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"Letting the enemy know that you have anticipated his plans might indeed avert an attack, and even spook the would-be attackers into running for, and revealing, their escape routes and other aspects of their network."
5. September 11 Redivivus
There is a final, more immediate calculus to be considered: The fear, bureaucratic and moral, of what would happen if the government had credible information of another attack on the order and magnitude of September 11 and chose to stay silent about it.
The cynics are justified in seeing in this yet more bureaucratic ass-covering. The FBI and CIA have been let off the hook for what occurred with the Pentagon and Twin Towers largely because the hijackers/ terrorists behaved with a creativity and chutzpah that few could have anticipated. But it is important to remember that in order to get off the hook, one would has to be on it in the first place. General alerts, if prescient, may insure job security in the face of further tragedy.
Those of a less cynical bent also have a point. Even if it slows down the war effort, even if it inspires silliness and panics, even if it makes the government look less than fully on the ball, it would be very difficult for people in the government to know of a possible repeat of September 11 and not let the public know about it.
In fact, without arguing in favor of constant alerts, it's worth noting the paternalistic instincts of some of the critics. Their basic outlook screams that this is a problem for the U.S. government to deal with. The rest of us should go about our business and defer to the expertise of law enforcement officials.
That's a rather dangerous assumption in this day and age.