On the Value of Travel Alerts

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Growing concern about specific terrorist threats targeting Europe in the past few weeks, with the focus on Britain, France, and Germany, led the State Department yesterday to issue a “travel alert” related to Europe. Here is the key portion of the alert:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.
Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services.
U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.

On the one hand, the alert’s content and timing make sense. As I noted above, the discussion of a possible threat to Europe has been growing not only in the United States but also in France, Britain and Germany, with a flurry of increasingly specific news last week about a possible “Mumbai-style” attack in these countries, though reports differed on whether or not the plot was still “active” or whether or not it had even transitioned to an operational stage of planning.
Still, I have to question the value of alerts like the one excerpted above. While it is understandable that the government would want to offer some sort of official indication of the increased threat, a warning about travel to an entire continent, as well as words of caution about ubiquitous “public transportation” and heavily-trafficked tourist sites are so broad that they limit the power of any information contained in the warning itself.
Moreover, at a time when European governments are backtracking and reassuring their citizens that the threat information is not new, or not a cause for alarm, what message does this kind of alert send? Even if State Department officials assure Americans that they “are not, repeat not, advising Americans not to go to Europe,” and even if the “alert” does not rise to the level of a “warning” I fear this secondary information will get lost in the shuffle. Indeed, the headlines from this country and in others have been dominated not by subsequently reassuring messages from the administration or State, but by the initial news of a terrorism warning to Americans traveling in Europe.
It is possible that this kind of reaction is inevitable, and a cost of the government making public statements about dangerous situations. But such a statement must either be issued in a way so as not to provoke overreactions, or followed by information that will either calm fears or help travelers avoid specific threats. Overly-general warnings effecting hundreds of thousands of people that provide little actual information only serve to sow more fear without making people any safer.
— Andrew Lebovich

Comments

28 comments on “On the Value of Travel Alerts

  1. Gary Richey says:

    I personally believe that things will happen for different reasons. and those who made mistakes will naturally pay for it. sooner or later.
    well drilling Australia

    Reply

  2. Cee says:

    POA is correct.
    In a grim turn for the worse in the case of the missing Texas man on Falcon Lake, the severed head of the lead Mexican investigator was reportedly delivered to the country’s military today.
    The head of Rolando Armando Flores Villegas was delivered in a suitcase, according to Texas Rep. Aaron Pena, CNN reports. A spokesman for the attorney general of Tamaulipas state, in which part of Falcon Lake falls, said he had no “official information” corroborating the claim.

    Reply

  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Pessimist, its truly astounding watching you pedal furiously for solid footing.
    Come up with some substantiation for your claim that American border police “kill every nationality that crosses our southern border with blanket immunity”.
    Your stance on this issue was, is, and undoubtedly will be, one of political considerations rather than any sort of concern or quest for the truth. Your asinine contention that the two articles you linked to portray an “unraveling” of the “narrative” was disingenuous as well as intellectually pathetic.
    I have no doubt you are a slobbering critic of the stance Arizonians have taken towards illegal immigration, and a proponent of Obama’s efforts at indicting American citizens for attempting to do what their Federal government refuses to do, DESPITE BEING BOUND BY LAW TO DO SO.
    Any astute reader that has followed this thread cannot help but observe your hypocricy in nattering that horseshit about “opportunistic political narrative”, for that is EXACTLY what you have attempted to engage in here. And your concern for “evidence” is laughable, considering that when Mexican authorities imply dishonesty and culpability on the part of Tiffany, you cite it as evidence that her story is “unraveling”. And NO, Pessimist, you can’t slime the “buffoon” insinuation off on me. It is YOU that advanced the premise that perhaps Sheriff Gonzalez is simply a “buffoon”. Where is your “evidence” for THAT conjecture, Pessimist?
    Interesting that you have yet to post the “four links” that you claim substantiate your accusations leveled against the American border agents, despite the fact you have had ample bandwidth to have done so ten times over.
    Keep digging, Pessimist. You’re in way over your head, so you might as well make it deeper. Who knows, you might strike gold. But I’m more inclined to believe you’re gonna hit granite, which is gonna require a far heftier tool than the sandshovel that put you in that hole in the first place.

