Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hyping the threat

It's become a pattern, and the latest news, of a plot to blow up various facilities at New York's JFK Airport fits it all too well.

Initially, the authorities who quash the plot by arresting a few people put it in the direst of terms. "Had the plot been carried out, it could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction," said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn on Saturday. "The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded are [sic] just unthinkable." N.Y. police commissioner Ray Kelly added that "Once again, would-be terrorists have put New York City in their crosshairs."

Trembling? You're meant to.

The hardly subtle message: We the authorities have saved you the people from death and devastation almost beyond imagining. Please be grateful. Oh, and please give us more money and power so that we can continue protecting you from the forces of evil, which are everywhere and incredibly powerful and dangerous.

Then they file charges and it turns out that, as one spokesman did say on Saturday, the public was never really in danger. It turns out that while the plotters were big talkers, they had almost no operational capability, no money and pretty much no chance of succeeding. Two of the plotters were ambivalent. One was game to bomb the airport but didn't want to kill a lot of people. They had made contact with a reputed terrorist outfit in Trinidad and Tobago, but the outfit had apparently told them, in effect, to go pound sand and had declined to offer money or operational help.

This has been the pattern, from Jose Padilla, the dangerous "dirty bomber," to the Lackawanna Six to the morons in Miami who thumped their chests about blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago though they had no idea of how to do it, to the Fort Dix big talkers whose operational surveillance consisted of driving a pizza truck onto the base. The authorities start out talking about the next incarnation of Osama bin-Laden and they turn out to be stumblebums.

Now I don't mind the authorities keeping an eye on stumblebums and rounding up a few of them from time to time. They might well pose the most danger to themselves, but they just might hurt somebody else if they ever go beyond vague talk. And I'll entertain the possibility that the authorities might have intercepted a truly dangerous plot or so since 9/11, though it's hard to imagine they wouldn't have trumpeted it to the skies if they had.

But spare us the scare talk about stumblebums, which is done mainly to make the authorities look like heroes and validate their endless quest for more authority, power and money.

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