“UNITED 93,” Hollywood’s highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight’s Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of “24” has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of “Heroes.” Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole’s decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week’s terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American “intelligence and counterterrorism officials” leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda’s comeback, and ask yourself: Haven’t we been here before?
If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.
The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
As Mr. Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official, reiterated last week: “Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that’s where it is.” (emphasis added)
That quote by Michael Scheuer's a doozy, isn't it? I caught that on Countdown this week and just stared at the screen after I'd heard it. It was shocking to hear someone who held a senior position in respect of pursuing Al Qaeda say something so startling and yet with such confidence. I'm glad to see it given such prominence by Rich in his widely read column today.