Yes, there is. There is a great concern that something could happen from now all the way up to the inauguration. The reason for the concern in the intelligence community is what happened in Madrid. The Madrid bombings actually caused the outcome of the Spanish election to change. That’s classical textbook terrorism. In other words, the terrorists influenced the outcome of an election to push a society into moving in a different direction. That shows that Al Qaeda is aware of that power, and certainly our intelligence gatherers and our law enforcement agencies, at state, federal, and local levels, are aware of it. There is a great concern that Al Qaeda, or sympathizers to Al Qaeda, may try to do something.
Prior to the Madrid bombings, most people who studied terrorism believed that, given the Bush administration’s response and the war on terrorism, the enemy wouldn’t want to pull something off here in the United States or against American assets abroad specifically aimed at Election Day. They felt that the America public would be more inclined to elect Bush and rally around the president who is in office at the time. However, with the Madrid bombings, that’s somewhat changed the thinking of not only the people here but the outside because of very dangerous assumptions made by others trying to unseat the current sitting president — that the president’s policies are in effect causing more risk for the United States. Given the Madrid bombings there is tremendous concern within intelligence agencies that something might indeed happen.
As a sidebar to that, there is also a concern by intelligence gathering agencies and the current administration that an unnecessary warning to the general public about attacks can be interpreted in the media as fear mongering, that the Bush administration is trying to rally support. The current administration and law enforcement are really in a very serious position now. They can’t go public with the slightest indication because it would create some kind of political hay for the Democrats to pitch.
In what way would a terror attack affect the outcome of the election?
The Madrid bombings indicated that you CAN influence the outcome of an election by pulling off a terrorist event and cause voters to go in a different direction. I think it would work well in terrorist circles if in fact they can pull something off and influence the outcome of our election. That said, there’s always the possibility that such a terrorist event could then push voters into the camp of the current administration. This is a risk that terrorist planners have to take. Quite frankly, I think they were buoyed by the outcome in Madrid and they would in fact want to pull something off here if they can between now and inauguration day.
Should people be worried about attacks at polling locations on Election Day?
Certainly people should be worried about attacks. Should that stop them from going out to vote? Absolutely not! Everything is fair game with the terrorists, nothing is sacrosanct. We saw that on 9/11 — people just going to work and doing their daily activities were the target. But, the concern should be there and the concern should be voiced in the ballot box. People should look at where the candidates stand. This is very important. There is a lot of buzz in the media when the national security adviser goes off campaigning for the president. There are a lot of people out there who believe that a national security adviser, such as Condoleezza Rice, should be objective and not have partisan feelings. In the war on terrorism the policy of the administration is indeed integral to prosecuting the war, the way we treat and fight terrorists. It is important to voice your concern in the ballot box and understand that this is an issue that’s unfortunately going to be with us for quite some time — not just this election season.