FBI & Homeland Security Now 0 For 41 In Predicting Imminent Terrorist Attacks On The US

from the why-does-anyone-take-them-seriously dept

I don’t have cable. I almost never watch TV. I never see cable news unless someone points me to a clip online. Yet apparently, with the extended holiday weekend this past weekend, cable news went absolutely bonkers with vague, unsubstantiated claims from government officials about how everyone should be on heightened alert for an attack from ISIS:

CNN has led the pack in whipping Americans into a panic over the Isis threat, running story after story with government officials and terrorism industry money-makers hyping the threat, played against the backdrop of scary b-roll of terrorist training camps. Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell ominously told CBS last week that ?I wouldn?t be surprised if we weren?t sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States.? MSNBC and Fox joined in too, using graphics and maps right out of Stephen Colbert?s satirical ?Doom Bunker,? suggesting World War III was just on the verge of reaching America?s shores.

The Morell appearance was particularly ridiculous, with it posting during the episode the following map of “recent ISIS arrests” in the US to emphasize the bullshit claim that ISIS was already in the US and plotting attacks:

The problem, of course, is that none of those arrests were really connected to ISIS in any serious way. Nearly all of them were actually plots cooked up by the FBI to trick gullible individuals that they were in on an ISIS plot.

Before the weekend, Adam Johnson put together an astounding list of how Homeland Security and the FBI are 0 for 40 in their last 40 predictions for terrorist attacks inside the US — raising serious questions about why the news media actually takes any of these “warnings” seriously. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that DHS and the FBI have failed to stop actual plots like the Boston bombing. Here’s the list that Johnson put together:

October 2001: ?Potential use of chemical/biological and/or radiological/nuclear weapons?

November 2001: California bridges

February 2002: ?Hollywood studios?

May 2002: Statue of Liberty

June 2002: ?Around the Fourth of July holiday?

July 2002: Stadiums

August 2002: ?Landmarks?

October 2002: ?AQ to attack Amtrak?

November 2002: ?Spectacular Al Qaeda attacks?

February 2003: ?Apartments, hotels, sports arenas and amusement parks?

May 2003: ?Possibility of multiple attacks?

May 2004: ?Attempt to affect the outcome? of presidential election

July 2004: ?Military facilities and large gatherings? on July 4th

August 2004: VA hospitals

January 2005: Dirty bomb

March 2005: US/Mexican border

October 2005: NYC & Baltimore subways

March 2006: ?Sporting events?

June 2007: Colleges

December 2007: ?Shopping malls in Chicago and LA?

November 2008: ?Al Qaeda to attack transit during Thanksgiving?

November 2010: Mass transit in New York City

October 2011: ?Americans in Europe? facing ?commando-style AQ attack?

February 2011: ?Financial institutions?

May 2011: ?Threats of retaliation?

June 2011: Al Qaeda ?hit list?

July 2011: ?Private jets of executives? involved in drone manufacturing

September 2011: ?Small planes?

September 2011: ?New York City or Washington around?10th anniversary of 9/11?

September 2011: Airports

March 2012: ?Terrorist hacking?

August 2012: Anarchists blowing up bridge during Tampa RNC

September 2012: ?Islamic violence over movie?

August 2013: ?San Fransisco on high alert?

November 2013: ?cyber attacks?

April 2014: ?College students abroad?

December 2014: ISIS targeting Mississippi River bridge

December 2014: ISIS ?sabotaging US military personnel? over social media

April 2015: ISIS targeting ?parts of California?

May 2015: ISIS targeting ?military bases?

And now we can add this past weekend, making them 0 for 41.

Johnson highlights three reasons why these warnings still get issued:

  1. The FBI has all the incentive in the world to issue warnings and no incentive whatsoever to not issue warnings. Issuing warnings has no downside, while not doing so is all downside.
  2. The FBI, like all agencies of the government, does not operate in a political vacuum. Emphasizing the ?ISIS threat? at home necessarily helps prop up the broader war effort the FBI?s boss, the president of the United States, must sell to a war-weary public. The incentive is to therefore highlight the smallest threats. This was a feature that did not go unnoticed during the Bush years, but has since fallen out of fashion.
  3. It has no actual utility. What does it mean to be ?more vigilant?? It?s a vague call to alertness that officials, aside from ?beefing up security? by local police, never quite explain what it means. If the FBI wanted to tell local police departments to up their security of the 4th of July weekend, surely they could do so quietly, without the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security having to go on all major networks talking over b-roll of ISIS in apocalyptic terms.

