Threat Advisory security alert nonsense: John Ashcroft

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More Threat Advisory security alert nonsense presented itself on May 26, 2004, in the form of a terrorist threat warning delivered by Attorney General John Ashcroft at a news conference. [1]

Illegal Act?

"Some allies of the Department of Homeland Security within the Bush administration and members of Congress criticized" Ashcroft "for issuing terrorist threat warnings, ... contending he failed to coordinate the information with the White House and with Homeland Security, which has the job of releasing threat warnings," according to John Mintz and Susan Schmidt in the May 28, 2004, Washington Post.

"Under the Homeland Security Act of 2003 and Bush administration rules, only the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can publicly issue threat warnings, and they must be approved in a complex interagency process involving the White House. Administration officials sympathetic to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said he was not informed Ashcroft was going to characterize the threat in that way -- an assertion that Justice officials deny." [2]

Turf War?

Ashcroft made the announcement at the news conference with "FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III by his side, stating that "'credible intelligence, from multiple sources, indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. . . . This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention is to hit the U.S. hard.' [Ashcroft] added that the information has been 'corroborated on a variety of levels'." [3]

However, earlier the same day, "Ridge appeared on five news shows saying that although the prospect of a terrorist attack is significant, Americans should 'go about living their lives and enjoying living in this country,' as he said on CBS." [4]

Damage Control?

Mintz and Schmitt report that, on May 27, 2004, "the White House played down the turf battle. Deputy White House communications director Brian Besanceney said Mueller, Ashcroft and Ridge, who meet with President Bush every day, 'discussed this issue with the president on more than one occasion and they agreed on the strategy and the seriousness of the threat. There was agreement on the way forward.'" [5]

Politically Motivated?

Raymond McGovern, in his June 1, 2004, Tom Paine article "Code Red (States)", says that

"'Intelligence' is being conjured up once again to serve the political purposes of the Bush administration. Merely recall the litany of spurious claims against Iraq, all said to have been based on the 'solid sources' that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell dwelled upon in his UN speech in February 2003.
"But what purposes are served in the current political context? Fanning further fear of terror is the only remaining ploy to boost the president's sinking poll numbers. The struggle against terrorism is the issue on which George W. Bush still gets relatively good marks. Small wonder that he used 'terror/terrorist/terrorism' no less than 19 times in his speech at the Army War College on May 24. But is that all that is afoot here?
"I believe there may be considerably more. With only five months before the election, the president's men are getting desperate. Iraq is going from bad to worse and the prospect of substantial improvement before November is virtually nil. Worse still, revelations of the past few weeks strongly suggest that the president, Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, et al. have deeply personal incentive to make four more years for Bush a sure thing."


"So four more years? Why do I say all this? I say all this because I am more frightened now than at any time over the last three and a half years, that this administration will resort to extra-legal methods to do something to ensure that there are four more years for George Bush. And Ashcroft's statement last week, gratuitous statement, uncoordinated with the department of, CIA, with the Department of Homeland Security, his warning that there is bound to be a terrorist strike before the US elections. That can be viewed and this can be reasonably viewed as the opening salvo in the justification for doing, taking measures to ensure that whatever happens in November comes out so that four more years can be devoted to maybe changing that war crimes act or protecting at least these vulnerable people for four more years."

Criticizing Ashcroft

According to Mintz and Schmitt, also on May 27th, "Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and a guardian of Ridge's turf within the administration, released a statement criticizing Ashcroft: [6]

"'Dissemination by our government of sensitive terrorism warnings must be closely coordinated across our intelligence and law enforcement communities,' Cox said. 'In the Homeland Security Act, DHS was assigned the central coordinating role in this process. The absence of Secretary Ridge from yesterday's news conference held by the attorney general and the FBI director, and the conflicting public messages their separate public appearances delivered to the nation, suggests that the broad and close interagency consultation we expect, and which the law requires, did not take place in this case.
"'The American public, state and local law enforcement, governors and mayors, and private sector officials with responsibility for critical infrastructure all deserve crystal clarity when it comes to terrorism threat advisories,' Cox said."

"While publicly professing only collegiality and cooperation, Ridge and Ashcroft have occasionally struggled for two years. They argued for months over whether Homeland Security agents should investigate terrorism financing, and last year Ridge agreed they could do it only under the FBI's lead," Mintz and Schmitt add.


"Bush administration officials said a stream of new intelligence chatter suggested an attack could occur in the next few months. But officials acknowledged they also are relying on al Qaeda's warning in January [2004] that its preparations for an attack in the United States were 70 percent complete and a more recent boast after the March 11 rail bombing in Madrid that preparations for an attack were 90 percent finished.

"'This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard,' Ashcroft said." [7]

"However, U.S. officials noted that their latest intelligence did not specify a time, date, place or method of attack." [8]

"Yellow" is Cheaper?

"Despite the new public warnings, Ridge said there are no plans to raise the national alert status from yellow or 'elevated,' where it has remained since January [2004]. Federal officials have grown increasingly concerned about the high costs of raising the threat level, which triggers increased patrols of bridges, airports and other potential targets. A monthlong orange alert in March [2003] during the Iraq war cost the federal government $5 billion, according to government figures.

"'There's not a consensus within the administration that we need to raise the threat level,' Ridge said. 'We do not need to raise the threat level to increase security. Right now, there's no need to put the entire country on (an elevated) national alert.'" [9]

"New" Suspects Suspect?

"Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller also made an unusual plea for public help at a news conference in Washington, releasing photos and the names of seven suspects wanted for questioning in terrorism investigations.

"Nearly all the suspects had been named previously, and their photos have appeared on the FBI's Web site, except one." [10]

"Ashcroft said the names and faces were released again in hopes that an alert public could help find the suspects and disrupt or at least delay the terrorists' plot." [11]

"Ashcroft warned that the seven new suspects cited by the FBI 'all pose a clear and present danger to America' and 'should be considered armed and dangerous.' He said authorities do not know whether any of the suspects are living in the United States." [12]

However, on May 27, 2004, "Some administration officials also complained [that] Justice Department or FBI officials in private conversations with reporters may have suggested that the latest evidence of a terrorist attack is new, when it is about six weeks old, officials said." [13]


  • Matt Gunn writes on June 1, 2004:
"It's unclear to what extent Ashcroft acted on his own (Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge claimed he heard Ashcroft's warning at the same time as the public), but it's strikingly clear there's no discipline in this administration on public dissemination of terror threats. A lot of reporters think Ashcroft may have been protecting his FBI turf, which is sinful if true.
"Whatever the motives, these guys don't know what the [xxxx] they're doing, and Bush hasn't fired anybody for any of the pre or post 9/11 screw-ups. They're completely unaccountable, and we'll continue to endure wholly inadequate security precautions until they're voted out of office."

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