July 13, 2004

The End of Beach-Ball Bingo?

The General Accounting Office has produced a report questioning the value of the color-coded threat system employed by the Department of Homeland Security – you know, the one that measures the threat of terror in terms of colors most often found on beach balls. The GAO is right, of course: The system produces little but confusion and anxiety. As I write the threat level stands at yellow, which, if memory serves, urges everyone to use SPF 30 … or is it 15?

Rep. Chris Cox, a California Republican, warns the system not only produces confusion. It also deadens people to the real possibility that terrorists will try to kill us or our fellow citizens. Worse, it baffles the very people it seeks to enlighten – federal, state and local law-enforcement employees.

My solution is simple: Scrap the system. Keep the vast majority of warnings utterly private – presuming, of course, that law-enforcement agencies can keep a secret – and issue public statements only when citizens can play a constructive role in exposing or capturing would-be killers and their accomplices.

Al Qaeda On The Run

Jalid al Harbi, a former buddy of Usama bin Laden, has surrendered to Saudi authorities in response to their offer of amnesty to terrorists and their associates. The deal is simple: If terrorists surrender, renouce violence and tell what they know, the Saudi government won’t kill them.

Al Harbi, who also goes by the name Abu Suleiman al-Makki, told reporters, “Thank God. Thank God. … I have come obeying God, and obeying the (Saudi) rulers.” He also urged fellow al Qaeda graduates to turn themselves in.

This is good news for three reasons: First, the Saudis obviously are enjoying some success in demoralizing bin Laden’s former associates. They have a long way to go, of course, but recent gunfights between the Kingdom’s police and al Qaeda fugitives provide a refreshing change from the bad old days when the House of Saud actively subsidized the terror network.

Second, the arrest seems to confirm reports that al Qaeda fighters have begun scramming out of Iraq because the locals, fed up with suicide bombing and the like, are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Al Harbi and others have fled to their home countries or neighboring states, such as Syria and Iran.

And third, al Harbi came to Saudi Arabia from Iran, whose government has detained at least 20 fairly senior al Qaeda types (and could be keeping tabs on many more). This would imply that al Qaeda, comprised of Sunni Muslims, has failed to make common cause with Shi’a Muslims in Iraq or Iran. On an even more speculative note, it may mean that Iran, which has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to undermine the allied occupation of Iraq, has given up on the enterprise – having learned the hard way that motley assemblages of insurgents are no match for coalition forces.

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