WASHINGTON – Ever wonder if the tough-talking Texan in the Oval Office and his tough-looking homeland security czar are really doing all they can to protect you and your loved ones from another al-Qaida attack?

If you don’t, you should, because they aren’t. And here’s why:

  • Only after the media revealed a Homeland Security Department memo to law enforcement warning of a summer al-Qaida hijacking plot exploiting a visa loophole did Tom Ridge close the loophole – and only did so temporarily.

  • Only after the media revealed another internal department memo cutting the number of federal air marshals on overnight flights did Ridge rescind the order.

  • Only after parts of the 28-page Saudi section of the 9-11 report President Bush still refuses to declassify were leaked did the FBI go after two Saudi bagmen for some of the 15 Saudi hijackers – Osama Bassnan and Omar Bayoumi – who are tied to the Saudi royal family, prominent members of whom are tight with the Bush family.

  • And only now are Homeland Security officials staffing the Saudi visa office. (Likewise, only after the media raised a stink did the administration finally kill the Saudi Visa Express program that rubber-stamped three of the Saudi hijackers’ entry into the U.S.).

Need more proof?

OK, the hijacking warning is based on “specific” and “credible” intelligence of another al-Qaida threat to the homeland. The attack is to be orchestrated by teams of four. It’s to occur by the end of the summer. It’s to involve international flights stopping in the U.S. And it’s to be carried out with weapons concealed in electronics items such as cameras or cell phones.

At the same time, Osama bin Laden sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri has issued an ominous tape-recorded warning: “But we tell America one thing: What you have seen so far is nothing but the first skirmishes. The real battle hasn’t started yet.”

And the State Department has issued an overseas travel advisory to Americans, specifically related to al-Qaida threats against Western jetliners flying into Saudi Arabia.

And all this is happening as we approach the second anniversary of 9-11.

Yet, Ridge won’t raise the terror threat level to high, or orange. It’s still stuck at elevated, or yellow.

Just two days before the war on Iraq, however, Ridge raised the threat level to high, citing possible sympathy strikes against the homeland by al-Qaida. He even claimed “Iraqi state agents … may use this time period to conduct terrorist attacks against the U.S.”

Turns out he had no specific or credible intelligence of such Iraq-related threats.

Just as it turns out that Bush had no specific or credible intelligence that Saddam Hussein had ties to 9-11 or bin Laden, or weapons of mass destruction to slip into his hands, claims I called apocryphal before the war ever started.

Bush, now in a serious battle for re-election, has been taking a lot of heat for diverting resources – U.S. troops, intelligence assets, Arabic translators – from the hunt for bin Laden, the real threat to America, to carry out “regime change” in Baghdad. Raising the threat level now would confirm al-Qaida’s resurgence, and highlight his monumental blunder in Iraq.

Would the White House use the color-coded terror-alert system as a political tool? Well, consider the lengths it’s gone to control political damage in the State of the Uranium scandal. It compromised a CIA operative in an attempt to smear her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the first to blow the whistle on Bush’s bogus uranium allegation against Iraq. Outing a CIA operative could jeopardize national security, but shutting up a whistleblower mattered more to this White House.

It’s abundantly clear that Bush is playing politics with homeland security. Apparently his own political survival is more important than that of the people he swore to protect from al-Qaida after 9-11. That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice.

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Previous columns:

Clinton-style amnesia returns to White House

Chronology of a cover-up

The Brits busted Bush

Anatomy of a lie

Believing Boy Scout Bush

A very curious war indeed

While Nero fiddled in Baghdad …

Yellow is for politics

The royal families

The folly of ‘liberating’ Muslims

The Iraq echo chamber

Saddam bin Laden

My Picnic with Bill

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