Khorasan? It Doesn't Exist: How Washington Created the Latest 'Imminent Threat'
September 30, 2014
Ali Velshi / Al Jazeera & Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com & Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept
The Washington policy wonks and the Big Donors who pour millions into their think-tanks knew exactly what to do: start another war, this time in Syria. ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from . . . . All I know is that they don’t call themselves that."
What Obama Accomplished at the UN Security Council Meeting
Ali Velshi / Real Money: Al Jazeera (September 24, 2014)
Khorasan? They're Making Up Stuff
Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(September 28, 2014) -- It's hard to keep the American people engaged with foreign affairs: notoriously "isolationist," we just can't stay interested in the various overseas "threats" our rulers would have us in a panic over.
While Al Qaeda was Washington's biggest "success" in this regard -- the 9/11 attacks really got everyone's attention and managed to keep Americans focused on the absolute necessity of gutting our Constitution and rampaging over half the earth -- that was some 13 year ago. The assassination of Osama bin Laden, and two drawn-out and absolutely disastrous wars -- both ending in what looks dismayingly like defeat -- have pretty much exhausted everyone's patience.
The "war on terrorism" launched by George W. Bush with such dramatic fanfare was in danger of petering out, ending not with a bang -- or a victory -- but without even any acknowledgment on the part of our wise rulers that it was (a) over, and (b) a horrific failure.
Yet the blowback from our obtusely wrongheaded policies continues to play havoc with the international landscape, destabilizing governments throughout the Middle East and putting Americans and American interests at risk around the globe. The political class is united in the belief that Washington has to Do Something -- after all, our National Prestige is at stake!
Having deliberately and viciously destroyed the Iraqi state, we stood looking at our handiwork aghast -- why, the whole country was in utter chaos! The Iranians were practically in charge, the Kurds were rebelling, and those bothersome Sunnis were up in arms again. What to do?
The Washington policy wonks and the Big Donors who pour millions into their think-tanks knew exactly what to do: start another war, this time in Syria. That way we could always cross the border into Iraq, as necessary -- and kill two birds with one stone, while injuring the biggest bird of them all, Iran. We could knock off Bashar al-Assad -- the last secular despot left standing in the region -- and tame the Sunnis in preparation for the Big One, i.e. the assault on Tehran.
All was made ready: a propaganda campaign on behalf of the Syrian rebels was deployed. Cries of "He's killing his own people!" were heard from our "humanitarian" liberals, and the Nicholas Kristoff Brigade, a crack division of America's famous laptop bombardiers, was off and running.
On the right, Bill Kristol's Legion of Teddy Roosevelt Impersonators went into their all-too-familiar act, but it was the liberals and the "national security Democrats" who gave the campaign real heft. Kristol and his gang were already so discredited that anything they said in favor of bombing Syria would probably have a boomerang effect, and so it was left to the ready-for-Hillary crowd to do the heavy lifting -- which, in the end, proved too much for them to handle.
The War Party thought they had it in the bag, but they forgot about one key factor: the American people, famously "isolationist," and sick unto death of endless overseas conflicts.
In spite of years of war propaganda, which portrayed the Syrian rebels as little Islamic angels and Assad as the Devil Himself, the American people weren't swallowing it. Ignoring the conventional wisdom of the political class, which smugly informs us we don't care about foreign policy, ordinary citizens overwhelmed congressional switchboards with a veritable tsunami of calls protesting yet another war to be launched in their name.
Another factor the War Party forgot about: the President of these here United States, who plainly didn't want his final years in office to be dominated by yet another unwinnable war. No, they weren't going to pass this hot potato off to the only black guy in the room: Obama, after a long walk in the Rose Garden with his chief advisor, suddenly announced he was throwing the steaming potato back -- to Congress.
The highlight of this year so far was watching formerly bellicose members of Congress -- Democratic hawks and fence-sitters alike, as well as Republican big mouths like Ted Cruz -- back down, one by one, as the prospect of voting for another war loomed ever closer.
Oh well, let's call the whole thing off . . . but not quite.
The Kristoff Brigade and their Kristolian allies on the right were rebuffed, but not defeated. They simply bided their time. After all, things were looking pretty ugly in Iraq, and it wasn't long before they got ugly enough to spawn the creature known as ISIS -- the Islamic State in al Sham [the Levant].
