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How The Bush Administration Uses Fear As A Political Tool

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Message Randolph Holhut

    DUMMERSTON, Vt. — With public support for the Iraq war hovering around 30 percent,  the Bush administration is falling back on a familiar strategy it loves to use when it find itself in trouble — scaring the American people.

    On Tuesday, the National Intelligence Estimate, which reflects the consensus view of the 16 U.S. spy agencies, was released to the press. It states that al-Qaida is stepping up efforts to sneak terror operatives into the United States and has acquired most of the capabilities it needs to strike here.

    President Bush immediately seized upon the report's findings as justification for the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. Bush still believes that al-Qaida is responsible for the violence in Iraq, something that has been repeatedly proven false.

    And, for good measure, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff chimed in last week, saying he had a "gut feeling" that another major terrorist attack was going to happen — even though he admitted that there was no specific threat to justify that statement.

    The NIE was released the same day that the Senate planned an all-night session to force a vote on the Iraq war. Coincidence? Definitely not, especially when one remembers all the other times when terrorist threats conveniently materialized exactly when the administration needed a little distraction.

    A couple of years ago, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann assembled a list of 10 instances when the timing of the government's terrorist alerts appeared to be more than a little suspicious. Let's take a walk down memory lane and examine them.

    1. On May 18, 2002, we first learned that President Bush had been warned in August 2001 that some sort of terror attack on the U.S. was imminent. The warnings weren't acted upon, bringing into question intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. On May 22, President Bush went on the record opposing the formation of an independent 9/11 commission. Later that day, FBI Director Robert Mueller declared that another terrorist attack was "inevitable" and the following day, the Department of Homeland Security issued a terror alert.

    2. On June 6, 2002, FBI agent Coleen Rowley testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. She said she tried to warn her superiors about the specialized flight training taken by some of the men who eventually were part of  the 9/11 attacks, but she was ignored. On June 10, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that a major terrorist plot was disrupted with the arrest of Jose Padilla, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack. However, Padilla had been in custody for more than a month before Ashcroft's announcement.

    3. On Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations Security Council and detailed the extent of Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs — information that later proved to be untrue. Two days later, as massive demonstrations against a planned U.S. attack on Iraq were building, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge raised the nation's color-coded terror alert level to orange — the second highest level — and Americans were advised to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect against a radiological or biological attack.

    4. On July 23, 2003, the White House admitted that the CIA cast doubts on its claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger. On the 24th, the congressional report on the 9/11 attacks criticized the government for its failures and stated that Iraq had no links to al-Qaida. On the 26th, American troops were accused of beating Iraqi prisoners. On the 29th, Homeland Security issued another round of warnings of terrorist attacks on the United States.

    5. On Dec. 17, 2003, the 9/11 Commission co-chairman Thomas Keane stated that the attacks were preventable. The next day, a federal appeals court ruled that Jose Padilla cannot be detained indefinitely without charges. David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, announced that no weapons of mass destruction were found there and that he would resign his post. On Dec 21, Homeland Security raised the threat level to orange, claiming that terrorists were plotting to fly jetliners into skyscrapers.

    6. On March 30, 2004, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission. The next day, four Blackwater USA civilian contractors were murdered in Fallujah, and their burnt, mutilated bodies were dragged through the streets. On April 2, Homeland Security issued a warning that terrorists were plotting to blow up trains and buses with fertilizer bombs.

    7. On May 16, 2004, Powell appeared on NBC's "Meet The Press" and admitted the presentation he made to the U.N. Security Council the year before was "inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases, deliberately misleading." On the 21st, the first pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib were released. On the 24th, AP Television video confirmed that U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party, killing more than 40 people. On 26th, Ashcroft and Mueller announced they have credible information that al-Qaida was planning a major attack on the United States. Interestingly, the color-coded alert system didn't change.

    8. On July 6, 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry selected John Edwards as his running mate. The Democratic campaign got a bump in the polls and in media coverage. Two days later, Ridge warned that al-Qaida was moving forward with its plans to launch a major attack on the United States. Also, about the same time, federal election official Deforest Soaries confirmed he wrote to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming presidential election in the event it was interrupted by terrorist attacks.

    9. On July 29, 2004, Kerry was formally nominated at the Democratic candidate for president. Again, he garners plenty of media attention. Three days later, Ridge raised the terror threat level to orange and warned of possible attacks on financial centers in New York and New Jersey. The evidence that prompted the warning was later found to be four years old and outdated. Oddly enough, Bush's daughters, Barbara and Jenna, visited the Citicorp Building in New York the same day as Ridge's warning.

      10. In Oct. 6, 2005, at 10 a.m., President Bush gave a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy. He said the U.S. government had foiled at least 10 major terrorist plots since 9/11, but offered no evidence. At 3 p.m., the AP reported that Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, would testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity and that there was no guarantee that Rove would not be indicted. Just after 5 p.m., New York City officials revealed details of a bomb threat to the city's subway system based on information supplied by the federal government. This information was eventually found to be bogus.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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