On Wednesday night, viewers of MSNBC's Countdown got to see host Keith Olbermann elaborate on his latest conspiracy theory during a segment entitled "The Nexus of Politics and Terror," in which Olbermann outlined 10 of what he referred to in the segment's introduction as "13 similar coincidences -- a political downturn for the administration, followed by a terror event, a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning." After plugging this special segment on his show for the last couple of nights, the Countdown host devoted 24 minutes of his hour-long show to the topic, beginning about 8:28 p.m. EDT. Olbermann went through a timeline of terror-related events which he believed suspiciously coincided with political problems for the Bush administration, and then followed up with a brief commentary before proceeding to an interview with former Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson for a rebuttal.
Even though Olbermann thought this topic credible enough to devote such a lengthy segment to it, he briefly undercut the rationale for this exercise during his commentary by speculating that "We could probably construct a similar timeline of terror events and warnings and their seeming relationship to the opening of new Wal-Marts around the country." He ended his commentary by contending that "if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country, questions about what is prudence and what is fear-mongering, questions about which is the threat of death by terror and which is the terror of threat."
After a commercial break, the Countdown host then proceeded to an interview with Hutchinson. Regarding Olbermann's theory that last week's terror warning in New York City might have been orchestrated for political purposes, Hutchinson pointed out Olbermann's flawed logic by arguing that "if you accept that theory, you're arguing that because Karl Rove had a bad press day, the mayor of New York goes on TV and expresses a terrorist threat concern. And that to me does not measure up to logical analysis." Oddly, Olbermann has still never elaborated on what logic he believes could be behind this theory, even though MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann similarly argued against it on the show last Thursday night, and even though Olbermann himself has repeatedly stated that it was New York City authorities who called the terror alert while the White House actually tried to discredit its necessity. Below is a complete transcript of Olbermann's "Nexus of Politics and Terror" segment, followed by his interview with Hutchinson from Wednesday night:
Keith Olbermann: "Last Thursday on this news hour, I referred to the latest terror threat, the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system, in terms of its timing. President Bush's speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation. I suggested that preliminary research suggested that in the last three years, there had been about 13 similar coincidences -- a political downturn for the administration, followed by a terror event, a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning. Our third story in the Countdown tonight, 'The Nexus of Politics and Terror.' We figured we had better put that list of coincidences on the public record. You will find 10 of them in this report here. The other three will be in the blog entry that will be going up tonight. This contraction is purely for the sake of time. It permits us to get the reaction of the former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison, after this commentary. We bring you these coincidences reminding you and ourselves here that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called a 'logical fallacy.' Just because event A occurs and then event B occurs, that does not automatically mean that event A caused event B. But one set of introductory comments from an informed observer seems particularly relevant as we examine these coincidences. On May 10 of this year, after his resignation, former Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge put back on the terror alert level changes that were issued on his watch. Mr. Ridge said, 'More often than not, we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on [alert]... there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, "For that?"'"
Olbermann: "'The Nexus of Politics and Terror.' Please judge for yourself."
Olbermann: "Number one. May 18, 2002. The first details of the President's daily briefing of August 6, 2001, are revealed, including its title: 'Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.' The same day another memo is discovered revealing the FBI knew of men with links to al-Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school. The memo was never acted upon. Questions about 9/11 intelligence failures are swirling. May 20, 2002."
Tom Brokaw, NBC Nightly News Anchor: "The terror warnings from the highest levels of the federal government tonight are just-"
Olbermann: "Two days later, FBI director Mueller declares that another terrorist attack is 'inevitable.'"
Brokaw: "Tonight, there are even more warnings of possible terrorist attacks in America-"
Olbermann: "The next day, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide, and against New York City landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Number two. Thursday, June 6, 2002."
Coleen Rowley, FBI Agent: "I never really anticipated this kind of impact."
Olbermann: "Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley's testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers. Monday, June 10, 2002. Four days later:"
John Ashcroft, Former Attorney General: "We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot-"
Olbermann: "Speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. In fact, Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than one month. Number three. February 5, 2003. Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq's concealment of weapons, including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike. Many in the U.N. are doubtful. Months later, much of the information proves untrue. February 7, 2003. Two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe:"
Tom Ridge, Former Homeland Security Secretary: "Take some time to prepare for emergency."
Olbermann: "Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites credible threats by al-Qaeda and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison, who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. Number four. July 23, 2003. The White House admits that the CIA, months before the President's State of the Union Address, expressed strong doubts about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. On the 24th, the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued. It criticizes government at all levels. It reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future hijackers. It concludes that Iraq had no link to al-Qaeda. Twenty-eight pages of the report are redacted. On the 26th, American troops are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners. July 29, 2003. Three days later, amid all of the negative headlines:"
Brokaw: "Word of a possible new al-Qaeda attack."
