Friday, October 08, 2004

October Surprise?

First, we learn last week that the Dept. of Education sent out general warnings to school officials across the nation warning them to look out for potential terrorist spies who might be casing their schools as a target (in light of the recent Beslan attack). Now, lo & behold, we learn that specific school districts were warned by federal authorities last month that they'd apparently already been targeted, thanks to some material that was discovered by U.S. military back in July! Including a district here in Oregon.

So let's get the timeline straight. U.S. military finds a disk in JULY of specific information on specific U.S. school districts apparently downloaded by Iraqi insurgents. Then on the first of September Russian terrorists lay siege to a school in Beslan on the first day of school. Over 350 are killed, almost half children. So after that tragedy, (and ONLY after that tragedy) U.S. intelligence decides to take a close, hard look at the security of U.S. schools. Only then do they think "hey, that information we got that terrorists were interested in specific school districts in the U.S. might be worrisome, let's let them know!" and a few weeks later, decide to ask *all* districts to be on the lookout.

But, even though they found *specific* information regarding crisis response, pictures and floor plans on *specific* school districts (along with general Educ. Dept. recommendations on crisis response in schools) , that wasn't enough to cause an alarm. Even after Breslan, they told these districts that they have NO "specific threat" against them. Hello??? Just what the fuck does it take to constitute a "specific threat?" Overheard conversation from terrorist A to terrorist B that "hey, we're going to hit 1234 SW. Main St., Smallville, Oregon on Sept. 15 at 9:00 am. First, we're going to hide pipebombs in the heating vents. Then we're going to go in with x many AK-47's (they're legal now, dontchyaknow) ?" Anything short of that kind of idiotproof intelligence and we don't take the threat seriously?

Breslan could have just as easily been Salem, Oregon. Not that the Iraqi insurgents were in cahoots with the Chechens, mind you (though I'm sure if Bush decides to invade Russia he'll manage to find a connection). But let's think for a minute. Why on Maude's green earth would Iraqi nationals (and especially insurgents) be downloading information on 6 different school districts in 6 different U.S. states? What conceivable reason would they have? I can think of only 2 innocent reasons: 1) Someone was thinking of immigrating to America and was trying to decide where based on the looks &/ safety of the school districts. Why these schools? Well, maybe they just happen to have relatives in these 7 very disparate locations. Farfetched, but possible. 2) Someone was looking up information on U.S. school crisis response and architecture to use as possible models for building new Iraqi schools they're building. After all, keeping Iraqi schools safe would be a huge concern right now. Maybe they think with our experience with school shootings we'd be better prepared. Again - farfetched, but possible.

Now, I'm no CIA cyber forensic analyst (though I might take the job if it were offered), but you could get a pretty good idea of what motivated this mystery websurfer to look up this information. Let's start with:. What do these districts have in common? Anything? Do they happen to be the first results that come back from a Google search on "U.S. school districts"? Or of more concern, "U.S. school districts not prepared for crisis"? If you happened to have the actual harddrive on which this information was downloaded you could look up internet temp files for a clue. It's amazing what they can recover even from deleted files. But if not, you could find out a lot by checking with the ISP/webhosts of the district websites. If I, a lowly blogger can get a free, detailed report from Sitemeter that tells me exactly what search words/ referring URL's were used to bring browsers to my site, the school districts certainly should be able to do the same. If all the information was downloaded in a short timeframe, the same search words or referring ISP should appear on all 6. If it's just a common ISP, then you know they've specifically targeted these schools for another reason. Like they lie in communities where they have active cells.

I'd like to have more confidence in our intelligence community. I really would. But I'm sure some intelligence chief, somewhere is justifying their inaction by saying "we just didn't imagine they would attack schools until after Breslan". Which is a horrific echo of what they said after 9/11: "who'd have thought"?

Well you know what? I'd have thought!!. I've got a terrific imagination. I could come up with 1000 different ways a dedicated "evildoer" might try to ruin someone's day. But then, I'm just naturally paranoid like that. As a child I would lie awake planning detailed escape routes from our old farmhouse in the event that a band of armed commandos might sneak up our long driveway and try to turn it into a secret base of operations. I even had plans to save my annoying brother and the dog.

I don't know if these recent, seemingly coincidental terror warnings about our schools is the much anticipated attempt by Karl Rove to scare us again before the election. You'd think he could de better. Because honestly, it's only serving to illustrate how little headway the intelligence agencies has made in reforming itself under Bush. They're still the same reactionary folks who made 9/11 possible. They're still waiting to do anything about potential threats until someone hands them "specific" information on a silver platter, or failing that, *after* some lunatic actually carries through with a similar threat somewhere in the world and proves it's possible. The fact that they happened to attack a school in Russia instead of here is pure luck.

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