Saturday, February 6, 2010

A certainty?

Recently the U.S.'s top intelligence chiefs (CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and DIA Director Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess) reported to the House and Senate intelligence committees...

During the session before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) asked Blair: "What is the likelihood of another terrorist attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months, high or low? Director Blair?" To which Blair replied: "An attempted attack the priority is certain, I would say." Feinstein then asked the other chiefs the same question and they all responded similarly...

OK, so ignoring Blair's mangled phraseology, this seems like a silly response. Obviously al-Qaeda's leaders think about this a lot, in fact they probably have wet dreams comtemplating an attack on the U.S. However, for the chiefs to say that it was "certain" that there would be an attempted attack on the U.S. homeland within a defined, and indeed fairly short, time period clearly is rather speculative... Note: there remains a possibility that they were being very literal and saying that it was certain that there is "a likelihood of another terrorist attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months", as opposed to certain that there will be "another terrorist attempted attack...." (because there is always a likelihood, though it may be lower or higher depending on the circumstances!)

No matter, even if they were more categorical in their statements than perhaps they might have been, the news media took and ran even further with the story. A few outlets were sober and ran headlines such as those in the first group below. However, most others "sexed" up the story with headlines such as those in the second group below...

In news reporting the exchange above somehow became "America's top intelligence official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil within the next six months...". Hmm, "likelihood" and "attempted attack" became "high priority" and "large-scale attack." Fear-mongering at its best...

CIA Chief Warns Terror Attack Is Likely
Attempted Terror Attack Likely, Intelligence Chiefs Warn
US Intelligence Officials Warn of Persistent Threat from al-Qaida

Terror attack on America is "imminent"
Terror attack on U.S. 'certain,' Senate told
CIA Chief: Al Qaeda Poised To Attack U.S.
Senators Warned of Terrorist Attack on U.S. by July
Senate warned of another Al Qaeda strike within next six months
Al Qaeda attack on U.S. months away, CIA director tells Congress
Intelligence Chiefs Tell Senate Panel Al Qaeda Attack In Next 6 Months Is Certain

During the Q&A Leon Panetta said "My greatest concern and what keeps me awake at night is that al-=Qaeda and its terrorist allies and affiliates could very well attack the United States in our homeland."

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