A few beheadings conveniently tweeted by the media-savvy jihadists, a flurry of panicked news reports predicting the imminent fall of Baghdad, a "humanitarian disaster" that in retrospect proved to be greatly exaggerated, and -- voila! -- another "crisis" erupted, which the War Party was quick to take advantage of.
Yet still the propaganda campaign failed to achieve the desired result. For while the panic level of the American public had risen considerably, it hadn't risen enough to persuade them to send US troops back to the graveyard of George W. Bush's dreams, the now largely nonexistent nation of Iraq. Nor did they want to see US troops in Syria -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
All those old poll numbers showing Americans want Washington to mind its own business internationally, which were supposedly non-operational, came roaring back, full-throated, saying "No boots on the ground!"
The problem, it seems, is that ISIS wasn't scary enough. Oh sure, those beheadings were pretty awful, but they took place in Syria, after all, and you know how the average American is -- if it isn't occurring here, then it isn't really happening at all, or, if it is, it hardly matters. Yes, those people in Flyover Country really are that provincial, my dear, but what can one do?
Well, one can scare them sufficiently so that they believe in the Imminent Threat -- that is, an immediate threat to them personally.
And so it was back to the drawing board, and quickly -- because timing is everything in these matters. You can't get a good war hysteria going and then just let it run out of steam. Oh no. You have to keep beating those war drums harder and harder, no matter how many drumsticks you break in the process, until you get the desired result -- the consent of the citizenry, however passive and ultimately fickle it may turn out to be.
They had to come up with something fast, and so -- like their predecessors -- they simply started to make up stuff. This was the modus operandi of the Bush crowd, and it worked for them, at least temporarily -- how many people still believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks? And, yes, there are still conservative cargo-cultists who think Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" are somewhere out there, waiting to be found. I'm sure Laurie Mylroie still has her fan club, which used to include top Bush administration officials.
In short: lying works, and so administration officials simply invented a new enemy, one more fearsome -- and, simultaneously, more familiar -- to Americans than ISIS. They dubbed it "Khorasan," which, as far as anyone knows, is a former province of Iran, now divided into three separate provinces also named Khorasan. [See story from "The Intercept" below.]
We are told their ostensible leader -- whom we have just now supposedly killed in air strikes -- was once head of "Al Qaeda in Iran," a shadowy group that has never pulled off a single action or engaged in any propagandistic activities, and for all we know never really existed at all.
Those evil Iranian mullahs, the "experts" aver, have been sheltering a radical Sunni terrorist group -- one that considers them heretics deserving of death -- for their own malign purposes. No convincing evidence of this unlikely alliance is ever offered, however, and it seems about as credible as the Al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein connection Bush and his crew broadcast far and wide.
What's so fearsome about "Khorasan"? Well, they couldn't care less about establishing a Caliphate, because, you know, that's so 632, and as for overthrowing Assad, the Khorasanians won't stoop to conquer. No, nothing less than an attack on America, preferably using an airliner as a weapon of choice, will do.
What they lack in originality they more than make up for when it comes to the all-important Imminence Factor. We are told the Khorasan Group -- sounds like an investment bank, doesn't it? -- is planning an attack on an unnamed Western target and that they have assembled a cadre of Western fighters who could just hop on a plane and ignite themselves in midair.
And, oh yes, they have special clothing that ignites spontaneously and other tricks of the terrorism trade which no one has ever seen or heard of before.
No one had ever heard of a group named "Khorasan" before: it simply appeared spontaneously, like Minerva from the head of Zeus -- or from the head of some war propagandist somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. We are told the very name of this mysterious group was "classified," at least according to the dubious Rep. Peter King (R-IRA), but as Glenn Greenwald points out here a great number of anonymous government officials were glad to drop this hot stuff into the eager hands of those court stenographers otherwise known as "mainstream journalists," who dutifully "reported" it as the gospel truth.
Greenwald goes on to write: "Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual ‘Khorasan Group' was to some degree an invention of the American government." My question is: to what degree isn't "Khorasan" an invention of the American government?
There is absolutely zero evidence that such a group has ever existed: no documents, no testimony, no public "intelligence" of any kind. Such descriptions of its history and character as we do have -- the hurried and often contradictory explanations of anonymous US officials -- all point to "Khorasan" as being a simple re-branding of an old enemy: Al Qaeda.