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  4. Ayse Veli says:

    The alerts across Europe happen every once in a while which now feel part of the norm, but it can trigger a sense of nervousness, concern and of sometimes being judgmental of others.
    That said, I think our politicians need to lead by example, so whilst advising people to ‘keep calm and carry on’ they too should be seen out and about public areas, as I’m sure it would give people a sense of togetherness and normality.

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  5. The Pessimist says:

    POA,
    Not really the intent of this comment section to go mano-a-mano with other commenter

    Reply

  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Heres more “opportunistic political narrative”. 48 Americans murdered in the first six months. Can you imagine the furor if these murders had occurred in a Muslim nation? We would undoubtedly be at war with that nation.
    But we must keep in mind, if Americans are killed in Mexico, or Israel, it ain’t no big deal. Make an issue of it, and you are obviously a racist, or an anti-semite.
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/mexico/mexico_gets_even_deadlier_104618514.html
    Mexico gets even deadlier
    By Lise Olsen – Express-News
    HOUSTON

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  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Unbelievable.
    Yep. Sure, Pessimist, its just a politically motivated “narrative”. He’s not really dead, and if he is, the vicious wife killed him. The sheriff is just a prejudiced buffoon, and there is no history of past incidents on Falcon Lake. Its all just a sinister plot against those poor maligned Mexicans.
    “Unraveling”, my ass.

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  8. The Pessimist says:

    ‘He said,’ ‘she said.’ Where’s the evidence POA? No body wearing a flotation device; no jet ski; no oil or gas slick, nothing. At least not yet. Give it more time before awarding any value to the

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  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    And how dare that nasty ‘ol Gov. Perry rightwinger stick up for an american citizen who just had her husband brutally murdered.
    Pessimist, you owe all Americans an apology, and especially Mrs. Hartley. You have placed partisan animosity above sound judgement, and offered a pathetically disingenous argument as a rationale for your partisan blindness.
    Your statement that the story is “unraveling” is a despicably twisted interpretation of the two articles you linked to, and you should be ashamed of trying to buttress the Mexican authority’s insinuation that this American citizen, Tiffany Hartley, was somehow culpable for her husband’s disappearance. It seems that YOU, not Perry, are engaging in “opportunistic political narrative”. It is no suprise, as this story unfolds, and Hartley’s credibility becomes more pronounced, that you have become mute, too small to offer rebuttal or apology.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08pirate.html?src=mv

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  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr, in Texas, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that Tiffany is saying the truth.” He also said there was a witness who saw Mrs Hartley being chased by men in a boat”
    No doubt Senor Gonzalez is just formulating an “opportunistic political narrative” because he is prejudiced against those nasty Hispanics.

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  11. Dan Kervick says:

    I’m not skeptical. I think the guy was killed by pirates.
    My wife, who is a native Spanish speaker, watches several of the Spanish news channels and told me she has seen reports about this problem before.

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  12. questions says:

    The commenters on TPM are nearly universally skeptical.
    Who knows.

