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I have written frequently on how the terrorist threat is routinely hyped to serve a number of special interests in the United States and elsewhere in the world. In many countries, including most recently Saudi Arabia and Turkey, anyone who is a critic of the existing government is routinely labeled a “terrorist” as that justifies taking harsh and often extralegal steps to confront him or her. In reality, the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist almost anywhere but an active war zone is miniscule. In the U.S. it is so small as to be statistically insignificant but the public has been led to believe that heavily armed Islamic militants are lurking around every corner.
The vast majority of mass shootings in the United States are, in fact, carried out by white males who are at least nominally Christian in upbringing. Some of the incidents are subsequently described as domestic terrorism but most are labeled only as crimes and are treated routinely through the criminal justice system. Muslim attackers plausibly linked to terrorist groups, who dominate the media driven frenzy, have killed fewer than 45 Americans since September 12, 2001, slightly more than 3 a year, a toll that would hardly seem to justify the enormous expense and surrendering of civil liberties that have been part and parcel of the “global war on terror.”
Those of us who bother to monitor the groups that comprise part of the vast “terrorism business” are aware that the whole process runs on a number of essentially symbiotic relationships. The FBI needs to make terrorism arrests, so it uses paid informants to encourage otherwise harmless young men to embrace violence. Federal prosecutors who require terrorism convictions to pad their resumes call in phony expert witnesses like Evan Kohlmann who will basically support arguments that someone is a terrorist derived from internet based analysis that many would consider highly questionable.
The big money, however, goes to the think tanks and foundations, which are all politically aligned in one fashion or another and which are adept at providing seeming intellectual rigor to justify every point of view while keeping the taxpayer provided cash flowing. The foundations and think tanks thereby actually do considerable damage to the country by continuing wars that do not have to be fought and by wasting national resources that could certainly be put to better use.
I recently noted a couple of articles that hype the terror threat on behalf of well-funded groups that are in the terror business. One op-ed piece by Matthew Levitt entitled “Fighting terrorism takes more than drones” actually is largely sensible about legislation to fund anti-terrorism efforts at local levels worldwide until it goes off on a tangent, describing how it is necessary to “raise awareness about Iran’s and Hezbollah’s broad ranges of terrorist and criminal activities around the world” then adding that “Hezbollah is poised to get an infusion of money from Iran.” The reader might well note that Hezbollah and Iran are themselves on the front line fighting IS and the assertion regarding the omnipresence of their own terrorist activity is somewhat difficult to support, unless one is thinking about the spurious claims that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been making. Which is perhaps precisely the point as Levitt heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which is an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) creation. It is a major component of the Israel Lobby.
Another talking head who regularly appears in the Washington Post is Marc Thiessen. His December 21st piece is entitled “U.S. lets in four times as many suspected terrorists as it keeps out.” The claim is based on State Department statistics indicating that since 9/11 2,231 foreigners were denied U.S. visas based on suspected terrorism related issues while 9,500 more had visas issued but later revoked after issuance due to possible terrorist links or activities. When asked how many of the suspected terrorists who have revoked visas might still be in the United States, a State Department spokesman replied “I don’t know.”
Thiessen sees the revoked visa issue as an indication that the screening system does not work which is certainly arguable, but his rant is inevitably conflating a number of issues that are not necessarily linked while also assuming a worst case scenario as a result. He speculates that there must be many more “terrorists” who gamed the system successfully and did not have their visas revoked at all. He cites Tashfeen Malik, the distaff half of the San Bernardino shooters, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 2009 underwear bomber. Neither had a visa revoked before they undertook a terrorist act. Which means they beat the system and there are certainly others who have done likewise.
Marc Thiessen indeed has a point when he observes that there must be some genuine terrorists who have obtained visas to travel to the United States. Screening potential visitors from the third world and war zones means having to deal with a lack of reliable documentation coupled with numerous desperate individuals prepared to lie to get a visa. That’s why you rely on a skilled and frequently skeptical American Embassy visa officer to make the call if there is any doubt about credentials. The Thiessen alternative would apparently be to ban all travelers who fit certain profiles that he would no doubt be able to provide, i.e. all Muslims. He advocates in his article stopping the entry of all Syrian refugees, for example, because they cannot be properly assessed, which inevitably punishes the legitimate refugees who can be vetted.
Thiessen’s complaining lacks context. First of all, the number of revoked visas is relatively small when spread out over fifteen years. There are a lot of good reasons why a visa status might be changed and one should bear in mind that a state department officer will always err on the side of caution, revoking a visa if there is even a miniscule possibility that someone might have been radicalized. Without further information on what actually constitutes a “possible terrorist connection” it is impossible to determine what kind of threat actually exists, if any, but Thiessen is willing to take a plunge anyway. And it might be noted that even a legitimate U.S. government concern about one’s politics perhaps derived from comments on social media does not necessarily make one a terrorist. It should be reassuring to Thiessen rather than alarming to learn that the State Department is reviewing travel status even after visas are issued.
And Thiessen plays the threat card, implying that many of the visa holders might still be in the United States without providing any evidence that that is the case. Some might never have made the trip and one has to suspect that the vast majority of those who did visit are long since gone, having done absolutely nothing in the interim.
Indeed, Thiessen could just have easily asked how many holders of revoked visas have committed terrorist acts or crimes in the United States since 9/11, but he avoids that question for obvious reasons. The answer is none and the FBI has no evidence to suggest that there are revoked visa holders currently in place in terrorist cells planning mayhem. One would think that if the point of terrorism is to do something that creates fear then the revoked passport holders have essentially failed in their mission unless someone reads Thiessen and believes what he is saying.
And oh yes, Thiessen works for the reliably neocon American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is largely funded by defense contractors who have a vested interested in spending the taxpayers’ money to “keep Americans safe.” Back under the Bush administration Dick Cheney used to go to AEI when he had something important to say, trusting that the audience there would be his kind of people. They were his kind then and they still are.
And Thiessen continues to carry water for his old team. He was the principal speechwriter for George W. Bush and his first book, endorsed by Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was entitled Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack.The book has been heavily criticized for numerous errors of fact and also due to its advocacy of torture “as lawful and morally just” but the reader of the op-ed in the Post would not know any of that. It’s how bad ideas circulate through the media and are given credibility, a mechanism that the “war on terror” fraudsters understand all too well.