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Obama administration terrorism travel alert warns of something somewhere

citizens on alert for danger

If you're traveling somewhere, the Obama administration's State Department advises, be careful about something.

According to a vague public alert issued urgently Sunday, there is maybe a possible al Qaeda terrorist threat in Europe somewhere involving possibly, but they're not sure, airplanes, subways, ships or railroads. Or also other unspecified elements of tourist infrastructure. And it could be large-scale.

For some, the intentional vagueness of the alert is almost as frightening as the fact that there's an alert. As Scott Shane sharply notes, what should travelers do? "Be aware" of your surroundings at all times. Also, "take appropriate safety measures."

Got that?

It's reminiscent of those less-than-precise color-coded terror....

...status things issued during the Bush administration. Quick, what level are we now? How bad is orange vs yellow?

According to U.S. and European officials, a boost in buzz among terrorists and a captive trainee in recent months suggest something might be afoot somewhere between Iceland and Norway and Ukraine and Azerbaijan.Terror Alert Color Code It could be as large as 9/11. Or larger. Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, thanks to Greg Pollowitz over at NRO, we get this dose of skepticism from Germany.

A State Department travel warning, you should know, is more serious than a travel alert. Thus, a travel warning suggests Americans refrain from journeys into areas of Sudan consumed by civil war, which seems like a good idea even for adventure seekers.

Travel alerts in recent months have advised extra care traveling to India and Bolivia. Now, Europe.

Coming after days of meetings within and without the White House, Sunday's alert, however, merely narrowed the danger zone down to four dozen countries covering some 4 million square miles of the planet's surface, an area slightly larger than the entire United States.

A White House spokesman said, "We need to do everything possible to disrupt this plot and protect the American people.” (So, there is a specific plot?)

There could be a faint hope that by announcing we know something is up, it might deter some wimpy terrorists, like shouting in the dark, "I know you're there!" Even if you don't really know. Or maybe we really do know possible targets within that vast area, but we don't want them to know how much we do know because inside informants are still probing. Or maybe....

It's a genuine political quandary for any administration in an open society. Imagine for a moment if, because the potential targets are so nondescript and the area so vast and the time frame so vague that no alert gets issued. But, then, some kind of attack does occur.

Do you think that might make a major story in the news media? "U.S. Govt. Knew of Attack, Failed to Alert Public." 

All of which suggests it's time to alert Americans to prepare themselves for numerous CYA travel alerts in coming months and years. Not every travel alert will be succeeded by a terrorist incident. But for the sake of public safety -- and political safety -- every terrorist attack had better be preceeded by a travel alert.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (15)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I'm sure that your snide commentary will be helpful, as well.

How would the administration know exactly where and when an attack will be? Common sense people...

I check under my bed for terrorists as part of my nightly ritual.

yeah really, this stupid snide article will be a big help to Americans. When we need confidence in the government, you are planting doubt and mistrust. Siwwy wabbitt...wake up and become conscious of what you are writing and its effects on people. You are responsible for everything you write and the effects that your writings have on people. It's called karma. I am certain that the government would tell us the exact details of this threat if they themselves knew it. But hey, face the facts folks, the terrorists don't go around advertising the details of their plots.

The warning I read stated "Americans" should avoid going to "Europe." That's specific enough for me to strongly consider canceling our family's trip to Italy. Is this "something, somewhere" business just an attempt to make the Obama administration look inept? We've seen inept and we know what it looks like.

"It's a genuine political quandary for any administration in an open society."

I don't think that's an issue anymore. The existence of the TSA and the Patriot Act proves that we've clearly chosen self-preservation over our democratic ideals. We gave into fear long ago and pitched our open society to the wayside.

Hmmm. "Terrorism alerts." Must be an election coming up.

We now live in fear, and allow that fear to dictate how we behave. The terrorists have won.

I fear this country's "Tim McVeigh"s more than I fear the overseas terrorists. It would make me feel more secure if Homeland Security is doing all they can to put more focus on preventing another disaster like the Oklahoma City bombing.

"Not every travel alert will be succeeded by a terrorist incident. "

While it is tempting to believe "succeeded" is correctly used (after all we have words like "preceded" and "successor", the correct word to use is the simple "followed".

Good article otherwise...


Props to Andrew Malcolm for this brilliant story and the perfect picture to match. This was the best way to report on a story that is supposed to be important.. or not.. to someone.. or not.. somewhere.. or not..

All these warnings do is remind me an election is coming up.

OK, the photo and headline combination almost made me spew a half-chomped mouthful of tortilla chips[*] all over my laptop. Well done, sir, well done.

[*] Specifically, "Tostitos Artisan Recipes[tm] Roast Garlic & Black Bean" chips.
Yeah, sounds pretentious as hell, but they're actually quite good, and you can buy Very Large Bags of them at Costco.

but - why would terrorists still want to attack us? hasn't the big O done enough bowing, scraping, apologizing and a** kissing to assure our eternal friendship with the muzzies?



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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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