    Reply

  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    ROFLMAO!!!!
    So, Pessimist, one article you link to, (KABC), says that “But police in Mexico said they have no evidence the attack took place”
    We all know how concerned the Mexican police are about crimes on the border with the US. Perhaps you might cite some AMERICAN law enforcement that have doubts about this story, eh?
    The other article you link to says “Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr, in Texas, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that Tiffany is saying the truth.” He also said there was a witness who saw Mrs Hartley being chased by men in a boat”
    So, don’t you think it is a bit disingenuous of you to say the story is “unraveling” because you link to two articles that cite denials from the Mexican police??? I personally think its actually a bit despicable, as well as disingenuous. Are you going to join the MEXICAN police in insinuating that this woman killed her husband?
    “As far as proof of Border Patrol agents shooting immigrants…….I had four links for you but my reply never posted”
    Somehow I doubt it. Strongly. But have at it, if you can find links that substantiate your claim that “Yet American Border Patrol agents can kill every nationality that crosses our southern border with blanket immunity. It happens regularly”
    You know its bullshit, and I know its bullshit. Saying “I had four links for you but my reply never posted” just doesn’t cut it. Lets see just TWO links substantiating your claim. Two links WILL post, as “questions” points out in an uncharacteristically lucid and unobsfucated posting. He’s actually quite coherent when he practices brevity.
    http://www.examiner.com/public-safety-in-national/investigation-of-mexican-pirates-killing-of-american-tourist-intensifies
    “The Texas Department of Public Safety announced during a press conference that Hartley was believed to have been killed but his body had not been found. The gunmen are suspected Mexican pirates who prowl Falcon Lake, a favorite spot for water-skiing and bass fishing. There have been five previously reported pirate attacks on that lake this year”
    “The shooting has led Texas officials to warn American boaters to use caution on the 60-mile lake, in addition to issuing its initial warning following three pirate attacks”
    End quote.
    So, Pessimist, who ya gonna believe, the Mexican police, or the “Texas Department of Public Safety”???
    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/1007/Why-Mexican-pirates-are-targeting-US-tourists-on-Falcon-Lake
    “According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, gunmen armed with AK-47s and AR-15 rifles have attacked US tourists on Lake Falcon in a string of robberies in recent months. Using Argos-type fishing boats, some attackers are dressed as Mexican police, while others have used crude duct-taped signs to disguise their boats as Texas Parks and Wildlife vessels, according to victims’ reports”
    “Since April 30, five incidents of armed robberies or attempted theft have been reported on Falcon Lake: one in April, two in May, and one in August. The fifth ambush allegedly ended in gunfire last week with the possible death of Mr. Hartley”
    more…….
    “So dangerous is Lake Falcon, in fact, that Mexican law enforcement refuses to patrol it at night”
    more…..
    “Their search is hampered in part by the danger of the lake, says Juan Antonio Jara, a Tamaulipas state prosecutor in the Miguel Aleman municipality office”
    “Once it starts getting dark, he says, police and investigators must return to shore because “it’s a high risk area due to [lack of] security.”
    End quote.
    So its all just “opportunistic political narrative”, eh, Pessimist? These attacks aren’t really occurring, and we should accept the Mexican denials over the word of our own enforcement agencies, who have apparently INVENTED these NUMEROUS attacks to pursue a political agenda?
    You should be embarrassed by your performance in this debate. As well as ashamed of the disingenuous and “opportunistic political” argument you offered to buttress your stance.

    Reply

  14. questions says:

    Pessimist,
    For whatever reason, you can only put 2 links in per post. If you have more links, do separate posts. Some kind of spam protection?

    Reply

  15. The Pessimist says:

    Uh oh, the

    Reply

  16. Cee says:

    I asked someone in 2002 or so why the US was training people in Yemen. I was told it was classified. Humph.
    Yemen is perhaps an excellent example of America being on the

    Reply

  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2010/10/2010105104959212813.html
    Dissent in the age of Obama
    Peace activists had high hopes of an Obama presidency only to face the harsh realities of FBI raids and intimidation.
    Cindy Sheehan Last Modified: 06 Oct 2010 13:50
    Cindy Sheehan has been working tirelessly to end US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, motivated by social injustice, the crimes of war and most of all the passing of her son, who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004 [Getty]

