Islamophobia 101: Episode 35–Screening Must Include Religion, Ethnicity

Posted on January 5, 2010


Rafik Beekun

Steve Emerson, the self-proclaimed terrorism expert (The Jerusalem Post (9/17/94) has noted that Emerson has “close ties to Israeli intelligence.”) is at it again in this opinion piece on CNN.

Screening Must Include Religion, Ethnicity

By Steven Emerson, Special to CNN

January 5, 2010

Editor’s note: Steven Emerson is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, one of the largest archival storehouses of open source intelligence on radical Islamic networks, and the author or co-author of six books on terrorism and national security.

(CNN) — In the wake of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day, security experts, political commentators and the media have been asking one question: How can the United States prevent terrorists from smuggling homemade bombs through security?

The most frequent answer has been full body scanners, a developing technology used in a handful of airports around the world. Although these scanners may be effective, they are at best the right answer to the wrong question.

The question that law enforcement and security professionals must ask is how to prevent the terrorists themselves from getting on the airplane.

Once we focus our attention on individual terrorists rather than their potential weapons, one fact is immediately clear: We must completely change the way we go about airport security and counterterrorism in general.

The procedures are both inadequate and ineffective. The current random searches do only a minimum to improve security. Nothing is more unproductive than searching an 80-year-old woman in a wheelchair from Sweden or a 3-year-old child simply because she or he was the 10th person in line. Quite simply, the system has failed and must be revamped.

Recognizing existing deficiencies, on Monday the Transportation Safety Administration announced it has taken the first step toward implementing a revised screening process for airline passengers. TSA will mandate that “every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.”

This is a step in the right direction. But more should be done.

Instead of a system akin to searching for a needle in a haystack while blindfolded, the Transportation Security Administration and the intelligence community should institute a system of “smart screening.”

Such a revised screening process would consider a host of factors in determining whether someone is a potential security threat. Among the considerations would be: behavioral signs; appearance; itinerary and travel history; appearance on watch lists; known connections to radical organizations or individuals; and yes, ethnicity and religious identity.

Recognizing that the inclusion of ethnicity and religious characteristics in this list may be unsettling, it simply cannot be ignored that the overwhelmingly large majority of terrorist attacks undertaken over the past decade were committed by Islamic fundamentalists.

Consequently, to ignore it as a factor — as does current policy — could have devastating effects. [more]

The Truth about Steve Emerson

Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (


“Middle Eastern Trait”

Emerson gained prominence in the early ’90s. He published books, wrote articles, produced a documentary, won awards and was frequently quoted. The media, Capitol Hill and scholars paid attention. “I respect his research. He gets to people who were at the events,” says Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of A Century of Spies.

As Emerson’s fame mounted, so did criticism. Emerson’s book, The Fall of Pan Am 103, was chastised by the Columbia Journalism Review, which noted in July 1990 that passages “bear a striking resemblance, in both substance and style” to reports in the Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. Reporters from the Syracuse newspaper told this writer that they cornered Emerson at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference and forced an apology.

A New York Times review (5/19/91) of his 1991 book Terrorist chided that it was “marred by factual errors…and by a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias.” His 1994 PBS video, Jihad in America (11/94), was faulted for bigotry and misrepresentations–veteran reporter Robert Friedman (Nation, 5/15/95) accused Emerson of “creating mass hysteria against American Arabs.”

Emerson was wrong when he initially pointed to Yugoslavians as suspects in the World Trade Center bombing (CNN, 3/2/93). He was wrong when he said on CNBC (8/23/96) that “it was a bomb that brought down TWA Flight 800.”

Emerson’s most notorious gaffe was his claim that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing showed “a Middle Eastern trait” because it “was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible.” (CBS News, 4/19/95) Afterward, news organizations appeared less interested in Emerson’s pronouncements. A CBS contract expired and wasn’t renewed. Emerson had been a regular source and occasional writer for the Washington Post; his name doesn’t turn up once in Post archives after January 1, 1996. USA Today mentioned Emerson a dozen times before September 1996, none after.

“He’s poison,” says investigative author Seymour Hersh, when asked about how Emerson is perceived by fellow journalists.

Dubious document

Yet Emerson seems irrepressible. In 1997, for example, an Associated Press editor became convinced that Emerson was the “mother lode of terrorism information,” according to a reporter who worked on a series that looked at American Muslim groups.

As a consultant on the series, Emerson presented AP reporters with what were “supposed to be FBI documents” describing mainstream American Muslim groups with alleged terrorist sympathies, according to the project’s lead writer, Richard Cole. One of the reporters uncovered an earlier, almost identical document authored by Emerson. The purported FBI dossier “was really his,” Cole says. “He had edited out all phrases, taken out anything that made it look like his.”

Another AP reporter, Fred Bayles, recalls that Emerson “could never back up what he said. We couldn’t believe that document was from the FBI files.”

Emerson’s contribution was largely stripped from the series, and he retaliated with a “multi-page rant,” according to Cole. AP executive editor Bill Ahearn does not dispute that the incident happened, but refuses to comment or to release documents because the episode was deemed an “internal matter.” A ranking AP editor in Washington says: “We would be very, very, very, very leery of using Steve Emerson.”

Please click here to read the whole article from FAIR about Steve Emerson.

Posted in: Islam