I read with interest, as I always do with Christopher Hitchens, the journalist’s latest thumb-sucker: Safe Cracking – The Silliness of Security Alerts. Much of it makes sense, but his conclusion is problematic:
The only assurance that one can decently demand of the administration and of Congress is the assurance that we are actually at war and that all measures are being taken to achieve victory. To couple this with the demand for personal safety is surely to be self-evidently absurd, not to say pathetic. Just as you don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Iraq to be in danger from Islamist bombs and bullets, so you don’t have to go there in order to demonstrate a little fortitude. “Safe sex” may now be a platitude, but “safe war” would be the silliest oxymoron of the whole lot.
I want to agree with the first part, but how indeed is the public to understand that we are at war if there are no terror alerts from the administration? From the Congress, the talking heads…? Let’s be serious. That ain’t gonna happen. If it is not brought home to the populace in a relatively graphic, even though extremely imperfect, manner, they will soon forget – if they haven’t already. [Until the next attack.-ed. Yup.]
Hitchens glosses over another point when he writes: But what possible good can it do, on the receipt of such “specific information,” to put armed men on the streets and in the subways? Assuming as we must that such high-profile attacks would be conducted by suicide-killers, in what respect do more “visible” measures make any difference, except to alert the potential perpetrators?
But what if that is the very point? What if the idea is to warn the Islamists that we are watching those specific sites and to stay away, even with their “suicide killers”? This would disrupt their plans, at least for the moment, and leave them open to counter-attack, I would think. Of course I write with no personal knowledge of what the intention here was, nor does Hitchens. That’s the problem when commenting on intelligence matters – you just don’t know what really happened. And I must say in Hitchens’ defense, I have rarely seen him rely on unnamed intelligence sources whose need to have their axes ground seems endless. Read it all, of course.