In an election cycle focused almost exclusively on the personal shortcomings of the two major candidates, CBS News provides us an unsettling reminder of the stakes involved. Intelligence agencies have alerted law enforcement in three states of the potential for al-Qaeda terror attacks on Monday, an attempt to disrupt the election and wreak havoc on our political process. Two of the three states — New York and Virginia — have long been assumed to be targets, but Texas might be a bit of a surprise:
Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday.
It is believed New York, Texas and Virginia are all possible targets, though no specific locations are mentioned.
U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.
Before now, the main threat to Election Day appeared to be state-based or domestic, Reuters reminds us:
The potential for violent clashes is darkening an already rancorous presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, on top of the threat of computer hacking and fears that Russia or other state actors could spread political misinformation online or tamper with voting.
And while federal and state authorities are beefing up cyber defenses against potential electronic attacks on voting systems ahead of Election Day, others are taking additional steps to guard against possible civil unrest or violence.
Local authorities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Florida told Reuters they were not boosting election-related law enforcement personnel or resources above 2012 levels.
The new warnings do not come with much context. They do seem specific on location, which suggests that this rises above the usual aspirational chatter among radical Islamist jihadis. However, as CBS notes in this report, it’s not unusual for chatter to rise before specific events, especially those with high profiles whose disruption would give AQ a public-relations boost. It’s been a long time since AQ has pulled off a successful, centrally planned operation in the US, in part because US intelligence has improved its stance against such attacks since 9/11.
The best we can do in this age of radical Islamist terror is to conduct ourselves as we usually do, but with heightened awareness of the risks — both in the moment, and when we vote.