[ politics Category ]
March 03, 2003

Orange Nation, Blue Hawaii?

This morning the Washington Times ran the following headline: Terrorists aim at Pearl Harbor.

The attacks would be carried out by hijacked airliners from nearby Honolulu International Airport that would be flown into submarines or ships docked at Pearl Harbor in suicide missions, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The harbor is the home for 30 Navy and Coast Guard warships, including 18 nuclear submarines, five destroyers and two frigates.

This report conflicts with Governor Linda Lingle's statements in the Saturday, February 8, Star-Bulletin piece, Hawaii stays at general risk for terrorism.

While the Bush administration raised its terrorism alert code yesterday to high, or "orange," Gov. Linda Lingle said the state would remain at its own security alert level of "guarded-plus blue," which is two levels below orange and indicates a general risk of a terrorist attack.

Lingle said raising the state terrorist warning level would unnecessarily scare people. She also said she is concerned people would begin to ignore the alerts if they fluctuate often.

Considering the continued lack of communication between all levels of the government and its agencies this isn't too shocking. What remains troublesome is the continued admission by elected officials and their advisors that "safety" outweighs the public's right to know.

The February 15, UK Independent story Armageddon asteroids 'best kept secret' offers this quote from Dr. Geoffrey Sommer, a terroism advisor from Rand.

"When a problem arises with high uncertainty, there is an opportunity to spin the problem to avoid global panic. If you can't do anything about a warning, then there is no point in issuing a warning at all...

"Overreaction not just by the public but by policy-makers scurrying around before the thing actually hits because we can't do anything about it anyway ... to a large extent you are better off not adding to your social costs..."

One can only wonder how many times they've decided not to tell us anything for "social costs?" With policy makers like these, who needs enemies? And does Hawaii really need it's own terror warning code? Doesn't seem like the terror warnings are more like disclaimers on cigarettes and artifical sweeteners, only there to deflect blame?

On another note: I think should use those airline miles I've been hoarding and include Lanai in my apartment search. With apologies to Jimi: "Code Orange haze is in my mind. Scuse me while kiss my okole goodbye..."

Posted by Jon at March 03, 2003 11:55 PM


Posted by Ryan on March 3, 2003 10:01 AM:

That's quite a story, Jon. Astonishing in its specificity. One does indeed wonder if Lingle had any information to that affect when she announced we'd stay at blue when the rest of the nation jumped up to orange.

My guess would be no. Federal, state and local officials have made no secret of the communication problems throughout the intelligence community. There's both a reluctance to share information, as well as a clear inability to get what is shared to the people who need it.

On the other hand, you're right. Lingle herself raised concerns about, essentially, public 'alert fatigue' — social costs, as well as plain financial costs — in holding us down. How does a government balance these "expenses" against almost unknowable risk?

Posted by grant on March 3, 2003 12:23 PM:

Here's a response run in the Honolulu Advertiser.

Posted by Ryan on March 3, 2003 1:58 PM:

Hey! They didn't respond to my request for comment! (Online media... we get no respect!)

Well, the Washington Times isn't exactly the most credible source out there. On the other hand, it seems to almost go without saying that Pearl Harbor is a pretty attractive target to anyone who hates the U.S.: both strategically and symbolically significant.

The fact that the cost of boosting security measures was cited when evaluating the local threat should raise some eyebrows, in addition to the aforementioned "social costs" (i.e. alert fatigue and sustained anxiety). How do you make that call? What information kept quiet for the public good could ultimately hurt the public?

Posted by Blaine on March 3, 2003 3:26 PM:

Really, now... how many think that a jet from HNL will be the delivery vehicle? Why go to so much trouble?

Terrorists just need to get on a Jumbo Jet from anywhere on the Pacific Rim. (Hey, that's en route from the "homeland"--how convenient! Maybe they'll have special seasonal fares!)

On approach to HNL, the airline will conveniently fly you right over the intended target.

Security is far more lax at any number of airports with HNL as the final nonstop destination. It would be too much work to try and catch a jet at HNL. They'd probably ride it in from just about anywhere else!

(Hey, now, I'm no terrorist!!! Don't get any stupid ideas. I'm just saying that the newspapers are saying HNL would be the acquisition point for the jet. I don't think so.)

Posted by Jon on March 3, 2003 3:56 PM:

Agreed, the Times isn't the most reliable source for "Beltway" news. This could be a simple case of bad fact checking, unreliable sources or perhaps a smear tactic as this past Friday Linda Lingle appeared on Fox News Live telling the nation Hawai'i is safe to visit.

According to the Advertiser story Lingle said she doesn't "consider what the impact would be on the visitor industry" when Hawaii's threat level is decided upon. Outrigger Enterprises CEO David Carey and HTA president Rex Johnson agreed with her statements reiterating the fact that Hawaii is, in Carey's words, "a relatively small city, relatively far away."

Lingle also sited the Pacific Ocean as a terrorism buffer during the same appearance on Fox News, but does this honestly mean we need our own color coded terror alert system operating independent of the national system?

According to the 1990 U.S. Census Honolulu is ranked 44th in urban population. Cities smaller than our own include: Anaheim, Las Vegas and Arlington. Each of those cities can be considered prime targets. Al-Qaeda is linked to the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, the popular tourist destination. Honolulu is one airline flight away from the Philippines where we were fortunate enough to foil a terrorist plot to destroy multiple passenger planes in mid-flight.

