If we've made one or more key arrests, seized key information, and discovered key lines of communication, why is that scary news? Why isn't that being presented as quite possibly very good news? It seems to me that any plot to harm financial institutions has been dealt a severe setback, and now it may well be impossible to carry out the plot altogether. If that's the case, is it really appropriate -- for any reason other that electoral concerns -- to discuss the plot the way it's been discussed, a way generates maximum fear?
Today's lead story in The New York Times makes that point, but only in paragraph 19:
Officials said they hoped that public scrutiny might help to disrupt a plot, as happened in December 2002, when an alert flight attendant on a trans-Atlantic flight saw Richard Reid trying to light an explosive in his shoe. Or public attention might even prompt terrorist to call off a plot, officials said, as they suspect happened when an Ohio truck driver suspected of surveying the Brooklyn Bridge in 2003 told associates in Pakistan that security was "too hot."
And this is from the #2 Times story on the plot today:
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....
One senior American intelligence official said the information was more detailed and precise than any he had seen during his 24-year career in intelligence work. A second senior American official said it had provided a new window into the methods, content and distribution of Qaeda communications.
"This, for us, is a potential treasure trove," said a third senior American official, an intelligence expert, at a briefing for reporters on Sunday afternoon....
We discover the outlines of the plot, we reveal that we have key information, we go on heightened alert. You'd think that would be a sign that it's too hot for al-Qaeda to proceed. But instead, we're being told to be afraid.
I'm not saying that learning some details about the plot means we should let our guard down. It seems that the appropriate reaction is satisfaction mixed with heightened vigilance. But the administration seems to be keeping it simple, and seems to have chosen to induce fear.
Incidentally, Larry Johnson, who used to work on counterterrorism in the State Department, is highly critical of the terror alert, for very different reasons -- if you can listen to online audio, go here and listen to "Expert: Terror Threat Warning 'Irresponsible'" for his comments. He doesn't think we have evidence that the plot is well advanced, and he fears that this might be a ruse by al-Qaeda to learn just what we do when we go to a higher state of alert.
A caveat: Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon -- who worked on counterterrorism at the former National Security Council, wrote a couple of pre-9/11 op-eds warning about the al-Qaeda threat, and later wrote The Age of Sacred Terror -- point out that Johnson was arguing before 9/11 that we were too concerned about terrorism and al-Qaeda. So take what he says with a grain of salt.