Roger L. Simon

Peter Bergen: Who's a 'Terrorism Expert'?

In the aftermath of Monday’s horrific events at the Boston Marathon, only one thing is certain — for the next week or so, our television screens will be filled with a creature known as the “terrorism expert.”

But what exactly is a “terrorism expert” and what qualifies one to be one? Operational knowledge of an AK-47? Intimate familiarity with the Damascus bazaar? Fluency in Arabic? (But that would be profiling, wouldn’t it?)

CNN has its own in-house terrorism expert in Peter Bergen, aka their “national security analyst.” Mr. Bergen popped up on Jake Tapper’s The Lead only a couple of hours after the Boston events with the following exchange (bolds from Newsbusters):

[4:19 p.m. EDT]

 JAKE TAPPER: Peter, does this — obviously we don’t want to speculate. We don’t know what this was. But is there reason for people who deal in counter-terrorism to think that this is an act of terrorism? Or suspect it strongly, at least?

PETER BERGEN: Sure. Although I’m reminded of Oklahoma City which was a bombing, which was initially treated as a gas explosion. So first reports are often erroneous. But the fact that there were two explosions — two bombings — one of the things I’d be looking at is once the device, if it is a device, is found, what kind of explosives were used? For instance, if it was hydrogen peroxide, this is a signature of al-Qaeda. If it was more conventional explosives, which are much harder to get a hold of now, that might be some other kind of right-wing extremists. We’ve seen a number of failed bombing attempts by al-Qaeda using bombs, (Unintelligible) and for instance, the Manhattan subway in 2009, Faisal Shahzad in 2010, the attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit in 2009. But we’ve also seen other extremist groups, right-wing groups, for instance, trying to attack the Martin Luther King parade in Oregon in 2010.


[4:59] TAPPER: And Peter, what are you waiting to hear for — hear about in these coming hours?

BERGEN: I think the actual — the constituency inside the bomb will make a big difference about how we identify the person who did this. Or the persons who did this. Because if it’s hydrogen peroxide, that puts (Unintelligible). If it’s something else —

TAPPER: Could be a different —

BERGEN: — could be a right-wing extremist group. Or some other group.

Excuse me for playing my screenwriter card, but it seems to me the subtext here is that Bergen wants the perpetrators to be “right-wing extremists.”

Nothing amazing there. In all honesty, when I hear of events like this I hope it is the work of Islamic terrorists, not some whacked-out character like Timothy McVeigh. That’s because in the end I suspect there are far more Ramzi Yousefs in the world than there are Tim McVeighs, and that the Ramzis are ultimately a far bigger threat. (The statistics bear me out.) But that’s my bias. Sadly, we all play sides in these things, even when we’re pretending we’re not, but most of us have the good sense (and good manners) not to be so obvious about it as Bergren. After all, at this point we don’t know what happened. And people have died while others have been maimed for life. That’s where our concentration should be.

Why then did Bergen have so little impulse control? Well, he was on CNN, but I think it’s more than that. Bergen is the man who — shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden — stated that “Killing bin Laden is end of the War on Terror. We can just sort of announce that right now.”

Whoa. No wonder he favors domestic terrorism. How inconvenient it would be for him if it turned out some Wahhabis were still running around Boston blowing people up.

That might even hurt his career as a “terrorism expert.”

But his bin Laden statement is, of course, far worse than that. It’s absurd on the face of it.

First of all, what in the Sam Hill is a “War on Terror”? As many have said before me, terror is a strategy, not a person, place, creed, country, or any other thing you could conceivably have a war on. The War on Terror is one of the more transparent euphemisms of our time.

But even if there were a War on Terror (or more properly a War on Jihadism or something like that … I’m not about to get into the weeds on this one), Bergen’s assertion that it was over with the killing of bin Laden is nothing short of imbecilic. What did he think those demonstrators meant when they chanted, “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!”? What exactly did he think happened in Benghazi? (Speaking of which, isn’t it interesting that Obama promised the exact same thing after Boston that he did after Benghazi — to bring the perpetrators to justice. How’s that working out?)

Now I know you think my conclusion is to say that Bergen is NOT a “terrorism expert.” It’s not. He IS a “terrorism expert.”  But the point, these days, is that we ALL are. We have been forced to become one.

But the wise ones know this: Being an expert is foolish. No one knows anything. Wait for the facts.