    Reply

  18. PissedOffAmerican says:

    British intelligence denies US terror warnings sparked by new info
    US warning of commando terror attacks in Europe irritates European officials, who say no evidence plot is imminent
    Richard Norton-Taylor guardian.co.uk,
    Fresh warnings of possible terror attacks in Europe issued by the US were not sparked any new intelligence, counter-terrorism, security and intelligence officials said.
    There seems no doubt there has been “chatter”, or intercepted communications, between suspected jihadists and al-Qaida sympathisers plotting in the tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.
    The suggestion, first reported in the US press, was that they were planning a series of “commando-style” attacks, something European security agencies have feared since the co-ordinated killings in Mumbai two years ago in which 174 people died.
    Attacks by gunmen, which could continue for some time, could provoke more terror than split-second suicide bomb attacks, officials say.
    These reports coincided with a number of heavy, controversial attacks by US drones and helicopters on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.
    The US’s warning to Americans to be vigilant in Europe added fresh impetus to the scares. The Foreign Office upgraded its threat warning to Britons going to France and Germany, although the terror threat level in Britain remained the same.
    European officials again made it clear yesterday they were “irritated” with the US for leaking stories before they could gather more intelligence. There was no evidence that a plot was imminent, and intelligence was described by a well-placed Whitehall official as “ill-defined”.
    One of those providing information is an Algerian informant

    Reply

  19. PissedOffAmerican says:

    The German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere……
    “There are currently no indications of any immediate threat of attacks planned against Germany,”
    “There is no reason whatsoever to be alarmist at the moment.”

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Why not just say it, Carroll? These pieces of shit in DC have lied to us so often, and so prolifically, that its impossible to trust in ANYTHING they say, particularly as it applies to this ridiculous and costly con-job known as “The Global War on Terrorism”.
    “We are fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” (But we welcome them to help themselves to our open southern border crossings and mule routes).
    “I understand the plight of the Palestinians”. (But don’t expect me to stand up to the fascist Netanyahu, recognize the Goldstone Report, or cut off funding to these bloodsuckers that target peaceful AMERICAN protesters for assassination).
    “We are winning the hearts and minds of the Muslims”. (When we aren’t shoving light sticks in their assholes, piling them in naked heaps while some fucking federally trained pervert like Lyndie England takes pictures, or ignoring it when Israel dumps white phosphorous on Muslim women and children).
    “We decry the Iranian treatment of Iranian protesters” (But don’t mind at all when these fuckin’ jackbooted racists in Israel shoot American citizens in the head)
    “Yeah, those nasty Blackwater thugs commit murder with impunity” ( So we’ve decided to shoot another few billion taxpayer’s dollars into their coffers)
    We ARE a nation of idiots and sheep.
    BOO!!!! The Al Qaedie boogie mans a gonna getcha!!!

    Reply

  21. Carroll says:

    Paul Woodward is rational on this also
    http://warincontext.org/
    One thing mentioned…
    “As to who prompted this response to the latest al Qaeda threat:
    A White House spokesman, Nicholas S. Shapiro, said that while the State Department had decided to issue the alert, it came in response to Mr. Obama

    Reply

  22. Carroll says:

    I just have a hard time accepting terrorism is quite as large a threat some would have us think.
    Where are the hordes of mad AlQ Islamic suicide bombers and radical Muslims? The Irish were better terriers and bombers in London than this supposed gang of terriers.
    Think about it. If you were a radical terrier in the US or London or Paris or living in a country with foreign western embassies and western residents from the evil west even how would you create terror? How could you hurt the country and the people the most? You would bomb Walmarts and McDonalds, not some monument. You would poison water supplies. Dump bombs in mailboxes on WS to be detonated. Blow up grocery stores, churches, schools. Bomb apartment buildings in Miami or Richmond. You could blow up all of Key West with half a dozen bombs. All easy targets and easy to get away with.
    Anyone could read the society and gossip columns in the NYT or WP and find out what media stars and politicians and etc. go to what move theaters and restaurants. Who is going to what private home in Georgetown or NY or LA for a political fete on what night.
    You could be on a corner in Georgetown any given night and blow up a whole house with a small shoulder fired missile, disappear into the crowds on M Street, toss it into the water crossing Chain bridge and and be long gone. Or if you’re really dedicated to ‘destroying the West”, not even care if you are caught. 7 virgins and all that stuff. I mean they are all crazy aren’t they?
    There are just too many easy ways to kill people and create chaos. Blowing up the WTC was attention getting theater, killing people in the millions of unprotected places that make up the ‘normal’ of where we go every day and thruout the heartland is real terror.
    So what’s with all these terriers? Do they not know how to create real terror or what? I don’t get it.

