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Terrorism: Chertoff’s Gastronomy

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has a "gut feeling" that the United States is at an "increased risk" of a terrorist attack this summer. But as White House officials admit, there is "no credible, specific intelligence to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the homeland."

July 13, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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TERRORISM

Chertoff’s Gastronomy

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has a “gut feeling” that the United States is at an “increased risk” of a terrorist attack this summer. But as White House officials admit, there is “no credible, specific intelligence to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the homeland.” Chertoff should not be announcing terrorist threats based on his gastrointestinal murmurs. State and local officials need solid intelligence in order to properly prepare. Yet there is no doubt that the global threat of terrorism has increased since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts concludes that al Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago” and has “regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001.”

A ‘GUT FEELING’: Chertoff’s comments were swiftly attacked by both the right and the left. “Gut feeling’ doesn’t help any of us,” said Kerry Sleeper, homeland security adviser to Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R). “A gut feeling is not the way to convey information to hundreds of thousands of first responders across this country that are responsible for identifying, interrupting or responding to a terrorist attack.” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) wrote to Chertoff on Wednesday and asked him to clarify his comments. “Words have power, Mr. Secretary. You must choose them wisely — especially when they relate to the lives and security of the American public. … What cities should be asking their law enforcement to work double shifts because of your ‘gut feeling?'” Not surprisingly, Chertoff’s comments were not matched by an increase in the domestic security threat level. Even White House Press Secretary Tony Snow admitted that Chertoff’s “gut feeling” was nothing more than a reflection of the Homeland Security Secretary’s “belief that this is a time for vigilance.” Instead of simply generating anxiety, administration officials need to offer constructive steps that first responders or ordinary citizens can take.

AL QAEDA OPERATING AT 2001 STRENGTH: Six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. In May, U.S. News reported that he “already has a safe haven in Pakistan — and may be stronger than ever” as al Qaeda “retains the ability to organize complex, mass-casualty attacks and inspire others.” The new threat assessment by the National Counterterrorism Center is titled “Al-Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West.” John Kringen, who heads the CIA’s analysis directorate, echoed the concerns of the report during testimony at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday. Al Qaeda seems “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” Kringen testified. “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising.”

IRAQ WAR FUELING TERRORISTS: At yesterday’s press conference, President Bush claimed that “because of the actions we’ve taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been.” But in reality, the President’s policies in Iraq have increased the strength of terror networks worldwide and brought al Qaeda to Iraq. According to a Mother Jones study, “The rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups, and the number of people killed in those attacks, increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally, there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks.” Security experts believe that the tactics used in the recent London terrorist threat — “a multiple attack using car bombs” — were imported from Iraq. A survey of more than 100 national security and terrorism experts, conducted by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine, and released in Feb. 2007 found that a vast majority of the experts did not believe the United States was winning the war on terror and that Americans and the United States were less safe today. The experts believed that the Iraq war was one of the fundamental reasons for the growing insecurity. Bush continues to link the 9/11 attacks with Iraq, invoking al Qaeda at least 30 times in Thursday’s briefing. “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” said Bush, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.” But al Qaeda gained strength in Iraq only after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and “did not exist” in the country before 9/11. Al Qaeda leaders view Bush’s Iraq strategy as more opportunity to launch attacks against U.S. troops. “Iraq has, of course, been an undeniable boon for al Qaeda, both as a battleground and a rallying cause,” U.S. News recently reported. Additionally, while U.S. intelligence and military officials “view al Qaida in Iraq as a serious threat, they say the main source of violence and instability is an ongoing contest for power between majority Shiites and Sunnis, who dominated Saddam Hussein’s regime.” 

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — BUSH’S ESCALATION HAS DECREASED READINESS OF IRAQI SECURITY FORCES: A hallmark of President Bush’s Iraq policy is “as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” referring to the transitioning of responsibilities to Iraqi security forces. But an administration progress report reveals that “[d]espite stepped-up training, the readiness of the Iraqi military to operate independently of U.S. forces has decreased” since the escalation began in January. “Combat losses, a dearth of officers and senior enlisted personnel, and an Iraqi army that has expanded faster than the equipment available for it have resulted in a ‘slight reduction’ in the number of units designated at Level 1 status, or ‘capable of independent operations,'” the report said. The report indicated that only “9 Iraqi army divisions, 31 brigades and 95 battalions are in the ‘operational lead for their area of responsibility,'” which is not equal to operating independently, suggesting that U.S. military officials overestimated security readiness. For example, in May, Gen. Peter Pace stated, “There are 10 battalions that are operating by themselves as we speak. There are 88 additional battalions that are in the lead.” Today, sectarianism hampers the transition process. An Army investigation, disclosed this week, concluded that in January, the Iraqi police working alongside American troops colluded with insurgents to kill several American soldiers, an apparent breach of “trust.” In the current Baquba offensive, U.S. commanders are observing Sunni and Shiite soldiers cooperating with Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiasUltimately, the United States is “arming different sides in multiple civil wars that could turn even more vicious in the coming years,” observes Center for American Progress senior fellows Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb. 

