In an effort to win support for its bombing campaign against Syria, the Obama Administration concocted a new terror threat—the so-called 'Khorasan Group'—and got the mainstream media to run with the story, according to reporting by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, published at The Intercept over the weekend.
"After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat—too radical even for Al Qaeda!—administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland," Greenwald and Hussain write. "Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore."
The piece cites the Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, the New York Times, and other outlets as media organizations that went along for the ride, repeating anonymous claims that "hardened terrorists" in Syria represented an "imminent" and direct threat to America. Between September 13, when the Khorasan storyline was "unveiled" by the AP, and September 22, when the first U.S. bombs fell in Syria, "[t]his Khorasan-attacking-Americans alarm spread quickly and explosively in the landscape of U.S. national security reporting," the authors note.
Even more troubling, according to The Intercept:
[O]nce it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized...Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and "there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works" (NYT).
In fact, by this point, "[t]here are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner"—as evidenced by recent stories to that effect in the very publications that first hyped the group in the first place.
The reason for all this intrigue this is clear, Greenwald and Hussain assert:
What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.
So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of "hardened terrorists," posed an "imminent" threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the "final stages" of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could "launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001."
Of course, to do so was both strategically unsound and irresponsible, Kia Makarechi charges at Vanity Fair.
Not only could spreading Khorasan claims damage the U.S.'s credibility in Syria, but: "Domestically, it’s dishonest to launder talking points through the media and claim Americans are facing an imminent threat while dropping bombs, only to quietly disown such heady statements a few days later," he writes. "The initial, scary news will always find more readers and broadcast news viewers than the nuances of press conferences at the Pentagon, and the federal government knows this."
On Democracy Now on Monday, Hussain called it an "egregious case of media spin."
"[T]he Khorasan group itself, which we had been hearing about in the media was a new enemy and was a definable threat against the United States, did not really exist per se; it was simply a group of people whom the U.S. designated within a Syrian opposition faction as being ready to be struck," Hussain said. "So, the entire narrative that had been developed, and within the media developed, was completely put to a lie after the strikes."
See the full interview below: