August 9, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
Recent terrorism-related arrests in America, Britain and Pakistan make a mockery of claims that the Bush administration raised the terror alert to "high" for crass political reasons.
Undoubtedly, a lot of the heckling about the White House's supposed political motivations is itself politically-motivated. . .
The critics of raising the alert are right on one account:
Politics should have no place in determining our nation's response to terrorism - or any security threat for that matter.
But recent events at home and abroad scream that the threat is here and now. Increased vigilance is a necessity. Especially as we move into the height of the political season, when the likelihood of another attack soars. (Think: Spain in March 2004.)
Last Thursday, FBI agents arrested two Muslims just up the Hudson River in Albany. The elaborate, yearlong sting operation featured an attempt to launder $50,000 to buy a Chinese RPG-7 shoulder-fired missile to kill the Pakistan's U.N. ambassador. But at least one of the suspects appears to be involved in far larger terrorist operations as well.
The name, Albany address and phone number of Yassin Aref were found in a notebook left behind in an Iraqi training camp vacated by Ansar al Islam, an al Qaeda-associated terrorist group. Aref's nickname in the notebook? "The Commander."
(Aref may be a bud of Abu Musab al Zarqawi - Iraq's current top terrorist killer and an Ansar al Islam alum.)
In Britain last week, a key al Qaeda cell was dismantled. The 12-man cell included al Qaeda biggie Abu Eisa al Hindi, suspected of doing the casings (along with two other al Qaeda ops) that lit off last week's terror alerts in the United States.
Fluent in English, Arabic and Urdu, Hindi is believed to have visited the Big Apple at the direction of Osama bin Laden and written the surveillance reports (in English) detailing security, engineering and other features of three of the five financial buildings cased by al Qaeda spooks. He likely checked out the N.Y. Stock Exchange, and the Citigroup (Manhattan) and Prudential buildings (Newark, N.J.) for their suitability for a terrorist hit.
And in Pakistan last month, maps, digital snaps and other info on possible targets in America and Britain were found on computers belonging to two al Qaeda operatives. One of the terror thugs, Mussad Aruchi, told interrogators that he "was sure that al Qaeda would hit New York or Washington pretty soon."
Other intelligence streams have indicated that terrorist operations against the homeland are already in motion, including plans to pop us between Sept. 1 and the November elections.
Ignoring these intelligence "dots" would be nothing less than inviting disaster. Nevertheless, lots of folks question the warnings, bristling against more jersey barriers and long security screenings.
As Americans, we have a birthright to be skeptical about government actions - and we should exercise this right. (No doubt that past intelligence failures, warm weather and a hotly-contested horserace for the White House only fuel the sense of unease, frustration and cynicism.)
But that's why it's also incumbent upon the government to reduce these doubts to the maximum extent possible. Despite making a solid effort, the administration can still do a better job of reducing the fit of chin-stroking and brow-furrowing surrounding the elevated terrorist threat level, especially outside New York City and Washington, D.C.
As long as it doesn't pull the rug out from under ongoing intelligence operations or legal proceedings, the government should be as direct as possible with the American people. Getting the word out on the policy is as important as the policy itself.
And there is no place for politics in national security. Secretary Tom Ridge got it right when he said recently, "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."
If this country is to remain safe, it can't be any other way.
Peter Brookes, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, is a Naval Academy grad. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
First appeared in the New York Post