Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge issued a new terror alert last weekend, but this one was significantly different from those that have preceded it.
Ridge's announcement named names five specific targets that, he said, a variety of credible sources have identified as terrorist targets.
... The identification of specific sites is a step forward in two ways.
First, it allows local, state and federal authorities to plan effective countermeasures. Merely having Ridge mention that the targets have been spotted may serve as a deterrent. Certainly, forewarned is forearmed for America's defenders of the nation.
Second, getting specific is a giant step forward for the average American's psyche. Vague warnings of potential threats and an ineffective color-coding system that rates the current levels of peril offered the public little to assess in terms of how much danger there was and what to do about it.
Instead, those warnings instilled a level of paranoia in a troubled citizenry that was forced to deal with nebulous information and little, if any, rational means of reacting.
Now, at least, workers in the targeted areas, people having business there and others who'll be in the vicinity should be on their guard to a greater degree and better able to assist law enforcement elements that have been alerted to protect them if the public spots suspicious activity.
What this doesn't mean, of course, is that these are the only targets that al-Qaida or some other terrorist organization might have their eyes on.
Nor can authorities discount the possibility that what they've uncovered is ''disinformation,'' such as the Allies used to distract the World War Axis before D-Day.
We just don't know for sure. But what we do know is that U.S. authorities say they have uncovered a plot, they've provided the public details of that plot and they've rallied forces to make sure that plot is thwarted.
That's a very real improvement over the way the public has been spoon-fed obscure warnings in the past.
It's the way Ridge and his Homeland Security team should react as far as is practical in the future.
The Huntsville (Ala.) Times , Aug. 3
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