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.