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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Matt Towery

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On dirty bombs and scare-mongering: Sometimes a columnist wishes he was wrong | After my May 21 column, Anticipating new terrorism: "Dirty bomb" is no fantasy! stating that U.S. officials had immediate concerns about a potential "dirty bomb" being assembled somewhere in the United States, I received the usual response -- "Are you crazy?"

At the time that column ran, some readers told me it was unrealistic, far too frightening and too specific to be credible. In light of the news disclosed this week, I feel compelled to revisit those criticisms.

As to the May 21 story being unrealistic, it was clearly stated in the column that the dirty bomb concern was provided to the government by one-time al Qaeda top lieutenant and now U.S. captive Abu Zubaydah. Information this week confirmed that it was Zubaydah who led investigators to the individuals involved in the developing plot.

My sources on this story were clear and correct when they explained that the next major and imminent threat to be assessed would be an effort to hastily create and detonate such a weapon. They did not disclose that an arrest had already been made in connection with the plot. However, we have since learned that Abdullah Al Muhajir was arrested in early May in connection with just such an attempt.

As to the May 21 column being "too frightening," I agree. The idea that dirty nuclear bombs could become a workable weapon of choice for terrorists seemed, just a month ago, only one of many potential scenarios uncovered by news agencies in abandoned caves in Afghanistan. We now know that by the time my May 21 column was published, plans were already in the "early stages" to complete such a dastardly act. Now, the same news agencies fill the airwaves with detailed descriptions of how dirty nuclear bombs are assembled and the devastation they would bring. Frightening, indeed.

The criticism I received for being "too specific" goes to the entire heart of the issue of dealing with and writing about terrorists. The reliability of the intelligence sources for the May 21 story proved to be of the highest level conceivable. All the sources that I have relied upon never give specifics that might compromise our national security. But the information they provide helps all Americans prepare for the reality of the new world we live in.

Ironically, I wrote the column not to alarm readers but to defend the FBI, CIA, and specifically, President Bush. The fact is, the information that came to light this week reinforces the argument that our intelligence community, whether restructured or working under the current system, is capable of performing a magnificent service to the American people.

The column also addressed the idea of whether a president should issue public warnings for every possible threat a nation receives. The dirty bomb information served to illustrate intelligence that President Bush likely knew but should not have felt compelled to share with the American people. In fact, Bush and the appropriate agencies played their hand perfectly in dealing with this potential threat of monumental proportions.

So what lies ahead? There remains one part of the May 21 column that, as of the date of this writing, has yet to be confirmed. The story indicated that serious warnings of potential terrorist activity would soon be posted for the time period prior to and beyond the Fourth of July. I must note that part of this information was tied to what my sources indicated was a more time-sensitive concern over a dirty bomb scenario.

However, as was noted in the column, the level of communications between al Qaeda cells has reportedly skyrocketed, suggesting that the Fourth of July may likely be the target of some other effort. It seems likely that we will soon hear of such warnings.

Finally, it seems that some of the criticism for this column may be, in part, due to the fact that I write from "outside the Beltway." But most of America, and it now seems most of those who want to destroy America, are outside of the Beltway as well. Geographic boundaries do not prevent these vicious terrorists from attempting to carry out their unbelievably cruel plots. And geographic boundaries do not prevent columnists from pursuing and reporting terrorist activities.

To accusations of being too specific and frightening -- I plead guilty. As for being unrealistic, the May 21 column was just as real then as it is today.

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06/06/02: The emerging confused GOPer?
05/30/02: In search of an aggressive GOP leader
05/21/02: Anticipating new terrorism: "Dirty bomb" is no fantasy!
05/16/02: The oddity of Carter's legacy
05/09/02: Replay of 1992 coming?
05/02/02: The hottest family on television might have to abandon the United States
04/25/02: One step ahead of devious minds capable of unthinkable crimes?
04/18/02: Alaskan battleground?
04/11/02: How the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground the most recent round of "cola wars"
04/05/02: The most likely immediate threat to our national security is being ignored
03/14/02: Clinton's influence looms
03/07/02: Poll turns up surprising views on Bush and more
02/21/02: The recession is over --- so why are the sophisticates still using scare tactics?
02/14/02: This Enron story directly affects our own pocketbooks
02/07/02: The epicenter of quiet but powerful shifts in the American political landscape
01/31/02: A little bipartisan hope
01/24/02: Secrets of the past can often provide guidance for dealing with the future
01/18/02: And I thought explaining Jane Fonda was tough
01/09/02: Dubya falling into Dems' trap?
01/02/02: A few adjustments and 2002 might turn out all right
12/27/01 Rudy, the 'perfect excuse'?
12/19/01 Haig the madman?
12/12/01 That senator with the funny name

© 2001, Creators Syndicate