Chertoff’s Gut Says Summer Terrorist Attack

Our chief of Homeland Security says his gut tells him that al Qaeda is planning something for this summer.

Fearing complacency among the American people over possible terror threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Chicago Tuesday that the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer. “I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk,” Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial board in an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America’s terror threat level.

“Summertime seems to be appealing to them,” he said of al-Qaeda. “We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities.”

Still, Chertoff said there are not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the current threat levels nationwide. And he indicated that his remarks were based on “a gut feeling” formed by past seasonal patterns of terrorist attacks, recent al-Qaeda statements, and intelligence he did not disclose. There is an assessment “not of a specific threat, but of increased vulnerability,” he added.

There’s not much to go on here. We’ve been hearing for years that it’s merely a matter of when, not if, there will be more terrorist attacks on American soil. That’s almost surely right.

Still, I agree with John Amato that going public based on “gut instinct” is irresponsible and rather pointless. Tom Ridge, the first DHS Secretary, routinely publicized reports of “chatter” and held regular press conferences to unveil the latest movements in the color-coded Terrorist Alert Level charts. Pretty soon, this became, quite literally, a joke. Chertoff has wisely discontinued that practice, so perhaps his going public now is an indication that this threat really is serious. On the other hand, it’s far from clear what the public is supposed to do about it.

Furthermore, the “al Qaeda likes to attack in the summer” meme is simply bizarre. Here is a list of al Qaeda attacks on Western targets, compiled from NPR and Wikipedia:

    Feb. 26, 1993: World Trade Center, New York City.

    June 25, 1996: Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

    Aug. 7, 1998: U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

    Oct. 12, 2000: USS Cole, Aden, Yemen.

    Sept. 11, 2001: World Trade Center, Pentagon, and thwarted fourth plane.

    April 11, 2002: Tunisian synagogue.

    Oct. 12, 2002: Bali nightclubs.

    Nov. 28, 2002: Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya.

    May 16, 2003: Casablanca, Morocco.

    Nov. 15 & 20, 2003: Jewish synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey.

    March 11, 2004: Madrid, Spain.

    July 7, 2005: London, England.

    July 23, 2005: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

    November 9, 2005: Amman, Jordan (American hotels).

    April 10, 2007: Algiers bombings.

Throw in the recent possibly al-Qaeda “related” attacks in London and Scotland, too, if you like.

Do you see any seasonal pattern here? I sure don’t. Technically, the 9/11 attacks took place during the summer season, although most of us tend to think of the post-Labor Day period as the fall. Summer may be disproportionately represented but more of the attacks took place in the other three seasons.

Not to be too cheeky about something so potentially serious, but somehow this song comes to mind:

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    “There’s not much to go on here”
    Is there ever?. From what i’ve read it seems that “chatter” picks up, money moves around, some people go underground….but we never know where, when or how it will happen. That said, it seems silly to me to announce a gut feeling.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Countdown to complaints about fearmongering for political purposes starting now…

    …Three, two, one…

  3. John Burgess says:

    Dhahran 1996 is laid at the feet of Saudi Hezbollah, not Al-Qaeda. I haven’t seen any documentation showing an Iran-Al-Qaeda link dating to that period, but I guess it’s possible.

    Dave: too late!

  4. Triumph says:

    Countdown to complaints about fearmongering for political purposes starting now…

    …Three, two, one…

    What do you mean, “countdown,” Dave? James essentially points out that this has been the modus operandi of the office of DHS Secretary:

    Still, I agree with John Amato that going public based on “gut instinct” is irresponsible and rather pointless. Tom Ridge, the first DHS Secretary, routinely publicized reports of “chatter” and held regular press conferences to unveil the latest movements in the color-coded Terrorist Alert Level charts.

  5. Anthony C says:

    My gut says it’s time for a cup of tea.

    But then, that’s the default setting.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Chertoff’s trying to have it both ways. If nothing happens, he gets the credit for DHS doing a bangup job. If something happens, then he can point to his “gut feeling” as vindication. He knows DHS can’t stop everything and will be blamed with something happens.

  7. Anjin-San says:

    How can we be in danger? Bush has the terrorists pinned down in Iraq, where we are a hunting and a killin’ them, fighting them there instead of in Omaha.

    We are only in danger if we surrender, in which case they will follow us home…

  8. Garth says:

    Doesn’t it seem like there should be some way to keep the terrorists from following us home? Perhaps we could sneak out? Or maybe we could take a round-about path back home with frequent doubling-back and trips to and fro across small streams? Or possibly we could disguise ourselves with elaborate camouflage?

    They’d probably still smell our fear though.

  9. Anjin-San says:

    Perhaps we could use “double-secret surrender” to sow confusion amongst the enemy…

  10. B. Minich says:

    So, we’ve gone from color coded, precise warnings from DHS to the feeling of the secretary’s gut on this.

    This doesn’t inspire confidence. Although, this being the internet age, I think someone is going to combine the two into a color coded “Michael Chertoff’s gut warning system” for terror.