    Reply

  23. Carroll says:

    Very odd.
    Yesterday’s news said France, for one, ‘denied’ there is any new intelligence to support this alert.
    Now surely the US would have shared any threat intelligence with the countries for whom they issued the alert..no?
    Hummm…some will argue that no details were given on the threat because we didn’t want to alert the terriers or alternatively because maybe alerting the terriers would make them abandon their efforts.
    It could also be the State Dept has decided to just issue alerts from time to time without actual intelligence information for the previously stated theory that it would make any unknown terrier plans in the works think they were being watched and give it up.
    Or maybe this is way to keep tourist dollars in the US.
    Or maybe a way to get even more money for US intelligence operations.
    It could be anything.
    Who knows? Only the people that issued the alert.
    And for better or worse a lot of people don’t trust the “alerters” anyway.

    Reply

  24. DonS says:

    “Round up the usual suspects”, or as Wigwag alerts us, target the usual targets. Among others of course.
    The point that “by making the security warnings public, putative Islamic terrorists are forewarned that the authorities are on to their plots and thus the actual attacks may be deterred.” is about as lame-brained a deflection from the valid criticism of alerts as I can imagine. It’s akin to “putative terrorists” not being aware that any electronic technology is likely to be bugged. Oh, and say if this is really a valid means of discouraging terrorists why,one asks oneself, did not the Buswh administration publish what has turned out to be actual knowledge of the very real 911 plot in process?

    Reply

  25. WigWag says:

    According to the AP citing “intelligence sources” the list of potential targets includes:the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the luxury Hotel Adlon near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, as well as Berlin’s Central Station and its landmark Alexanderplatz TV tower.
    They also report that members of the British Royal Family may be on the target list and that security has been beefed up around them. ABC News is reporting that “pre-security” areas of 5 European airports may also be targeted. See,
    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/airport-lobbies-terror-targets-european-plot-official/story?id=11790782
    Another reason to issue the security warnings that Andrew Lebovich fails to mention is that by making the security warnings public, putative Islamic terrorists are forewarned that the authorities are on to their plots and thus the actual attacks may be deterred.

    Reply

  26. Andrew Lebovich says:

    POA-
    You make a very good point, and in fact there has now been some serious questioning about not only where the plot was in terms of planning/execution (which I noted, albeit briefly)and in general about how reliable information coming from suspect interrogations actually is.
    In fact, I fear that these “general alerts” help feed into the growing chorus of fear-mongering that distorts our threat perceptions. So your point on most of this is well-taken.
    Andrew Lebovich

    Reply

  27. PissedOffAmerican says:

    You are to be commended, Andrew. It is highly patriotic of you to chip in and offer, free gratis, your own contribution to our government’s fear mongering. Of course, we should just take their word, and yours, that such an imminent threat exists. We all know they wouldn’t dream of creating fear to justify policy.
    But take heart, Andrew, sooner or later the odds will be on your side, and an actual event will coincide with one of these “Remember, the Muslims are the bad guys” marketing campaigns. Then you can say, “Ah so, see, we told you so”.
    Of course, the timing of this red alert has nothing to do with deflecting attention away from Israel’s latest efforts to spit in Obama’s face, steal more Palestinian land, and escape notice for executing an unarmed American citizen on the high seas. Interesting that TWN doesn’t seem to be interested in commenting about such events. You guys wooing MSNBC again?
    (BTW, just a little curious. If in fact these “threats” are so noteworthy, and the radical Muslim hordes are truly intent on doing grave damage, uh, wouldn’t it make sense to make it a bit harder to simply stroll acrost our southern borders with a vial of ebola or a cadre of drooling Muslim fiends with nefarious and sinister intent? Just wondering, is all.)

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  28. paul_lukasiak says:

    I think that there is some value in these kinds of warnings, insofar as they allow people to prepare to deal with the _aftermath_ of a potential attack, i.e. checking alternate routes/options for transportation if there is an attack.
    But mostly I suspect that this kind of “warning” is mostly CYA in nature in case there is an attack….

    Reply

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