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Terrorism Analysis Today: More Information Than Understanding

By Douglas J. Hagmann

1 August 2006: Editor’s Note: This article was initially published in 2005. It is being republished by request - and appears to be just as relevant today as it was 14 months ago.

Take a virtual walk across the Internet and you will find numerous websites that report terrorist communications and even haphazardly attempt to extrapolate the date of the next terrorist attack on US soil from such messages. Usually, a copy of a consonant-challenged Arabic message from an Islamic terrorist website is posted, along with an equally deficient machine translation and commentary. Such analysis is a product of good intentions, but little else.

On one hand, it is little wonder that the FBI, the agency charged with investigating terrorism within our borders, is reluctant to open their doors to dialogue with open source agencies. On the other hand, the reputation of the FBI as a terrestrial black-hole of information sharing is not only well founded, but creates the environment that fuels such sophomoric efforts. It seems that the FBI is now reaping what they have sown for decades by treating all open sources and even other law enforcement agencies equally - like an annoying relative. This trait is not new, it has just become more visible over the last 3 1/2 years.

Next, turn on your television to any cable news channel for the latest news and analysis on the threat of terrorism in the United States. Undoubtedly, you’ll hear someone in the media spew mantras like “The ability of al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks on that scale has been significantly disrupted” and “If they had them, they would have used them,” using such sound bites to downplay and even misrepresent the threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

The characteristic silence of the FBI has helped create the high demand for reliable assessments about the threat of future terrorist attacks against our homeland. This silence has also helped usher in a cottage industry of self-styled terrorism experts, assisted in large part by the media catering to an information-starved public. The problem is that while many possess information about terrorism in general, they lack the vital component of understanding the mindset of Islamic fundamentalism, failing to comprehend that the terrorist threat of today cannot be analyzed using the same set of parameters that we used yesterday. Doing so causes otherwise astute and well-educated Americans to grow tired and eventually downplay the very real terrorist threat. This 21st century psychological malady has become known as “terror fatigue” in certain circles. Proper diagnosis will reveal the underlying problem - the person’s inability to shake loose from the Western mindset when assessing or analyzing Islamic terrorism.

Today, Islamic terrorism is the United States’ “Sword of Damocles,” only now it has become double-edged. The peril of Islamic terrorism is further obfuscated and even facilitated by the FBI and Western media by their apparent lack of understanding or even mischaracterization of the threat it poses to our country. The same FBI that is charged with investigating domestic terrorism has publicly embraced of such organizations as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and their slick but duplicitous National Anti-Terrorism Campaign. Such alliances muddy the water of public perception and will certainly serve the terrorist’s agenda well through their exploitation of political correctness. The media is quick to oblige those who have drawn first blood and who promise a war to the death-our death, in their zeal to point out how we have become clouded by racism and bigotry. Islamic fundamentalists have shown they are as skilled at using our Western mindset against us as adeptly as an aircraft on 9/11.

The current pattern of activity of the agencies created to protect us, the media employed to inform us, and those entrusted to analyze the open-source information confirms that we have more information than we do understanding. Until the latter catches up, we will remain the intelligence underdog in the most important battle of our generation.

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