Two weeks ago, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham was widely mocked for this breathless, fearmongering tweet:
This morning, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, demanding passage of the USA Freedom Act, said something quite similar: “I have never seen a time of greater potential danger than right now.” After issuing her scary warning, Feinstein claimed: “I’ve never said that before.” That’s very strange, in light of this 2013 headline following a joint appearance she made with GOP Rep. Mike Rogers on CNN:
Earlier this month, NSA chief Michael Rogers made the same claim when discussing Patriot Act reauthorization: “‘It just can’t be the government doing this all by itself’ because the number of threats has never been greater.”
For the fearmongers in the West and their allies, it’s always the scariest time ever; that “the threat has never been greater” is basically a slogan they reflexively spew. In March, the right-wing Canadian defense minister, Jason Kenney, arguing for new surveillance powers, announced: “While few believe full-scale conventional war is likely any time soon, the threat of terrorism has never been greater.”
In February, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, arguing for renewal of the Patriot Act, warned that “the ‘lone wolf’ terrorist threat to the United States has never been greater.” In January, an anonymous senior aide to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron argued for a new “snooper” bill by saying that “the terrorist threat has never been greater.” In mid-2014, U.K. Prime Minister Cameron himself raised the threat level to “severe” and announced that “Britain faces the ‘greatest and deepest’ terror threat in the country’s history.”
In September of last year, chief of New York state’s Homeland Security department, Jerome Hauer, warned New Yorkers: “I think the threat has never been greater since prior to 9/11.” When discussing ISIS in June of last year, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer told viewers that “the jihadist threat has never been greater.”
Prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Rep. Mike McCaul shrieked on Fox News: “Something will detonate . . . I’ve never seen a greater threat in my lifetime.” In June 2014, CNN quoted an anonymous “EU counter-terrorism official” as saying: “The threat of attacks has never been greater — not at the time of 9/11, not after the war in Iraq — never.”
In early 2013, Daily Telegraph’s national political editor, Simon Bensen, warned against cutting intelligence spending on the ground that “the truth, as demonstrated in Boston, is the array of threats has never been greater.” At the same time, India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai gave a speech warning “that terrorism is and will remain a pre-eminent security challenge … and the nature of the threat in our region has never been greater.”
In 2010, “the U.S. government issued a warning Sunday that said al-Qaeda might target transport infrastructure and the British raised the terrorist threat level in its advice for citizens travelling to France and Germany” while “Bernard Squarcini, chief of the French internal intelligence agency, told reporters that the threat ‘has never been greater.’”
In 2007, “the UK’s new Security Minister warned that the threat against the UK has never been greater. . . . He said the current threat from terrorism was greater now than six months ago when the former head of the intelligence agency MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, warned her office was tracking 30 terror plots and 200 networks totalling more than 1,600 individuals.” In 2006, German Interior Minster Wolfgang Schäuble told his country that “the threat has never been greater.” In 2004, The Sun’s Senior Crime editor Mike Sullivan warned his readers that “Heathrow has been a major target for terrorists for years — and today the threat has never been greater.”
Throughout the Bush years, scaring Americans by telling them that the threat has never been greater was so routine as to be hard to overstate. As John Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs back in 2006, in an article entitled “The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy”:
For the past five years, Americans have been regularly regaled with dire predictions of another major al Qaeda attack in the United States. In 2003, a group of 200 senior government officials and business executives, many of them specialists in security and terrorism, pronounced it likely that a terrorist strike more devastating than 9/11 — possibly involving weapons of mass destruction — would occur before the end of 2004. In May 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that al Qaeda could “hit hard” in the next few months and said that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on U.S. soil were complete. That fall, Newsweek reported that it was “practically an article of faith among counterterrorism officials” that al Qaeda would strike in the run-up to the November 2004 election. When that “October surprise” failed to materialize, the focus shifted: a taped encyclical from Osama bin Laden, it was said, demonstrated that he was too weak to attack before the election but was marshalling his resources to do so months after it.
He added that “on the first page of its founding manifesto,” the Department of Homeland Security warns: “Today’s terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon.” Bush officials raised their color-coded terror alerts and issued similar warnings so many times that it became a running joke. It was a particularly beloved tactic in the run-up to the Iraq War:
Years later, the face of that joke, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, admitted he was pressured to issue warnings for political gain.
Here we are 14 years after 9/11, and it’s still always the worst threat ever in all of history, never been greater. If we always face the greatest threat ever, then one of two things is true: 1) fearmongers serially exaggerate the threat for self-interested reasons, or 2) they’re telling the truth — the threat is always getting more severe, year after year — which might mean we should evaluate the wisdom of “terrorism” policies that constantly make the problem worse. Whatever else is true, the people who should have the least credibility on the planet are the Lindsey Grahams and Dianne Feinsteins who have spent the last 15 years exploiting the terror threat in order to terrorize the American population into doing what they want.
Photo: Senators Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, Dianne Feinstein: Susan Walsh/AP