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Maybe Howard Dean isn’t crazy, after all

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In case you were tempted to take the current terror warning at face value as a serious attempt to warn the public of a potential danger….

-Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday.

But of course they’ve been gathering this information all along, but they just now got the final pieces to put it all together now, right?

Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said on Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports, apparently collected by Qaeda operatives had been “gathered in 2000 and 2001.” But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January.

Ok, ok, but we’ve learned our lesson about exaggerating and stretching intelligence about terrorism, right?

They said officials in New Jersey had been mistaken in saying on Sunday that some suspects had been found with blueprints and may have recently practiced “test runs” aimed at the Prudential building in Newark. Joseph Billy Jr., the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Newark office, said a diagram of the Prudential building had been found in Pakistan. “It appears to be from the period around 9/11,” Mr. Billy said. “Now we’re trying to see whether it goes forward from there.”

Meanwhile, as Atrios (and the incomparable Jon Stewart last night) notes, Ridge explicitly politicized this alert, Dean pointed this out, and the media chastised Dean for it. At some point, you’d think they’d get tired of being played so mercilessly. But they really seem to thrive on it.

Update: Kevin Drum considers the possibility that this is serious, based on conflicting accounts in the Wapo and LA Times. Let me say that I don’t think we have to choose. It could be the case that the intel was good and the threat was real, and the timing and nature of the public announcement was politically motivated.

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