Yesterday, the heads of various spy agencies testified before the Senate intelligence committee that Al Qaeda will try to attack the U.S. in the next six months. As the Washington Post reported:
"Al-Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland—preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the U.S. economy or both," Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told the committee in a hearing convened to assess threats against the country…
Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), committee chairwoman, to assess the likelihood of an attempted terrorist attack on the United States within the next six months, Blair described it as "certain." Each of the four other officials, asked the same question, agreed with Blair.
The New York Times article headlined, "Senators Warned of Terror Attack by July," reported:
"The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11," said Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director. "It is that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect."
OK, here's my problem. Of what possible use is this kind of testimony? It does no good for public safety because doesn't tell Americans what kind of attack they should be looking out for; it just sows generalized angst. Now why would federal security bureaucrats want to increase public anxiety?
(1) Call me cynical, but one possibility is that the heads of the various security agencies are trying to protect their budgets by scaring senators and public. More fear = more money.
(2) Or it's a cover-their-behinds move—if there is some kind of attack, then they can sadly say "we told you so" and then ask for a budget increase and a further reduction in civil liberties. If nothing happens, they can claim (a) our agencies' amazing vigilance prevented an attack but for security reasons we can't tell you about it, or (b) just let their dire predictions drop down the memory hole and repeat them later when budgetary threats reach Code Red.
And then look at Panetta's reported testimony—I am glad that the CIA director doesn't think we're in store for another 9/11 scale attack, but on the increasing difficulty of detection issue, it needs to be pointed out that the 9/11 attacks were not detected.
Look, I realize that the U.S. has enemies who are trying to terrorize us and that the federal government has the duty to protect the country from harm. I just don't see much use for the kind of budgetary and CYA security theater that took place yesterday on Capitol Hill.