Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ambiguous Terror Warnings

Anne Applebaum notes that terror warnings aren't particularly useful. Given that we have a five level alertness scale that never seems to drop below the most serious two levels, and that warnings like "something bad might happen in Europe" aren't helpful, it's hard to argue. But at the same time it's going to keep happening.

The Bush Administration was accused of demagoguery in its use of pre-election terror warnings, and to some degree the same suspicions have been directed at the Obama Administration. But there's more to it than that. Between human nature and a political system that sometimes seems designed to cater to the least informed people in our society, politicians have given themselves scant room for error. If you drop the terror alert level to green and a terrorist act occurs, you've fallen asleep on the job. If you keep it at orange or red, people can't claim they weren't warned. It's not so much that you have good intelligence that justifies keeping the warning that high - it's that you diminish the extent to which you can be held accountable for mistakes or for the unknown.

So with due respect to Applebaum's contention that too many ambiguous terror warnings "put the U.S. government in the position of the boy who cried wolf", it's not going to stop.

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