as it related to the average person, it has always been
completely absurd on its face. No one ever explained to
any of us what the hell we were supposed to do with the
warnings that were issued. The highest ranking security
officials in the country would get together from time to
time and, by means of some mysterious process of deliberation
whose formulae were never revealed to the public, announce
a higher or lower threat level.
if it was code orange -- a "high" risk-- who knew what that
meant? Did it mean expect at any minute to get your head
blown off? Did it mean look both ways on the road
to your son's tee ball game? Who knew? They didn't even
pretend to explain.
sensing a trap, hesitated for months to make jokes about
it. It wasn't until the waning days of 2002 that people
like Conan O'Brien ("Red means we're in extreme danger,
and champagne-fuchsia means we're being attacked by Martha
Stewart") realized that the burden of explaining this business
to the public had more or less officially been farmed out
to late-night standups.
with a new Homeland Security Director in place (Michael
Chertoff), the system is being reviewed. Hilariously, the
Department has hired a psychologist to try -- using an academic's
advanced expertise -- to identify the "problems" with the
previous system. That psychologist, Roxanne Cohen-Silver
of UC-Irvine, recently revealed that her research indicated
that perhaps the previous system was "too vague."
just say 'Be alert, look around,' that's a little too vague,"
she said last week -- adding quietly that, with regard to
terror-alert announcements, "maybe it would be advisable
not to hold a press conference unless officials can give
people something they can do about it."
took them four years to figure this out. You can't make
this stuff up. This is paranoid lunacy on a level that would
have been beyond an Orwell or a Zamyatin to invent. It's
not even dystopia. It's slapstick. And somehow the whole
country managed to swallow it for almost twelve hundred
days without so much as a hiccup.
all that, there was always a vast gap between the openly
ridiculous ostensible purpose of the terror alerts, and
their probable real purpose. The alerts appeared to accomplish
two things for the administration. One, they would have
allowed it to cover its ass in the event of an attack actually
occurring. Second, they conveniently reminded the public
of its duty to remain in a dumb animal panic straight through
the 2004 elections, which the administration went to great
pains to make into a referendum on George Bush's national
regard to that second point, a piece of startling news slithered
into print last week and somehow managed to avoid being
made into a big deal by the allegedly Bush-hating liberal
media. In fact there were two such highly combustible news
items last week, both of which died without any furor.
first was the revelation, hinted at in the British press
for more than a month, that then-Mi6 chief Richard Dearlove
told Tony Blair nine months before the invasion of Iraq
that the U.S. intended to go to war no matter what, and
that intelligence was "being fixed around the policy" by
the Bush administration. This story, reported by the Sunday
Times of London two weeks ago, was virtually stillborn
in the U.S. press, with a small page 18 item in the Washington
Post being a typical response.
second was a series of casual remarks by Tom Ridge to the
effect that in the six instances between 2002 and the fall
elections last year that the threat level was raised from
yellow to orange, the decision to make the change usually
came from the White House, over the objections of the Homeland
Security department. The decisions, Ridge said, often were
based upon (and this is his own characterization) "flimsy"
often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,"
Ridge told reporters. "Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence
assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence
was good, you don't necessarily put the country on (alert).
... There were times when some people were really aggressive
about raising it, and we said, 'For that?' "
about how absurd this is. After 9/11 happens, the Bush administration
creates a huge cabinet-level agency whose entire purpose
is to be relentlessly, stringently paranoid about the possibility
of terrorist attacks. Simultaneous to the creation of the
DHS, the administration creates the color-coded alert system,
which, as has been demonstrated, had absolutely no concrete
purpose beyond generally scaring the shit out of the population.
it comes out that the Bush administration routinely overruled
its own house paranoiac to unilaterally declare orange and
red alerts. The White House, of course, doesn't have its
own intelligence apparatus. In making a dissenting assessment
of intelligence its judgments necessarily had to be entirely
already knew that the timing of these alerts was extremely
suspicious. The public has forgotten already, of course,
but it's worth recalling now that just four days before
Christmas in 2003, at a time when the country was still
somewhat divided over whether or not to go to war in Iraq,
the DHS announced a code orange alert. Just as the population
was settling in for the holidays, in fact, Donald Rumsfeld
made an unequivocal announcement:
[are] that [the] near-term attacks," he said, "will either
rival or exceed the [9/11] attacks."
there was the code red in New York on July 29, 2004-- the
same day that John Kerry made his acceptance speech at the
Democratic convention. We were told, among other things,
that al-Qaeda was planning on blowing up the Citibank building.
News leaked out later that this intelligence was at least
three years old.
the time, everyone blamed Tom Ridge for this. It was Ridge,
after all, who said of the Citibank threat: "The quality
of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams
in multiple locations, is rarely seen."
it comes out that it wasn't Ridge at all, but the White
House, acting on its own initiative. Considering the timing
of the alerts-- before elections in 2003, in a period when
the administration was garnering support for the Iraq invasion,
before the 2004 election-- the idea that the White House
just pulled these stunts willy-nilly is criminal. Watergate
started as a bunch of cheap frat pranks to knock Ed Muskie
out of the race. This would be terrorizing 270 million people
to go to war, and win an election. If that's what they did.
And what does it look like?