Olbermann: "Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks. Number five. December 17, 2003. 9/11 Commission co-chair Thomas Keane says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a federal appeals court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges. And the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no weapons of mass destruction there, announces he will resign his post. December 21, 2003. Four days later, the Sunday before Christmas:"
Ridge: "Today the United States government raised the national threat level."
Olbermann: "Homeland Security again raises the threat level to orange, claiming credible intelligence of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are canceled after some passenger names purportedly produced matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identified those matched names. One belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year-old boy. Number six. March 30, 2004. The new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, tells Congress, 'We have still not found any WMD in that country.' And after weeks of having refused to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice relents and agrees to testify. On the 31st, four Blackwater USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered. Their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is now widely questioned. April 2, 2004:"
Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News Anchor: "The FBI has issued a new warning tonight."
Olbermann: "Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains using fertilizer and fuel bombs like the one detonated in Oklahoma City, bombs stuffed into satchels or duffle bags. Number seven. May 16, 2004. Secretary of State Powell appears on Meet the Press. Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking him about the enormous personal credibility Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein. An aide to Powell interrupts the question, saying the interview is over."
Tim Russert: "I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate."
Powell: "Get, Emily, get out of the way."
Olbermann: "Powell finishes his answer, admitting much of the information he had been given about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was-"
Powell: "-inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading."
Olbermann: "On the 21st, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison are released. On the 24th, Associated Press video from Iraq confirms U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party. killing more than 40. Wednesday, May 26, 2004. Two days later."
Ashcroft: "Good afternoon."
Olbermann: "Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI director Mueller warned that intelligence from multiple sources-"
Ashcroft: "-indicates al-Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard."
Olbermann: "-and that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on the United States were complete. The color-coded warning system is not raised. The Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge, does not attend the announcement. Number eight. July 6, 2004. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selects Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate, producing a small bump in the election opinion polls and producing a huge swing in media attention towards the Democratic campaign. July 8, 2004. Two days later."
Ridge: "Credible reporting now indicates that al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States."
Olbermann: "Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about al-Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn. Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming presidential election in the event it is interrupted by terrorist acts. Number nine. July 29, 2004. At their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for President. As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats now dominate the media attention over the subsequent weekend. August 1, 2004, Monday morning. Three days later."
Ridge: "It is as reliable a source, group of sources that we've ever seen before."
Olbermann: "The Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning, reconnaissance data left in a home in Iraq, later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out of date. Number 10. Last Thursday, at 10 a.m. Eastern time, the President addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror, and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11. At 3 p.m. Eastern time, five hours after the President's speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak grand jury and that special prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted."
Chris Matthews: "We're awaiting a news conference at the bottom of the hour. New York City Police-"
Olbermann: "At 5:17 p.m. Eastern time, seven hours after the President's speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city's subway system based on information supplied by the federal government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is of doubtful credibility. And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. Local New York television station WNBC reports it had the story of the threats days in advance of the announcement but was asked by high-ranking federal officials in New York and Washington to hold off on its story. Less than four days after having revealed the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York says, 'Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future we'll slowly be winding down the enhanced security.' While news organizations ranging from the New York Post to NBC News quotes sources who say there was reason to believe the informant who triggered the warning simply made it up, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official tells the New York Times, quote, 'there was no there there.'"
Olbermann: "Coincidences are coincidences. We could probably construct a similar timeline of terror events and warnings and their seeming relationship to the opening of new Wal-Marts around the country. Are these coincidences signs that the government's approach has worked because none of the announced threats have ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public? Is there, in addition to the fog of war, a simple, rather benign fog of intelligence? But if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country, questions about what is prudence and what is fear-mongering, questions about which is the threat of death by terror and which is the terror of threat. Back with the former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison, after this."
Olbermann: "And our number two story in the Countdown, the reaction to my commentary, 'The Nexus of Politics and Terror.' My guest was the Undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security from January of 2003 until January of this year. He is now a candidate for governor of Arkansas. Asa Hutchison joins us tonight from Washington. Our great thanks for your time tonight, sir."
Asa Hutchinson: "Good to be with you, Keith."
Olbermann: "Let me again read your old boss's quote from I guess what we could call his exit interview with the media last May about raising the terror alert threat level. 'More often than not, we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on [alert]... there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, "For that?"' Do former Secretary Ridge's comments there justify at least people asking this question, asking if politics is ever mixed improperly with terror warnings?"
Hutchinson: "Oh, I suppose that it's an appropriate question, particularly in today's environment. But I watched your piece, which was certainly interesting, but I don't think it measures up to a close analysis. If you accept that theory, you're arguing that because Karl Rove had a bad press day, the mayor of New York goes on TV and expresses a terrorist threat concern. And that to me does not measure up to logical analysis. Whenever you look back from my experience, and I was there probably for five of those instances, every time it was the intelligence community bringing forth facts that we looked at and made a determination on. And I don't remember politics ever being considered or discussed. It was, the only thing you have is credibility, and if you factor in politics, you lose your credibility very quickly."
Olbermann: "Then perhaps you could tell me who Mr. Ridge was referring to when he said that 'there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising the terror threat level and we said, "For [that]?"' Who are the 'some people' and who are the 'we'?"
Hutchinson: "Well, Secretary Ridge would have to speak for himself, but from my experience, you had someone who's got a history in law enforcement just looking at it from the standpoint, 'My goodness, we got intelligence here, we've got to raise the threat level.' But the Homeland Security has to consider, first of all, 'How does the public react to this? Does it measure up to the standards of credibility? Is it something that we can act upon with an appropriate response?' And, quite frankly, sometimes we realized the public couldn't do anything or law enforcement couldn't do anything. There was a push back saying, 'I don't know that we need to create the fear in the American public.' And, in fact, as you can see, as we got more experienced, the number of times we increased the threat level decreased in '04 as compared to '03. I believe it was four times or three times in '03. We reduced that by half in '04. And I think that's just experience getting better at it."
Olbermann: "I have a question about one particular event that we covered in the piece, which really troubled me from the moment it happened. And I can still recall sitting in my office watching the feed of the news conference live. At the end of May last year, the FBI director and the former Attorney General got up and said that there was new intelligence from multiple sources that al-Qaeda specifically intended to hit, in Mr. Ashcroft's memorable phrase, 'this country hard,' and that someone in al-Qaeda was claiming 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack were complete. You were not at that news conference. Secretary Ridge was not at that news conference. The terror threat alert code from Homeland Security was not raised. Why was the Department of Homeland Security not involved in the announcement of what sounded like a dire imminent threat to homeland security?"
Hutchinson: "I don't know whether the Attorney General was responding to a question in a news conference, but that's the reason that Homeland Security is the agency that the President has designated to communicate changes in the threat level. And Secretary Ridge addressed that subsequently. I think it goes to show that there's different voices, and, as we have created the Department, we tried to bring that together so there's one focal point of communication as to the threats that we face and how the public is supposed to respond to it, and that's Homeland Security."
Olbermann: "As I tried to emphasize in the commentary, hindsight plus the logical fallacy can be a dangerous combination. But can you look at the list of the 10 juxtapositions, especially the two that pertain to around the time of the Democratic Convention last year? And obviously, there are lists that are longer that have been compiled elsewhere that are based on different criteria and are of different merit. But can you look at that list of 10 juxtapositions and say that, in your heart, you're comfortable that not once were political considerations a factor in any of the counterterrorism statements or actions of the government?"
Hutchinson: "I can certainly say that it was never a consideration in raising the threat level because that's what I was personally involved in. As to whether someone else spoke in terms of trying to get a different reaction, you know, it's a large federal government. But I know in every circumstance, whether it's Justice Department or Homeland Security or the White House, politics was never a consideration from the President on down."
Olbermann: "The coincidences that I listed tonight could have the most distressing of possible explanations or the most encouraging of possible explanations or a mixture. But there's a larger issue, and I hope you have an idea of how to address it. Last Thursday, when New York City issued that warning within hours of that Karl Rove story, there were enough people who doubted the authenticity of the warning or who worried that the process had been contaminated in some way by politics, that they just did not believe it. What does the government have to do to eliminate the perception, even if it is a terrible tragic misperception that some of our leaders on this subject would cry wolf?"
Hutchinson: "I think it's a perfect question. And the answer to that is that you cannot ever undermine your credibility, and the way you assure the public that the intelligence is credible or the raising the threat level is credible is by sharing as much information with them as possible so they can see that. Whenever we went to a higher threat level in the financial sector, we did that, shared more information than ever with the public. And the only mistake that was made, we didn't share enough. As you pointed out, some of the intelligence was older, which didn't make any difference, but we should have shared that information so the public can make evaluations. That's why they're not simply having to rely upon those who are in elected positions, but they can see more clearly as to what it's based upon."
Olbermann: "Well, we're out of time here. Regardless of that, and what might be perceived as our disagreement on the substance of this, my great thanks for coming out and speaking to this under these circumstances."
Hutchinson: "Absolutely. Thank you."
Olbermann: "The former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, now the candidate for governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. Thanks again."