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The brouhaha that erupted in mid-August over the deadly chemicals found in a UN office, purportedly left behind by a careless weapons inspector just back from Iraq several years earlier, was more fantasy than real. Cleaning solvent, it turns out.

This brings up the reports of terror arrests in Germany and Denmark in recent days and the nightmarish fears that are being stoked.

The NY Times report actually has a cautionary note embedded:

Although officials spoke with confidence of the attack’s imminence and seriousness, they did not make fully clear the basis of their assertions. Europe has been the site of a number of devastating terrorist plots, but some have turned out later to be less than met the eye when announced.

The cable newsies are up to their old tricks, showing the jump-suit clad, hand-cuffed man again and again until we imagine thousands have been involved…

It is vitally important that actual danger be distinguished from speculative danger. This is increasingly hard in a world in which so many livelihoods depend on fixating attention through fear — from CNN to duct tape vendors. Nevertheless, appropriate responses to the news of arrests should be a) glad they were caught — and isn’t this better than bombing Oberschledorn?; b) what are the details — the real details, not the farthest reaches of the imagination?

I always want to know — how is it, that 6 months of police work, which includes tracking and eavesdropping, and informants, has only pounced when the danger is imminent? I know you don’t go in at the first whisper of “bomb!” and that finding the network and the core of it is important … but “imminent?” Couldn’t you go in a little earlier? Or, describe the arrests in less fear-stoking terms?

It’s also important that our own skepticism about these reports not blind us to the fact that there are bad people out there who want to hurt others. The Madrid and London bombings, not to mention Pakistan, India, Bali, Indonesia are all the proof we need of that. Mere pooh-poohing of the reports, and treating them only as propaganda for the fear mongers, does nothing to establish credible, reality-based, analysis of what the situation is, and is likely to be.