Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 13, 2007

More Than a Feelin’

Filed under: Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on July 13, 2007

I couldn’t resist.  While the press and the public try to divine what Secretary Chertoff might have meant when he described a “gut feeling” that indicated a heightened threat to the U.S., but not one that registered on the color scale, most responded with more questions.  No surprise there.  We have trouble nowadays really defining what the threat is to the U.S. Is it a terrorist or a tornado?  Nuclear weapons or naturalized immigrants? 

Its all under the purview of DHS to some extent, and that’s probably why the Secretary of Homeland Security has that feeling: It is hard to rule anything out when the threat is so difficult to define.  As I’m often inclined to do, I looked overseas for some guidance on how to define the threat posed by terrorism in a general sense.  It seems the UK is always said to have recent experience in terrorism plots and attacks, and their stiff upper lip often lends itself to a level of candor uncommon on this side of the Pond.  Here is what MI5’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre explains might be behind that feeling: 

The US, UK and Israel, and their representatives overseas, remain the prime targets for international terrorist networks, particularly Al Qaida. However, Usama bin Laden has variously identified a number of other countries as allies of the US which should also be targeted. 


Countries that are participating in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq have also been identified as targets.  On 18 April 2005, a statement claiming to be from Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s terrorist network in Iraq, linked to Al Qaida, appeared on several websites, threatening attacks against British forces in Iraq and “all the agents, spies offering them protection and their human shields”. …  While some countries’ interests may be singled out, however, attacks on generic “Western” interests, irrespective of the specific nationalities of the likely victims, are seen as equally valid. 


Official personnel and property, such as diplomatic missions and military forces, are still seen as priority targets for attack, as shown by the attacks on the British Consulate in Istanbul in November 2003, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004 and the US Consulate in Jeddah in December 2004. 

However, terrorist cells are increasingly looking at less well-protected “soft” targets where Westerners can be found, such as social and retail venues, tourist sites and transport networks (rail, road and airports), as illustrated by the attacks in Bali in October 2002, Madrid in March 2004 and Egypt in July 2005.

I have to give Eileen Sullivan of CQ Homeland Security credit for the title here.  It was her article on this subject that first invoked the song by Boston. 

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 15, 2007 @ 9:39 am

Again Secretary Chertoff demonstrates that while he could run the Criminal Division at DOJ and be an appellate judge he just does not get it when it comes to dealing with the press, public, and Homeland Security. Suspect a major tragedy along the lines of former Secretary Tommy Thompson suggesting the anthrax attacks were related to streams in North Carolina in the fall of 2001. Then he purged a small competent underfunded CDC staff in revenge. Let’s hope the enemy does not strike ever but in particular while the amateur night continues at DHS. Press relations are so closely tied to the highly technical subject of Emergency Public Information that the Secretary needs to be taken to the woodshed and taught some tough lessons. Also what is the kind of event when the Secretary will be front and center and on site to lead DHS and interact with the President. Now that his immigration inititive has tragically failed, he should have plenty of time to learn EM and HS first hand. Better late than never.

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