Larry C. Johnson

Perhaps the only thing more pathetic than a President who insists on an Alice in Wonderland view of terrorism is a media eager to lap up his nonsense. How long must we endure factual errors and misleading statements? The latest whoppers from George Bush in describing “progress” in the war on terrorism are not new, but the breathless media is reporting them as such.

George Bush, with Iraq firmly in mind, once again insisted today that:

“When terrorists spend their days working to avoid death or capture, it’s harder for them to plan and execute new attacks on our country. By striking the terrorists where they live, we’re protecting the American homeland.”

The facts are indisputable. Since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March of 2003, international terrorist attacks in which people have been killed and injured have almost quadrupled. The number of countries hit by lethal attacks has also increased to unprecedented levels.

Bush is right that the United States has not been hit since 2001, but that is little consolation to the Brits who died in July of 2005 or the Spaniards who died in March of 2004 in Al Qaeda bombings. Moreover, despite Bush’s initial pledge to get Bin Laden dead or alive, Bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are still very much alive and still planning new mayhem.

And who is the person Bush has put in charge of finding Bin Laden? I don’t know and neither does the Administration. No one has been put in charge of this supposedly important task. Bush’s preference to play politics with terrorism rather than achieve concrete results is underscored by the “news” released today of a 2002 plot to fly a plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles. The White House is leaving the impression that this plot was uncovered thanks to the illegal domestic spying program. That is bunk.

If the United States did discover such a plot was underway thanks to listening in on conversations not covered by FISA—conversations in which specific terrorists met with Bin Laden in 2002—then I have one question. Why didn’t we get Bin Laden? He disappeared after escaping from Tora Bora in December 2001. Is President Bush now saying that we took people into custody through intercepts in 2002 who knew the whereabouts of Bin Laden? Or, are they saying, these guys met with Bin Laden in 2001, before we started our offensive in Afghanistan, and were later apprehended? If the domestic spying op was really generating “actionable” intelligence, then where are the terrorist scalps?

President Bush is right that some key Al Qaeda operatives have been captured in the last three years (exclusively because of CIA and host nation operations), but too many are still at large. Most of the “plans” we have disrupted have not been in the final stages. Instead, as was the case with the much ballyhooed “plans” to hit the New York City financial center, the plans represented earnest desires and intentions but had not progressed to the point of implementation. It is good that the individuals were identified and taken into custody. But what about Bin Laden and his number one buddy, who are alive and kicking and still issuing video tape promises to hit us again. Getting them should be the priority, rather than trying to spin the American people into a frenzy over a threat that never materialized.

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Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.

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