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Terrorism



All Reason.com articles with the "Terrorism" tag.



Published: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:11:39 -0400

 



Do Muslims Commit Most U.S. Terrorist Attacks?

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:30:00 -0400

"It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it," asserted President Donald Trump a month ago. He was referring to a purported media reticence to report on terror attacks in Europe. "They have their reasons, and you understand that," he added. The implication, I think, is that the politically correct press is concealing terrorists' backgrounds. To bolster the president's claims, the White House then released a list of 78 terror attacks from around the globe that Trump's minions think were underreported. All of the attackers on the list were Muslim—and all of the attacks had been reported by multiple news outlets. Some researchers at Georgia State University have an alternate idea: Perhaps the media are overreporting some of the attacks. Political scientist Erin Kearns and her colleagues raise that possibility in a preliminary working paper called "Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?" First they ask how many terror attacks have taken place between 2011 and 2015. (The 2016 data will become available later this summer.) The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, which catalogs information on over 150,000 incidents since 1970, defines terrorism as an "intentional act of violence or threat of violence by a non-state actor" that meets at least two of three criteria. First, that it be "aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal." Second, that there is "evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) other than the immediate victims." And finally, that it be "outside the precepts of International Humanitarian Law." The Georgia State researchers report that the database catalogs 110 terrorist attacks in the U.S. over the most recent five-year span period in the database. (Globally, there were more than 57,000 terrorist attacks during that period.) In some cases, the media tended to report several attacks perpetrated by the same people as a single combined story; following their lead, the researchers reduce the number to 89 attacks. They then set out to answer four different questions: Would an attack receive more coverage if the perpetrators were Muslim, if they were arrested, if they aimed at government employees or facilities, or if it resulted in a high number of deaths? From a series of searches at LexisNexis and CNN.com, Kearns and her colleagues gathered a dataset of 2,413 relevant news articles. If each attack had received equal media attention, they would have garnered an average of 27 news articles apiece. Interestingly, 24 of the attacks listed in the GTD did not receive any reports in the news sources they probed. For example, a cursory Nexis search failed to turn up any news stories about a 2011 arson attack on townhouses under construction in Grand Rapids, Michigan. An internet search by me did find several local news reports that cited a threatening letter warning residents to leave the neighborhood: "This attack was not isolated, nor will it be the last. We are not peaceful. We are not willing to negotiate." The GTD reports so far that no one has been apprehended for the attack. For those five years, the researchers found, Muslims carried out only 11 out of the 89 attacks, yet those attacks received 44 percent of the media coverage. (Meanwhile, 18 attacks actually targeted Muslims in America. The Boston marathon bombing generated 474 news reports, amounting to 20 percent of the media terrorism coverage during the period analyzed. Overall, the authors report, "The average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles." Some non-Muslims did get intense coverage. Wade Michael Page, who killed six people in an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, generated 92 articles, or 3.8 percent of the dataset. Dyl[...]



Are the 'Dishonest' Media Really Under-Reporting Terrorist Attacks? New at Reason

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:30:00 -0400

(image) "It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it," asserted President Donald Trump a month ago. He was referring to a purported media reticence to report on terror attacks in Europe. "They have their reasons, and you understand that," he added. The implication, I think, is that the politically correct press is concealing terrorists' backgrounds.

To bolster the president's claims, the White House then released a list of 78 terror attacks from around the globe that Trump's minions think were underreported. All of the attackers on the list were Muslim—and all of the attacks had been reported by multiple news outlets.

Some researchers at Georgia State University have an alternate idea: Perhaps the media are overreporting some of the attacks.




Border Guards Now Snatching and Searching 5,000 Cellphones a Month

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 14:39:00 -0400

(image) As Scott Shackford laid out in detail last month, there is a renewed journalistic interest during the Trump presidency in documenting aggressive Customs and Border Protection searches that long pre-date Donald Trump's election. This is particularly true of practices that—like many crackdowns on illegal immigrants and/or terrorists—restrict the freedom and arguably infringe on the rights of perfectly law-abiding U.S. citizens.

NBC News has a thorough report out on a tactic that hits close to home: CBP agents snatching Americans' cell phones at the border, demanding passwords, swiping information, and sharing copiously with other federal law enforcement agencies. Here's the nut:

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015. […]

DHS has published more than two dozen reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps.

