Alexander's Column

Crying 'wolf'?

Mark Alexander · Nov. 2, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a second national security alert. “There may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States…. We believe this threat to be credible and for that reason should be taken seriously,” said Mr. Ashcroft.

The national alert was based on a combination of coded electronic intercepts by U.S. and Canadian intelligence agencies transmitted from North American and European based operatives in the Al Qaeda faction of Jihadistan. Analysts tell The Federalist that the convergence of several intercepts led officials to believe that small aircraft or vehicles packed with high explosives might be used to assault one or more nuclear reactor containment housings at power plants somewhere in the Southeast. (Thursday, the FBI also issued a lower priority warning to agencies in the Southwest and California concerning the vulnerability of significant commuter bridges.)

The forum for issuance of the national alert – press conference – led many in the media to criticize Mr. Ashcroft for “crying wolf,” questioning the wisdom of “scaring the public.” (Apparently they were disappointed that nothing blew up after the first alert was issued two weeks ago.) Of course, if anyone is worried, the nonstop media frenzy yodeling “anthrax scare” is the primary reason. While there is no way to estimate the effectiveness of issuing a “high alert,” one indicator might be that in both cases, nothing has happened – yet.

NEWS FLASH: The FBI issues these alerts (through back channels) primarily to put 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies and numerous corporate security agencies on notice – as indeed they should. (It would have been helpful to have had such an alert on or about September 10th.) In order to control the message, the FBI must make a public statement, or every TV talkinghead in the nation will be citing “confidential sources” with a different version of why the alert was issued.

(Speaking of threats against nuclear power facilities, since 1994, there has been specific evidence that terrorist cells considered these facilities a prime target for assault from the air. That notwithstanding, only this week did the Nuclear Regulatory Commission remove from public access a 119-page report detailing the precise vulnerabilities of nuclear reactor containment rooms to aircraft crashes. The report even listed velocities that specific aircraft would have to attain in order to penetrate the outer containment walls.)

Of course, the TV media continued the sensational coverage of “bio-terrorism” and the “war on terrorism.” (They hardly took time out to mention the 6 month anniversary of Chandra Levy’s disappearance – their primary ratings bait prior to 9-11.) Of course, the talkingheads, in their relentless pursuit of market share, continue to conduct themselves as if the end is imminent.

Regarding bio-terrorism, let’s look at the anthrax cases by the numbers: There have been 16 cases of pulmonary anthrax, and four of those were not caught early enough to treat. The 6 cutaneous anthrax cases have all been treated successfully. Twenty BILLION pieces of mail have been delivered since the first anthrax case was discovered.

Washington Times editor Wes Pruden notes, “The real news, hidden beneath the palaver, is that the public has so far not indulged in the panic of the press and the politicians.” While The Federalist does not publish, as a matter of policy, political polls, it is worth noting as anecdotal rebuttal that public opinion polls indicate that 92% of Americans think the mail is safe and 60% think the media is overreacting.

Of course, the potential for more serious disruption of continuity of government and commerce by anthrax distribution is high, but the media’s “O.J.” model treatment of this potential threat has done nothing to promote the rational understanding of how to handle that threat, or to maintain national resolve in the war with Jihadistan.

In our estimation, the limited mail contaminations are an attempt by a clever adversary (the Al Qaeda faction has formidable strategic planners among its ranks) to assess our national capability to respond to biological threats in advance of, say, mailing 20,000 anthrax-laced envelopes from many different locations around the nation on the same day. The early mailings – with the media’s sensational assistance – could also serve to weaken our national will to recover from a massive attack – soften the beaches in preparation for invasion.

Bin Laden has aptly demonstrated that Jihadistan is serious in its war against the West, and will not rest until the U.S. economy is in collapse, theorizing that such a collapse will greatly diminish U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Intelligence analysts close to the investigation tell The Federalist that the most probable scenario remains that some quantity of weaponized anthrax (processed with desiccant to facilitate airborne suspension) has been obtained by bin Laden’s cadre from Iraqi intelligence and provided to Al Queda operatives, who have, in turn, provided it to pre-positioned cells of Islamic extremists in U.S. suburbs – now awaiting bin Laden’s instructions. (Secondary to that analysis is the credible threat that an anarchist – the Unaplaguer The Federalist has pegged him – is distributing anthrax by mail on the coattails of the Jihadistan assault.)

