A boost for the terror industry

“Active targeting” in Yemen is causing significant civilian resentment towards the United States, writes author.

To properly disseminate news of the massive terrorist threat, the Obama administration relied on trusted accomplices, such as the mainstream media, writes Belen Fernandez [EPA]
To properly disseminate news of the massive terrorist threat, the Obama administration relied on trusted accomplices, such as the mainstream media, writes Belen Fernandez [EPA]

In the midst of the recent global travel warning and frenetic closure of 21 US embassies and consulates from Mauritania to Bangladesh , the State Department explained:

“[W]e are concerned about a threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. persons or facilities overseas, especially emanating from the Arabian Peninsula”.

This catchy new War on Terror lingo was also deployed by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who informed an interviewer from ABC News of “a significant threat stream” and highlighted the “more specific” nature of the current threat as compared to anterior ones.

Inside Story – How real is the threat posed by al-Qaeda?

One wonders how many embassies may henceforth need to be shuttered in the face of less “specific” threats.

As for the specifics of the threat, an August 7 Daily Beast exclusive proclaimed: “Al Qaeda Conference Call Intercepted by US Officials Sparked Alerts”. The following day, however, Business Insider countered:

“The [ Daily Beast ] report immediately set off skeptical reactions around the world, as people questioned whether terrorist leaders would really have an important conversation on a medium that the U.S. government has been surveilling so aggressively.

It turns out, according to one of the authors, that the “conference call” wasn’t over the phone:

‘We used conference call[ing] because it was generic enough. But it was not a telephone based communications’, [article co-author] Eli Lake tweeted in response to a question about the call”.

A sudden existential threat

In an August 5 appearance on Democracy Now! , Glenn Greenwald – Guardian columnist and custodian of revelations concerning the National Security Agency’s acute spying habit – noted the coincidental timing of the terror threat discovery via electronic surveillance:

“…[H]ere we are in the midst of, you know, one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world”.

To properly disseminate news of the massive threat to the US public, the Obama administration has relied on trusted accomplices, such as the national paper of record. In an interview with the NYTimes eXaminer website, Howard Friel – coauthor with Richard Falk of The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy  –  describes the Times as essentially ” facilitating the government’s agenda by allowing the administration to make major pronouncements anonymously on its news pages”.

Responding to questions about the Times ‘ over-dependence on unnamed officials offering confirmation of the mega-terror plot, Friel remarks:

“It’s simply incredible, given the record at the Times of printing anonymous administration claims about an Iraqi WMD threat to push the country to war, that the Times would so easily resort once again to publishing anonymous administration claims about a terrorist threat comparable to 9/11.”

Friel also draws a lesson from the fact that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was permitted to retain his job after lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee on the issue of NSA surveillance:

“…[I]f high-ranking administration officials are willing to lie in person in public to the Congress, it stands to reason that there is a very high risk that those officials will lie when they are permitted to speak anonymously to the public through the press.”

Profiting from terror

Of course, not all terrorism experts require anonymity. The post-9/11 era has seen the rise of nameable stars like Evan Kohlmann: International Terrorism Consultant, Al Qaeda online tracker, NBC analyst, and the subject of a 2010 New York Magazine profile noting that the young man had already ” served as the government’s expert witness in seventeen terrorism cases in the United States and nine abroad, making him the most prolific such expert in the country”.

According to the profile, “by agreeing to testify in the trials of nearly every defendant placed before him”, Kohlmann has been branded by various scholars as a “hand for hire” in the “guilty-verdict industry”; a “whore of the court”; a character “grown hydroponically in the basement of the Bush Justice Department”; and a “cavalier” purveyor of “generalizations and quite frankly mumbo-jumbo-style analysis”, amounting to “junk science”.

As the profile’s author makes clear, Kohlmann’s undiscriminating approach to trial testimony is particularly problematic in an age that has played host to entrapment operations in which “the government uses paid informants or undercover agents to tempt defendants into convoluted schemes to either commit terrorist acts or provide material support to terrorist organisations”.

Among his functions in court, we are told, is to “keep the jury’s attention fixed on their fears about the global conspiracy to murder Americans”.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that Kohlmann’s expert opinion has been sought by numerous media outlets in the wake of the global terror warning. Appearing on MSNBC, Kohlmann confirmed that “Al Qaeda in Yemen continues to target the United States actively”.

Never mind that “active targeting” would appear to be a more apt description for repeated US drone strikes on Yemen, which have reportedly killed nearly 800 people – primarily civilians – since 2002. In 2009, US cruise missiles unleashed on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah, where instead of obliterating an Al Qaeda training camp, they obliterated 45 civilians , most of them women and children.

Besides qualifying as terrorism, such acts surely facilitate the cultivation of anti-American sentiment in overseas threat streams and ensure the viability of the terror industry for years to come.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work , released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog , Salon , The Baffler , Al Akhbar English and many other publications.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

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