Do terror alerts reveal too much?

By Tim Grieve
Published August 11, 2004 9:22PM (EDT)

The Bush administration has worked long and hard to make sure that, if terrorists attack the United States anytime soon, Americans will view the attack as an attempt to disrupt the presidential election. It's a nice trick, if the administration can pull it off. A terror attack isn't proof that the administration's war on terror has failed; it's proof that the terrorists want George W. Bush out of the White House. If Americans don't want to let the terrorists to win, they've got no choice but to re-elect the President.

While we're waiting for the sky to fall, the Los Angeles Times is posing a question: Are all those Bush administration announcements and warnings and clarifications about terrorism actually making us less safe? The answer, the Times says, may be yes.

Times writer Jeffrey Fleishman, reporting from Berlin, says that "international security experts and officials" are worried that the administration's terror alerts and announcements of "high-profile arrests" could "jeopardize investigations" into the al Qaida network.

"It causes a problem. There's no doubt about that," Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, told the Times. "The moment you make any announcement, you tell the other side what you know. As a rule of thumb, you should keep quiet about what you know." The Times quotes one unnamed U.S. intelligence official as saying that the White House's actions are "really hurting our efforts in a very demonstrable way."

Kai Hirschmann, deputy director of the Institute for Terrorism Research in Essen, Germany, told the Times that it's hard not to think that election-year politics may drive some of the administration's announcements. "The Code Orange disaster in the U.S. last week was quickly followed by raids in Pakistan and arrests in Britain, which all help the Bush administration show there is a global terrorist network," Hirschmann said. "But I think there's a bit of politics behind it."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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