WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- Parades, fireworks and barbecues are annual July 4 traditions. So are reports of terrorist threats. And that makes Americans less likely to take them seriously even though this year's situation is new, experts say.
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This week, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center issued a joint intelligence bulletin to law enforcement across the U.S. warning of threats from extremists tied to Independence Day.
"They can't not put out a warning, even if they have no indication of increased threat," said former FBI senior official Christopher Voss. "If an attack occurs, they would have no defense for not putting out a warning."
Voss, Clarke [an associate political scientist who researches counterterrorism and the Middle East at RAND Corporation] and other homeland security experts said these raised alerts could be less about safeguarding the public than making certain that the government is on the record about the seriousness of the threat should something happen.
"What's the alternative? Not take these things seriously then have something happen? If it ends up being overblown, I'll take that 10 times out of 10 over the alternative," said Clarke.
Thank You, noted Homeland Security Experts Voss and Clarke, for adding a moment of honesty amidst the panic-mongering of this latest baseless threat warning.
Indeed, what is the alternative to DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI all covering their collective asses by issuing vague warnings about non-specific threats? I guess the only alternative would be to say nothing when they have nothing to say. And then where would they be?
I could make some snarky remarks at this point about how nothing ever changes with these cynical threat warnings, but instead I'll just re-run what I said on the subject way back in 2008:
The FBI and Homeland Security have issued another of their vague terrorism warnings ("analytical notes") to local law enforcement agencies. See the Washington Post article Feds Warn About Possible Terrorist Plot Targeting NYC. As usual, they have no specific threat information and, consequently, no security countermeasures to recommend. They just want to drop their warning and let you make of it what you will.
Here are some quotes from the story:
We have no specific details to confirm that this plot has developed beyond aspirational planning, but we are issuing this warning out of concern that such an attack could possibly be conducted during the forthcoming holiday season," states the warning, which is dated Tuesday.
While federal agencies regularly issue all sorts of advisory warnings, the language of this one is particularly blunt.
Intelligence and homeland security officials are working with local authorities to try to corroborate the information "and will continue to investigate every possible lead," the memo says.
Knocke, the DHS spokesman, said the warning was issued "out of an abundance of caution going into this holiday season."
No changes are being made to the nation's threat level, or for transit systems at this time.
Here are news reports of two previous warnings, from November, 2007, and October, 2008.
The warnings always follow the same script. Timing is critical, since you want the threat to sound like it is imminent, but under no circumstances do you want it to be specific or linked to a certain date, like, 'next Monday,' otherwise people will start keeping track of how often these warnings are duds. The latest warning covers "the forthcoming holiday season," which is a nicely broad time frame. By the time the holiday season is over, we'll have new things to worry about and will have forgotten that something or other was supposed to have happened in New York.
I think of these FBI / DHS warnings as the Hallmark cards of the security industry, since they are sent out before all anniversaries and major occasions, religious holidays, national day celebrations, Presidential inaugurations, summit conferences, and so on. And that leads me to try my hand at some Hallmark-ish doggerel.
Roses are red, violets are blue,
here's a new analytical note for you.
You might be attacked this holiday season
or maybe not, who can tell? (there's no reason)
Our warnings we can't substantiate,
and against them there's no way to mitigate.
But take it from us and start to panic,
one day you'll go down just like the Titanic
We've been wrong in the past, but that's OK,
al Qaeda will strike again one of these days.
Maybe not now but someday, and soon,
we'll be right if we keep predicting your doom
Read us and worry, you never can tell,
it will do you no good, but then, what the hell?
It keeps us employed and no one minds,
So believe all our notes and our portents and signs!
I think that bit of bad poetry still holds up! BTW, nothing happened after that old threat warning, just as nothing will happen after this new threat warning. That's a bold statement, I know, given that anything can happen in this crazy world. But I do not live my life in a constant state of fear, and I hope you won't, either.
Notice how that "analytical note" of a threat warning from November 2008 could be substituted word for word for today's July Fourth warning. That kind of language - no specific details ... an attack could possibly be conducted ... while federal agencies regularly issue all sorts of advisory warnings, the language of this one is particularly blunt ... the warning was issued out of an abundance of caution going into this holiday season - is meaningless and therefore endlessly repeatable for occasions of every sort.
Have a Happy Independence Day weekend, my fellow Americans. I'll see you all on Monday.