"Khorasan" is a marketing ploy, and the target is the American people. We're used to hearing that the Al Qaeda bogeyman is under the bed, which is why we supposedly have to give the government carte blanche to spy on us and, while they're at it, the whole world.
This is the great problem Washington faces: it just isn't having the same effect anymore. So a new brand name for terror had to be conjured, with new imagery -- beheadings instead of falling buildings -- to overwhelm our reason and let us forget the history of the past decade or so.
It took them a while, but the Obama administration has now taken on all the worst characteristics of the neocons during the Bush years. This "Khorasan" ploy is far less believable than even the most extravagant effusions of the Weekly Standard crowd during the neocons' heyday: remember that Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence that never took place?
Do you recall the Niger uranium forgeries -- a series of obviously invented-out-of-whole-cloth "documents" that were cited by George W. Bush in a major wartime speech? And then there were those Iraqi drones, also cited by Bush, that were primed to rain hellfire down on America's cities.
All lies -- and all far more credible, at least at the time of their initial utterance, than this phony baloney "Khorasan" concoction.
As Halloween approaches -- my Sunday paper had an advertising insert for the local hardware store featuring scary plastic witches and goblins for the yard -- our war propagandists are running wild, stretching their imaginative abilities to the limit in order to frighten Americans into submission.
My guess is they're wasting their energy, because the American people are by this time so inured to this kind of thing that they view the whole spectacle as something of a circus, with the ringmasters in Washington running out of ways to bring in the paying crowds.
The Fake Terror Threat Used
To Justify Bombing Syria
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain / The Intercept
(September 28, 2014) -- As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or UN authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or UN approval.
The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat -- too radical even for Al Qaeda! -- administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.
The unveiling of this new group was performed in a September 13 article by the Associated Press, who cited unnamed US officials to warn of this new shadowy, worse-than-ISIS terror group:
While the Islamic State group [ISIS] is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria -- a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe -- poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target US aviation, American officials say.
At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.
But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, US officials say. Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a US-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.
AP warned Americans that “the fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto US-bound flights.” It explained that although ISIS has received most of the attention, the Khorasan Group “is considered the more immediate threat.”
The genesis of the name was itself scary: “Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.” AP depicted the US officials who were feeding them the narrative as engaging in some sort of act of brave, unauthorized truth-telling: “Many US officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”
On the morning of September 18, CBS News broadcast a segment that is as pure war propaganda as it gets: directly linking the soon-to-arrive US bombing campaign in Syria to the need to protect Americans from being exploded in civilian jets by Khorasan. With ominous voice tones, the host narrated:
This morning we are learning of a new and growing terror threat coming out of Syria. It’s an Al Qaeda cell you probably never heard of. Nearly everything about them is classified. Bob Orr is in Washington with new information on a group some consider more dangerous than ISIS.
Orr then announced that while ISIS is “dominating headlines and terrorist propaganda,” Orr’s “sources” warn of “a more immediate threat to the US Homeland.” As Orr spoke, CBS flashed alternating video showing scary Muslims in Syria and innocent westerners waiting in line at airports, as he intoned that US officials have ordered “enhanced screening” for “hidden explosives.” This is all coming, Orr explained, from ”an emerging threat in Syria” where “hardened terrorists” are building “hard to detect bombs.”
The US government, Orr explained, is trying to keep this all a secret; they won’t even mention the group’s name in public out of security concerns! But Orr was there to reveal the truth, as his “sources confirm the Al Qaeda cell goes by the name Khorasan.” And they’re “developing fresh plots to attack US aviation.”
Later that day, Obama administration officials began publicly touting the group, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned starkly: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.” Then followed an avalanche of uncritical media reports detailing this Supreme Threat, excitingly citing anonymous officials as though they had uncovered a big secret the government was trying to conceal.
On September 20, The New York Times devoted a long article to strongly hyping the Khorasan Group. Headlined “US Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS,” the article began by announcing that US officials believe a different group other than ISIS “posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.” Specifically:
American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.
The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.
Again, the threat they posed reached all the way to the US: “Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives.”
This Khorasan-attacking-Americans alarm spread quickly and explosively in the landscape of US national security reporting. The Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake warned on September 23 -- the day after the first US bombs fell in Syria -- that “American analysts had pieced together detailed information on a pending attack from an outfit that informally called itself ‘the Khorasan Group’ to use hard-to-detect explosives on American and European airliners.”
