For almost 20 years, U.S. drone warfare was largely one-sided. Unlike Afghans and Yemenis, Iraqis and Somalis, Americans never had to worry about lethal robots hovering overhead and raining down missiles. Until, that is, one appeared in the skies above Florida.
But that’s a story for later. For now, let’s focus on a 2017 executive order issued by President Trump, part of his second attempt at a travel ban directed primarily at citizens of Muslim-majority nations. It begins: “It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks.”
That sentence would be repeated in a January report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Meant to strengthen the president’s case for the travel ban, it was panned for its methodological flaws, pilloried for its inaccuracies, and would even spur a lawsuit by the civil rights organization, Muslim Advocates, and the watchdog group, Democracy Forward Foundation. In their complaint, those groups contend that the report was “biased, misleading, and incomplete” and “manipulates information to support its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim conclusions.”
To bolster the president’s arguments for restricting the entry of foreigners into the United States, the DOJ/DHS analysis contained a collection of case summaries. Examples included: the Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; the Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; the Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.
Such cases cited in the report, hardly spectacular terror incidents, were evidently calculated to sow fears by offering a list of convicted suspects with Muslim-sounding names. But the authors of the report simply looked in the wrong places. They could have found startling summaries of truly audacious attacks against the homeland in a collection of U.S. military documents from 2016 obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act.