Every now and then, do you find yourself wishing for a world where the dangers and threats we face are more easily defined?

Are you tired of trying to make sense of what bogeyman, country or crazed group is trying to do us in from week to week?

Frankly, I would much prefer it if there was simply one Lex Luthor, hiding out in his evil lair and plotting to take over the world. At least you’d know who’s got the kryptonite. Or yellow cake. Or Polonium 210.

There are times recently when I find myself sitting in traffic dreaming about the good old days of the Cold War. It was a predictable dance and, as odd as it sounds, there was an understanding as to the value of life and the need to deal with your enemy in a rationale fashion.

Unfortunately, the world has become less tidy in terms of defining our enemies and the threats we face as a country. And, might I add, we have a hard time focusing. I suspect that, as a nation, we have some form of untreatable attention deficit disorder. No sooner do we get fixated on a possible threat looming on the horizon, big and scary and potentially bringing the downfall of our democracy, when suddenly we get a little bored with all the details involved and veer off towards something else that’s equally scary but perhaps not as complicated.

And so, in an effort to define and bring perspective to the big steaming pile of crazy that we seem to be dealing with around the globe, I decided that we should enlist the support and input from the good readers of the Peoples Weekly Brief in an effort to prioritize the various issues, persons, countries and problems that could be perceived as “threats”. For those of you who are actually scientists, you’ll no doubt recognize and appreciate the scientific nature of this data collection effort.

And so, with that as an introduction, I welcome you to participate in the PWB’s “First Annual Spot the Threat Survey.” Here’s the drill… simply review the items below and send me your prioritized list with one being the highest threat and 10 being the lowest. I’ll collect the responses during the course of this coming week and then, assuming I can figure out the math, will tabulate the final results for publication in next weeks PWB.

This is a highly interactive exercise; you can simply list the items from one to 10… you can elaborate on your answers for that added boost of clarity… or, in a fit of scientific survey bravado, you can even write-in a threat that’s not listed. Send your lists to peoplesweeklybrief@hotmail.com

The PWB’s Reader Rating of Really Scary Stuff

Iran: Could be the nukes, could be their meddling in the region…really, they could get nominated for several different categories including Worst Supporting Actor for their participation in Iraq.

Russia: Is it the old Soviet style rollback of privatization, or perhaps the quashing of journalistic freedom… maybe their calculated efforts to create a state controlled monopoly in the oil and gas industry.

Al Qaeda: Admittedly a regular on the nominee list.

Venezuela and the pseudo Latin American Socialist Revolution: Will Chavez succeed in completely driving the country into the toilet or will the price of oil drop sufficiently to send him into exile?

Oil and Gas: The pricing structure, access to stable supplies, being held hostage to hostile oil producing nations… at what point does the nation actually become serious and committed to alternative fuel sources?

Global Warming: I do hate cold weather but the rising ocean levels seem somewhat problematic for our children’s children.

Erosion of civil liberties in the name of homeland defense and national security: Hey, it’s the other side of the debate, and we’re fair and balanced. It’s a critically important question… what are you willing to give up or compromise in an effort to create a more secure environment?

China: Ah, back to the comfort of the old time bogey… could be the economic threat, maybe the sleeping giant wakening to take primacy in some new China Century.

North Korea: Reliably scary on a regular basis.

Iraq: Is it localized… is it a regional disaster if it descends into further chaos… if we’re not there any longer do we as a country care what happens in Iraq? Personally I do, but I’m just asking.

Now, hopefully you’ll remember when I mentioned earlier about the attention deficit disorder and our inability to stay focused on events and issues that burn bright for brief periods of time? Here are some of those items that I think would seem to deserve more time in the spotlight…

Do you wonder how Syria has managed to sidestep any real scrutiny for its possible role in the assassinations of numerous anti-Syrian politicians and leading figures in Beirut over the past few years?

It was two years ago when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive bomb blast. The Lebanese Government and the UN can’t even reach an agreement to set up an international tribunal to prosecute the suspected killers because of pressure from pro-Syrian elements within the government who would rather not see Syria implicated officially in the killing.

It’s unlikely they’ll be much progress with this investigation, or with efforts to identify the killers of others, including parliament member and journalist Gibran Tueni or the Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel. It’s clearly unhealthy to be anti-Syrian, vocal and residing in Beirut.

I know there have been a number of well experienced and highly intelligent persons recommending that we engage the Syrians in dialogue in an effort to find a peaceful solution in Iraq. Maybe I could stomach that concept better if the Syrian authorities would lose the apparent habit of whacking Lebanese dignitaries.

Speaking of murder investigations, have you wondered what happened to efforts to identify the murderers of either the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya or the former Russian KGB/FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko? Or for that matter, there still hasn’t been a resolution to the murder of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of pressure on the Russian authorities to locate the perpetrators.

To be fair, they are reportedly “assisting” the British authorities with the Litvinenko investigation. Right. Good luck with that, to quote SpongeBob. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much pressure on Russia for any number of recent activities.

They, and when I say "they" I suppose I mean President Putin, have been busy bringing the oil and gas industry under increasing state control. The European Union has certainly noticed, as have the oil majors that have been rolling over to Putin’s demands, but no one wants to upset the hand that controls such a large oil spigot.

And finally, as is our tradition, let’s finish off the column by jumping feet-first into the PWB reader mailbag. It’s very rewarding to be able to solicit your views and see what a diverse, politically mixed and intelligent crowd actually lands on this site.

On the subject of last week’s column on the Boston “bomb” scare that turned out to be a Cartoon Network advertising campaign for the adult themed cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force… the majority of readers, well over 60 per cent, appreciated the Boston first responders rapid response when the initial reports of “suspicious packages” came tumbling in.

However, the majority also had questions as to why the devices were able to be in place for upwards of two week prior to the alarm being raised.

Jeff from the great city of Biloxi, Mississippi wrote “… I applaud the Boston first responders. They take their jobs and our safety very seriously.”

Two ladies from Arizona, Annie and Neatie, believe the Boston incident is “… another reason to stay out of cities.” They noted their concern over how long the devices had been in place before being spotted.

Geoff in Seattle had an interesting take on the subject, “… What’s really scary to me is that no authorities here in Seattle responded to the devices. That means that either they cannot recognize a terrorist threat, or worse, they watch the inane program and recognized the character.”

Others were not so supportive… and I quote…

Joe from the fine institution of Michigan State University wrote “… I’ll get it out of the way and say I’m a fan of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Now I’m not saying that (threats) shouldn’t be taken seriously, but this Boston case was completely out of hand.”

Tom, a retired Army Major stated “… this entire escapade was overblown…and Boston looks to blame someone for their delayed and incompetent response.”

Mathew, who served in the Marine Corp, was equally harsh, writing that “… Boston responders over-reacted and are now using terrorism to try to divert public ridicule.”

Finally, Roger, whereabouts unknown, took exception with my explanation of the purpose in life of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force, noting that “… The Aqua Teens DO NOT fight crime, as your article stated.”

Roger is correct. The Aqua Teens pretty much just hang out; fighting crime is not in their job description. But it should be, given the murky and difficult-to-define range of threats we seem to be facing nowadays. That’s just my opinion. Let me know yours.

Respond to the Writer

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, and appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker also serves as a script consultant and advisor within the entertainment industry, lending his technical expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," and the major motion pictures "Proof of Life" and "Spy Games."