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Is our DNI a fool?

Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, held his first press conference last week. Scott wrote about it here, focusing on the first portion of this comment by Blair:

If we are to release them in the United States, you can’t just sort of, as you said, put them on the street and there, but we need some sort of assistance to them to start a new life and not return to some of the conditions that may have inspired them in the first place

I would like to focus on the last part of the sentence – the reference to detainees “return[ing] to some of the conditions that may have inspired them in the first place.” Rarely have so few words betrayed so much confusion.

Blair did not explain what conditions he was afraid might replicate those that “inspired” released detainees to become terrorists in the first place, but he must have been talking about conditions in the U.S. (since, astonishingly, the discussion was about releasing the detainees here) and he must have been talking about economic conditions (since, astonishingly, he was talking about providing the terrorists with material assistance).

Does our DNI really believe that economic conditions in the U.S. inspire people to engage in terrorism? So far as appears, we have very few home grown terrorists, economically deprived or otherwise. And such home grown terrorists as we’ve encountered seem to have been inspired by their religious views, not by economic deprivation. Providing assistance to released detainees will not prevent them from seeking out radical clerics of the kind who may well have inspired them in the past.

Moreover, Blair assumes that the detainees will reject their jihadist ideology if they find that “conditions” have changed. The naivety of this assumption is staggering. Let’s assume that a detainee turned to jihad because he was poor (but many prominent terrorists come from middle class or even well-to-do families) or because his government was oppressive (but in Afghanistan, where some of the detainees come from, the oppressive government was supporting terrorism). Once that detainee adopts the view that his religion requires him to engage in jihad, and that he will enjoy a great afterlife if he follows this requirement, he is not likely to become peaceable because his economic status has improved or his government has adopted reforms.

Reasonable people can disagree about what causes people to embrace extreme ideologies. But only a fool would deny that extreme ideologies, once embraced, take on a life of their own.

Our DNI, I assume, is not a fool. But you wouldn’t know it from his public pronouncements.

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