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What are the latest terrorist threats to the U.S.?

Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft, joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, gave one of his now typical, more-vague-than-a-horoscope press conferences about an increased threat of terrorist attacks in the United States. "Someone or someones, somewhere may be planning something or some things sometime. So if you see a bearded Arab near a bridge or tunnel, call the cops and run." He didn't literally say that, but he might as well have.

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Such announcements are designed for protection; not ours though, but his and his boss's. If an attack occurs, they'll say that they warned us, even though the warning was about as specific as your mom telling you to "be careful" or "drive carefully" before you leave the house. And if an attack doesn't occur, well, who the hell's gonna complain about that?

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The part of the conference that offered usable-by-the-public information, the giant-sized "Wanted" posters identifying seven alleged al-Qaeda agents and sympathizers, wasn't really news. Six of the seven people depicted on the posters have been on public "Wanted" lists for months.

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The new guy on the list is a 25-year-old California native named Adam Yahiye Gadahn. According to a widely circulated essay (just Google his name to read it yourself) supposedly written by him when he was 17, he's the son of a Halal butcher (meaning his dad butchers meat in a manner that's kosher for Muslims) who converted to Islam around 1995 after reading about the religion online using his grandmother's AOL connection. Since then, the feds say that he's gone to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and worked as an al-Qaeda translator.

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Pretty amazing story, don't you think? Seriously, how many grandmothers actually had AOL way back in 1995?

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The threat to the U.S., as described by Ashcroft during the press conference, is that al-Qaeda plans to "hit the United States hard," possibly aiming at one of the "attractive targets" that the upcoming summer will provide such as the major political party conventions (don't worry, Libertarians and Greens, your conventions look safe for now), the G-8 summit, or the Sting/Annie Lennox co-headlining tour.

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My favorite part of the news conference was the bit early on where Ashcroft laid the groundwork for Bush re-election campaign's response in the event of a big summer or fall attack. Ashcroft reminded us that the Madrid railway bombings in March were "perceived by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to have advanced their cause." As you might recall, Spain had a national election on the weekend after the attack, the result of which swept the incumbent leader and his party from office. Says Ashcroft, "Al-Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences."

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In other words, he's saying that al-Qaeda wants to bomb the American electorate into voting Bush out of office. Or to put it more bluntly, if you vote for Kerry in the wake of a terrorist attack on American soil, you're just playing into bin Laden's grubby hands. Maybe I'm totally off base though. Maybe Ashcroft is suggesting that al-Qaeda wants Americans to vote Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the next president of the United States.

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How frightened should we be? Very, but not necessarily by Ashcroft's pseudo-warnings. I have no doubt that al-Qaeda is planning to attack us. After all, that's what they do. But I'm not certain yet that I need to be any more frightened or vigilant (I can't tell you how much I despise that word now) about it than I was before the press conference.

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Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge hasn't raised the threat level from yellow (elevated risk) to orange (high risk) yet. In fact, just hours before Ashcroft's scary-sounding press conference, Ridge was on CNN telling us that "America's job is to enjoy living in this great country and go out and have some fun." So go ahead, down a second tequila shot from that stripper's cleavage. It's not only OK, people, it's your patriotic duty.

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Warnings or not, what should scare you is the government's piss-poor preparation for attacks if and when they're attempted. I'll fear-monger about that next week.

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andisheh@creativeloafing.com



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