By David Ignatius of the Washington Post.
The mixing of anti-terrorism policy with the 2004 presidential campaign is becoming destructive. It is creating a vicious cycle of hype, skepticism and mistrust that puts the country's security at risk.
The dangers of politicizing terrorism were clear in this month's announcement about potential attacks on financial centers in the New York area and in Washington. When Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge disclosed the threats on Aug. 1, he faced immediate skepticism about whether the intelligence was valid. Sadly, the Bush administration had helped create this climate of public suspicion by overusing its elaborate, color-coded system of terrorism warnings. After a terrorism advisory by Attorney General John Ashcroft last spring was pooh-poohed the same day by Ridge, some people wondered whether these warnings were being used for political effect. In the administration's eagerness to demonstrate the seriousness of the threat against financial centers, something terrible happened. An official in Washington or Pakistan, it's not clear which, leaked the name of the captured al Qaeda operative who was a main source of the information -- a 25-year-old Pakistani named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. His name was leaked to the New York Times on Aug. 1, the same day the terror warning was issued, in a seeming attempt to bolster the credibility of the intelligence report.
Whatever the reason for the leak, it was disastrous for intelligence operations.