This is a very, very, very bad situation.
With last week's revelations about possible early hints of a terrorist attack, and the ferocious response from the White House to calls for an investigation, there's one thing that would be extremely convenient right now for the White House: some pointed reminder of how close we might be to another terrorist attack, and that it's no time to be second-guessing the President, or resorting to the conventional political expedient of a congressional investigation.
And, voila ... Here it is.
As every paper is reporting tomorrow, US intelligence agencies have intercepted "vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives" that might be portend another 9/11-scale attack.
Of course, maybe it's true. It could well be true. I'm certain it's at least partly true. But the problem is that it's so deeply convenient and the administration's response to calls for inquiries has been so strident and aggressive that it's difficult to see this as mere coincidence.
Another clue adds to my suspicion. One of the two outlets to break this story, The New York Times, says that the increased activity has been for "the last few months." NBC says it's for the "past several weeks." So why do we hear about it right now? And what about Tom Ridge's color-coded terror system? Come to think of it, where's Tom Ridge?
The "senior administration official" who was apparently the source of both stories told NBC ...
There is a real potential for a terrorist attack again. The president has been saying since Sept. 11 that there is a possibility of another attack. America needs to be vigilant.
Again, that's really right from the script.
I don't think the intel agencies themselves would go in for this sort of game-playing. Not so nakedly at least or in so partisan a fashion. But the White House -- especially post-9/11 -- will always be getting all sorts of creepy stuff coming in over the transom. If you read between the lines in these stories what seems to have happened is that the "senior administration official" put this stuff out there.
The problem is that this is really serious stuff and it's pretty hard right now for people to know whether they're being legitimately warned or if their emotions are being *$%#$* with for political purposes. Everybody suffers from that ambiguity and confusion.
Are the Democrats 'playing politics'? Maybe. But political oppositions do that. Get used to it. The Republicans definitely did it in spades under Clinton.
The more relevant point is that the Democrats would be negligent if they didn't call for some sort of investigation -- ideally, an independent commission. There's a higher standard for the administration in a situation like this because the administration is, as the name implies, the government. They're the ones with responsibility to act, with control over various pieces of secret information, with control over the national security apparatus. And, again, they're the government, the responsible entity.
(The White House has been stunningly indifferent to this reality, a fact laughably evidenced by the their effort to shift the question to 'what did Congress know' etc. There is a reason after all that they call it the E-X-E-C-U-T-I-V-E branch.)
In any case, the administration's stance in the last few days has been far more vitriolic and political than anything from the opposition party. And that is damaging the country.