For several days now, the U.S. government has been doing its best Chicken Little impersonation — even though we still don’t know exactly where the sky is falling or how it’s supposed to be a big deal.
ABC News quotes a source who says the government doesn’t know an “exact target” for an attack, but then the source admits to not having a clue: “We do not know whether they mean an embassy, an airbase, an aircraft, trains,” the source said.
In other words, the sky is falling, but we have no idea what we’re warning people about. Or where it might happened. Or what might happen.
U.S. senators and congressmen sounded grim but vague when they made the rounds of television talk shows on Sunday. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the danger is “the most serious threat that I’ve seen in the last several years.” Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-Texas) said, “And I must say this is probably one of the most specific and credible threats I’ve seen perhaps since 9/11. And that’s why everybody is taking this so seriously.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told Fox News that U.S. intelligence agencies have discovered a “very specific” threat because of “chatter” from phone conversations, computers, websites and other communication channels.
So if the government knows about a “very specific” threat, why doesn’t anyone know where it’s supposed to happen or what the attack is? Does the government define the word “specific” in a very different way than the rest of us do?
I’m not going to be cynical enough to say that there’s absolutely nothing going on and that the warnings are designed to create panic and a feeling that people need a powerful government to protect them, but I do think that’s the effect of such vague warnings, whether it’s intended or not.
The warnings are useless. If someone says that unnamed bad people are planning to do some bad thing at some unknown location at some unknown time — and doesn’t know whether it’s a building, plane, train or whatever that’s to be attacked — how is that a real warning? How is that anything other than scaremongering?
Of course, no Washington event — no matter how vague — can happen without being turned into partisan wrangling. Neoconservative Bill Kristol, for instance, used the warning as an excuse to attack the Obama administration, saying, “A year ago, the president said al-Qaida is on the run. And now we seem to be on the run.”
Government apologists are using the warning to bolster their case for the NSA snooping that has had some of us so concerned recently. We’re being told that without the NSA’s ability to spy on phone and computer communications, we wouldn’t have this “important” warning.
Where does this leave us? We’ve heard a lot of dire warnings in the last few days, but do we know anything that would allow anyone to avoid any specific threat? Not that I know of. Do we know in which city an attack might occur? No. Do we know whether the alleged attack is on a building or a plane or a bridge or a hotdog stand? No, we don’t. Is there anything you can do differently because of these vague warnings? Other than stay indoors and hide in a closet, not really.
What do we know? As far as I can tell, nothing. We just know that the alleged bad guys have been having a lot of “chatter.”
So it appears that we have given up our rights to government snoops in exchange for Chicken Little to go on television and vaguely wave his arms in the air and say, “Watch out! The sky might be falling!”
If Chicken Little keeps warning that something might happen, one day he’ll be right — and then politicians, bureaucrats, commentators and TV talking heads will all say, “See? We told you it was in your best interests to ignore the Fourth Amendment.”
And since most people seem to support the spying on our communications, there seems to be little the rest of us can do about it. I suspect that the people who founded this country would be shocked at how intrusive and all-powerful the government has become — and I think they’d be shocked by most people’s approval of the erosion of individual liberty.