Napolitano’s Vague Warnings

DHS Secretary Napolitano issues some vague warnings to Congress.

Via the BBC:  Janet Napolitano: US terror threat highest since 9/11

The threat of terrorism against the US homeland is in some aspects “at its most heightened state” since the 9/11 attacks, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said.

“The terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly,” she told members of Congress.

The US faced new threats by groups already inside the country, inspired by al-Qaeda, she said.

Ms Napolitano warned that attacks could be carried out with little warning.

On that last point, that’s pretty much how terrorist attacks work, yes?

On the rest:  this hardly seems helpful.  I suppose that, by definition, there is always a potential threat but it would be helpful if one is going to assert that the threat level is “at its most heightened state” at any time in the basically the last decade that one ought to provide some amount of specificity.   No doubt this is because if they tell us anything that would, in turn, make us less safe.

Indeed, the AFP has the whole quote, which is even more vague:  “And in some ways, the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago.”

Can one be more vague?  And, logically, it also means that in some other way, the threat may not be all that high.    This is like an undergraduate research paper where the student is pretty sure that “some scholars”  think thus and so, but they were too lazy to actually find out who they might be and if they really did say it (let alone discover if it is a consensus view).

The closest to something new is that there is concern about “home grown” terrorists.  Why or how that would be a newer threat today than it was five years ago is unclear

Back to the BBC piece:

“As I have said before, we cannot guarantee that there will never be another terrorist attack, and we cannot seal our country under a glass dome,” she said.

Quite true.  However, it does appear to be the case that we can make vague warnings to keep the fear roiling along in the population.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Steven Plunk says:

    She’s a bureaucrat speaking like a bureaucrat. If you work for the government then it’s a given your job is the most important and your needs the most pressing. If the need declines how ever would you keep growing your agency?

  2. Hello World! says:

    Gotta get that patriot act passed!

  3. Peter says:

    She’s either a paranoid schizophrenic or a compulsive liar.

  4. ponce says:

    The Obama admin. seems to issue fewer of these types of warning than the Bush admin. did complete with color coding.

    If the “Terror Alert” level has changed colors in the past two years I haven’t heard about it.

  5. TG Chicago says:

    Didn’t they take away the Terror Alert color codings? Thought I heard about that.

    Anyway, I agree that it’s a net negative for Napolitano to be making such remarks.

  6. JKB says:

    Let me rephrase for the Secretary: “SQUIRREL!”

  7. anjin-san says:

    While this is no doubt lame and pointless, there is hardly an equivalence with the way the Bush admin shamelessly exploited the fear of terrorist attacks for political gain.

  8. Robert C. says:

    Why is she saying this..elections are almost two years away.


  9. matt says:

    They did finally do away with the terror alert color system a while back. Now if only we could do away with warrant-less wiretapping and the various illegal activities the government has decided it can engage in since sep 11….

  10. tom p says:

    “She’s either a paranoid schizophrenic or a compulsive liar.”

    Peter, she is neither. She is just doing what all beaurocrats (gov’t or corp.) do: Covering her own ass. When the next attack comes, and it will, she wants to be able to say, “I told you so.”

  11. Franklin says:

    Why is she saying this..elections are almost two years away.

    Came here to say this. But as pointed out by Hello World, perhaps it’s to get the Patriot Act passed.