CNN Investigates Walid Shoebat

Asked about claim to be helping Christians in Pakistan: “None of your business”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° has broadcast the first of a two-part investigative report on Walid Shoebat, the self-professed terror expert who last month spoke at a Homeland Security Conference in South Dakota. Shoebat, as is well-known, purports to be an ex-terrorist who spent time in prison in Israel after firebombing a bank for the PLO; however:

CNN’s Jerusalem bureau went to great lengths trying to verify Shoebat’s story. The Tel Aviv headquarters of Bank Leumi had no record of a firebombing at its now-demolished Bethlehem branch. Israeli police had no record of the bombing, and the prison where Shoebat says he was held “for a few weeks” for inciting anti-Israel demonstrations says it has no record of him being incarcerated there either.

Shoebat says he was never charged because he was a U.S. citizen.

Scepticism about Shoebat’s story has been around for a while – in 2008 Shoebat’s handler Keith Davies threatened to sue a blogger who had looked into Shoebat’s background, and a critical piece appeared soon after in the Jerusalem Post. The doubts should have been easy to clear up; in 2006, Daniel Pipes had told his readers that

Walid Shoebat took the time to visit me in my office today and to show me proofs that his life story is a true one. I accept that it is.

At this time, Shoebat was claiming that “Walid Shoebat” was a pseudonym to protect his identity, but he has since confirmed that his relatives are indeed named “Shu’aybat” (one Shu’aybat relative, billed as “Daood Shoebat”, appears in the CNN piece). Therefore there is no reason why these “proofs” should not be made public.

But even if Shoebat’s story is true, attempting to firebomb a bank for the PLO more than thirty years ago would hardly make Shoebat an expert on terrorism. When it comes to professional expertise in contemporary counter-terrorism – which can be the only valid basis for inviting him to speak at a Homeland Security conference – Shoebat exposes himself as amateurish and sloppy. CNN notes:

Shoebat also told the group there were 17 hijackers when there were 19. And perhaps more surprising from a man who bills himself as a terror expert, Shoebat said the Transportation Security Administration could have stopped them. The TSA wasn’t created until after the 9-11 attacks.

…During Shoebat’s presentation, he criticized Muslim organizations and told audience members to be leery of Muslim doctors, engineers, students and mosques.

“Now, we aren’t saying every single mosque is potential terrorist headquarters. But if you look at certain reports by the Hudson report, 80 percent of mosques they found pamphlets and education on jihad. So they’re in the mosque, the mosque in accordance to the Muslim brotherhood is the command post and center.”

The conservative Hudson Institute said it never issued such a report and has no idea why its name was invoked.

Shoebat doesn’t have any specialist inside information about how terrorists operate or think: instead, he uses his status as an ex-Muslim to offer lurid and often generalised warnings about the dangers of Islam and Muslim infiltration, based on familiar talking points from the paranoid right. Although he appears to have moderated his rhetoric slightly for the event in South Dakota, in other contexts Shoebat has claimed to know that Barack Obama is a Islamic terrorist:

Islam could not defeat us by destroying the twin towers. But they are able to defeat us by sneaking in their man.

Spreading himself even thinner, Shoebat also visits churches to explain how his Muslim background gives him special insight into how the Bible predicts the coming of a Muslim anti-Christ.

CNN looks into Shoebat’s finances:

In tax records filed by Davies, the Forum for Middle East Understanding reported 2009 earnings from speaking engagements, videos and book sales of more than $560,000. The documents are thin on specifics, and so is Shoebat.

“Basically, we are in information, and we do speaking and we do also helping Christians that are being persecuted in countries like Pakistan, and we help Christians that are suffering all throughout the Middle East,” he said. Asked how they do that, he said, “None of your business” — adding that disclosing details could endanger people he was trying to help in Islamic countries that have laws against blasphemy.

Shoebat’s claim to be helping Christians in Pakistan is a subject I’ve looked at a couple of times recently (here and here). He has created a separate organisation, called “Rescue Christians”, which has no apparent formal board structure or trustees. “Rescue Christians” purports to be protecting the families of Fanish Robert, Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel, and Qamar David: these are all high-profile cases in which men accused of blasphemy have either been murdered or have died in suspicious circumstances in custody. Despite international media attention, and lobbying by established groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide or International Christian Concern, I have not been able to find any independent reference to the involvement of “Rescue Christians”.

CNN adds:

[Shoebat] referred details to Davies, who offered to provide a copy of the group’s tax returns — but didn’t. When asked who served on the foundation’s board of advisers, Davies gave “Anderson Cooper 360” the name of a former pilot, who didn’t return phone calls. But he could not name the high-ranking military officers he said were on the board.

The second part of the investigation will be broadcast this evening.

So far, Shoebat has responded by suggesting that CNN “has been infiltrated or worse is an ally of CAIR”.