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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

After a thorough one-hour investigation while the fires were still burning...
The FBI has determined that it was NOT, repeat NOT, an act of terrorism. What wasn't an act of terrorism? A series of explosions at the nation's third largest oil refinery, a BP-Amoco facility in Texas City (near Houston). According to Reuters, the FBI had just issued warnings a few days ago about possible terrorist attacks on refineries.

How could they possibly rule it out so quickly? The first explosion happened at 7:15 Tuesday evening, and the story was apparently on the 11 o'clock news in Houston, including the bit about the FBI saying it wasn't terrorism. They didn't say they knew what it was, just what it wasn't. I can see ruling out certain types of terrorist acts through a quick investigation: No airplanes crashing, no car bombs. But how could they rule out a bomb on a timer or with cell-phone activation, or an inside job of sabotage? Maybe the thing just blew up on its own. But I don't see how they can possibly be sure that quickly.

I remember when, two months after September 11, an American Airlines plane crashed in the Rockaway Beach neigborhood of Queens near JFK Airport. The crash happened about 9 AM. At 12:30, then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked if it was a terrorist attack. In probably one of the few times he ever told the truth, Ari answered that it was too early to tell. But then, about an hour later, Colin Powell is making a statement that it absolutely was not terrorism. What the Secretary of State has to do with investigating a plane crash I'm not sure, but I was quite sure that his statement was based entirely on politics and not at all on facts. September 11 had, with LOTS of help from the media, made Bush look "resolute" and "determined" in "leading the nation" through the tough times. Another terrorist attack so soon might have caused people to start thinking that "incompetent" and "unprepared" were better words to describe him. So Powell pre-empts that discussion and says "not terrorism." And back in November 2001 Powell still had a rather substantial reservoir of credibility. It's bone dry now.

So when I hear the FBI say "not terrorism" I hear "terrorism." Conditioned response.