D. Dowd Muska


Falling for the New Terrorism Hype

October 02, 2014

Is Islamic State (IS) the next Al Qaeda?

We can hope.

A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center notes that since September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden’s band of murderers “has failed to conduct a single attack inside the United States.” Al Qaeda-inspired “lone wolves” have been similarly ineffective. Between the destruction of the twin towers and the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, exactly one civilian citizen was killed, in America, by a Koran-quoting lunatic acting solo.

That’s not the way it was supposed to go down. In the days, weeks, months, and even years after 9/11, politicians, “defense” officials, and the “intelligence community” kept up a steady drumbeat of doom. As documented by national-security scholar Charles Pena, in May 2002 alone, “Vice President Cheney warned that another terrorist attack was ‘almost certain.’ [FBI Director] Mueller said that suicide bombers like those who have attacked Israel are ‘inevitable,’ and the FBI asked apartment owners to report any suspicious activity. Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said a future terrorist attack was ‘not a question of if, but a question of when.’ Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld echoed Ridge, stating that the ‘question is not if, but when, where, and how’ another terrorist attack will occur.”

The CIA’s chief spook chimed in with his view that the “threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11. It is serious, they’ve reconstituted, they are coming after us, they want to execute attacks.”

Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) claimed that there were “100 or more Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some who have been here for a considerable period of time, all of whom went through a training process to prepare them to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so.” Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) guessed that the next strike “will be spectacular,” but hoped that it wouldn’t be “on the order of the World Trade Tower or the Pentagon.” Hillary Clinton shrieked that the Bush administration was fostering a “myth” of homeland security, and claimed that Americans were “nearly as vulnerable as we were before 8:56 A.M. on September 11.”

Some weren’t believing the hype. In July 2002, Cox Newspapers interviewed two senior FBI officials who had finally heard enough about bin Laden’s uncountable footsoldiers. There were no more than 200 hard-core Al Qaeda operatives worldwide, they asserted, and many were already in custody. “Everyone tries to tie everything into 9/11 and Al Qaeda,” one said. “There was a recent report suggesting that Al Qaeda is about 5,000 strong. It is nowhere near 5,000 strong.”

Five months later, Peter Bergen, an author of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysis and probably the world’s leading expert on Al Qaeda, told NPR that if the much-publicized Buffalo and Portland stings were “the best that the government can do, one of two things is true. Either there are real Al Qaeda members buried deeply in American communities who haven’t been found, or there aren’t any.”

In early 2003, Middle East scholar Fawaz A. Gerges averred that Al Qaead’s low-grade atrocities abroad revealed that the group’s leaders are “desperate to show that they are still in business,” and that despite its fiery rhetoric, the organization “no longer possesses the means to plan, organize, and launch strategic operations of the 9/11 variety.”

Twelve years ago, the hysterics were wrong. (Don’t worry, most retain their lucrative positions in government, media, and academia.) That’s why it’s important to heed today’s cool heads -- and doubt the nonsense peddled by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the boots-on-the-ground pusher who wants the president “to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home.”

In an essay for Time, Daniel Benjamin, a former Obama administration official, wrote that IS “appears never to have plotted -- and certainly never carried out -- a long-distance, covert terrorist operation.” The “vast majority” of Western Muslims leaving home to fight in Syria and/or Iraq, Brookings Institution fellows Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro argue, “will not come back as terrorists. Many of them will never go home at all, instead dying in combat or joining new military campaigns elsewhere, or they will return disillusioned and not interested in bringing the violence with them.” As for the “Khorasan Group,” First Look’s Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain have concluded that there are “serious questions about whether [it] even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner.”

Hasn’t the nation had enough threat inflation for one century?

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

# # # # #