The New York Times, in a story linked yesterday on Crime & Justice News, told of an FBI plan to interview extremists across the U.S. in an effort to head off terrorism at this summer’s political conventions. The Los Angeles Times has a different take: That the FBI announced the initiative a month ago and still is weeks away from starting it. An FBI official told the L.A. Times that the delay shows that officials are being meticulous in deciding whom they want to interview. A similar effort that focused on Muslim neighborhoods before the war in Iraq drew complaints of racial profiling.
The Times says the delay is bolstering a perception that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s late-May warning – which included poster-size photos of suspects, most of whom had been previously identified – was a public relations exercise that sent mixed signals to citizens, including Arab Americans. Ashcroft “has attempted to use scare tactics to promote his agenda, and I think it has been a real failure,” said James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. “He has done this before. Each time he has done it, people keep asking afterward, ‘What was this all about?’ ” Michael Greenberger, a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration now heading the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland said, “The entire thrust of the counterterrorism effort in terms of law enforcement and intelligence-gathering has been a series of glamorous press announcements or political speeches. It is a miasma of confusion.” A Justice Department spokesman, Mark Corallo, defended the alert, saying the attorney general believed the threat of a terrorist attack in the U.S. this summer was “as serious as we have ever seen.”