Administration Says Terror Alert Timing Not Affected By Politics
The Administration's decision to raise the terror alert level continued to overshadow the presidential campaign yesterday, with White House aides and one cabinet secretary defending the move and some analysts and Democratic partisans questioning whether the alert's timing was dictated by politics. As the New York Times reports this morning, "all politics sometimes seem to be security these days. And all security has an unmistakable overtone of politics, whatever the reality or immediacy of any announced threat." As a result, "word that much of the newly discovered intelligence that prompted the latest alert was years old led even some law enforcement officials to wonder why" Secretary Ridge "had raised the threat level just now."
The Administration yesterday moved aggressively to dispel the notion that political considerations had affected the decision. The White House spokesman and internal domestic security advisor Fran Towsend both defended the Administration's move. ABC World News Tonight reported that a spokesman for President Bush "said it is plain wrong and irresponsible to suggest that the recent terror alert for New York and Washington was based on old information. Bush, he said, "is very angry about these reports," and "particularly so at the New York Times for an editorial today that mentions the possibility of suspicious political timing."
Meanwhile "senior government officials" offered some media outlets, among them the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, additional data about information received last Friday which was a "major factor" in raising the alert level. The Times reports that "senior government officials" told the paper new information received Friday, "not just information about surveillance on specific buildings over the years was a major factor in the decision over the weekend to raise the terrorism alert level." A "senior White House official who mentioned the new stream of intelligence in an interview refused to say anything more about its source or content." The official "said it had not been publicly disclosed out of concern that such a step could compromise intelligence and law enforcement operations in the United States and around the world."
The Los Angeles Times reports this morning on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's comments in New York, where he insisted that the threat was real, and noted that Al Qaeda had accessed and updated its surveillance files on the targeted financial institutions in the last few months. USA Today headlines its story "Ridge On Defensive After Terror Alert," reporting, "Ridge once again found himself on the defensive amid questions about whether he had needlessly panicked the public," while the Washington Post titled its front-page story "Old Data, New Credibility Issues," reporting that the White House's "failure to make it clear that the dramatic terrorism alert Sunday was based largely on information that predated the Sept. 11 attacks is a case study in the difficulty of managing such warnings for an administration whose credibility is a central issue in a difficult presidential campaign."
Even as the Administration moved to counteract criticism of its decision on the terror alert, however, the AP reports that one "top GOP operative, who works closely with Bush's political team, said the White House appeared to overplay its hand, and voters may smell politics behind the warning."