Saturday, October 08, 2005

Homeland Security's Criticism Rings Hollow

Homeland Security officials continue to criticise New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg over his decision to notify the public of a potential threat to the New York Subway System. The mayor, however, stands by his decision to release the information. "It's very different being an analyst in Washington as opposed to being here in New York, where you have a responsibility to protect lives," the mayor said, asserting that if he were to err it would be on the side of caution. (LA Times: New Yorkers Baffled Over Differing Stances on Terrorist Threat).

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security accuse the mayor of overreacting to information that was of dubious credibility. Certainly, we don't need the mayor of any major city crying wolf, however in this case it would seem that Homeland Security is either not looking at all the facts or is trying to regain control over a situation that was mishandled. Personally, I think it was the latter.

Consider that the US military conducted at least one major operation in Iraq specifically intended to disrupt this plot against New York City. A number of people were detained or killed in that raid, however the specific number is unannounced. In other operations, at least three people have been arrested - also in Iraq - specifically for planning or participating in this attempt against New York City. Officials announced Thursday night that portions of this attempted terror plot had already been foiled. Federal officials state that the information they received came from a source that had been extremely reliable in the past. Finally, this announcement came on the heels of a CIA operatives statement that al Qaeda was planning a major attack in the US in the short-term.

It sounds to me like the information available to Mayor Bloomberg was highly credible and his announcement was not an overreaction. I believe, however, that it was ill-timed, and that is what has Homeland Security in a tither. By making his announcement and dramatically increasing police presence in the subway system, the mayor has effectively sent the rats scurrying back underground. Any covert activities being conducted by the CIA, FBI, DIA, or Homeland Security have now been disrupted as well. That, I believe, is what Homeland Security is trying to repair.

If my theory is correct, it really points to a communications breakdown between Homeland Security and state officials responsible for taking action and notifying the public. If Homeland Security or other agencies are conducting covert activities that would be hampered by public notification, then state officials need to know that. A simple "here's the information we're working on but this is not for public release" would have been sufficient. Communication is the key. What we certainly do not need is the backbiting we're seeing now. Bottom line: don't distribute information if you don't expect the recipient to act on that information. Communicate before the fact, don't back-stab after the fact.


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