Shorter Krugman: John Ashcroft is the worst Attorney General in history because, after a major arrest of possible domestic terrorists, Ashcroft did not hold a press conference to promote it. No, seriously.
Paul Krugman is worried that John Ashcroft is neglecting domestic militias while focussing on, and publicizing, foreign terrorist groups. Since this is roughly the second anniversary of Nick Kristof's column with an identical theme, we applaud the consistency of the Times columnists.
Briefly, the Justice Dept. arrested, indicted, and eventually convicted William Krar and others for possession of an impressive arms cache including the chemicals to make a cyanide bomb. However, John Ashcroft's Justice Department has not been keen to promote this seeming success against domestic terror, as Prof. Krugman tells us:
Strangely, though, the attorney general didn't call a press conference to announce the discovery of the weapons cache, or the arrest of William Krar, its owner. He didn't even issue a press release. This was, to say the least, out of character. Jose Padilla, the accused "dirty bomber," didn't have any bomb-making material or even a plausible way to acquire such material, yet Mr. Ashcroft put him on front pages around the world.
Now, Prof. Krugman lives in a world with a totally passive press corps and no political party operating in opposition to the Republicans. In that world, if a tree falls in the forest but John Ashcroft does not hold a press conference to announce it, it does not make a sound. Fortunately, Paul Krugman, Truth-Seeker and Recycler, is on the case:
At this point, I have the usual problem. Writing about John Ashcroft poses the same difficulties as writing about the Bush administration in general, only more so: the truth about his malfeasance is so extreme that it's hard to avoid sounding shrill.
And just what is the nature of the extreme malfeasance?
In this case, it sounds over the top to accuse Mr. Ashcroft of trying to bury news about terrorists who don't fit his preferred story line. Yet it's hard to believe that William Krar wouldn't have become a household name if he had been a Muslim, or even a leftist. Was Mr. Ashcroft, who once gave an interview with Southern Partisan magazine in which he praised "Southern patriots" like Jefferson Davis, reluctant to publicize the case of a terrorist who happened to be a white supremacist?
Let's regroup briefly - according to CNN, this was "one of the most extensive domestic-terrorism investigations since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Here we are told that the investigation made the Presidential Daily Brief. So it doesn't appear that the extreme malfeasance was in the investigation; evidently, the extreme malfeasance was a failure to promote this particular arrest.
Which prompts another question - if this story is so important, why did the NY Times not cover it? A search of their website for "Krar" turns up one previous story. Has Krugman declared the death of investigative journalism? Does this mean that the "All Abu Grahib, all the time" era never happened?
And similarly, shouldn't some earnest Democrat be screaming about this case, if publicizing it is so important? Perhaps we should be hearing calls for a Congressional investigation into the timing and content of John Ashcroft's press conferences.
A bit of a clue to this media silence can be found in the Times' coverage of the case Nick Kristof cited two years ago. The Times didn't splash a lot of ink on David Burgert, either. However, their big story opens thusly:
A Far-Right Militia's Far-Fetched Plot Draws Some Serious Attention
By BLAINE HARDEN
KALISPELL, Mont., March 2, As its secrets began to spill out here this week, Project 7 sounded suspiciously like a Monty Python sketch.
A Monty Python sketch - we're having fun now! If the Times is taking the militias just this seriously in June of 2002, how seriously should their readers be taking them now? (Sorry about the vague pronoun - feel free to take either the militias or the Times lightly).
Now, as to the question of why Ashcroft did not promote this arrest - despite Krugman's self-promoting posturing (he's Bold but Shrill!) I find it extremely plausible that this arrest did not fit Ashcroft's story line any better than it fit the NY Times story line. So what?
Or, it is possible that this silence is based on an FBI strategy, which I will label "Even paranoids have real enemies, but why goad them by publicizing it?" My casual impression is that the black helicopter/FEMA takeover-backed-by-NATO-troops crowd is motivated by a sense of persecution by the government. Maybe the FBI has concluded that the net effect of publicizing their efforts against these groups is inflammatory and counterproductive. A similar effect would not obtain with the juihadists, who have other reasons for acting. Just a thought (although I am quite pleased with it).
The question of whether the Justice Department is devoting sufficient resources to domestic groups seems to be separate, quite legitimate, and hard to answer. Despite Oklahoma City, I am inclined to suspect that after Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Atlanta Olympic bombing debacle, domestic terror is not seen as the golden route to promotion at the FBI. That said, we haven't had another Oklahoma City, so how are we doing? Perhaps the issue of potential domestic terror is the media/poltical blind spot of 2004, as foreign terror was in Campaign 2000.
"Excuse me, a chemical weapon was found in the home state of George Bush," says Levitas. "I'm not saying the Justice Department deliberately decided to downplay the story because they thought it might be embarrassing to the US government if weapons of mass destruction were found in America before they were found in Iraq. But I am saying it was a mistake not to give this higher profile."
MORE: The Earnest Prof also criticizes Ashcroft's focus on other grounds:
The concerns of the Justice Department, however, appear to lie elsewhere. Two weeks ago a representative of the F.B.I. appealed to an industry group for help in combating what, he told the audience, the F.B.I. regards as the country's leading domestic terrorist threat: ecological and animal rights extremists.
Here is some relevant testimony on that score. now, I have to admit that Oklahoma City scared me more than the Unabomber, but here we have the FBI terror report from 1999, back when the oh-so-competent Janet Reno was in charge:
Despite the fears of international plots in the United States, 1999 was, in fact, characterized by a sharp increase in domestic terrorism, driven by a troubling upswing in activity carried out by animal rights and environmental extremists. These special interest or single issue terrorists committed eight of the ten terrorist incidents recorded in the United States during the calendar year (the remaining two incidents
were carried out by rogue right-wing extremists). (p. 7 of 68 in the .pdf file)
They go on to note that the ALF/ELF attacks resulted exclusively in property damage; the two right wing extremists killed and wounded people. More on ALF/ELF here.
STILL MORE: The Terrorism sectionDOJ Strategic Plan for 2003-2008 has a strong international focus. From p. 12:
FY 2008 OUTCOME GOAL
There will be NO terrorist acts committed by foreign nationals against U.S. interests within U.S. borders.
Troubling. Unless the Dept. of Homeland Security has moved that function elsewhere (which is not what John E. Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, said on May 18, 2004).