Even specific warnings beingmet with skepticism
The color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System has taken its share of knocks, many centered on the idea that changes in threat levels do not provide enough specific information to allow anyone to respond. How can one efficiently and effectively “increase vigilance” against threats that are vague; how can one cater his security preparedness to combat a threat of an unknown nature?
Early this month, Tom Ridge announced a more specific warning about possible threats to the financial services sector in the United States. The Code Orange alert was based on “multiple reporting streams in multiple locations” and even mentioned specific buildings such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, Prudential Financial in northern New Jersey, and the Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.
After the warning, which described the possibility of a car or truck bomb, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “We are deploying our full array of counterterrorism resources.”
However, at press time, nothing had happened. One interpretation might be that the extra security efforts did their job and prevented the attack. A second conclusion — and one that a skeptical public seems all too ready to jump to — is that the warning was somehow unwarranted. In this interpretation, Tom Ridge becomes the boy who cried wolf.
As the memory of Sept. 11 retreats from our collective top-of-mind, the threats can seem more distant and less likely to recur. The illusion is that if we have been safe this long, surely we can count on being safe in the future.
As counterpoints to our healing sense of safety, this summer offers up two political conventions and the Olympics — events taking on the nervous “what-if” aura of post-Sept. 11. The release of the 9/11 commission report — with its emphasis on whether we should have been warned — also reminds us of the dangers of complacency.
The underlying and undeniable message: There really is a wolf out there.
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