Regarding the source of weaponized anthrax, it was, ironically, on September 11, 1998, that Federalist #98-36 reported the protest resignation of William Scott Ritter, after years as the Chief Inspector with UNSCOM, the UN’s Special Commission inspecting for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. “I believe that Iraq has retained the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction [and the] illusion of arms control is more dangerous than no arms control at all,” said Mr. Ritter in August of ‘98. But his warnings fell on deaf ears. (The Federalist had, since 1996, noted the Clinton administration’s seeming indifference about the conduct of WMD inspections in Iraq.)

Mr. Ritter, who spent 8 years as a military intelligence officer (USMC) prior to his UNSCOM assignment, was repeatedly chastised by Clinton officials for his criticism of the administration’s failure to shut down Iraq’s WMD programs.

Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said of Mr. Ritter’s resignation, “He is sincerely wrong [to] blame America for the world’s failure to uncover the full truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.” In response, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), defended Mr. Ritter against what he called the White House “smear machine,” saying: “Scott Ritter’s resignation in Iraq is very important. …He’s saying what the [Clinton] and Madeleine Albright are saying is not what we’re doing over there. …Just from what we know today and what he’s admitted to, [Clinton] should resign.”

Of course, now it is painfully clear that Bill Clinton was as negligent in his prosecution of Iraq for WMD violations as he was in the prosecution of Osama bin Laden.

Regarding “Operation Enduring Freedom” (“Operation Let’s Roll” as we prefer to call it in memory of Todd Beamer’s battle order on UAL93), this is Day 26 of combat operations in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when asked if the U.S. would stop military actions for Ramadan, noted: “The Taliban and Al Qaeda are unlikely to take a holiday. Given the fact that they have killed thousands of Americans and people from 50 or 60 other countries, and given the fact that they have sworn to continue such attacks, we have an obligation to defend the American people, and we intend to work diligently to do that. …This will not happen overnight. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It will be years, not weeks or months.”

Of course, Muslim dictators don’t pause for Ramadan when killing other Muslims either.

Asked about ramping up involvement with ground forces, Rumsfeld admitted, “We do have a modest number of troops in the country.” Meanwhile, the air campaign also stepped up tempo, with “long stick” bombing along Taliban front lines, and accompanied by more secondary explosions such as the one about 25 miles north of Kabul that sent a mushroom cloud at least 1,000 feet into the sky.

Speaking of “ground forces,” there is an increasing chorus of media pundits’ criticism about how we should step up the campaign and get it concluded soon. Some of these pundits must be extraterrestrials. Every administration official from President George Bush down has stated, from the onset, that it would take years to effectively prosecute the war against Jihadistan. Even a handful of conservative print pundits – exhibiting the attention span of average couch potatoes – are criticizing the administration for being too careful in selecting targets and not putting large numbers of ground troops into Afghanistan.

May we suggest that these blowhards be parachuted into the central mountain region of Afghanistan where they can spend the coming winter on spelunking expeditions completing their assigned recon details?

It is our considered opinion that the conduct of this war, thus far, has been well planned and executed. The Federalist has stated repeatedly that Osama bin Laden would die by assassin, not by Marine or infantry division. We have stated that it will take at least 6-12 months for the U.S. to restore sufficient intelligence and military capabilities to fully undertake suitable redress for the events of 9-11. The air assault on Afghanistan did little more than it was designed to do – put Jihadistan on notice that it will not be able to operate or train anywhere within the tactical reach of allied air power.

“We will plant that flag of freedom forever by winning the war on terrorism, by rallying our economy, and by keeping strong and adhering to the values we hold so dear – starting with freedom,” President Bush said this week. “We must win. We have no other choice for our children and our grandchildren. And the United States will prevail.” Indeed we will!

In homeland security news, the Bush administration took another small step in the long march to ensure domestic security, establishing the “Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force.” This entity will be charged with locating, detaining, prosecuting or deporting terrorist sympathizers. Mr. Bush also issued a directive establishing greater controls on student visas. It is now known that nine of the 19 terrorist hijackers of 9-11 infamy entered the United States legally – on student visas. Attorney General John Ashcroft also named 46 terrorist groups whose members and supporters will be banned from entering the United States.

Who would have thought that such policies were not already in place…?

Mr. Bush also provided new authority for the CIA to wage global campaigns against terrorists, beginning with the Al Qaeda network, and permitting for the first time since the 1970s clandestine missions targeted at specific individuals. Sources note two classified legal memoranda discussing the limits on existing executive orders banning assassinations – and concluding these do not prevent the president from lawfully designating a terrorist as a target for covert actions … including planned assassination.