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The Sham "Terrorism Expert" Industry

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To be sure, Gartenstein-Ross is more nuanced and sophisticated than the standard neocon "terror expert" cartoon -- his 2011 bin Laden book argues against wasteful counter-terrorism programs that are out of proportion to the actual threat, and he has, to his credit, publicly opposed some of the more crass Islamophobic attacks -- but if the War on Islamic Terror disappears, so, too, does his lucrative career as a "terrorism expert." In that regard, he's a highly representative figure for this industry.

Walt's clearly expressed and uncontroversial argument about the exaggerated Terror threat prompted hours of angry derision and personal mockery today from Gartenstein-Ross (who ironically often holds himself out as the Beacon of Civil Discourse). It began this way:

Gartenstein-Ross then demanded that Muslim Terror be taken more seriously than Walt suggests: "terrorists actually put 3 bombs on passenger planes since 2009." He was then joined by fellow "natsec" clique members for hours of swarming group mockery aimed at Walt (that's how they typically behave). Gartenstein-Ross continuedForeign Policy "should rename Walt's blog 'An Ideologue in an Ideological Age.' The idea he transcends ideological blinders is laughable." Professor Walt, he then said, is "far less rigorous than his reputation suggests" and "the gap between perception & reality is rather astounding." Then: "when an academic starts blogging it's often easy to tell if that "authority' is undeserved."

All this public impugning of Walt's reputation, scholarship and character over the crime of pointing out that the threat of Islamic Terror is wildly overstated by people who have an interest in perpetuating the threat. It's as though Gartenstein-Ross and his friends were eager to jump up, wave their arms, and prove Walt's argument by identifying themselves as precisely the fear-mongering culprits he was criticizing.

Exactly the same thing happened this week in response to Juan Cole's superb post entitled "Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others," pointing out all the revealing differences in how white perpetrators of violence are talked about versus non-white (especially Muslim) ones. Cole's argument was every bit as threatening to the vested interests of the "terror expert" industry as Walt's was, as it reveals the ugly truth that the hysteria over the Muslim Threat is motivated far more by Islamophobic bigotry and subservience to U.S. Government militarism than any rational policy assessments or high-minded scholarship.

This was too much to bear for J.M. Berger, a self-described "specialist on homegrown extremism" and author of "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam," which, in his words, "uncovers the secret history of American jihadists" -- meaning Muslims, of course. "American Muslims have traveled abroad to fight in wars because of their religious beliefs," says the book's summary. (Symbolizing how relentlessly incestuous this clique is, Gartenstein-Ross randomly took a moment out of his attack on Walt today to pimp what he called Berger's "valuable book"). Like Gartenstein-Ross, Berger avoids the more overt forms of anti-Muslim rhetoric, often stressing the need to distinguish between Good Muslims and the Terrorist kind, but he spends his time doing things like shrieking about the Towering Menace of Anwar al-Awlaki and generally hopping on whatever Muslim-Terrorism-is-a-Grave-Danger train that comes along.

Berger denounced Cole's piece as "80 percent BS, 20 percent fair points" and said it was composed of "lazy generalizations." Specifically, Berger complained that when a Muslim launches a violent attack, there are "whole stories dedicated to AQ being fringe and Islam being peaceful," but when there's a violent attack by a white shooter, "no one does stories about how white people are mostly peaceful and non-racist" (apparently, the true victims of unfair media coverage of Terror attacks are white people, not Muslims). He insisted, needless to say, that white perpetrators of violence are depicted as lone nuts while attacks by Muslims are depicted as part of a broader Terror threat only because it's so true. It's vital to Berger that Islamic Terror continue to be perceived as a vital, coordinated national security threat or else J.W. Berger and his "expertise" will cease to matter.

The key role played by this "terrorism expert" industry in sustaining highly damaging hysteria was highlighted in an excellent and still-relevant 2007 Washington Post Op-Ed by Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it, he described how the War on Terror has created an all-consuming Climate of Fear in the U.S. along with a systematic, multi-headed policy of discrimination against Muslim Americans based on these severely exaggerated threats, and described one of the key culprits this way:

"Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum.The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation."

It's very similar to what Les Gelb, in expressing his regret for supporting the attack on Iraq, described as "the disposition and incentives [in America's Foreign Policy Community] to support wars to retain political and professional credibility." When I interviewed Gelb in 2010 regarding that quote, he told me that D.C. experts know that they can retain relevance in, and access to, key government circles only if they lend theoretical support to U.S. militarism rather than oppose it.

(Notably, people in these insular, government-subservient D.C. enclaves try to suppress and delegitimize any discussion of who funds them and what their careerist and cultural incentives are by denouncing any such discussion as illegitimate ad hominem; that's all a way of demanding that they be accepted at face value as "experts" and that the financial and institutional pressures and groupthink precepts shaping their world and their views never be assessed).

Similarly to Brzezinski's Op-Ed, Ken Silverstein recently wrote an excellent June, 2012 Harper s article examining the fraud known as Matthew Levitt, Ph.D., who heads the "Counterterrorism and Intelligence Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy," where he tracks "global jihadist movements" (as usual, "terrorism experts" fixate on Muslims). Levitt has been repeatedly used by the U.S. Government as a "terrorism expert" witness in the prosecution of dozens of Muslims accused of Terrorism despite a history of discredited claims and extremely dubious grounds for claiming "expertise." Silverstein writes:

That is a description that applies generally to the sham "terrorism expert" industry.

* * * * *

Not all of these "terror experts" are driven primarily by careerist relevance. Some are actually vapid enough to be True Believers, addicted to the excitement and sense of purpose that Terrorism provides. Fran Townsend -- Bush's former Homeland Security adviser, CNN's "national security expert," and a paid supporter of the Iranian Terror group MEK -- provided a small but telling example this morning. She was apparently at New York's LaGuardia Airport when a very exciting episode happened which she "reported" on Twitter as it unfolded. First was this:

Code words! Security breaches! How scary! And exciting! Moments later:

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Glenn Greenwald is one of three co-founding editors of The Intercept. He is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His most recent book, No Place (more...)
 

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