Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Government public relations push" of terror dangers

David Pugliese today chronicles the sudden "flurry of leaks" from the government which come in the wake of that Christmas Day incident but also at a very politically sensitive moment for them:
The Harper government has launched a public relations push about the looming threats against Canada as it faces criticism for some of its new security measures.

The last two days have seen a flurry of leaks by government officials and claims about security threats against Canada.

Government officials leaked to CTV News details about a report from British and U.S. intelligence sources that suggested 20 Yemeni-trained terrorists were trying to get into North America. Canadian intelligence officials also told CTV they had gathered credible evidence that there was another group of terrorists who were also trying to get into Canada. There is no way to verify the claims.

Transport Minister John Baird told journalists yesterday that “medium level” warnings were received but he did not provide details. "There's specific information that certainly causes me concern, causes our security officials concern, and I think we need to maintain heightened vigilance in this time," Baird told journalists.

A last minute “media opportunity” was also called yesterday in the foyer of the House of Commons with Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan who voiced concern that a Christmas day attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up an airliner was a “pilot project.”

"Groups like this tend to do events in series, in sequence, to get maximum effect," Van Loan said. "We're dealing with kind of a new approach with the technology that was used on Christmas Day that may very well have been, if you will, a kind of pilot project by the organization to see how viable it was and we have reason to believe that we have to be concerned, all the countries of the West, us and our allies, about seeing similar incidents like that."

Van Loan did not provide any other details to support his claim the attempted bombing was a trial run.
The PR push by the government comes as the Harper government faces criticism of its plan to introduce full body scanners at airports as well as suggestions by Transport Minister John Baird that the invasive search of an 85-year-old woman at Ottawa airport by security personnel was justified. (emphasis added)
You could see how one could be skeptical of all this, it isn't exactly an open and accountable government these days that inspires confidence. Look at their recent behaviour. They mock some of the best and brightest in Canadian society who have expressed serious trepidations about the Prime Minister's exercise of his powers as "elites," dismissing those experts. The Prime Minister resorts to foolish spin lines about minority government being unstable and bad for the economy as a rationale for taking a three month break from it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer reports that there's a structural deficit, the Conservatives dismiss that too.

So when they get in front of the cameras, suddenly, and cite vague warnings from intelligence sources and a need for vigilance, pushing the issue in the media as they concertedly are, one can understand the skepticism. Apparently some experts are to be believed and relied upon, but many others, enumerated above, aren't.

That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be concern about the Olympics as a possible target, etc., there needs to be the necessary vigilance that accompanies a high profile public event. This is not a dismissal of security concerns. But these sudden high profile public media interventions are raising questions, they're not allaying concerns. What is John Baird talking about with "medium level" warnings? What does that mean? The unknown he is invoking creates uncertainty. And what are these new scanners going to do to prevent anything from happening? As noted here, the Americans had the information needed to stop the underwear bomber, no scanner was necessary.

This government is hard to take seriously these days, they spin constantly. So when serious issues present themselves, their credibility is damaged, their p.r. hustle in the hallways just doesn't assuage. One seriously hopes they are not playing games with this issue.