IRAQ — WHITE HOUSE CLAIMS OF ‘SATISFACTORY’ PROGRESS ARE ALL SPIN: Yesterday, the White House released its “Initial Benchmark Assessment Report,” claiming that the Iraqi government has “shown satisfactory performance so far on 8 of the 18 benchmarks.” The White House achieved its objective of spinning the media’s analysis. The New York Times reports the document as “finding some progress on political and security goals in Iraq.” The Washington Post says progress “has been mixed.” According to the National Security Network (NSN), however, there’s nothing mixed about the situation in Iraq; that is purely White House spin. The NSN explained, the “benchmarks claimed as ‘satisfactory’…demonstrate minimal progress, not achievement” and “others have been achieved on the surface, but fail to accomplish the overall purpose of the specific measurement.” The NSN debunked the White House report’s delusional accounts of “progress” in Iraq. For example, the White House claimed, “the Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward forming a Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and then completing the constitutional review.” But the New York Times reported, “the Committee was originally scheduled to complete its work by May 15. Instead, it delivered a draft that did not address many of the key issues.” The White House argued, “the Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.” But according to the Defense Department, only “one-half to two-thirds” of the promised 330,000 Iraqi security forces have arrived. The White House also claimed that “the Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.” But “the Sunnis — one of the largest and most important minority groups — are currently boycotting the government. Indeed, the President’s assessment is all politics, and his conduct — not that of Congress — has been the true “prescription for failure” in Iraq.

SCIENCE — SENATE HOLDS HEARING ON SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE WHO PUSHED ANTI-SCIENTIFIC VIEWS OF HOMOSEXUALITY: Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held an “occasionally tense” confirmation hearing for Dr. James Holsinger, whom President Bush nominated for Surgeon General last year after the previous Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, was not reappointed. Holsinger, who has come under fire for his history of prejudice toward gays and lesbians, is “facing an uphill struggle to win confirmation.” Central to critics’ complaints about Holsinger is a paper he wrote in 1991, arguing that gay sex can lead to “lacerations, perforations and deaths” and that it is “intuitively” unnatural. During the hearing, Holsinger claimed that “the paper has been taken out of context and ‘does not represent where I am today…who I am today.'” He did not, however, “spell out his current views on the subject.” “Many of us are concerned about aspects of Dr. Holsinger’s record that indicate that Dr. Holsinger has let his ideological beliefs cloud his scientific judgment,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), the committee chairman. “These concerns are serious at any time, but all the more so in light of Dr. Carmona’s alarming testimony,” referring to the former Surgeon General’s recent contention that “anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological, or political agenda is ignored, marginalized, or simply buried” by the administration. The American Public Health Association, the nation’s largest organization of public health professionals, is insisting that the Senate “reject his nomination and urge the president to put forth another nominee.” No committee vote has been scheduled on the nomination, and a spokeswoman for Kennedy said he has not decided how he will vote.

THINK FAST

Telephone records released by “D.C. madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey indicate she placed calls that were answered by Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) Washington phone on five occasions while Vitter was in the House, from 1999 through 2001. “On four of those five days, the House was in session and Vitter participated in every roll call vote.”

“In an unusual expression of frustration, the judge who sentenced former White House aide I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby to 30 months in jail, only to see the sentence commuted by President Bush, said he was ‘perplexed’ by the act of clemency.”

“Since 2001, more than 22,000 servicemen and women from all branches of the military have been separated under the personality disorder discharge.” ABC News explains, “This diagnosis means the personality disorder existed before military service, and therefore medical care and disability payments are not the military’s responsibility.”

The New York Times challenges Bush’s fear-mongering over al Qaeda in Iraq. “The militant group is in many respects an Iraqi phenomenon. They believe the membership of the group is overwhelmingly Iraqi. Its financing is derived largely indigenously from kidnappings and other criminal activities.”

“More U.S. children breathe air and drink water that is polluted, more are living in crowded, costly housing that strains the family budget and more babies are being born at low birth weights that threaten their survival and set them up for problems down the road.”

“The popularity of the morning-after pill Plan B has surged in the year since the federal government approved the sale of the controversial emergency contraceptive without a prescription. … The sharp rise was hailed by women’s health and family-planning advocates, who say it illustrates the value of easing access to birth control to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is standing idle while Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) keeps an unanimously approved ethics bill in limbo. “Mitch McConnell is making a big mistake sitting on his hands,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “Now he’s letting his own rank-and-file undermine his image of authority.”

And finally: Airport screeners took away Rep. Tom Price’s (R-GA) mustache. TSA would now allow the congressman to take his “mustache trimmer on a plane, forcing him to use an electric version. But he wasn’t used to that gadget, and he quickly found himself in the vicious cycle of trimming each end of the ‘stache in an effort to even it out. Before he knew it, there was not enough left to salvage. ‘It was TSA,’ Price repeated. ‘That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.'”

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GOOD NEWS

“Teen birthrates continued their 15-year decline in 2005 as adolescents increasingly got into the habit of using condoms during sexual intercourse.”

STATE WATCH

MASSACHUSETTS: “For the first time, many low-income patients seeking free care at hospitals will face deductibles and co-payments similar to those charged to insured patients.”

PENNSYLVANIA: Today, Pennsylvania will become the last state to post its laws online.

ARIZONA: State businesses join forces to stop sanctions that would punish employers for hiring undocumented immigrants.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: When a top intelligence analyst says the surge is failing, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristols counters by saying it’s going “better than anyone expected.”

MEDIA MATTERS: Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly claims “clustering” gays near children is “insane.”

ELECTION CENTRAL: Christian right activists disrupt the first ever Hindu prayer in the Senate.

AMERICA BLOG: Chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a former Special Assistant to the President, is “absolutely wrong” when he says al Qaeda is the “principal threat” to Iraqis.

DAILY GRILL

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”
— President Bush, 7/12/07

VERSUS

“The president wants to play on Al Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat Al Qaeda poses. But I don’t think he demonstrates that fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq precludes Al Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.”
— Bruce Riedel, terrorism analyst at the Saban Center for the Middle East, 7/13/07