Irresponsible

Posted October 20, 2004 at 5:50pm

Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) has done himself, his staff and Congress no good by shutting down his Senate office through the election period because he fears a terrorist attack. His action seems panicky and based more on speculation than information. Thankfully, not one other Member of Congress has followed Dayton’s example.

Dayton’s decision seems to be an overreaction to a Sept. 15 threat assessment issued by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. On Sept. 20, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) interrupted a briefing on Iraq to read parts of the report and urged other Senators to read it in full. Dayton did so, was alarmed by what he said was its “very emphatic tone” and requested a meeting of all 100 Senators to discuss it. When Senate leaders refused, he took unilateral action.

It’s not clear whether Dayton had read any such assessments prior to the latest one. Judging by statements from other Senators and House Members, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey and officials of the Homeland Security Department, it seems to have contained no new information on threats to the Capitol. Yet Dayton declared he had a “moral responsibility” not to put his staff in harm’s way when he was not in Washington to share their vulnerability. He also urged fellow Minnesotans not to visit during the election recess.

Interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Dayton said: “Well, the report I read didn’t identify a specific location. But the 9/11 commission concluded that the fourth hijacked plane on that date that crashed in Pennsylvania was returning to destroy the Capitol.” That is not news. “And al Qaeda,” he continued, “has a history of going back to those places where it’s been unsuccessful and attempting again.” That isn’t news either.

Moreover, he said, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2 [Ayman] Zawahiri, on an Islamic Web site is exhorting al Qaeda operatives to attack U.S. and British interests. That was the same pronouncement that preceded the bombing in Madrid, Spain, prior to that country’s election.”

This is a string of speculation which, if other Members shared in it, would spread panic on Capitol Hill, depopulate Washington and do al Qaeda’s work without the terrorists having to pull a single new trigger.

Were there specific new information about a terrorist plot, we might recommend such a drastic action, too. But since there isn’t, what Dayton did simply was irresponsible.

He says he did it to spare his staff a danger he was not facing while out of town. But logically, why wouldn’t it make sense for Dayton to keep his staff — and himself — in a location off the Hill all the time? The danger is constant. Capitol Hill is a target. That’s why there’s so much security around.