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Times Watch for August 4, 2004



Bush Playing Politics With Terror?, Part I

A lead editorial Tuesday suggests that Bush is playing political games with terror warnings. "Mr. Bush's Wrong Solution" obnoxiously suggests: "".it's unfortunate that it is necessary to fight suspicions of political timing, suspicions the administration has sown by misleading the public on security. The Times reports today that much of the information that led to the heightened alert is actually three or four years old and that authorities had found no concrete evidence that a terror plot was actually under way. This news does nothing to bolster the confidence Americans need that the administration is not using intelligence for political gain."

After long lambasting Bush for not taking the terror threat seriously before 9/11, the Times is now accusing Bush of playing politics with terror threats for the upcoming election (still three months away). One wonders if there is any time between now and Nov. 2 the Times would find politically acceptable for Bush to warn the nation of possible terror attacks.

Yet Wednesday's front-page lead story appears to contradict the Times editorial page on the idea that the terror information is "three or four years old." Douglas Jehl and Richard Stevenson write that new Al Qaeda activity inspired the alert, and they seem to take the threat more seriously than their editorial colleagues. The story's headline reads, "New Qaeda Activity Is Said To Be Major Factor in Alert," with the confirming subhed: "Warning Stemmed From More Than Moves of Terrorists Long Ago, Officials Say."

Jehl and Stevenson open: "Senior government officials said Tuesday that new intelligence pointing to a current threat of a terrorist attack on financial targets in New York and possibly in Washington-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. The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days. The officials disclosed the information a day after the Bush administration acknowledged for the first time that much of the surveillance activity cited last weekend by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to justify the latest, specific warnings had been at least three years old. At the same time, the White House offered a vigorous defense of its decision to heighten the alert in Manhattan, Newark and Washington, with officials saying there was still good reason for alarm."

Later they suggest the "three or four year old" terror data may have been modified as recently as January: "Though the case reports do appear to have been completed before the Sept. 11 attacks, as Bush administration officials first acknowledged on Monday, some of the computer files appear to have been updated or accessed more recently. One was a file modified in January and including a photograph of a building, a senior White House official said. The official also said there was reason to believe that people associated with Al Qaeda who are still at large would have had access to the reports."

Neither Jehl nor Stevenson are disposed to be friendly to the Bush White House. Yet even they seemed convinced the threat is genuine, to judge by the tone of their article, which is straightforward and mostly absent of dark hints of politicization, perhaps because they got the factual details straight from the horse's mouth: "The White House officials spoke in a lengthy interview arranged at the request of The New York Times in which they offered a detailed accounting of the decision-making that led to the terrorist alert."

For the rest of Jehl and Stevenson on the terror threat, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Editorial | Douglas Jehl | Richard Stevenson | Terrorism



Bush Playing Politics With Terror?, Part II

Todd Purdum's Wednesday front-page news analysis, "War and Peace, and Politics-Dealing With the Crucial Issue of Terrorism In the Heat of a Tight Presidential Contest," recycles charges that Bush is politicizing terror threats.

"'We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security,' Secretary Tom Ridge said on Tuesday in dismissing any suggestion that his latest threat warning had a political motive. But on Sunday, Mr. Ridge, a former Republican congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, did do some politics all the same, when he declared that the intelligence behind his alert was 'the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror.' John Kerry may not share that view, of course, but it is hard for him to say so, and the biggest thing the Democrats may have to fear in this campaign is the power of fear itself. Polls show that Mr. Bush's handling of terrorism remains his only clear advantage over Mr. Kerry in a razor-close race, and the president would not be either human or the canny politician he has proved himself to be in the past if he did not do all he could to remind the public of that strong suit-and to reinforce it".But Mr. Bush must also take pains not to be seen as letting the political tail wag the terrorism dog. 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 Mr. Ridge had raised the threat level just now."

Note that Purdum doesn't name any of these "officials."

He continues: "Polls show that while handling terrorism remains the one area where Mr. Bush is seen as a surer hand than Mr. Kerry, he has lost considerable ground in recent months, and the Democratic convention closed the gap even more. In a CBS News poll conducted over the weekend, a majority of Americans, 51 percent, said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling the campaign against terrorism while 43 percent disapproved, down from March, when 60 percent approved and 32 percent disapproved".Mr. Bush is all too aware of the price he would pay if he had information about a possible attack and failed to share it. The report of the Sept. 11 commission detailed the missed clues and miscues that might have foiled the hijackers' plot. So the president's advisers make it clear that they are more than willing to suffer some second-guessing of their motives as they go about doing what they see as their jobs, and they insist that politics plays no part."

For the rest of Purdum on the terror threats, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Todd Purdum | Terrorism



Bush Playing Politics With Terror?, Part III

David Johnston and Eric Lichtblau downplay the recent terror threats in Wednesday's "Signs of a Threat Were 'Probably as Rich as It's Ever Going to Get.'"

They write: "On Sunday at 2 p.m. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the decision to raise the threat level. Senior administration officials said the action was not driven by election-year considerations, but by intelligence reports that described an orchestrated surveillance operation at several large financial institutions. It is now apparent that the information had significant gaps and omissions. It was not clear, for example, who was behind the scouting missions, whether these unidentified suspects were still in the United States or even whether their reconnaissance operations, many of which were conducted three or four years ago, represented an aborted plan or were an early warning sign of an active plot. The new threat information seemed to come at an awkward time for Mr. Bush, who has anchored his re-election campaign on his handling of terrorism, but is still on the defensive because of criticism by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks."

Trust the Times to make everything Bush does "awkward" in the next three months.

For the full story from Johnston and Lichtblau, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | David Johnston | Eric Lichtblau | Terrorism



Bush Knew of Terror Threat Long Ago?

Adam Nagourney flubs a key fact in his Wednesday article on the Democratic party's response to terror threats in "Issue of Politics and Terror Complicates Strategy for Kerry and His Party." He writes of "the disclosure that the Bush administration had elevated the alert based on intelligence collected three or four years ago."

But the Bush administration didn't "collect" the data back then-that's when it originated. Nagourney is apparently confusing the age of the terror-related information with the date the Bush administration actually gained the data. The Times figured that out on Monday in a prominent front-page story by Douglas Jehl and David Rohde: "The unannounced capture of a figure from Al Qaeda in Pakistan several weeks ago led the Central Intelligence Agency to the rich lode of information that prompted the terror alert on Sunday, according to senior American officials."

On a related note, the Times might want to screen those letters to the editor more carefully, because one letter writer makes the same mistake Nagourney did. The first one on Wednesday's op-ed page, filed under the catch-all subhed "New Warnings, Old Intelligence," also accuses the administration of knowing about the terror threat "for years": "And yet the Bush administration has known about this for years and has not seen fit to issue alerts until now? Three months before the election? Days after the Democratic convention?"

Nope.

For the rest of Nagourney on the terror threats, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Gaffes | Letters to the Editor | Adam Nagourney | Terrorism