by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 15, 2004
PANTS ON FIRE AT THE MINISTRY OF FEAR
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's funny how many times over the past three years that "terrorist" threats have popped up whenever the Bush administration either wants something or is trying to distract people from its problems.
The anthrax-by-mail attacks in October 2001 neatly coincided with the stampede by Congress to pass the Patriot Act. After nearly three years, we still don't know who was responsible for the attacks. We may never know.
When, in June 2002, the first stories came out about the extent of the advance warning the Bush administration had received regarding the Sept. 11 attacks, we suddenly got a bunch of vague warnings about potential terror attacks on the Fourth of July. And we learned about José Padilla, a small-time hood from Chicago who supposedly was going to set of a "dirty bomb" in Washington, D.C.
When the various corporate scandals started getting too hot in the summer of 2002, and President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney started to face criticism for their less-than-ethical actions during their time in the private sector, suddenly Saddam Hussein became the focus of all the evil in the world. Talk of an attack on Iraq drowned out talk about corporate crime.
The nation went on "orange alert" status for the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. And during the congressional debate over the Homeland Security Act in November 2002, Osama bin Laden - the man who was supposed to be dead - popped up with another one of his propaganda tapes.
In February 2003, just before the start of the Iraq invasion, the nation was put on orange alert and there was a run on plastic sheeting and duct tape. The terror threat turned out to be based upon false information given by the prisoners held at Camp X-ray at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. After the government learned the information was untrue, it took it two weeks to lower the terror alert color from orange to yellow.
The invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, and the nation went back on orange alert. After the fall of Baghdad in April, the terror alert color went back to yellow. However, orange status returned a month later following the al-Qaida bombings in Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Just before Christmas 2003 - and within days of the capture of Saddam Hussein - the nation had a orange Yuletide as we were told terrorists were planning attacks that might rival Sept. 11 in size and scope and that the threat to the nation was dire. After the holidays, things returned to normal.
The yellow status isn't changed on Memorial Day, but there are more warnings of attacks. And, in a week when John Kerry names John Edwards as his running mate and Enron CEO and Bush-buddy Kenny Lay is indicted for a multitude of crimes, we get yet another warning that - in the words of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge - "al-Qaida is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large scale attack." However, Ridge says that "we lack precise knowledge about time, place and method of attack."
And just to keep things interesting, the Bush administration is already making plans to postpone the November elections in case of a terror attack. As of now, no federal agency has the statutory authority to reschedule elections. But according to Newsweek magazine, Ridge has consulted with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to see what legal steps would be needed. The chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest Soaries Jr., is apparently already in the process of planning for such a contingency.
Starting to see a pattern here? The Bush administration has a long record of using fear and vague threats at key moments to keep people confused and afraid so they will line up behind the president.
The current threats are supposedly inspired by the commuter train bombings in Madrid on March 11, just days before the Spanish parliamentary elections.
The conventional wisdom is that the bombings scared the Spaniards into dumping Prime Minister José Maria Aznar's government. The reality is that more than 90 percent of the Spanish public was opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and opposed the Spanish government's support of the invasion.
Aznar ignored the Spanish people and became one of Bush's staunchest supporters of the Iraq invasion. After the Madrid bombings, Aznar's government tried to blame ETA, the Basque separatist group, for the attack. It soon became clear that the bombing that killed more than 200 people and wounded 1,500 others was not the work of ETA, but of terrorists aligned with al-Qaida.
The Spanish people recognized that Aznar had lied to them and it was this fact - not the bombings - that resulted in Aznar's party getting voted out of office. It was the lies, not the attack, that resulted in Aznar getting the boot.
We know that won't happen here. Another Sept. 11-type attack would not only insure that we wouldn't have an election, it would probably guarantee that the Constitution would be suspended, martial law would be imposed and that democracy as we now know it would vanish from the United States.
A paranoid thought? Not with these guys in power. We've seen how they've exploited the Sept. 11 attacks over the past three years to do things we'd never thought we would ever see in America. One more attack would be all that's needed to finish off democracy.
I've been haunted by a vision, something that was outlined in a piece last month by Sean Gonsalves of the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts. Only a few miles from the FleetCenter in Boston - site of the Democratic National Convention - is a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. Tanker ships, each carrying 125,000 cubic meters of LNG, sail from Algeria across the Atlantic to the port of Boston.
Gonsalves quotes a retired intelligence expert as saying there's little security in Algeria to stop someone from getting on board the tankers to plant a bomb. "LNG is more flammable than gasoline," he told Gonsalves. "So these ships are basically floating bombs."
A two-pound depleted uranium projectile, propelled by a 15-pound charge of C-4 plastic explosive, would be enough to puncture one of the manifolds where LNG is loaded into or off-loaded from the tanker. With one easily obtainable, easily made and easily transportable bomb, a terrorist could turn a LNG tanker into a weapon of mass destruction.
"The energy released would totally destroy the storage facility," the intelligence expert told Gonsalves. "Everything within one mile - completely leveled. Logan Airport - gone. Within a two- or three-mile radius, there'd be horrendous fires."
Yet, little has been done to secure America's ports. Chemical plants, refineries and fuel storage depots have little or no security and a terrorist wouldn't need nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to raise havoc. Yet for all the grandstanding by the Homeland Security and Justice Departments, this nation is as vulnerable as ever.
We have an administration with a long record of using fear for political gain, while doing almost nothing to reduce the real threats to our security and safety. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.