There’s also one other reason which is related to the first reason above, but is slightly different: if there is actually a big terrorist attack (and not one they can wave off), DHS and FBI officials will be hauled before Congress and asked why they didn’t spot it or warn about it. So this is, once again, an example of officials wanting to cover their own asses. As we noted recently in explaining why surveillance state defenders don’t care that the programs they defend don’t work, a lot of the mental calculus involves covering their own asses in the event something bad does happen. No one wants to have to explain that what they did was useless, so they feel the need to “do something.” Combine that with the near total lack of downside, and of course, there are going to be random predictions based on nothing.

So the real question, though, is how come cable news feels the need to fall for it too? As Tevor Timm notes, all this really does is help terrorists in “terrorizing” the American public:

All of this doesn?t mean that a terrorist attack on US won?t eventually happen. Simple math tells us that, no matter the precautions taken or the civil liberties taken away, one may get through. But it is a rare event, and one which human beings have lived with throughout our history. By magnifying it and terrifying everyone, we?re only doing the terrorists? job for them.

And the cable news teams are helping this right along…

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Comments on “FBI & Homeland Security Now 0 For 41 In Predicting Imminent Terrorist Attacks On The US”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I wouldnt say they did nothing with it

They did find perfectly preserved passports from afghan in the metal burning flames, so naturally one would then go on to the conclusion to evade and distabalise IRAQ, which is not afghan……

Almost like they got a perfect excuse to do something they planned before 9/11…….distabalising the middle east

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Except 9/11 was an inside job.

So was Chernobyl.

“Inside job” usually pertains to thefts where the thieves have some chance of getting away with the scheme. I don’t see where anyone’s gotten away with anything here, other than (so far) managing to avoid jail/execution. I doubt Cheney and Bush enjoy the fact that pretty much everybody now considers them war criminals (on par with Syria’s Assad, or Idi Amin, or Serbia’s Milosevic, Pol Pot, Josef Goebbels, Stalin, Gen. Tojo, Francisco Franco, Winston Churchill, …).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The agency really can’t lose. If there isn’t an attack, it’s obviously because they’re incredibly competent in identifying and disrupting plots. If there is an attack, it can be used to justify greater authority and emergency exemptions to the law.

Never are the ideas that terrorism is more rare than perceived or that LEO are less competent than they purport entertained.

Andrew (profile) says:

I was in San Fransisco for the November 2001 “alerts”. I was staying in Sausalito, but going to Treasure Island (yes, the one from Cory’s “Little Brother”) to film season 4 of BattleBots for comedy central. Because of traffic, we’d go via the Richmond bridge and Oakland at 6am, and Sf/GG bridge at 11pm to bed.

For those that don’t know, Treasure Island (and Yerba Buena) is in the middle of the Bay Bridge, so either way, you have to take it. One day, we saw an abandoned big box van (think like a large rental truck) just abandoned on the side of the bridge. Now my co-worker (and driver) is ex Marines, so when we get to the exit (on the far side of the tunnel iirc) we stop and inform the National Guard squad (oh yes, military units were EVERYWHERE) there about the abandoned van.

Well, from the loading area (and our welding/grinding/safety test area where I was mainly working that day) you could see the bridge, and the truck.

Despite there being this ‘Big Terror Alert’, not a single person went near that truck for about 2 hours. Then a tow-truck came and pulled it away. No investigations, no checking the truck out, making sure it was ‘safe’, NOTHING.

I grew up in the UK, in Liverpool, during the IRA conflict. I was at the 93 Warrington bombing (the boston bombing was a near carbon copy of it, and almost exactly 20 years later), walked past one of the bombs minutes before it went off, and known many other ‘suspect package’ alerts.

