Tom Ridge Cries Wolf

by on August 1st, 2004

Tom Ridge announced at a Sunday afternoon press conference that the U.S. government had information that warranted raising the Crayola terrorism threat level from yellow to orange. However, this only applies to Washington, New York and part of northern New Jersey.

A great many New Yorkers simply don’t believe him, and some of the more cynical think it is all an election ploy. Tomorrow morning, as I commute from Queens to my job in finance right next to Madison Square Garden where Mr. Bush’s convention will be at the end of the month, nothing will be different. New York has been at “orange” since the Twin Towers collapsed. Once again, the Bush administration is crying “wolf.”

Mr. Ridge interrupted NBC’s coverage of a golf tournament to say, “The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen, and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.” And Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons that could be launched in 45 minutes. It is important to recall that in the same press conference, Mr. Ridge made it clear that the threat was not imminent (apparently that word caused too much trouble once before for the current administration); there is no timetable. Pretty useless information really.

Mr. Ridge told us that the World Bank, IMF, New York Stock Exchange, Citigroup and Prudential buildings are thought to be potential targets. No kidding. The World Bank and the IMF are always targets of malcontents (largely because their policies do so much harm to developing countries). The New York Stock Exchange is clearly a symbol of U.S. capitalism and gets put in the same category. The Prudential building in Newark, NJ, the Citigroup Building in Manhattan and the Citigroup annex in Queens are all rather unique buildings (easily found even by those who can’t speak enough English to ask directions), the latter two being right on top of subway stops (which are totally unsecured). Here’s a hint for Mr. Ridge – the White House might be a target someday, too. No charge for the analysis.

Clarity turned up a couple of hours later when New York Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly held their own press conference. It came up that someone who may possibly have ties to those who killed 3,000 people on September 11 had cased these sites. The key statement from the mayor was, “Some of this information could have been collected over the last few years,” even before 9/11. This intelligence, then, is hardly actionable. Mr. Ridge clearly doesn’t want to have an attack happen unless he has put the country on edge about it first, but right now he hasn’t got anything worth interrupting for.

Frankly, I’ve lost count of the times Mr. Ridge has panicked worse than Barney Fife, and if he really wants to get my attention on a Sunday, he can announce his resignation. What I do know is that since September 11, 2001, there has not been a single attack against the U.S. mainland by Al-Qaeda. There are several possible explanations for this, but the one I prefer (because it is logically consistent with what I see around me) says Al-Qaeda hasn’t got the resources to strike here. In the last 33 months, the U.S. has invaded 2 Muslim countries and toppled their governments, held congressional elections, celebrated the 4th of July three times, held three World Series, three Super Bowls, three NCAA basketball tournaments, and one Democratic convention as well as countless bad boy-band concerts (a form of musical terrorism), any of which could have been a target. Even when the war crimes pictures from Abu Ghraib prison hit the media, not a single attack occurred on American soil. They haven’t hit us since 9/11/01 because they can’t.

Now, after the Atocha station in Madrid was hit, it became obvious to everyone that if Al-Qaeda can strike the U.S., it will do so before the election. And if I’m wrong about the enemy’s capacities, well, I guess I can help move rubble since I’ll be in the neighborhood. Right now, though, I am expecting my life to be disrupted more by the GOP delegates who are coming to town in four weeks than by anything bin Laden’s jackasses will do.

Jeff Myhre