- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Just a few days after the Democratic National Convention ended, then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the terror threat level in the New York City and Washington areas from yellow (“elevated”) to orange (“high”). Noticing the timing, it didn’t take long for certain Democrats and liberal media outlets to see some dark conspiracy on the part of the administration to stifle Sen John Kerry’s post-convention “bounce” in the polls. Mr. Kerry ended the convention with his acceptance speech on Thursday, July 29, and Mr. Ridge raised the threat level on Sunday, Aug. 1. Coincidence? To make matters worse, in the view of the conspiracy theorists, Mr. Ridge attributed the new information to “the president’s leadership in the war against terror.”

On the same day that the threat level was raised, Howard Dean, the current DNC chairman, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I am concerned that every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush he plays this trump card, which is terrorism … It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both in it.” To his credit, Mr. Kerry dismissed Mr. Dean’s outlandish notion, but that didn’t stop the myth from spreading. The always reliably liberal New York Times editorial page that week intoned: “The Times reports today that much of the information that led to the heightened alert is actually three or four years old and that authorities had found no concrete evidence that a terror plot was actually under way. This news does nothing to bolster the confidence Americans need that the administration is not using intelligence for political gain.”

To be sure, the administration hasn’t handled terrorism-related information perfectly. In this particular example, it had to clarify the precise nature of the threat multiple times, hence the New York Times’ noticing that the information was years old. But the quick jump from imperfect information to political calculation is one administration critics are all too ready to make, much to the detriment of national security. If an administration is in possession of valuable terrorist information, but decides instead to withhold it out of fear of being seen as politically driven, then the nation is put at even greater risk.

It turns out, as this newspaper reported yesterday, that the Justice Department has indicted three British men in connection with the August terrorist warnings. They are accused of planning attacks with “improvised explosive devices and bombs” against the New York and Washington targets Mr. Ridge highlighted last summer. The moral of the story is one all Americans should understand: Counterterrorism is a laborious task with many imperfections and false leads. It doesn’t make the job of those protecting the homeland any easier when their work and warnings are exploited for political gain.

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