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Olbermann: 'The Nexus of politics and terror'

David Edwards
Published: Tuesday August 15, 2006

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MSNBC's Keith Olbermann offered an updated top 10 list of occasions that the Bush Administration has gained political benefits around the same time that the public's fear of terrorism was at a peak. Olbermann describes it as "The Nexus of Politics and Terror."

In this video from last night's broadcast, Olbermann includes the latest foiled terrorist plot in Britain with the newest edition of the "Nexus of Politics and Terror Top 10 List". Olbermann concludes that if these occasions are more than just coincidences then, he says, "it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country, questions about what is prudence and what is fear-mongering."

A transcript follows the video.

OLBERMANN: The term we employ is the nexus of politics and terror. It does not imply that there is no terror, but it also does not deny that there is politics. And it refuses to assume that counterterror measures in this country are not being influenced by politics.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the basis of all this, at heart, are remarks made on May 10, 2005, by a former Bush administration official discussing the old color-coded terror threat warning system. More often than not, he said, "We were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment, sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don‘t necessarily put the country on alert. There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it. And we said, 'For that?'"

The speaker was the first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. In the light of those remarks and his criticism this week of the vice president for politicizing terror in the context of the Connecticut senatorial primary, it is imperative that we examine each of the coincidences of timing since 2002, including the one last week in which excoriating comments by leading Republicans about leading Democrats just happened to precede arrests in a vast purported terror plot, arrests that we now know were carried out on a timeline requested not by British, nor necessitated by the evidence, but requested by this government.

We introduce these coincidences to you exactly as we did when we first compiled this top 10 list after the revelation that the announced threats New York‘s subway system, last October, had been wildly overblown. And we do so by reminding you and ourselves, here, that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called "the logic fallacy." Just because event A occurred and then event B occurs, that does not automatically mean that event A caused event B. But neither does it say the opposite. The "Nexus of Politics and Terror," please judge for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): No. 1, May 18, 2002, the first details of the president‘s daily briefing of August 6, 2001 are revealed, including its title "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S." The same day another memo is discovered revealing the FBI knew of men with links to al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school. The memo was never acted upon. Questions about 9/11 intelligence failures are swirling.

May 20, 2002:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The terror warnings from the highest levels of the federal government, tonight are...

OLBERMANN: Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares that another terrorist attack is "inevitable."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight there are even more warnings...

OLBERMANN: The next day, the department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide and against New York City landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

No. 2, Thursday, June 6, 2002...

COLEEN ROWLEY, FBI AGENT: I never really anticipated this kind of impact.

OLBERMANN: Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, who‘s information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Committee Chair Graham says, Rowley‘s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistleblowers.

Monday June 10, 2002, four days later...

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot.

OLBERMANN: Speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused to plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. In fact, Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than one month.

No. 3, February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq‘s concealment of weapons including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike, many in the U.N. are doubtful. Months later, much of the information proves untrue.

February 7, 2003, two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Take some time to prepare for an emergency...

OLBERMANN: Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites credible threats by al Qaeda and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison, who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack.

No. 4, July 23, 2003, the White House admits that the CIA, months before the president‘s State of the Unions Address, expressed strong doubts about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger.

On the 24th the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued. It criticizes government at all levels. It reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future highjackers. It concludes that Iraq had no link to al Qaeda. Twenty-eight pages of the report are redacted.

On the 26th, American troops are accused of the beating Iraqi prisoners.

July 29, 2003, three days later, amid all of the negative headlines...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Word of a new possible al Qaeda attack...

OLBERMANN: Homeland Security issues warnings of terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks.

No. 5, December 17, 2003, 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a federal appeals court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges and the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no weapons of mass destruction there, announces he will resign his post.

December 21, 2003, four days later, the Sunday before Christmas...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today the United States government raised the national threat level.

Homed Land Security, again, raises the threat level to orange, claiming credible intelligence of further plots to crash airliners into U.S cities. Subsequently six international flights into this country are canceled after some passenger names purportedly produced matches on government "No-Fly" lists. The French later identified those matched names, one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a 5-year-old boy.

No. 6, March 30, 2004 the new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, tells Congress "we have still not found any WMD in that country" and after weeks of having refused to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice relents, and agrees to testify.

On the 31st, four Blackwater USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The roll of civilian contractors in Iraq is now widely questioned.

April 2, 2004...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI Has issued a new warning tonight...

OLBERMANN: Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains using fertilizer and fuel bombs, like the one detonated in Oklahoma City. Bombs stuffed into satchels or duffle bags.

No. 7, May 16, 2004, Secretary of State Powell, appears on "Meet the Press." Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking about the enormous personal credibility Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein. An aide to Powell interrupts the question saying the interview is over.

TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": I think that was one of your staff Mr. Secretary. I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Get—Emily, get out of the way.

OLBERMANN: Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was

POWELL: ...inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading.

OLBERMANN: On the 21st, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison are released.

On the 24th "Associated Press" video, from Iraq, confirms U.S. Forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party, killing more than 40.

Wednesday May 26, 2004, two days later...

ASHCROFT: Good afternoon

OLBERMANN: Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warned that intelligence from multiple sources...

ASHCROFT: Indicates al Qaeda‘s specific intention to hit the United States' heart.

OLBERMANN: And that 90 percent of the arrangement for an attack on the United States were complete. The color coded warning system is not raised. The Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge, does not attend the announcement.

No. 8, July 6, 2004, Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry selects John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate producing a small bump in the election opinion polls and producing a huge swing in media attention toward the Democratic campaign.

July 8, 2004, two days later...

RIDGE: Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States...

OLBERMANN: Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about al Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn. Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest Soaries Jr. confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming president election in the event it is intercepted by terrorist acts.

No. 9, July 29, 2004, at their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for president. As in the wake of any convention the Democrats now dominate the media attention over the subsequent weekend.

August 1, 2004, Monday morning, three days later.

RIDGE: It is as reliable as source—group of sources that we‘ve ever seen before.

OLBERMANN: The department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning, reconnaissance data left in a home in Iraq. Later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out of date.

No. 10, October 6, 2005, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, the president addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.

At 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, five hours after the president‘s speech had begun, the "Associated Press" reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak grand jury and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guaranteed that he will not be indicted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re awaiting a news conference at the bottom of the hour...

OLBERMANN: At 5:00 17 p.m. Eastern Time, seven hours after the president‘s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city‘s subway system, based on information supplied by the federal government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is of "doubtful credibility." And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time.

Local New York television station WNBC reports it had the story of the threats days in advance of the announcement, but was asked by high ranking federal officials in New York and Washington to hold off on its story. Less than four days after having revealed the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York says, "Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future we will be slowly be winding down the enhanced security." While news organizations ranging from the "New York Post" to NBC NEWS, quotes sources who say there were reasons to believe the informant who triggered the warning simply made up. A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official tells the "New York Times," "there was no there, there."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

In all fairness, as we observe last October and we observer again tonight, we could possibly construct a similar timeline of terror events and warnings and their relationship to the opening of new chain stores around the country. But if merely a reasonable case could be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, especially the one last week in which terror policy was again injected directly into a political race, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country, questions about what is prudence and what is fear-mongering.