As the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reported this weekend:
Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction – the sponsor of the air tanker bill – said he is worried that large fires in the Colorado River Basin could clog reservoirs and cause a water supply “catastrophe” across the whole American Southwest.
“That is why that is a priority or could be a priority for those who wish us ill will, and those who would like to change the United States and the Western United States,” King said at a hearing for his bill.
Terrorist attacks in the forests have already happened, King’s allies said.
“We know for a fact that forest fires started in California were started by al-Qaida,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, during debate in the Senate on Wednesday… [Pols emphasis]
There's a problem with Sen. Ted Harvey's allegation that "we know for a fact" forest fires in California "were started by al-Qaida."
California fire officials say it never happened. [Pols emphasis]
In the summer and fall of 2003, southern California was indeed devastated by wildfires, some of which were determined to be arson. And it's also true, as the AP reported in July of 2003, that FBI agents were briefed on an alleged terrorist plot involving wildfires. But there's plenty missing from this picture:
The FBI alerted law enforcement agencies last month that an al-Qaeda terrorist now in detention had talked of masterminding a plot to set a series of devastating forest fires around the western United States.
Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, told The Associated Press that officials there took note of the warning but didn't see a need to act further on it…
The Republic reported that the detainee, who was not identified, said the plan involved three or four people setting wildfires using timed devices in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming that would detonate in forests and grasslands after the operatives had left the country.
What's missing here, even after nearly ten years of investigation, is any connection whatsoever between this alleged 2003 plot that a detainee "talked of masterminding" in Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, and any wildfire–in California or elsewhere. Al Qaida does periodically threaten things like this, but it hasn't actually happened. During subsequent fire seasons, this rumor, and even the 2003 memo itself have been mysteriously "refreshed" by conservative news outlets like FOX News–check out this 2007 FOX News report, wherein the same 2003 memo became a "five day old" memo, and the whole handwringing cycle began anew on Fox and Friends.
Now folks, we actually think the state firefighting tanker fleet is a good idea. And we certainly don't intend to downplay any credible threat, present or historical, to the safety of millions of people threatened by wildfire in the western United States.
But this is another Republican legislator regurgitating complete nonsense from the well of the Colorado Senate, and we're tired of this. Senator Harvey, not only do we in no way "know for a fact" that "forest fires started in California were started by al-Qaida," there is no evidence it ever happened. While the Denver Post publishes their dozenth feature-length story on one dumb thing Sen. Evie Hudak said this session, GOP elected officials are proclaiming from the same podiums that Colorado has "banned gun ownership," and that "we know for a fact" Al-Qaida tried to burn California to the ground. And nobody outside the Durango Herald's readership hears about it.
The public deserves better–from the GOP and the press.