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Why all the terror warnings recently?

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Lately the country's been hit with a barrage of terror warnings and fatalistic pronouncements from top government leaders. The FBI warned that the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty might be targets -- the former for its symbolic and economic value, the latter because she's too scantily dressed for fundamentalist tastes. Apartment-dwellers were told their lives and security deposits might be jeopardized by bomb-detonating fellow tenants. Shopping mall security guards have been advised to focus less on skateboarding teens and more on explosives. Even banks have been notified to be on alert. But they'll probably be fine; their hours are too inconvenient -- even for terrorists.

Meanwhile, back at headquarters, President Dick Cheney ... sorry, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that another terrorist strike is "almost certain," while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that terrorists will inevitably attack us with weapons of mass destruction. To top it all off, there's "Celebrity Boxing II" on Fox. If that's not a sign of the apocalypse, then what is?

According to government sources, much of the information about these threats came from interviews with Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda's top recruiter and so-called "No. 3" man. He was captured in Pakistan in March by U.S forces -- which is amazing considering we don't have any troops in Pakistan (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

There's reason to suspect that anything he tells us is a lie, but apparently some of his confessions jibe with info gathered from intercepted al-Qaeda communications. Perhaps Zubaydah is ratting out his former al-Qaeda pals because he resented being stuck at No. 3. Word has it bin Laden's a micromanaging boss who doesn't even provide dental insurance or 401(k) options. Or perhaps Zubaydah wants to stop more terrorist attacks to spare himself from having to hear the inevitable post-attack tribute songs. If the ubiquity of Enrique Iglesias' wretched "Hero" won't stop al-Qaeda, nothing will.

But should we really be more scared now than we were just a couple of weeks ago?

Despite releasing enough warnings last week to give every American their very own personal Code Brown, the White House's Office of Homeland Security's color-coded threat level guide (www.whitehouse.gov/homeland) didn't budge from yellow, where it's been for a while. Yellow means "significant risk of terrorist attacks." (Coincidentally, it's also the color of fear and cowardice.)

One explanation for issuing all the grim reminders is that the Bush camp was attempting to deflect attention from the brouhaha surrounding all the pre-9-11 warning signs that the White House and law enforcement missed. Contrary to all their righteous talk, the Bush White House has been leveraging the war for political gain since mid-September. That's not a sin in and of itself, nor should it be a surprise. It's what politicians do. Show me a politician who doesn't "play politics" with important issues and I'll show you a dead politician. (Actually, that's not entirely true. Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri was dead in 2000 when he managed to play politics and defeat then-Sen. John Ashcroft's bid for re-election).

So what's up, President Bush? If the threat level is the same, as the Homeland Security website states, then why did at least four of the top officials in your administration make a point of drumming up fears last week? And if we genuinely know of new threats thanks to interrogations and intelligence, then how come the Homeland Security office's adorable color-coded threat meter didn't change to orange or red?

Of course, we'll all be happy if every alarm from the government turns out to be false and no one attacks us. But as it is now, the only people benefiting from the current haphazard security and terror warning system are those in the underpants industry.

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