They did none of it. That’s when I understood how much of it was just for manipulation, and emotional response encouragement.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think TV viewership is at an all-time low. Everyone’s cord cutting these days. I watch perhaps 3 hours of TV a WEEK, and that’s just for things like Battlebots and American Dad. I watch quite a bit more streaming video off the internet, and certainly NOT the mainstream media or their “news” channels.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

and that’s just for things like Battlebots

As a former crewbot on the show (and a good friend is competing, along with a lot of regular friends on the crew and competitors list)

(that’s actually what I did before I started with the US&UK Pirate Party, safety/tech on that show)

Thanks for watching! ๐Ÿ™‚

Kenbach says:

Be Afraid! Be Scared! Do NOT enjoy your Holiday Weekend!

That was the ‘lead’ news story on all the major TV/Radio News Programs on 3 & 4 July (ABC/NBC/CBS/etc. The media fear-mongering was really bad for this year’s July 4th.

Of course, they all had the mandatory video/plugs of the New York Police Dept “heroically” protecting the City from non-existent July 4th terrorist threats.

Naturally, nothing bad happened on the 4th —
but the news network on 5 July … said absolutely nothing at all about their egregiously false warnings of possible terrorist threats. Our dominant news media are shameless propaganda branches of the government.

Tim R says:

Definition of a Terrorist

“And let’s define ‘terrorist organization’. A terrorist organization is an organization that scares you on a daily basis and makes you change your behavior. What does CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC do on a daily basis? Wolf Blitzer? Terrorist. Glenn Beck, terrorist. Nancy Grace? F**king terrorist. And her plastic surgeon. Yeah, that guy’s a menace.”

Christopher Titus, “Neverlution” (2011)

Ian W says:

Caution, Slippery

Kinda reminds me of the situation in my office building. Seems they have all these giant yellow “Caution, Slippery Floor” sign stands on permanent display all over the place, regardless of whether the floor is actually slippery or wet.

Except of course, when you actually slip and break your ankle! At which point your first thought goes to, “Where is that damn sign now?”

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Caution, Slippery

Liability Insurance.

Each of those signs marks a spot where someone fell. The sign goes up immediately after the fall and before the insurance investigation, to prove the company warned the faller of the danger, and thus prevents having to pay for damages and prevents insurance liability costs from rising.

Standard Operational Procedure.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Please stop helping governments to twist the language, as racist != terrorist, and small bomb != weapon of mass destruction. A solo rampage is not a concerted campaign against a government. This twisting of the language helps prevent reasoned debate by inflating the actual dangers.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I think I was told right here in these posts that Terrorism was defined as an attack against civilians, with the intention of making that civilian population force regime change upon its government.

So at best I suppose, that could be read as being directed against a government indirectly maybe.

The definition may have changed though.
In fact, many times.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Would they announce if they actually knew?

Consider, if they had legitimate specific intelligence about a pending attack, what are the odds that they would announce that fact?

If I were part of a terrorist organisation, I would certainly want to make use of these kinds of public announcements – plan something for nearby the announcement, so they think any specific info may have been worthwhile, just insufficient. Or plan something counter to the announcements, to lower public confidence in their “protectors”.

Luckily for everyone (not least myself), I’m not part of a terrorist organisation.

GEMont (profile) says:

Tricksie Hobbitses!!

Maybe they decided to cut costs and do a CIAF BINSA-run Joint Terrorist-Cyber attack on the US – by crashing a few things electronically, such as the Stock Exchange, or the Wall Street Journal’s Website.

That would make Cyber-Security FUD more believable to the gullible and put the old “fear-o-terror” back into the spines of the spineless, and cost way less than the Boston Bombing.

Just a thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

dulk (profile) says:


our bloated and expensive security agencies are black hole money pits that take money away from domestic spending. we spend enormous sums of money for very little dubious information while the right wing demands even more security and defense spending. people really do have more chance of slipping and falling in the shower than being a victim of a terrorist attack even the higher proportion of anti government and white supremacist groups.

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