Thursday, January 20, 2005

So I woke up this morning to discover that Drudge, Michelle Malkin, and others on the Internet Right were all a-flutter about this story:

Authorities are scouring Boston for four Chinese nationals and two Iraqi men who may pose a nuclear threat to the city based on a report from an unidentified man calling from Mexico who claims to have smuggled them over the U.S. border.

Apparently, they were so a-flutter they didn't read it all the way to the end.

"I'm shocked it made it into the newspaper because I don't think it is something that has been fully vetted," [White House Chief of Staff Andrew] Card said. "It was during the intelligence briefing ... the president was given this sketchy intelligence. It was truly sketchy intelligence...."

[Massachusetts] Attorney General Tom Reilly also downplayed the seriousness of the tip last night. "We don't even know if these individuals are in the country," Reilly said....

Sources said much of the man's information sounds far-fetched and investigators have some doubts about the caller's validity because he has not identified himself. "A lot of it doesn't make sense and some of it does," said one source....

Multiple sources said there is speculation the caller may have been ripped off by the illegal aliens and is now trying to exact revenge.

"It's very weird. Even if (the Iraqis and Chinese) were going to do something, why would they be blabbing to the yahoo smuggling them across the border?" one source noted. "You have to wonder if they screwed him on a deal but you have to treat it seriously and the issue is how do you put it out to the public and not get everybody (in a panic)?"

A newer story adds this:

"Based on the information we have received from federal officials, it does not appear that there is any cause for alarm," New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said. "The tip received by the FBI is unconfirmed and uncorroborated...."

Look, I don't know. Maybe my old hometown is in deep trouble. But the Chinese connection seems bizarre. I don't want to fall victim to failure of imagination, but if Chinese people are being smuggled into this country across the Mexican border, I assume they're coming here to work. (Here in NYC we don't really like to think about how our many, many Chinese restaurants keep their prices so cheap.) The explanation given at the end of the first article -- a pissed-off smuggler telling lies to the authorities -- makes sense.

I could get conspiratorial here and ask whether there's any connection between the sudden terror warning and Bush's poll numbers; last year JuliusBlog plotted these correlations in chart and table form. And, well, what do you know -- Bush's numbers look pretty bad in a New York Times/CBS poll published today.

The only thing that puzzles me is that this story brings up a big area of disagreement within the Bush Right. Most of his supporters hate the fact that illegal aliens get into this country, and hate the fact that Bush wants to help millions of them become legal guest workers. Why would Bush want this subject brought up?

Well, maybe he doesn't care if his immigration plan passes. Maybe a declaration of support for the plan is meant to increase Hispanic interest in the GOP, while no change is really ever expected to become law. (Mustn't alienate the base.)

So here we are again -- Bush's poll ratings are down, he's got a big agenda, and fear sells. You decide if there's a connection.


Just to be sure I'm not misunderstood, let me say that I do, obviously, think this needs to be thoroughly investigated. I just wonder what's made public and what isn't -- and why. If I read, for instance, that "chatter" is down, I assume this means that there are two possible levels of raw intelligence about terrorism: (1) a lot and (2) not quite as much. There's always something. So if talk of possible threats is constant, why does only some of it surface?

No comments: