With all of the hullabaloo that is sure to come of the TIME article out this week that includes an excerpt from Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 which discusses how Al Qaeda was within weeks of striking the NYC subway system with cyanide bombs, there will be trumpeting of our terror alert system, the calls for more invasion of our privacy and whatever other justification there is to suppress freedom here in the US in the name of "fighting terror".
However, what I saw on Good Morning America today CANNOT be lost in this story. Charles Gibson had former White House chief of counterterrorism Richard Clarke on to discuss the plot, and to give his thoughts on it. Now, after Clarke said last year that there should be more bag searches on US subway systems I was a bit skeptical of what he would say here.
But what he said both floored me, and frankly didn't surprise me at all.
Clarke doubted the specificity of the report, as well as the players who were cited in the threat. Now, this is the same man who warned Rice and Bush about Al Qaeda back in 2001, and frankly, I don't see much reason for him to be lying about much, when he has been proven to be accurate in his assessments (other than my disagreement on bag searches on the subways) and he certainly has the experience and the country's best interests in mind when he speaks.
So, when he said the following, I knew that it would get buried in the hoopla of "see how the great Dear Leader thwarted another terror threat" and "you can never forget how much certain people want to kill us because of our freedoms":
"There's reason to be skeptical," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, who is the former chief of White House counterterrorism. "Just because something is labeled in an intelligence report does not mean every word it is true."
He says the information describing the plot would have been just one of the hundreds of threats that would have been collected in 2003.
Furthermore, the specificity of the report is suspect, he said.
"Whenever you get reports that are this specific, they are usually made up," he said.
Clarke noted the report detailed a particular time period for the attack, and that Osama bin Laden's top deputy himself weighed in.
Clarke said Zawihiri and bin Laden are too isolated to have that kind of direct control over a plot inside the United States. He also thinks the terrorists would have carried out the attack if the plot was as advanced as Suskind reported.
"Frankly if there was a team in the United States that was ready to do this, they would have done it," Clarke said.
Now, being someone who lives in NYC, I am well aware of the threats and the damage that can be done by an attack. But I am also well aware of the nonsensical lies and hype that can come with the politicizing of terror threats (just ask Tom Ridge himself). After all, there were the barriers around Citicorp and other buildings at politically convenient times after years-old documents were uncovered. There was the matter of prematurely announcing the capture of AQ Khan during the Democratic Convention (which ultimately may have led to the escape of some who may have been involved in subsequent attacks in London).
However, with the new TIME article due out, and most likely many many talk shows trumpeting Suskind's book, we really need to stay focused on what is (or was) a real threat. Yes, there is a threat of the subways getting attacked. However, artificially raising the alert for one day after an attack halfway across the globe probably doesn't do much if you are going to relax surveillance after one or two days. And artificially hyping a threat that one of the country's top counterterrorism officials has doubts of is pretty counterproductive when we could otherwise be focusing our energies on really trying to secure our homeland.
Or, maybe I have it all wrong. The hype of selling a book and scaring `Murka further into submission may be more important than, you know, actually protecting ourselves.