Some Americans are also getting their cell phones swiped while leaving the country, with a CBP spokesperson telling NBC that agents may be acting on concerns over industrial policy, whatever the hell that means. "CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence," is how the spokesperson explained the sharp increase.

The NBC News piece has other tales of individual outrage, including quotes from those detained and searched, plus legal analysis that mostly amounts to: We're screwed. Scott Shackford's post contains plenty of other information, including about counter legislation being introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). This New York Times how-to suggests we get in the habit of buying travel burner phones. This keeps up and even technologically incompetent Americans (coughs) will deploy the evasion techniques of master criminals.

Below, enjoy some fiction, from Reason TV:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BB_l6sLxNj4" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




Europeans Reconsidering Visa-Free Travel for Americans

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 12:32:00 -0500

First the bad news for those Americans who enjoy traveling to Europe without having to first apply for a visa: The European Parliament voted one week ago to discontinue visa-free travel for U.S. passport-holders unless Washington extends the Visa Waiver Program (which allows for reciprocal 90-day visa-free travel arrangements between America and 38 nations) to the five countries in the European Union who are still on the outside looking in: Poland, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. The good news: The European Parliament is a largely ceremonial body, stuffed with clowns, who have zero say in the matter. But deepening political distrust on both sides of the Atlantic is chipping away at a system under which each year around 22 million foreigners enter the U.S. and an estimated 12 million Americans visit Europe. With overwhelming bipartisan approval at the end of 2015, the Obama administration removed from the VWP dual nationals from, and people who had traveled since March 2011 to, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria. Those who have also traveled in that time period to Somalia, Libya and Yemen are similarly exempt from the exemption. If those seven countries look familiar, they were the ones targeted in the Trump administration's first executive-order travel ban, and all but Iraq remain in the pared-back follow-up. The new travel ban has the potential to put much bigger dents into Visa Waiver. Why? Because it instructs "the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence" to conduct a thorough review on each country's level of information-sharing when it comes to their nationals setting foot on U.S. soil. A preliminary report on the new specs is due within 20 days of the E.O. going into effect, then: the Secretary of State shall request that all foreign governments that do not supply such information regarding their nationals begin providing it within 50 days of notification. […] [Then,] the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, shall submit to the President a list of countries recommended for inclusion in a Presidential proclamation that would prohibit the entry of appropriate categories of foreign nationals of countries that have not provided the information requested until they do so or until the Secretary of Homeland Security certifies that the country has an adequate plan to do so, or has adequately shared information through other means. Basically, the whole shebang of visa-screening is under review, and all European countries are on notice that they better adapt very quickly to the new vetting regime. Given that Donald Trump campaigned and won in part on this issue, that he slams Europe's refugee policies and Islamic terrorism policies at every opportunity, and that even libertarian-leaning politicians will happily hack off whole limbs of Visa Waiver in moments of crisis, there is almost nothing to suggest any political impediment to tightening those particular screws. As Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks, "of all the things to worry about, [admitting refugees] is down the list quite a bit. Visa waivers are quite closer to the top." The typical Islamic terrorist in Europe nowadays is a second-generation immigrant, often holding just the one passport from a VWP country. Those people, unless covered by the exceptions listed above, can enter the United States for 90 days without a visa. That seems extremely unlikely to remain the case throughout the Trump presidency, even given the many alterations the program has seen since 9/11. So is your planned vacation this summer to London or Paris or Rome in jeopardy? Nah; the economic fallout to an all-out visa war would be too brutal for both sides, so whatever happens will likely happen slowly. But the uncertainty remains, tourism to the U.S. is showing very preliminary signs of decline, and the unwinding of the post-war n[...]



How the Travel Ban Helps Terrorists

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

If you're afraid that terrorists from a particular country will come to kill your citizens, it makes sense to ban anyone from that place. So brace yourselves, Americans. Any day now, the Syrian government may impose a complete and total shutdown on travelers from the United States. Donald Trump thinks there is a pipeline of violent extremists from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries. He's right, but he's wrong about the direction of the flow. Islamic State recruits aren't coming from Syria to the United States. They are going from the United States to Syria. Nora Ellingsen, who spent five years working on international counterterrorism investigations at the FBI, went through all the cases she could find over the past two years. Over that time, the agency "has arrested 34 Americans who aspired to leave, attempted to leave or actually left the United States to join a terrorist group overseas," she writes—compared with two refugees it has arrested from the seven countries included in Trump's travel ban. A report from Congress found that 250 U.S. nationals have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight for the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL and ISIS. "More Americans have snuck into Syria to join ISIL," she writes on the Lawfare blog, "than ISIL members have snuck into the United States." In ruling against the president's executive order, a panel of three judges for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't help noticing that "the government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States." Now we know why. The Trump administration portrays itself as the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to block a flood of militants disguised as Syrian kindergarteners. John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, explained the abruptness of the travel ban: "The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially, people that might be coming here to harm us would not take advantage of some period of time that they could jump on an airplane." Even before the ban, though, Syrians couldn't just claim to be refugees and proceed to the airport. They had to spend 18 to 24 months being screened and processed. It's not an option for someone in a hurry. Kelly also left out the large, honking fact that the danger Americans face is less from without than from within. That's clear from a new study done by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago. "The American Face of ISIS" examines 112 cases of people known to have been involved in "ISIS-related offenses"—including carrying out attacks, plotting them, traveling to take part in them or helping other confederates. It reports that 83 percent are U.S. citizens, with 65 percent born here. None came as a refugee from Syria. Only three of the 112 were refugees, two from Bosnia and one from Iraq. CPOST Director Robert Pape said the researchers found "no evidence of ISIS smuggling in fighters into the United States alongside with refugees." Sniffing out incoming terrorists among those arriving from these nations is like scouting for future NHL stars in Jamaica. In the past two years, Ellingsen says, the FBI has arrested more Americans plotting violent attacks on Muslims in the U.S. than it has refugees from all the banned countries combined. Skittish sorts may figure it's better to be safe than sorry. But the travel ban doesn't enhance our safety even marginally. Just the opposite. Middle Eastern terrorists figured out long ago it was too hard to get their people into this country. What is easy is transmitting propaganda. As Pape points out, "ISIS terrorists in America are walk-in volunteers"—people living in the U.S. who have been radicalized by its online videos. What the travel ban does, by singling out Muslims in these seven countries, is to buttress the Islamic State claim that the West is at war with Islam. If the policy induces a small perce[...]



Shouldn't the DOJ Know About Terrorists From Countries Covered by Trump's Travel Ban?

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 09:15:00 -0500

At a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer August Flentje was repeatedly asked for evidence that President Trump's travel ban addresses "a real risk" of terrorism. Flentje came up short, as reflected in the 9th Circuit's explanation of its refusal to override a temporary restraining order against the ban. The appeals court says "the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order [Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen] has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States." That much is true, but it's not because there is no such evidence. Last September, for example, a Somali-American named Dahir Adan was shot and killed after attacking shoppers with a knife at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Ten people were injured. Two months later, a Somali refugee named Abdul Razak Ali Artan was shot and killed after ramming people with his car and stabbing them with a knife at Ohio State University in Columbus. Thirteen people were injured. In addition to those cases, Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh has identified half a dozen people from Iran, Iraq, and Somalia who have been convicted in the United States of charges related to domestic terrorism since 9/11. Flentje should have known about these cases, and so should Michelle Bennett, the DOJ lawyer who represented the Trump administration at the U.S. District Court hearing last Friday that preceded the TRO. James Robart, the federal judge who issued the TRO later that day, asked Bennett, "How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from those seven countries since 9/11?" She did not know. "I'm from the civil division, if that helps get me off the hook any," she said with a smile. Robart replied (incorrectly) that "the answer to that is none, as best I can tell." William Canby, one of the 9th Circuit judges, noted that exchange during Tuesday's hearing, giving Flentje a chance to set the record straight. He did not take it. "Yes, your honor," he replied, seeming to confirm Robart's inaccurate statement. "These proceedings have been moving quite fast, and we're doing the best we can." That is pretty shocking if true. It was inevitable that judges would ask this sort of question, and the answer is a matter of public record. Once Bennett was stumped, Flentje should have known the question would come up again in the appeals court. Yet both Bennett and Flentje left the impression that no one from the seven banned countries has been implicated in domestic terrorism, which is clearly not correct. While Robart and Canby overstated the case, it is accurate to say that people from the countries covered by Trump's travel ban have been responsible for only a small share of terrorist activity and zero deadly attacks in the United States since 1975. To my mind, those facts cast doubt on the logic of Trump's criteria, which supposedly are aimed at protecting Americans from terrorists. But the legal significance of those doubts is a matter of dispute. While Bennett argued that Robart should not examine the empirical basis for Trump's order, Robart insisted that "I have to find fact as opposed to fiction." The 9th Circuit also rejected Trump's contention that the risk assessment underlying his order is beyond judicial review. But it is not clear how logical the order must be to pass constitutional muster. The fit between Trump's ostensible goal and the means he chose is relevant in evaluating the argument that his order improperly discriminates against Muslims, which can be construed as an equal protection claim, an Establishment Clause claim, or a religious freedom claim. It also might be relevant in deciding what due process means for people affected by the order, assuming it means anything at all. At this stage of the case, the nature and magnitude of the danger addressed by the travel ban were relevant in ass[...]



Trump’s Belief That Terrorist Attacks Have Been Concealed Has Implications Beyond Media Feud

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 17:15:00 -0500

Today in eye-popping comments by President Donald Trump: In a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Trump said terror attacks have gotten so bad that the media is not reporting it. This is a deliberate choice by the media, he seems to argue, to mislead people. From The Hill: "It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported," he told a group of senior commanders. "And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it." The president implied that media organizations have an ulterior motive to bury coverage of the attacks. "They have their reasons and you understand that," he said. Trump provided no evidence to back up his comments. Terror attacks both at home and abroad often spark blanket coverage on cable news networks, newspapers and online outlets. These comments are immediately being cast as the latest salvo in Trump's war on the media. Stephanie Slade noted this morning Trump's Twitter blitz against negative polls that indicate popular opposition to his leadership so far. While Trump's obsession with the media's portrayal of him may have influenced these comments, it's probably more important to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture here. We should worry less about the implications on a free press here and more about the implications on other civil liberties. Trump has consistently argued that the world is much more dangerous than the data represents to those who pay attention. The White House website pointed out its law enforcement section that murders jumped 50 percent in in 2015, but ignored that they dropped in 2016. His immigration crime and terror fear-mongering is heavily influenced by the idea that there are unforeseen threats. Trump's response to having his executive action overruled as an abridgement to due process is to claim that the judge responsible is putting "our country in such peril." If something "bad" happens (and something bad is ultimately going to happen at some point because security is not a perfectible thing), he says it will be the judge's fault. Damon Root noted on Sunday Trump's attack on judicial review. Trump is using a belief that the world is hostile, violent, and dangerous to justify measures that ignore the constitutional restraints that give people protection from too much government power. To insist that we are in danger is to give credence to an argument that we must take any measure to become more safe, protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment be damned. The data doesn't support the argument that the United States is in an increasing amount of danger. Implicating the press as having an active, conspirational role in concealing threats is a way to rhetorically get around that barrier. Ironically, many Americans believe they're in more danger of crime than they actually are and that's because the media covers violent crime and terrorism so much and so extensively. In an even further irony, to the extent that crimes are concealed from the public, it can frequently be the result of secrecy or spin from the government itself, not the press at all. It wasn't the press responsible for trying to present the Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Hassan as "workplace violence." (One my more frustrating experiences as a small town newspaper editor was having to explain to people that journalists actually have little leverage at making government agencies give up information at the snap of our fingers, regardless of what the open records laws say.) When we look at Trump's war with the press, it's easy but also superficial to worry just about the implications on free speech. The effort to suggest that there are more terrorist attacks than have been reported by the media is an attempt to use fear to diminish support for important constitutional protections that value liberty over the security state. Worry less about what these rants mean for the likes of Anderson Cooper an[...]



Justin Amash: ‘We cannot prevent every terrorist attack…we have to at some point trust some people.’

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 15:19:00 -0500

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is widely considered to be the most consistently libertarian member of Congress. He is also the son of a Syrian immigrant and a Palestinian refugee. So it didn't exactly come as a surprise when Amash became one of the first Republican politicians to criticize President Donald Trump's refugee/immigration executive order of one week ago. But Amash is also unsatisfied with America's existing process for screening potentially dangerous refugees from Syria and other unstable, terrorist-producing countries. In an interview with me one year ago, the congressman said, "I went to one of these briefings put on by the administration, and was frankly stunned at the poor vetting process. It is a long process, but contrary to what I at first believed, it is not a very rigorous process. The important thing to me at the end of the day is making sure that we can identify who the person is when they're coming over." I spoke with Amash again for SiriusXM Insight on Wednesday, at a time when it seemed (to me anyway) that the EO's controversial provisions affecting green-card holders who live in the U.S. had been reversed. Since then the State Department has disclosed that 60,000 visas have been revoked as a result of the order, though if this week is any guide, the reporting on that could soon change a great deal. The bottom line, according to the congressman, is that this policy trend won't change until Republican attitudes change, and that doesn't seem immediately likely: "Right now we are going through a period where we are sort of closing up a little bit." The following is an edited transcript of our conversation; at the bottom of it you can listen to the first three minutes: Reason: The green card element of it, which was many people's…lead objection to the executive order…that one seems to be resolved. What are your remaining objections to the executive order as they stand today? Amash: Well, I wouldn't call that one resolved…. Reason: Oh, okay.… Amash: I've talked to some of my colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus to send the word back up to the administration: They're letting green-card holders in on a case-by-case basis but they are going to receive additional screening and all the rest. And it's my opinion, and certainly the opinion of a lot of people in Congress, including a lot of Republicans, that people who have been living here for a long time, who are lawful permanent residents−these are legal immigrants who live among us, who serve in our armed forces, who pay taxes−they shouldn't be treated like they are some kind of suspect every time they want to come back into the country. Reason: As far as you know, are they being pulled aside for questioning routinely at airports still, even after the clarification from the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday? Amash: So I don't have any anecdotal evidence of that, but I can say that based on the statements we have heard from the administration, whether it's DHS or Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus or anyone else, they are going to receive additional scrutiny when they come in. Now, they are going to be let in on a case-by-case basis, but they are going to receive additional scrutiny; in other words, the executive order will still cover them. I think that's not the way to handle people who have been living here as lawful permanent residents and are well-vetted. We cannot prevent every terrorist attack that is going to happen in the world, and we have to at some point trust some people. And I think the people who live here and serve in our armed forces, we are going to have to trust. That's just how the world has to work, and life has to work. Reason: And just for people who aren't really aware of how the green card process works, there is vetting—you have to get fingerprinted and you have to go to some interviews. Amash: Yes absolutely. Reason: You have[...]



Terrorism and Liberty in the Trump Era

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

After the atrocities of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's approval rating soared from 50 to 90 percent. A month after the attacks, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. In the weeks after 9/11, more than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.") Evidently averse to potentially committing suicide, 74 percent of the country agreed that "Americans will have to give up some of their personal freedoms in order to make the country safe from terrorist attacks." In 2002, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that 79 percent of Americans agreed that it was "more important right now for the federal government to investigate terrorist threats even if that intrudes on personal privacy." Support for intrusive investigations purportedly aimed at preventing terrorist attacks fell to only 57 percent in 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden's revelations of extensive domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). In the most recent poll, it has ticked back up to 72 percent. Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, and tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required. In October 2001, the House of Representatives passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act just 15 minutes after its 315 pages of text were made available to members. This law eviscerated the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections, and a massive secret domestic spying operation run by the NSA was set up. (Years later, numerous reports by outside and government analysts found that surrendering our civil liberties had been useless, since NSA domestic spying had had "no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.") The Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to torture suspected terrorists; that too proved not just illiberal but ineffective. According to a recent Brown University study, the Global War on Terror (*) has cost $3.2 trillion, in addition to leaving nearly 7,000 American military personnel dead and scores of thousands wounded. How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? In a rally-around-the-flag reaction, his approval rating could surge. It is theoretically possible that such a crisis would reveal Trump as a fierce defender of American liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction. In a 2015 speech at the U.S.S. Yorktown, Trump argued for "closing that internet in some way" to prevent ISIS from recruiting people. "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,'" he said. "These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people." When Apple refused the FBI's demand that it provide a backdoor to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, Trump asked, "Who do they [Apple] think they are? No, we have to open it up." He urged Americans to boycott Apple until it complied with the FBI's demand to decrypt the phone. More generally speaking, Trump has said that he tends "to err on the side of security[...]



Trump, Terrorism, and Freedom: New at Reason

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

(image) A month after the September 11, 2001 atrocities, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. More than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.")

Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required, and the establishment of a vast program of domestic spying.

How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? It is possible that such a crisis would reveal President Trump as a fierce defender of American constitutional liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction.




In Bowling Green 'Massacre,' FBI Agents Foiled an FBI Terror Plot

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 11:28:00 -0500

Fresh off of making-up a massacre on national television, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has been trying to rationalize her rhetoric—a rant about how the media didn't cover Obama's refugee ban after the "Bowling Green Massacre" of 2011—by claiming that what she meant to say was "Bowling Green terrorists." While there may not have been a terrorist "massacre"—or any terrorist violence at all—in Bowling Green, Kentucky, there was a terrorist plot uncovered, Conway noted Friday on Twitter, quickly shifting the spotlight back to the supposed danger posed by Islamic refugees. Conway is correct about a few things: there were two Bowling Green men arrested for terrorism; they were Iraqis who had come to the U.S. through a refugee resettlement program; and their story did prompt then-President Obama to slow or suspend Iraqi-refugee immigration for around six months. But there are a few other key things to keep in mind about this Bowling Green "terrorist plot"... 1. It was concocted entirely by the FBI. The young men involved, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, had come to the U.S. in 2009 as part of a program for displaced Iraqis. Once settled in Kentucky, the men were solicited by undercover FBI agents to help them send money and weapons to militants back in Iraq. In August 2010, a confidential FBI informant first met with Alwan and "represented to Alwan that he was working with a group to ship money and weapons to Mujahadeen in Iraq," according to an FBI statement. From that fall through the following spring, the FBI informant invited Alwan to participate in 10 operations to send weapons or money to Iraq. Hammadi joined in the efforts, recruited by Alwan, in January 2011. Throughout the operations, the FBI supplied all materials and took care of all logistics for the imaginary operation, with Alwan and Hammadi merely offering manpower. Despite the FBI's then-assertion that Alwan and Hammadi were just the tip of the terrorist-cell iceberg in small-town Kentucky, the agency never found additional terrorist agents in the area. 2. It did not involve plans to attack in the U.S. Back in Iraq, Alwan and Hammadi had been involved efforts to fight off invading U.S. soldiers during the early days of the Iraq war, according to what they told undercover officials. But throughout their interactions with undercover FBI agents in 2010 and 2011, Alwan and Hammadi never discussed plans to attack anyone or cause destruction on U.S. soil. And while they were found guilty of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda militants back in Iraq, the men never indicated that they were personally in contact with any militants, attempted to procure weapons for such individuals, or attempted to provide any of their own money to such individuals. Rather, they showed up when and where the FBI informant told them to and helped physically load decoy supplies into whatever they were allegedly being shipped from. (For more on the FBI's history of manufacturing terrorists like this, see here.) 3. It's in rare company. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, only three of the 784,000 refugees cleared for U.S. resettlement since 2001—the two Bowling Green men and a male refugee from Uzbekistan—have been arrested for terrorism or plotting terrorist acts. The Uzbek man, Fazliddin Kurbanov, had come here with his parents as Christian refugees who were being persecuted for their religion in Uzbekistan. But once in the U.S. for a few years, Kurbanov converted to Islam. He was convicted in 2015 for possessing unregistered explosives and attempting to provide money and computer support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Kurbanov was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. Hammadi was sentenced to life in prison, and Alwan to 40 years. As Ronald Bail[...]



Don't Rebrand the 'Countering Violent Extremism' Program—Just End It

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:57:00 -0500

For the Southern Poverty Law Center, the move suggests that "President Trump wants the government to stop its efforts to prevent terrorism by far-right extremists." For Jezebel, it's "another victory in a long series of wins for Neo Nazis, the KKK, and other violent and terroristic groups." Salon calls it "pandering to white supremacists." The target of their ire: a plan to rebrand the federal government's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. According to Reuters, which cites "five people briefed on the matter," the Trump administration wants to rename it "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," or maybe just "Countering Islamic Extremism," and to focus its attention on Muslim terrorists rather than the various domestic right-wing kinds. In practice, CVE's efforts are already focused overwhelmingly on Muslims. But the big question here shouldn't be which groups ought to be the program's targets. It's whether the program should exist at all. No matter whether it's aimed at Islamists, white nationalists, or anyone else, the CVE approach has two big problems. First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight "radicalization." This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn't have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas. Second: That focus can lead to some serious civil liberties problems. "Even though the agencies running the programs promised that they wouldn't use CVE for intelligence purposes (as they did in earlier iterations of it), the program itself is designed to teach community members, teachers, police, social workers, and religious leaders to identify and report to law enforcement people showing signs of 'radicalization,'" comments Michael German, a former FBI agent who now hangs his hat at the Brennan Center for Justice. So in practice, he argues, you get "soft surveillance," and that surveillance "is intended to suppress ideas, which is likely to cause more problems than solve them. It encourages the identification, reporting, and 'treatment' of people with bad ideas, which will only lead to misuse of security resources and deprivation of civil liberties." Needless to say, that sort of surveillance can itself radicalize people. So CVE also runs the risk of contributing to the very process it's meant to stop. Rebranding "Countering Violent Extremism" as "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism" won't solve any of these issues. Indeed, it could conceivably make the effort even less effective. (German points out that the new name could alienate many of the Muslim groups whose cooperation the program relies on, since they could construe it as a sign the program is "antagonistic to the community.") But neither would it be a good idea to expend more CVE attention on the radical right; all the same problems would be in place there too. Better to drop the approach. End it, don't mend it.[...]



Trump's Irrational Immigration Crackdown

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Give Donald Trump credit where it's due: He promised an irrational crackdown on immigrants, and he delivered it the first week of his administration. Trump began his presidential campaign with a speech in which he described most Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and other criminals, adding that "some, I assume, are good people." During his campaign, he repeatedly said that as president he would deport all 11 million people who live in the United States without the government's permission. Last August, Trump signaled what he described as a "softening" of that position. "We are not looking to hurt people," he told Sean Hannity on Fox News. "We have some great people in this country." Trump suggested he was open to legalizing unauthorized immigrants, a policy supported by most Americans. If they "pay back taxes," he said, he would be willing to "work with them," although there would be "no citizenship" and "no amnesty as such." Less than a week after he was elected president, Trump again indicated he did not plan to carry out the sort of mass deportation he had advocated during the campaign. "After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized," he told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, "we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about, who are terrific people." An executive order that Trump signed last week contradicts these assurances. The order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to "prioritize for removal" not only unauthorized residents who "have been convicted of any criminal offense" (including misdemeanors and nonviolent drug offenses) but also those who "have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense" (meaning a conviction is not required) and those who "have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency." That last category includes anyone who has falsely claimed to be a legal resident on an official form or used a fake Social Security number to obtain a job. For good measure, the order also approves removal of anyone else whom an immigration officer deems "a risk to public safety or national security." The order thus lays the ground for ejecting virtually all illegal residents, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States, how peaceful and productive they have been, or how much they have paid in taxes. Trump seems bent on deporting millions of "terrific people." Another immigration-related executive order that Trump signed last week suspended admission of all refugees for 120 days, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely, cut this year's refugee cap in half, and banned travelers with passports from any of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. It fell short of Trump's 2015 recommendation urging "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." But what the order lacked in scope it made up for in casual cruelty, arbitrarily disrupting and endangering thousands of lives. It separated parents from children, kept students from returning to school, put the kibosh to new jobs, stopped patients from obtaining treatment, and blocked war refugees from settling in the United States. It even prevented legal permanent residents from returning to their homes, until the Trump administration reversed that part of the policy. The official justification for Trump's half-baked order—protecting Americans from terrorists—is hard to take seriously. Refugees and green-card holders are already subject to extensive screening, refugees very rarely carry out terrorist attacks in the United States, and since 2001 no American has been killed in the U.S. by[...]



If You Disapprove of Trump's Refugee/Travel Ban, You're in the Minority

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:19:00 -0500

(image) A poll of 1,200 Americans over the past two days finds that a plurality of Americans—49 percent—approve "strongly" or "somewhat" of Donald Trump's ban on all refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Just 41 percent oppose the action, part of which the administration has already walked back.

According to Reuters, the split runs tightly along partisan lines, with 51 percent of Republicans strongly agreeing with the executive order and 53 percent of Democrats strongly disagreeing. And how's this for feels?

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found 31 percent of Americans feel "more safe" because of the ban, compared with 26 percent who said they felt "less safe." Some 38 percent said they felt the United States was setting "a good example" of how best to confront terrorism, while 41 percent said the country was setting "a bad example."

Democrats were more than three times as likely as Republicans to say that the "U.S. should continue to take in immigrants and refugees," and Republicans were more than three times as likely as Democrats to agree that "banning people from Muslim countries is necessary to prevent terrorism."

We're already safer, despite the fact that since 1980, zero Americans have been killed in the United States by people admitted as refugees! More of us support the ban than abjure it, but more of us believe we're setting a "bad example." America, do you contradict yourself? Very well, then, you contradict yourself!

More results, and discussion of methodology, are here.

The executive order, which went into effect on Saturday at midnight, provoked demonstrations around the country and, as Reuters notes, a dozen states are looking into files lawsuits against it. Additionally, the acting attorney general was fired after stating she wouldn't enforce the law.

In Congress, most Democrats have spoken out against the ban; they've been joined by 40 or more Republicans. That number is likely to go down if and when more people watch this awful video (courtesy of Fox News) of Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer working a crowd to sing "This Land Is Your Land" and attempting to show "the real people" affected by the ban.

This is one of those moments when I'd rather be right than popular. Trump's order is based on hysteria and panders to the worst sort of xenophobia at work in the dark night of the American psyche. As important, it hurts our efforts in fighting Islamic terrorism by alienating allies in the Middle East.




Incompetence and Cronyism Plague U.S. Attempts to Counter ISIS Online

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:45:00 -0500

A new report by the Associated Press claims that the U.S. counter-propaganda program WebOps is failing in its mission to thwart terrorist recruitment due to incompetence, corruption, and cronyism. The program was launched several years ago by a small group of civilian contractors and military officers assigned to the information operations division at U.S. Central Command's headquarters in Tampa, Florida. It is run by an Alabama-based company called Colsa Corp., which provides specialized computer programs to mine social media accounts of terrorist propaganda. WebOps is supposed to use Arabic-speaking analysts to sift through social media looking for individuals deemed vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. It's then supposed to contact them using fictionalized identities and urge them not to join organizations like ISIS. The reality, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, is that some of the analysts employed by WebOps lack counter-propaganda experience, cannot speak Arabic fluently, and don't understand Islam well enough to combat ISIS' recruitment efforts. The Tribune noted that WebOps "experts" often mess up language that is specific to a region or sect of Islam. "People can tell whether you are local, or whether you are Sunni or Shia," a former WebOps worker claimed. And as Fox News put it, "It's hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when--as one former worker told the AP--translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for 'salad' and 'authority.'" The mistake has resulted in open ridicule over "Palestinian salad" on social media. The Associated Press was informed by workers wishing to remain anonymous that data was being manipulated to create the appearance that the counter-propaganda operation was working. "The boss told [one worker] that the scoring reports should show progress, but not too much, so that the metrics would still indicate a dangerous level of militancy online to justify continued funding for WebOps," the Tribune reported. The government opened bidding on a new counter-propaganda operation worth at least $500 million early last year, but after a few months the Naval Criminal Investigative Services began looking into allegations that corruption was influencing the contract award process. A whistleblower said information operations division officers were being treated to expensive dinners paid for by a contractor, and that there's a heavy drinking culture at the office where classified work takes place. CBS News reported that "the drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP, and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m." The whistleblower also accused Army Col. Victor Garcia, who led the division until July 2016, of using his influence to direct the $500 million contract to a group of vendors that included his close friend's firm. A bid for the contract by the global security company Northrop Grumman was assisted by M&C Saatchi, an advertising agency where Garcia's friend Simon Bergman is an executive. According to the Chicago Tribune, the whistleblower alleges Garcia informed him that "any team must include Simon Bergman." Northrop won the bid. Garcia denies any wrongdoing. "Because I was aware of these conflicts of interest, I intentionally kept myself out of that process, with any of these contract processes," he explained to AP. The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting found that in 2011, anywhere from $31 billion to $60 billion was lost to waste and fraud during contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.[...]