White House rehearses for domestic attack; Rep. says 'they're watching too many reruns of 24'
US officials will conduct an exercise Saturday to test their readiness to respond in the event that various bomb attacks are carried out across the country, said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. However, one Democratic House member said that he believes "they're watching too many reruns" of the popular television show about counterterrorism agents, 24.
High-level officials in the administration and other key government posts will take part in the hours-long "tabletop" exercise described as "part of the administration's efforts to test the policies, plans and procedures to protect the American people," Stanzel said.
He stressed that the exercise "is not based on any current or real threat, but it's an exercise on hypothetical IED (improvised explosive device) attacks."
The officials will "go through scenarios, so there is a fictional scenario, and the officials (will) talk about how they would react in the event of this fictional attack, and ... what plans and procedures they would put in place," the spokesman said.
President George W. Bush will not participate in the exercise, he said.
Reporting for Newsweek in a web exclusive, Michael Isikoff writes, "While planning for domestic terror attacks is not new, the focus on IEDs in this weekend’s exercise seems at least tacit recognition that the wave of such attacks that have been killing soldiers and civilians in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan could spread to the United States."
"But one Democratic lawmaker quickly questioned the need for such elaborate exercises, saying this one seemed more the product of overheated imaginations than real-life threats," Isikoff adds.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) tells Newsweek, "Sometimes I have a sense they’re watching too many reruns of 24."
"They need to get a grip," said the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee member. "We don’t have IEDs here. They’re creating a state of fear beyond what is helpful."
Fox Television's 24 features Kiefer Sutherland as a sort of "superheroish" counter-terrorism agent who sometimes uses torture to gain information, and this season's plot concerns the race to stop nuclear bombs exploding across the United States. The fourth episode ended with a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles, which prompted some characters on the show to argue for mass arrests and deportations of Muslims in America.
Although many critics slam the show as being slanted to the right or anti-Muslim, the current storyline also touches on the importance of civil liberties to democracies, and even the scenes regarding torture aren't so clear-cut. Sutherland's character, Jack Bauer, is often portrayed as wracked with guilt when forced to resort to brutality in order to get people to talk, and sometimes the show suggests that he went too far.
"The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show," Jane Meyer recently reported for The New Yorker.
"This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind 24," Meyer continued. "Finnegan told the producers that 24, by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally."
Finnegan told Meyer, "The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."
(with wire reports)