Friday, May 28, 2004


That terror alert...

If you've been wondering how seriously you should take Ashcroft and Mueller's warning to the nation of a terrorist threat, you may stop wondering. It's just PR, at least according to Cassandra Chandler.
She [Chandler] said the announcement was intended to demonstrate to Americans and the world that the FBI was focused on trying to thwart an attack.

By now you're wondering who the hell is Cassandra Chandler, and why you should trust anyone named for a Greek prophetess who had the misfortune of being always right but never believed. Well, because she's the FBI's second in command of "Public Affairs" (that's the PR department to you), and if she doesn't know, I don't know who does.
"This clearly demonstrates our commitment to prevention," Chandler said.
So a press conference so newsworthy as to preempt discussions of torture, Abu Ghraib, and the President's plunging poll numbers was undertaken for no other reason than to assure us that the Justice Department is still wearing its proverbial national-security prophylactic.

The news conference

[Editor's note: The following quotes are from the Department of Justice's transcript of the press conference. Aside from the italics and the boldface, I did not make this up.]

Ashcroft opened with this:

The administration has concluded, based on information developed, that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against United States interests over the next week....

Consequently, a terrorist threat advisory update has been issued to 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.... We have notified law enforcement to continue on highest alert and to notify immediately the FBI of any unusual or suspicious activity.

Translation: Just go on doing what you're doing, guys.

We ask for the patience and cooperation of the American people if and when they encounter additional measures undertaken by local law enforcement or federal law enforcement authorities and others who are charged with securing the safety of the public.

Translation: If you find your home invadedfn-1 or you're arrested and asked to strip naked, please do your part. It's similar to buying War Bonds.

As always, we urge Americans in the course of their normal activities to remain alert and to report unusual circumstances or inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities.

So to whom do I report? It's the authorities I want to report.

Mr. Ashcroft soon turned the proceedings over to FBI Directer Mueller, who averred that

On every occasion when the government has received credible information, we have chosen to warn our colleagues in the law enforcement community, and we are doing so again today because we have such information, even though it is not specific as to intended target or as to intended method.

Gee. Thanks for letting us know.

The Q&A

No news conference would be complete without some give-and-take with our nation's finest journalists. So here's the first question:

Q: Do you consider that the earlier threat advisory you put out, October 11th, helped to avert such an attack?

MR. MUELLER: It is very difficult to tell, but it may well have helped to avert such an attack.

Is this a question? Is this an answer? It's in question-and-answer format so it must be. But I would have appreciated a little more speculation.

Q: Director, what realistically should Americans do with this information? You never rescinded the last one, and my assumption is that most Americans already are on a heightened state of alert.

MR. MUELLER: I think that is -- that is true. However, when we have received this additional information, specific as to time but not as specific -- not specific as to other details, we think it is important to put it out there so chiefs of police, other law enforcement entities can again refocus their efforts on potential targets in their communities.

At this point, Mr. Ashcroft felt compelled to clarify Mr. Mueller's remarks.

ASHCROFT: We have decided to share with the American people that we have alerted law enforcement. And that's important. Because we are alerting law enforcement and conferring with them, we think this gives people a basis for continuing to live their lives the way they would otherwise live them, with this elevated sense of alertness or vigilance.

If my alertness gets any more elevated, at the very least I'm going to have to give up coffee.

Q: General, did you brief the president about the warning? And did he agree with the release of this warning to the people?

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The president is aware of this situation, was made aware of the situation early in the day.

General? General?! The reporter is addressing the Attorney General as "General"? Perhaps the reporter who covers the Justice Department was home that day with a panic attack, so they had to send someone from the Pentagon beat.

But I digress. It is important to know that the President is aware of the "situation"—the situation being, of course, that Ashcroft and Mueller are holding a press conference.

Q: Do you have any concerns that if you issue these alerts and nothing happens, people may not take them seriously, and next time —

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: No. If people take these warnings seriously, they go about their lives, but they participate with patience in the additional steps that are taken by law enforcement authorities, they are very likely participating in the prevention of terrorism and in the disruption of terrorism.

Translation: If you're asked to strip, this time there may be a hood involved. You should close your eyes and think of England.

Q: Mr. Director, you said the other day that the earlier warning could have been conceivably related to the anthrax attacks. Do you think that this warning could in some way relate to anthrax intelligence?

MR. MUELLER: I would be speculating if that were -- on that issue. I have no reason to believe at this point in time that it is related.

Translation: I haven't a clue.

Finally a reporter asks the question we've all been waiting to hear—the real question, the only question...
Q: Do you have reason to believe that this is a more credible threat than the last threat that you

But wait, is that an em-dash? Was the reporter interrupted?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I think we clearly stated we believe this threat to be credible, and for that reason it should be taken seriously. Thank you.
[End of Tape]


1 From the NY Times, Judge Rejects Bomb Case Against Oregon Lawyer
Mr. Mayfield said that in the weeks before his arrest, he had sensed that he was being watched and that things were not quite right in the house, in the Portland suburb of Aloha, where he lives with his wife, Mona, an Egyptian immigrant, and their three children. He said a bolt on the front door had been locked, when no one in the family used it. Blinds were raised higher than usual, and there was a large footprint in the living room carpet, much larger than the shoe sizes of any of the Mayfields, he said. "I feel that I was being surveyed or watched," he said. "Any of us sitting in this room could be subject to it. They will fiddle around with your possessions; they may take things or bring them back..."

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