop hijackings with such general, ambiguous information? Can someone who thinks Bush dropped the ball please explain EXACTLY how the Bush administration could have singled out the exact planes that were destined to hit the towers and the Pentagon?
posted by fried at 10:01 AM on May 20, 2002

That's not the point, fried. The Bush administration intentionally hid information that relates directly to the issue of whether we could have foreseen 9/11. How can we even evaluate the question of whether Bush "dropped the ball" when we're not even being told what he knew about Al Qaeda prior to the attacks?
posted by rcade at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2002

Can someone who thinks Bush dropped the ball please explain EXACTLY how the Bush administration could have singled out the exact planes that were destined to hit the towers and the Pentagon?

Um, weren't most of the hijackers using their real names? And weren't those names already on terrorist watch lists that were supposed to prevent certain people from flying?

Making sure that airport security workers had full access to those lists would, it seems to me, have been an extraordinarily easy thing to do. That it wasn't done, particularly in light of the clear warnings we now know Bush & Co. had in front of them, borders on criminal negligence.
posted by mediareport at 10:29 AM on May 20, 2002

quonsar wrote: "poppa is a moneyed republican, huh?"

Here it is folks, for all to see. The driving animus of those on the left.
posted by mikegre at 5:36 AM PST on May 20

Here it is folks: citing a silly, off-the-cuff joke as evidence of vast, pinko resentment.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: Some lefties actually make good money! No, seriously!
posted by Skot at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2002

The American government isn't of the people, for the people. It exists solely to ensure the wealthy 5% of the population continue to remain wealthy, while the working 95% remain passive and ignorant.

Has the government *ever* done anything to benefit you in a way that doesn't also massively benefit the wealthy?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 AM on May 20, 2002

You're kidding right? I mean there's the interstate highway system, national parks, the FDA, police and fire departments. Should I go on?

But you are right that people in power tend to make policy which benefits themselves and those with money but not exclusively.
posted by euphorb at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2002

The American government isn't of the people, for the people. It exists solely to ensure the wealthy 5% of the population continue to remain wealthy, while the working 95% remain passive and ignorant.

Says the Canadian.
posted by BlueTrain at 12:22 PM on May 20, 2002

Gosh, Bush and Cheney know another attack "is almost certain"?

Well, given such foreknowledge, maybe this time Bush will be able to actually think of some possible actions during this next attack, instead of sitting reading children's books with a dumb smirk on his face while his own nation's airliners are used to kill his own nation's citizens.

One lives in hope. But "warnings" didn't make any difference before 9/11, when our draft-dodging commander-in-chief and his staff of slimy oil executives (perpetually on their knees before the airline industry and any other business) were given "warnings" that U.S. airlines were at increased risk for hijackings, and still allowed a dozen fuckwits heavily armed with 95 cent boxcutters to cripple a nation.

Thanks for the public info, Cheney. Maybe this time someone in America can help prevent an attack, given that you and Barksdale Bush were incapable of it.

Now get back to your bunker and all those Enron documents that need shredding.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:49 PM on May 20, 2002

It seems that any action Bush and Co. would take, Fold, you would be opposed to. You are against, if I remember correctly, most of the measures they have taken in order to prevent another attack, such as destroying the terrorists' base of operations.

So if you were King for a month, what measures would you take to prevent another attack?
posted by cell divide at 1:19 PM on May 20, 2002

If Fold were king for a month, the first thing he would do is abolish the monarchy.
posted by rcade at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2002

Instead of this rather lame Monday morning quarterback-level discussion, how about a discussion regarding the five or ten most likely targets for a future attack. Or whether the VP Cheney is sincere in concluding a new attack is almost a certainty, or whether that's just the best position to take (because, if nothing happens, no one's going to get on his case).
posted by ParisParamus at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2002

To paraphrase PP, 'pay no attention to the men behind the curtain.' Or to misquote Bill Hicks: stay awake at night, America; your government is in control.
posted by riviera at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2002

Bush polling down...
Numbers go up.
Economy slips, domestic policy dips.
Numbers go up.

The question is, can he keep the seesaw going for 2 more years? And what the hell is he gonna do if they actually catch Osama?
posted by owillis at 3:47 PM on May 20, 2002

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