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Learning From Missed Alerts

Since Sept. 11, Americans have grown accustomed to government alerts about possible terrorist attacks. The usual reaction: "So what do we do, exactly?"

The alerts have been often vague, or not specific to a location. And they're so frequent that a certain "cry wolf" complacency has set in.

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Such experiences might, then, help Americans put in perspective the news that President Bush and the FBI had been alerted – without many specifics – about potential threats by Osama bin Laden before 9/11.

Probes by Congress to learn lessons after 9/11 helped bring out the news of these separate warnings to the FBI and the White House. The warning to Mr. Bush included no inkling of suicide attacks on buildings. Still, should he have done more than put intelligence agencies on alert? In hindsight, yes. Would it have stopped the attacks? Highly unlikely.

Caution is a skill made stronger by experience. The need now is to ensure the right lessons are well learned.