Friday, August 18, 2006

On red alert (it's a catastrophe)

Ain't nothing going on but history.

Okay, so the DHS's terror alert system hit red for the first time ever in the past couple of weeks in the wake of thwarted plans for a terror attack in the UK. Police in England have arrested somewhere around 24 people under suspicion of plotting to blow up as many as ten planes en route to the US. And people who'd been planning on flying to the US on said plans and resented that they weren't consulted before being blown up rejoiced.

In the US, police leapt to similar security measures with a quickness, moving in less than four hours, according to DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, to make security changes that would normally take a couple of week, namely increasing security personnel, banning carry-on luggage, and confiscating all liquids. And while some people did gripe about the precautions (and did you really need to fly with a $72 bottle of perfume, anyway? How long were you gone? You couldn't have packed it in your suitcase?), none of it was anything so terribly inconvenient that it was worth dying over.

Here's the thing about the quickness of the US response:
"It's not like three weeks ago all of a sudden MI5 knew about this plot and went to work," added a U.S. law enforcement official, speaking of the British security service. "They'd had a concern about these guys for some time -- for months. Details started to emerge, and it became clear over the last couple weeks the nature of the threat and the individuals," said the official, who like others interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

Now, I'm not saying that the US response was either a) excessive or b) insufficient. As I said, I think they did only what can be expected under the circumstances. And, sure, while it would have been nice if security had been upgraded to detect bombs and bomb-making materials as was suggested four years ago by the 9/11 commission, if you know that people want to blow up planes with stuff in a water bottle, checking water bottles is not an unwise approach.


US and British authorities had been following the plot for months, if not years, before the Brits closed the trap last week. They specifically (and wisely, I'd say) avoided putting out a red alert until after the plot had been foiled, so as to avoid alerting any of the suspects that they were about to get caught.

And the purpose of the red alert after the threat had passed was...?


Yeah, Bush's approval rating before the red alert? 33 percent (AP/Ipsos). And after? CBS, Pew, and Newsweek put him between 36 and 38. Not a huge bounce, sure, kind of margin-of-error-ish, but it gets him away from the "hey, two-thirds of the country think I'm doing a crappy job" line.

I'm sorry, but I'm just so sick of people telling me I need to walk around scared all the time. And in this case, it's ridamndiculous, because the alert level was only raised on flights from the UK to the US. That didn't affect other flights in and around the US, and it didn't affect people who weren't flying. I repeat: People who were walking around on the ground were at no risk of being blown up over the Atlantic. So why is Michael Chertoff telling us to "remain vigilant" and talk about changing US laws?

Because we're easier to handle when we're scared.

And I'm just not going to do it anymore.

No comments: