Rough night on Tuesday, including some internet/power outages, so this will be somewhat brief and the second installment of the Supreme Court rant will wait one more day.

ProPublica has a great piece on the exaggeration, inflation, and flat-out fabrication of terrorist threats for political purposes. The maligned NYPD has made a habit of boasting about the "14 terrorist attacks" it has thwarted since 9/11, and since it comes straight from the mouth of the police and the mayor, why would the media do anything other than repeat it unquestioningly?

Even a cursory analysis – which, again, no one seems to have bothered to do – reveals what ProPublica generously estimates as three sorta-legitimate threats. The remainder are mentally unstable people who made vague threats but took no real action or, more problematically, suspects who were only able to make progress toward an attack with the assistance of undercover law enforcement. Some nutjob(s) who couldn't plan and execute a gas station robbery decide to plot a terrorist attack and they get absolutely nowhere (because they're idiots, remember) until an informant cooperating with law enforcement or an undercover agent steps in and offers them materials and assistance to advance the threat. Then they are arrested and we are all told about the big, scary threat they presented. Look! They had bomb-making materials! That they got from, uh…well, that's not important.

Describing this kind of rhetoric as dishonest or these terrorist threats as manufactured seems almost too lenient.

14 thoughts on “IMAGINARY THREAT”

  • The Stalinist playbook still does the trick: Create/Invent problem. "Solve" problem (or wait for problem to get better on its own.) Reveal problem, then take credit for solving problem. Repeat as needed. Moral: When you can't get by on charisma, portray yourself as essential.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Wars and terror are great unifiers and support enhancers. These are some of the oldest tools available to nasty regimes. Since 1980, every president started a war. Reagan attacked Grenada (who? what? where?), Bush 1 attacked Panama and Somalia, Clinton, may be the only non waring president, helped in the Yugoslavia butchery, Bush 2 and Obama had the miracle of 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other small skirmishes.

    Many regimes do it, but when it is central to a country uncivilized might apply.

  • James Madison had some insight on this subject:

    No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.


    Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

    and finally

    If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Well, the more incidents you can report as successfully thwarted, the more money you get from the DHS and the government, and the more nifty hand-me-downs toys from the military.

    Major Kong,
    That Madison sure was a smart fellow, wasn't he?

    Too bad almost everyone on the right screaming about the Founding Fathers couldn't name more than a couple of them, if that – and then wouldn't know wtf they said or wrote.

    But that's ok – in their hearts, they know what they "feel" they said and wrote.
    After all, certainly one Christian Conservative knows another – even if 220+ years have gone by.

  • What's the over/under on how many more "dangerous terrorist threats" the Obama administration "thwarts" between now and the election? So far, we've already got the terrifying "model plane plot".

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Allow me to play contrarian for a moment: Terrorist networks are informal, clandestine networks of people who don't know each other very well and operate on TRUST above all else. The only strategy that has any hope of effect is to undermine this trust, by seeding those informal network (chat rooms, mosques, etc) with CIs and double agents. A few public examples of FBI informants taking down plots (no matter how halfbrained) and the real terrorist networks will start to tear themselves apart looking for moles instead of planning attacks. The recent penetration of an airline bombing by Saudi/British/US intelligence will go a long way towards achieving that goal. Incidentally, this is basically what the CIA spent all of the 1970s doing, only they didn't find the mole until he defected.

    I get where Ed is coming from, but that's just what an effective counterintelligence strategy looks like from the outside.

  • mel in oregon says:

    while terrorism is a preoccupation with guiliani & kelly & anyone else that can profit from it politically, the real threat is never mentioned in the corporate media. the nuclear age started 67 years ago, & we have been close to a nuclear war once in 1962. so the odds are pretty strong that eventually we will have an armageddon, destroying human & probably all mammalian life on the planet. you see, unfortunately, the greatest threat comes from the united states when we encircle russia with missiles, & put new bases in korea, the phillipines, thailand & viet nam to stop china's emerging power. we also have our navy in the south china sea. world war 1 started & escalated out of control very quickly. our military always over estimates its own capability. they think if pakistan nuclear weapons fall in the hands of terrorists, navy seals & the delta force will be able to disarm the nukes before they can be deployed. not to denigrate these two tremendously brave & well trained forces, but that's a pipe dream. the best predictor of military capability is to look at the record. in iraq & afghanistan, we have not been successful by any yardstick you can use. many of our weapons systems have huge time delays, cost overruns & are not practical to do the job at hand. in addition to this the building of weapons is scattered among so many states, that political considerations always outweigh whether or not a weapon works & does the job it is designed for. the strategic defense initiative is maybe the stupidest defense system ever designed & has wasted many billions. there are hundreds more examples, but this site isn't designed for that length. we should focus on the real possibilty, however unpleasant to contemplate, of a nuclear war. terrorism still is a concern, but a minor one.

  • I get where Ed is coming from, but that's just what an effective counterintelligence strategy looks like from the outside.

    This is correct. What is a problem isn't that they are doing this, but that they are selling it with a lie–that they are "thwarting" particular "potentially catastrophic plots"–instead of with the truth–that they are sowing distrust and disorder among terrorists.

  • "I get where Ed is coming from, but that's just what an effective counterintelligence strategy looks like from the outside."

    Seconding – if this was true we'd see real threats neutralized. When it's a case of undercover police helping Gomer 'Jihad' Pyle ties his own shoes, that's a different thing.

  • > Some nutjob(s) who couldn't plan and execute a gas station robbery decide to plot a terrorist attack

    That's being too generous. Generally it's something like "disaffected citizen rants about government on the internet, then is approached, encouraged and pushed into doing something, anything, that might generously be considered moving towards a terrorist attack, and that single act is all that is necessary under Federal law for a conviction". These people didn't decide on their own to plan an attack.

    By the way, the act can be anything at all. If someone tells you that sending a certain email will help them blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, and you send that email, you've committed a crime that will get you many, many years in prison, never mind that you have no explosives, no team, no knowledge, no plan…..

  • >Also, I wonder how many of these cases were tossed by the courts for entrapment?

    Probably none, as "entrapment" means a lot less in practice than people think it does. If the police are threatening you with death unless you [commit a crime], you can argue they entrapped you. If they merely encourage you along, that's not entrapment and you're going to jail.

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