About that DHS “draft report”

The AP breathlessly reports that a “DHS report disputes threat from banned nations.” The headline is false. The document in question isn’t a DHS report; it’s a draft document (as the story acknowledges) that someone in DHS leaked to the AP.

The document in question is a three-pager that’s apparently based solely on open-source material. It may be something an anti-Trump bureaucrat threw together in order to embarrass the president and undermine the prospect of the administration’s revised travel ban surviving judicial review.

In any case, the draft report does not state the view of DHS. As a DHS spokeswoman said, the document isn’t based on a final comprehensive review of the government’s intelligence. It hasn’t undergone and survived the process required to become the DHS’s view.

Nor is it easy to see how the document could. It is based on the background of the 82 people the government believes were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to engage in a terrorist act in the United States since March 2011. A little more than half of them were U.S. citizens born in the United States. Of the remainder, not many came from the seven countries listed in the ban, and none came from Syria.

Q.E.D? No.

Notice first, that the draft report is based on a review of only about 40 terrorists. I doubt that this is a sufficient sample from which to draw conclusions.

That seems particularly true when it comes to Syria. Until recently, was there a large influx of dispossessed Syrians into this country? If not, then the fact that no Syrian was involved in a terrorism plot during the six year period studied says little or nothing about the likelihood that Syrians entering the U.S. henceforward will become involved.

But even if nothing had changed in Syria or anywhere else, the sample size still would be too small, it seems to me.

It may also be a mistake to exclude U.S. citizens born in the United States whose parents immigrated to the U.S. In countries like France and Belgium, citizens of those countries who were born there to Arab parents frequently are radicalized by jihadists and terrorist organizations. We’ve seen some of that in this country too.

Again, though, even if the sample of terrorist plotters were raised to 82, I doubt it would be sufficient to draw any conclusions.

It’s not even clear that the focus should be on what has happened to date, no matter how large the sample. We’re concerned about how immigrants will behave going forward, based on the situation that prevails currently and is likely to prevail in the coming years.

As I suggested, the behavior of people who came here from Syria ten years ago, when it was a stable nation and ISIS did not exist, is probably not indicative of how new refugees from Syria will behave here now. The behavior of people who left Iran when the Shah fell and in the first decade of the mullahs’ rule may not be much of a guide as to how people who come here now from Iran will act.

It is certainly defensible, and probably better, to predict immigrant behavior by analyzing the current situation in troubled countries. Is the nation stable or war torn? Are jihadists present in large numbers? How much terrorism exists? Is the government one with which we can partner in vetting potential immigrants?

There’s a good case that the seven nations on the Trump administration’s list — Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria — all belong there based on the answers to the questions asked above. Most of them are extremely unstable and/or wore torn. Most, if not all, contain many jihadists and/or have experienced plenty of terrorism. Maybe only Iraq has a government we can hope effectively to partner with; maybe none has such a government.

Thus, it is rational, and probably astute, to list these seven countries.

The DHS draft report asserts, however, that terror groups in Iran, Sudan, and Yemen are regionally focused, rather than focused on terrorizing the United States. But the same thing was thought to be true of al Qaeda before 9/11. And even if the DHS bureaucrat is right about the current focus of the terror groups in Iran, Sudan, and Yemen, that focus could change on a dime.

Consider Iran. The mullahs had little reason to have their terrorists focus on the U.S. during the Obama years when they were negotiating for the lifting of sanctions. Their calculus could change in the Trump years, if the president takes a hard line on Iran. It could also change as the situation in Syria and Iraq become more favorable to Tehran.

In sum, the draft three-page report looks like partisan nonsense. A less partisan, more through, and more logical analysis would likely support the administration’s position.

In this connection, a White House spokesman told AP he believes “the intel community is combining resources to put together a comprehensive report using all available sources, not just open sources, and which is driven by data, not politics.” Let’s hope so.

NOTE: I have modified this post slightly since it first appeared on Power Line.

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