Thursday, May 18, 2006

Formerly silent Judith Miller now telling interesting tale

In an interview with AlterNet, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to divulge her source in the Plame case, tells an interesting--and ignored--story about September 11, 2001.

Miller, who worked for years on terrorism-related stories, was working on a special project in 2000 and 2001--describing and analyzing al Qaida. When the USS Cole was attacked, Miller believed that al Qaida was responsible. There was some concern that there might be an attack on the U.S. on July 4, 2001, and Miller describes two government agencies at odds about the potential attacker: The intelligence experts did not think that al Qaida posed much of a threat, but the counter-terrorism experts believed otherwise. Miller says that the White House tended to label the counter-terrrorism crowd as "extremist."

That July 4th weekend, Miller says she spoke with a source who told her about an intercept that had been picked up. The people having the conversation--two members of al Qaida--were disappointed because the U.S. had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against the attack on the USS Cole. One then said "Don't worry; we're planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond."

Those who remember hearing about this incident a few years ago recall that Miller's story never ran in the Times. She presented the idea to her editor, they both agreed that more details were needed, and Miller was never able to get those details. She was not only very busy with other projects, but she ran into a wall every time she tried to pin down details.

The AlterNet interview focuses on what would have happened if the Times had run the story without the details that were missing. But a more important consideration is the lingering question of why the government did not or could not pursue the details of the conversation between the al Qaida members. The conflict and confusion among various government agencies--laid out clearly in Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies--made it impossible for the nation to be prepared for a major terrorist attack. I haven't noticed any decrease in that conflict and confusion.


Would it really be in our best interests to be prepared for an attack?

I'm not talking about you and I, but politicians and others in positions of power.

Getting attacked is an easy way for politicians to gain more power, as frightened people are more likely give up freedom for the illusion of security and safety.

The Brits almost had it right, right after the London Tube bombing when the general consensus was to just go about life and not obsess about it. Granted, they're doing a lot of stupid things like the National ID ("voluntary"...for now), lengthening time that people can be held in custody before formal charges are filed, etc.

It sure would be nice for us as a nation to get to that point. Blow up one of our buildings? We'll go about our lives normally as the best response to an extremist act.

Every time any politician or TeeVee talking head mentions "terrorists," then the terrorists have truly won. They have managed to get us to change in ways that no other group could have by playing to our fears, and we let them.

Perhaps this is because we've had it so good for so long that we don't get what it life is like for the average person on this planet. We're sheltered. Then when reality intrudes, we can't handle it, because this is the first time we've had to face it.

By Anonymous Bryan, at 1:40 PM  

I think your point is very well made.

On the other hand, when our intelligence agencies have worked together, we have indeed prevented some attacks. It's a big shame that the threat of terrorism is used in the way it is by the government.

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