He added even more ominously: “The planning from the Khorasan Group . . . suggests at least an aspiration to launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001″ (days later, Lake, along with Josh Rogin, actually claimed that “Iran has long been harboring senior al Qaeda, al Nusra, and so-called Khorasan Group leaders as part of its complicated strategy to influence the region”).
On the day of the bombing campaign, NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted this:
Officials say #Khorasan is a threat to US because it aims to bring down airplanes with explosives @nbcnightlynews
That tweet linked to an NBC Nightly News report in which anchor Brian Williams introduced Khorasan with a graphic declaring it “The New Enemy,” and Engel went on to explain that the group is “considered a threat to the US because, US intelligence officials say, it wants to bring down airplanes with explosives.”
Once the bombing campaign was underway, ISIS -- the original theme of the attack -- largely faded into the background, as Obama officials and media allies aggressively touted attacks on Khorasan leaders and the disruption of its American-targeting plots. On the first day of the bombing, The Washington Post announced that “the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.” It explained:
The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”
The same day, CNN claimed that “among the targets of US strikes across Syria early Tuesday was the Khorasan Group.” The bombing campaign in Syria was thus magically transformed into an act of pure self-defense, given that ”the group was actively plotting against a US homeland target and Western targets, a senior US official told CNN on Tuesday.” The bevy of anonymous sources cited by CNN had a hard time keep their stories straight:
The official said the group posed an “imminent” threat. Another US official later said the threat was not imminent in the sense that there were no known targets or attacks expected in the next few weeks.
The plots were believed to be in an advanced stage, the second US official said. There were indications that the militants had obtained materials and were working on new improvised explosive devices that would be hard to detect, including common hand-held electronic devices and airplane carry-on items such as toiletries.
Nonetheless, what was clear was that this group had to be bombed in Syria to save American lives, as the terrorist group even planned to conceal explosive devices in toothpaste or flammable clothing as a means to target US airliners. The day following the first bombings, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed: “We hit them last night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.”
CNN’s supremely stenographic Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, went on air as videos of shiny new American fighter jets and the Syria bombing were shown and explained that this was all necessary to stop a Khorasan attack very close to being carried out against the west:
What we are hearing from a senior US official is the reason they struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group -- of Al Qaeda veterans -- was in the stages of planning an attack against the US homeland and/or an attack against a target in Europe, and the information indicated Khorasan was well on its way -- perhaps in its final stages -- of planning that attack.
All of that laid the fear-producing groundwork for President Obama to claim self-defense when he announced the bombing campaign on September 23 with this boast: “Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”
Ken Dilanian (September 23, 2014)
Joint Cheifs chairman @Martin_Dempsey:
We hit the Khorasan Group before they "may have scattered." Distrupted "imminent attack plotting."
The very next day, a Pentagon official claimed a US airstrike killed “the Khorasan leader,” and just a few days after that, US media outlets celebrated what they said was the admission by jihadi social media accounts that “the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan group was killed in a US air strike in Syria.”
But once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized. Foreign Policy‘s Shane Harris, with two other writers, was one of the first to question whether the “threat” was anywhere near what it had been depicted to be:
But according to the top US counterterrorism official, as well as Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the United States.
Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability either, even if it’s working to develop it.
“Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire,” a senior US counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy.
On September 25, The New York Times -- just days after hyping the Khorasan threat to the homeland -- wrote that “the group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the paper of record began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to the homeland:
American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.
Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).
Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian -- the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September -- published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking US officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group.
Headlined “US Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several US officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:
Senior US officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.
James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the US did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .
Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months. . . . We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late. . . . We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”
Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means. . .’imminent’” -- a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.
Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the US government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting:
Richard Engel (September 24, 2014)
Syrian activists telling us they've never heard of Khorasan or its leader.
Indeed, a Nexis search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.”
Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.
There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from. . . . All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.”
As The Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorosan . . . had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it.”
What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.
So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™.
Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful US media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the US homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down US civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.”"
As usual, anonymity was granted to US officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets -- eager, as always, to justify American wars -- spewed all of this with very little skepticism.
Worse, they did it by pretending that the US government was trying not to talk about all of this -- too secret! -- but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.”
Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only when it’s impotent.
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