The terrorist threat must never be politicised - even in a close presidential race

Share
Related Topics

Any Government deciding whether to make public a security alert treads the finest of lines. It is damned if it issues the warning and damned if it doesn't. If nothing happens, it is open to charges of scaremongering, while if it says nothing and there is an attack - another 11 September, to take an extreme example - it will be accused, justifiably, of overconfidence, negligence or worse.

Any Government deciding whether to make public a security alert treads the finest of lines. It is damned if it issues the warning and damned if it doesn't. If nothing happens, it is open to charges of scaremongering, while if it says nothing and there is an attack - another 11 September, to take an extreme example - it will be accused, justifiably, of overconfidence, negligence or worse.

Add in to this equation a keenly contested US presidential election, in which national security looms large. Add, too, an increasingly unpopular war entered into, in part, on the basis of faulty intelligence, and the waters become thoroughly muddied. Whichever course officials take risks appearing to have a political motivation, even if it does not.

This is where we are now, and where, regrettably, we are likely to remain until America votes on 2 November. The acrimonious to-ing and fro-ing about the latest security alert, announced by Tom Ridge, the US Homeland Security supremo, on Sunday, is a mere foretaste of the slanging matches to come between the Bush administration and its opponents.

And this time around, at least, the Republicans surely have a case to answer. Maybe it was pure coincidence, but Mr Ridge's warning of new al-Qa'ida plans came just in time to push John Kerry's post-convention road-show out of the headlines and put George Bush back on the screen in full nation-protector mode. It also yanked the political agenda from an incipient discussion of the economy right back to trusty old national security - the one portfolio where Mr Bush's polls consistently higher than his challenger.

The urgent warning for New York also seemed to contradict the local authorities' own assessment of the city's security. The Statue of Liberty was due to be reopened to the public yesterday for the first time since the terrorist attacks of 2001. The ceremonies went ahead as planned, sending a confusing message to Americans about the imminence of any threat.

Compromising the administration's warning further, The New York Times reported that the "new" information cited by Mr Ridge, for all its much-vaunted "specificity", was actually more than three years old. So why, it asked, the sudden, Sunday afternoon alert; all the disruptive emergency measures?

The administration could not leave this unchallenged. Within hours, a White House security official and Mr Ridge were separately back at the microphones, insisting that "some" of the information on the recently confiscated computer had been updated as recently as January. Some, but how much?

Mr Ridge's bigger argument, supported also by Mr Bush, is that no administration can afford not to act upon good quality information as soon as it is received, even if it is old, as it may be evidence of a continuing intent. This is a valid point. If they could bear to refer to former President Bill Clinton, they could also quote the hostile press he received when he authorised a missile attack on Iraq at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. There was a universal suspicion that he was abusing his position as commander-in-chief to mount a political diversion - a suspicion that was, with hindsight, almost certainly wrong.

The current administration is certainly aware of the risk that it will be accused of hyping the terrorist threat to engineer Mr Bush's re-election. This is surely why Mr Ridge supplied so many details. His previous, very general, alert had been greeted with widespread scepticism - the first sign that the White House might have traded on the terrorist threat once too often; the first sign, too, that public fear of a new attack might be waning.

Judging by past elections, the Bush team is not averse to playing dirty, very dirty, in extremis. The question is whether the Bush campaign would dare play the terrorist card to improve the President's chances. And whether, if it did, a sufficient number of American voters would succumb to the fear. We sincerely hope that the answer, on both counts, is a firm no.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable