November 16, 2007
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Homeland Security
176 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Att: Jane Harman, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
Dear Jane Harman,
As Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment (Committee on Homeland Security) I want to bring to your attention what appears to me a troubling tendency by two of the witnesses that testified at the November 6, 2007 Hearing, “Using the Web as a Weapon: the Internet as a Tool for Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism”. I hereby submit this open letter to you, cc'ed to the Subcommittee.
The tone of the Hearing established by the opening remarks from you, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. Reichert, was fair enough, with a well-meaning focus on extremist radicalization. Terrorism is a horrible tactic, no matter who is employing the slaughter of innocent people to enable a radical agenda.
However, in the statement by Mr. Bruce Hoffman, things quickly go off-track.
You are a long-time associate of Mr. Hoffman, (as you note in your introduction of Hoffman at the hearing), dating back to his employment with the RAND Corporation. It's kind of interesting how that works. RAND specializes in studies of issues of interest to the U.S. Government, including a bunch of studies on terrorism. Now, as an objective analyst of terrorism-related issues, Mr. Hoffman testifies to the House on the need for more study of terrorism-related issues.
I hope that you take the following statement from Mr. Hoffman to heart;
Defeating al Qaeda suggests first and foremost that our assessments and analyses must be anchored firmly to sound empirical judgment and not blinded by conjecture, mirror-imaging, politically partisan prisms and wishful thinking.
However, this statement by Mr. Hoffman does not appear to reflect his own advice;
The Internet, once seen as an engine of education and enlightenment, has instead become an immensely useful vehicle for terrorists with which to peddle their baseless propaganda and manifold conspiracy theories and summon their followers to violence.
Hoffman begins like the Hearing did, clearly focused on how violent radicals use communication portals like the internet to spread their message... but then he drifts off into conjecture about "manifold conspiracy theories".
I want to suggest that there is no empirical evidence which proves that "manifold conspiracy theories" trigger violent radicalization, that tying conspiracy theories to a serious study of the roots of terrorism during House testimony is conjecture, and doubly, wishful thinking.