Alerts vs. Real Vulnerabilities

Has anyone noticed how we haven't had a terror alert since the '04 election? Given the following from former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, I think we may conclude a pattern exists:
The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.

Ridge, who resigned Feb. 1, said Tuesday that he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or "high" risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.


"More 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?' "

So, how long until the alerts start popping? An election is coming up, after all. You know there will be "developments" that conveniently remind the American people of the gigantic risk terrorism plays in their day-to-day lives. Otherwise they might notice that their wages have been flat for the last 5 years as the non-millionaire economy stagnates.

Does this make me cynical? It's just that after the deliberate misinformation that took us to war in Iraq, I can't bring myself to trust the Bush Administration on anything national-security related. Domestic politics are too large a consideration for them, controlling everything. It has been said thousands of times that there is no Policy in the Bush Administration - only Politics in the shape of Policy (reference just about any "administration insider" book).

Of course, there are real vulnerabilities out there that terrorists might well exploit. The civilian transit systems are all notoriously insecure, with the possible exception of the airlines. But even for that sector that garnered the most focus after 9/11, we can really only prevent planes from being used as missiles. In my mind, I don't see hijackings occurring again in our skies - or at least hijackings where the hijackers attempt to fly the planes themselves. The American people in the plane wouldn't stand for it. I know that personally, since you're dead either way, I'll be damned if I'm used as a weapon against innocents. But that doesn't mean that planes can't still be blown out of the sky with similar methods to those used to attack the various rail systems around the world. I'm not saying that simple pipe bombs or suitcases full of explosives would work, of course, since our airport security is geared to deterring just such attempts. That's hardly the only avenue to terrorism the bad guys have, though.

The essential problem in this modern age is that the class of chemicals that are technically explosives is gigantic. It's large the way Aires Rock is large, and it's comprised of things you'd never suspect of being explosive. "Make enough soap and you can blow up just about anything," after all. Two or three component explosives could be assembled and armed on airborne planes in the bathroom, for god's sake, and their constituent parts smuggled through security as various clandestine items - shampoo, shaving cream, thread or pipe cleaners. In this age of the supreme agency of the individual, physical security is an increasingly daunting task.

So, will the alert system be used to buoy the Republicans rapidly fading electoral changes in November? I'll do my best to avoid knee-jerk cynicism, no matter how many times we've been burned in the past.

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