Administration Decries Suggestion Terror Alert Was Issued For Political Purposes
Even as the President and Sen. Kerry campaign in Davenport, IA, the Administration continued, as the New York Times reports, its "attempt to head off any public skepticism that it had exaggerated" the terror threat or that the timing of the alert was intended to affect the presidential campaign. Several officials, including two cabinet officials and the Vice President, addressed the subject in campaign and media appearances, as did White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The AP cites McClellan's criticizing of the "irresponsible suggestion" that the administration had issued a terror warning for political purposes. The AP also reports that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge "spent a second day Wednesday defending the warnings, which came on the heels of the Democratic National Convention and drew attention from the presidential campaign of nominee John Kerry. 'I categorically state that the none of the terror threats are politically motivated,' Mr. Ridge said." Ridge also granted an extensive interview to CNN's Newsnight With Aaron Brown, in which he addressed the charges that the Administration was playing politics, saying, "I regret that there's an inference that this kind of public revelation of information is. . .political. It clearly was not and it never will be." In fact, Ridge didn't discount another terror warning possible between now and the election. Said Ridge, "If we receive that kind of information again, along with other bits and pieces of information, intelligence we have. . .we would do it again. . . . It will be driven by information and intelligence solely." Meanwhile, also according to the AP, in New York, Treasury Secretary John Snow said "suggestions that terror alerts were manipulated were 'pure, unadulterated nonsense.'"
Meanwhile, reports the New York Times, Vice President Dick Cheney during a campaign appearance "lashed out at those who have implied that the terror alerts were at all politically motivated." Said the Vice President, "There has been some commentary from some of our critics Howard Dean comes to mind saying somehow this is being hyped for political reasons, that the data we collected here, the casing reports that provided the information on the prospective attacks is old data, i.e., four, five years old. . . . That just tells me Howard Dean doesn't know anything about how things operate."
Dean Sees "Rove's MO" In Terror Alert.
In an interview, Dean restated past criticism of the terror alert's timing, saying in CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, "I do know that Karl Rove wrote a memo in 2002 directing Republican candidates to run on the war and run on terrorism issues. I suppose that's Karl Rove's MO still. The president of the United States himself has said that he intends to run as a wartime president. If you say those kinds of things, then you're going to have to expect your motives to be questioned." Dean adds, "I think it is wrong for the president of the United States to play politics with terrorism. And I think there is ample evidence for the fact he's doing that."
Editorials Blast Ridge.
Editorials in the Washington Post and New York Times were very critical of Ridge in the wake of the terror alert announcement. The Washington Post accused the Secretary of making vague announcement mixed with "boosterism," adding that the "vagueness of intelligence puts a special burden on those who seek to convey it to the public and the police. Much of this confusion could have been avoided if, for example, Mr. Ridge and the intelligence officials who provided the original background briefings had been clearer about the significance, age and multiple sources of the new material: both 'old' surveillance information that al Qaeda gathered before Sept. 11, 2001, as well as separate, powerful evidence of ongoing operations, which could not be presented in the same detail. Part of the problem is also Mr. Ridge's inability to resist boosterism in his public pronouncements, whether through references to the president's 'leadership' or to his own department's achievements. At least one part of the difficulty DHS faces in telling the public about terrorist threats, however, is not of Mr. Ridge's making: the credibility gap that this administration suffers because of past intelligence failures."
The New York Times, meanwhile, editorializes that Ridge is "hopeless as a public spokesman on this issue," adding, "We would have been happy last weekend if a senior official more adept than Mr. Ridge had called a news conference to say what the government knew and what defensive measures had been taken. Instead, he spoke in apocalyptic terms, then produced an 'intelligence official' who offered more detail and more alarming words, anonymously. . . . Some of the past terror alerts have seemed aimless and happened when the Bush administration would have benefited from a change in the political conversation. On Sunday, when the administration had grim and specific information to convey, Mr. Ridge did a real disservice to himself, his president and the public by giving what amounted to a campaign pitch for 'the president's leadership in the war against terror.' It's hard to write that off as an offhand comment. If Mr. Ridge is to continue in this role, he must stay out of the election; using him as a campaign surrogate would be disastrous for public confidence. The administration should also stop dropping dark hints about Al Qaeda's having election-related motives to attack, as if a vote against the current president were appeasement."