Wednesday, February 3, 2010

US Intelligence Officials Premediate Terrorism and Cyber-Attacks

In an article nearly buried on page 6 of the front section of the New York Times, "Senators Warned of Terror Attack by July," top US intelligence officials are quoted as premediating terrorist attacks on US soil within the next 3 to 6 months.

Dennis C. Blair, who directs the nation's intelligence operations, and Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, both pre-mediated an attack by Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. Panetta said that "The biggest threat is not so much that we face an attack like 9/11," but "that Al Qaeda is adapting its methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect." Blair underscored this point, but began his testimony by premediating the possibility of a crippling cyber-attack on US telecommunications and computer networks, contributing to increasing concerns among the intelligence community of a "cyber Pearl Harbor."

The fact that such news does not merit placement on the front page is worth considering, particularly insofar as we are only six weeks or so beyond the failed Christmas Day bombing. Perhaps it is simply a sign of the short attention span of the US public. Perhaps it means that the American public is beginning to take a more mature approach to the inevitability of terrorist attacks. More likely it means that the US media does not yet see such premediation as something that will sell newspapers this week. After all, this is Super Bowl week; the media's premediations seem oriented largely towards the Colts and the Saints.

It is also worth considering the aim of the intelligence community and the Obama Administration in issuing such premediations. Prior to 9/11 there was very little specific talk of this nature in the media; on the contrary the Bush-Cheney crew wanted to keep such intelligence on the QT, even from the president himself, it seems. After 9/11, however, in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush-Cheney administration used massive, widespread premediation to prepare the public affectively to accept (even when it cognitively or politically opposed) the invasion of Iraq. While the decision to invade Iraq, unlike the terrorist attacks premediated by the intelligence community, was in the hands of the US government, something similar nonetheless would seem to be involved here.

By premediating potential terrorist attacks on US soil or US networks before they happened, the Obama administration might be seeking to accomplish at least three related goals. First, such premediations can work to prepare the public affectively for such attacks so that their effects (particularly on the US economy) will not be as devastating as they were in the aftermath of 9/11. Second, by premediating such attacks now, the Republican opposition and their print, televisual, and networked media allies will have a more difficult time blaming the Obama administration for being unprepared (although of course that will not stop them from making such claims). Third, if such premediated attacks do not come off before the next election, say, Obama and the Democrats will be in a position to take credit for having kept the US safe.

Undoubtedly, there are other motivations one might imagine. From my perspective, what is most interesting is the fact that premediation continues to play an important role in US media and political discourse. And, in terms of a new research project that I am just beginning to undertake, it is telling that cyber war is being premediated alongside of terrorist attacks on US soil as an imminent threat to the security of the homeland.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Thanks for the post. It's interesting how 'information', and American news media in particular, has often come to take on strong political dimensions. One wonders to what extent today (and also in the era of Bush) politics is conducted through information campaigns, such as the efforts on the part of Bush and Cheney to convince the U.S. public that Iraq was a military threat.

Broadly speaking, it seems that the 'premediation' which you discuss (at least partly) serves as a way for politicians to legitimize their own decisions by pointing to a deadly external threat to which a radical response must be given.