“Is Our Congressmens Learning?

George Bush once famously asked whether “our children is learning,” demonstrating that those setting policy for education might be least suited for measuring the efficacy of education.

Two different members of Congress in the last day suggest the same is true of counterterrorism policy.

First there was IN Senator Dan Coats, who apparently attributed his understanding of terrorism tactics to 24 and Homeland yesterday. As Mia Bloom pointed out, they’re fiction (though probably supported by intelligence agencies). Experts have attacked the realism of both shows.

The worst part of Coats admitting he takes 24 and Homeland as true, though, is that he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He has — or should have — a way of getting factual details about terrorist tactics. He appears to turn to fiction instead.

Who knows what source CA Congresswoman (and Senate candidate) Loretta Sanchez relied on for her claim that 5 to 20% of Muslims want a Caliphate.

“There is a small group, and we don’t know how big that is—it can be anywhere between 5 and 20 percent, from the people that I speak to—that Islam is their religion and who have a desire for a caliphate and to institute that in anyway possible, and in particular go after what they consider Western norms—our way of life,” she said.

But she, like Coats, is privy to intelligence briefings on both the Armed Services and — especially, in this context — Homeland Security Committees. Did some whackdoodle from Homeland Security tell Sanchez a significant chunk of Muslims are itching to set up an all-Muslim empire?

Something’s wrong with our congressional briefing process. Either these people aren’t attending, they’re not useful, or they’re being fed junk.

And it’s making America less safe.

Update: Dan Coats’ state corrected thanks to “mitch daniels.”

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    Tsk, tsk EW, starting both a sentence and a paragraph with “And…” :)
    My grammatical errors are far more profound, but it’s hard to resist a gentle tweak.
    Thanks for another year of wonderful posts and insights.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    “Either these people aren’t attending, they’re not useful, or they’re being fed junk.” Or, perhaps, all three?

  3. scribe says:

    Well, 28% of Americans thought, and continue to think, that Richard Nixon did nothing wrong, let alone criminal.
    .
    And I suspect a number much greater than 5% believe the moon landings were staged in a hangar somewhere in the US of A.
    .
    So, attributing to 5 to 20 percent of Muslims a desire for a caliphate is pretty much meaningless. There’s a substantial minority in every population susceptible to stupidity, denial of reality, dimwittery or worse.

  4. mitch daniels says:

    IL Senator Dan Coats

    combover senator is from who’s yor daddy (hoosier) state Indiana IN

    soon to retire thanksgawd

  5. Anon says:

    WE while I generally agree with your analysis, it does not have to be the case that they are getting fed odd information from their own briefings. let me offer three other possible explanations for their behavior.
    .
    The first is that they are simply representing the beliefs of their constituents separately from any government information. I would hazard that many of Senator Coats’ constituents get all of their foreign policy understanding from those same shows and are happy to pick a guy who does the same. Rep Sanchez’ constituents may well believe the same things and she is just reflecting and acting on that.
    .
    Matt Taibbi recently drew a connection between this and the success of Trump.
    .
    The second is that they may actually be ignoring what they have been told in their briefings. In theory they are supposed to be identifying failures or gaps in focus. Both may genuinely believe that they are getting valid information from outside and have not asked the IC about it because they don’t trust them or do not care what they have been told.
    .
    And thirdly perhaps they are just saying the kinds of things they think their constituents want to hear in a cynical ploy to get elected.

  6. haarmeyer says:

    As Mia Bloom pointed out, they’re fiction (though probably supported by intelligence agencies)

    Probably not 24. Members of the Joint Chiefs famously made a special trip to California during the filming of that series to try to persuade the director not to show such shit, since it wasn’t true and all the troops were watching it and getting ideas.

  7. 4jkb4ia says:

    The way to remember that Coats is from IN is that he replaced Quayle in the Senate, although he hasn’t been there continuously.

    5 to 20% of Muslims wanting a caliphate may mean nothing different from my husband continuously being on the record that Israel as a democracy cannot last because there will be a monarchy in the Messianic Era. Wanting a caliphate and wanting Al-Baghdadi to be the caliph are two very, very different things. In the course of a very rare visit to Tom Maguire’s place, he pointed to something, I think it was at the Atlantic, that the ISIS scholars can point to things that are in the Muslim sources in black and white which the moderate scholars dispose of by handwaving or saying, “It’s the 21st century”. That is much more worrisome to me than wanting a caliphate. You are going to have this problem because there is no successful modern Arab country that people can look to(Saudi is almost the closest); modernity has not gotten a whole people much of anywhere.

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