The New York Post called him “the nation’s foremost journalistic expert on terrorism.” Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism chief, called him the “Paul Revere of terrorism.” For 16 years, Steven Emerson has been conducting research, reporting, writing, speaking, and testifying before Congress on the threat of radical Islam.
The author of six books, Emerson is also executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, one of the world’s largest storehouses of data on radical Islamic terrorist groups, and the producer of “Jihad in America,” an award-winning film on radical Muslim groups in the United States.
The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.
The Jewish Press: In the past few months, a Muslim army psychiatrist killed 13 military personnel in Fort Hood, Texas, and a Muslim passenger on a flight to Detroit nearly succeeded in blowing up a plane with 290 passengers. How do we prevent such attacks from occurring in the future?
Emerson: Look, we stopped most attacks last year through intelligence and informants. That’s really the key.
Will that be enough to stop all attacks or are you inclined to agree with Dick Cheney’s statement in 2002 that the question is not if there will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, but when?
There’s no doubt there will be another attack. There’s no foolproof system for preventing an attack from occurring. Even the Israelis, who have incredible intelligence, can’t stop all acts of terror.
Would more extreme measures – such as barring all Arab immigration from the Middle East or keeping a closer eye on all mosques in America – do the trick?
I don’t believe that would be constitutional. Sometimes you can wiretap, but there has to be a criminal predicate. Law enforcement can’t just walk in and tape-record something.
As far as barring immigration from the Middle East, I don’t think that’s the proper way to go. But people applying for immigration from certain countries known to sponsor terrorism should undergo better and more extensive background checks.
What’s your opinion about radical Islamic recruitment in U.S. prisons?
I think it’s a problem. There’s definitely not enough attention paid to the imams who come in or to the literature being brought in that radicalizes inmates. I think there are ticking time bombs in the prison system.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has to take the problem seriously, which they haven’t, and the United States has to set up some sort of auditing council to check the backgrounds of the imams and literature coming in. Some state prisons currently do this; a lot of others don’t.
How did you first get involved in researching radical Islam?
I produced “Jihad in America” in 1994, and knew that certain groups that feigned moderation were fake – like the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was a front for Hamas, and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which was a front for Islamic Jihad. There was nobody pursuing this, so I decided to open up an institute to pursue the investigation of radical Islamic groups in the United States.
We’ve looked at groups that exhort followers to carry out violence, and we’ve also looked at what I call “stealth jihad” – that is, jihad pursued by groups that play by the rules of the game to infiltrate government, media, and law enforcement.
What led you to produce “Jihad in America”?
I witnessed radical Islamic activity in the United States that no one knew about, so I left CNN to do the documentary.
You were at CNN at the time?
Yes, I had been sent to Oklahoma City in December 1992 to do a certain story, and I just happened to pass by the Oklahoma City Convention Center where I witnessed thousands of people coming out dressed in Middle Eastern garb. I went inside and found out it was a radical Islamist conference with calls to kill the Jews and attack America. And then after the first World Trade Center bombing I put two and two together and realized that we have a problem on American soil.
CNN asked me to do an hour on the bombing and I proposed that we look at the radical groups in the United States. They said, “No, we want you to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan.” I said, “That’s part of the story but the larger part is how radical groups are operating here under false cover.” They didn’t want to do that story because it was “too sensitive.” So I quit and did my documentary.
According to Michelle Malkin’s book, In Defense of Internment, many Japanese-American leaders readily complied with – some even endorsed – President Roosevelt’s decision to place Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. “Our primary consideration as good Americans is the total war effort,” said one leader, explaining his endorsement of the policy. Many Muslim American leaders, on the other hand, are often antagonistic to U.S. governmental efforts aimed at catching homegrown terrorists.
Yes, they’re against prosecutions, they’re against detentions, they’re against deportations, they’re against arrests, they’re against convictions. Basically, some of these radical Islamic groups that call themselves mainstream are enablers of radical ideology that causes Muslims to believe that the U.S. is the enemy and conspiring against Islam. [This belief] is the number one criteria by which jihadists become violent. So they are ideological enablers of the jihadists.
These groups are not loyal to the United States. Their loyalty is to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is ultimately a global caliphate.
Which groups, specifically, are you talking about?
Council of American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Muslim American Society, Muslim Student Association, Islamic Circle of North America.
These are the same groups that are regularly invited to the White House.
Yes, the government met with a man named Al-Amoudi from the American Muslim Council for 14 years until they discovered he was al-Qaeda. So there’s a grand deception going on.
Is the government becoming more aware of the true nature of these groups?
No, every government has to rediscover it and this government is worse than the previous one. This government has legitimized groups like the Muslim American Society outrageously.
What’s your next major project?
I have a documentary coming out within the next two months, called “The Grand Deception.” It’s about the deception perpetrated by radical Islamic groups on the American government, media, and law enforcement.