In today's Advertiser story Terror plot report rejected Hawai‘i National Guard spokesman Maj. Charles Anthony had this to say:

“There is no credible threat that specifically talks about that, that anybody has information that the terrorist organization has actually planned this...

“We receive updates all the time. Our policy is we will not discuss what is in those updates, including one week ago, two weeks or three weeks ago.” (Emphasis added.)

The protocol remains "we can neither confirm or deny." In essence we rely on the national terror color code, not hard facts, to tell us if something is on the way. The code itself contributes to the public's fears, while Hawaii having our own code introduces confusion, intended or not.

One final note: the Advertiser story says that Oahu military bases are at "force protection level 'bravo' or higher, meaning an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity exists." If we can't rely on the words the government won't tell us, maybe we should watch their actions more carefully.

Posted by Ryan on March 3, 2003 4:36 PM:

I thought the same thing, especially in light of Maj. Anthony's comments. It would probably be fair to say that even if there was a "credible threat" on Hawaii, you'd be hard pressed getting any actual confirmation from anyone.

Which is to say, this report may or may not be credible, but if it isn't, how credible is the government's declaration that it isn't? (My head's starting to hurt.) Of course there's going to say, "Nothing to see here, move along, move along."

Until Lingle specifically made the Feb. 7 pronouncement to diverge from the federal risk level, I didn't even know states could operate independently. I wonder if Hawaii was the only one to do so? (I doubt it, though, as several cities have been speaking out lately about how expensive boosting security is with each change.)

On the other hand, there's something to be said for allowing local intelligence as well as top-down national administration... insofar as local operations are conceivably more agile and better in touch with regional issues.

Blaine, Hawaii would be the best aquisition point if fuel is to be a big part of the terrorist strategy. A plane from Asia would be all but empty upon reaching HNL. And I know hijacking a commercial jet full of wary passengers is pretty unlikely since 9/11, but we also have heavy cargo traffic as well as interisland traffic that could provide a high aircraft mass-to-passenger ratio. (Not that I'm a terrorist, either. Ahem.)

Jon, I've always had concerns about Lingle's almost casual pronouncements that Hawaii is safe, just because we're far away or because we're no London or New York. Not only are we a good strategic and symbolic target as I noted above, but we've known for a while that Al Qaeda has been targeting "soft targets" - places like Bali, or, perhaps, another open, visible, tropical Pacific destination where people regularly gather...

Posted by Ryan on March 3, 2003 4:56 PM:

As usual, the Star-Bulletin comes through with more information.

Sen. Daniel Inouye reported receiving the information, which confirms that it exists (and wasn't made up by the Washington Times, which has been alleged elsewhere). Of course, I agree that information collected and disseminated is, in large part, unreliable... but the detail that the Pearl Harbor report was indeed circulated is not a small one.

Government agencies are all lining up to discredit the reports... but I'm bothered by Lingle's expressed concern over the effect of such reports on the tourism industry. (Especially in light of her "we're safe" commercial announcement on national TV last week.) Again, the information is probably faulty... but given the other possible motives that can be inferred, I would have to say the views of "both sides" need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Posted by Jon on March 3, 2003 5:26 PM:

ABC News: Al-Qaeda videotape shows terrorists cased WTC four years before attack

Locations also scouted on the tapes include: Disneyland, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, and Sears Tower. Soft targets indeed. Link goes to story and streaming videos.

Ryan: I'm still not entirely sure of their motives in not releasing information. Lingle's comments make her look naive and now, with the Star-Bulletin story you mention, suspect. The Dems look compliant, flaccid and invisible. Comments from the Bush administration make them look arrogant. It's no wonder they call him "cowboy" in Europe.

Being under-employed I've watched a lot of White House press conferences on C-SPAN. What have I learned? I'll say this much: With Rummy the press is laughing with him. With Ari the press is laughing at him.

Posted by Albert on March 4, 2003 11:42 AM:

I was surprised they didn't hit Pearl Harbor on 9/11, just for the symbolic effect.

But it probably wouldn't make more difference today to those of us living in Honolulu than it did on the "day of infamy".

Posted by James on March 5, 2003 2:32 PM:

And just the other week I was telling my girlfriend how I thought Hawaii would be the least likely place for a terrorist attack.

"What about Pearl Harbor?" She asked.

Yeah but that was the Japanese and it was WW II. A strategic target for them at that time. Al Qaeda or Iraq, what would they have to gain by hitting Honolulu?

There are so many places in the mainland that would be targeted first, like New York or DC, Los Angeles or Miami.
I never thought of Hawaii as being in any real danger from the Islamic extremists of the world.

Our nuclear submarines would not do much good in a desert war anyway.

I heard the story about how Pearl Harbor could have been a possible target for suicide bombers plotting to crash planes into our subs from HNL but I never heard any specifics.

Are there any suspects in custody? Anyone being questioned? Where did this info come from?

Posted by helen on March 6, 2003 7:57 PM:

Our nuclear submarines would not do much good in a desert war anyway.

The fast attack subs that are based here carry cruise missile, I don't remember the range off hand but capable of striking inland targets.

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