Should news organizations be charged with National Security early warning analysis?

Everywhere I turn today, there is an article about Islamaphobia or justification behind why al-Qaeda was immediately suspected behind the Norway bombings. It isn’t illogical to suspect al-Qaeda behind these attacks, or deny that majority of vehicle bombs in the last ten years have been attributed to al-Qaeda. It’s ridiculous to remove proven acts of terrorism out of the discussion. But there is a difference between speculation based on assumption and early warning analysis based on indicators and evidence. Most major media news outlets were running various forms of articles or discussions on whether or not al-Qaeda was behind the attack. My wish is for the media to report the facts as they know it in the early stages of such an incident rather than focus on speculating on ‘who’ may be responsible.  Its ironic to say this but when ‘reporting news’, there is nothing wrong with simply reporting facts.

The hubbub surrounding counterterrorism blogger Will McCants’ recent posting is an interesting case in point.  McCants blogged about a translation from a Jihadist forum claiming responsibility for the Oslo massacre and, as a result, is being accused of Islamaphobia.  McCants subsequently posted a caveat to his original posting saying it wasn’t a firm claim and that the poster on the forum could be gloating. Was he wrong to report what he knew? Of course not, but bloggers, analysts and the mainstream media should have a hard and fast rule to never take forum posts as sole evidence of a bombing without further corroboration and simply report it as one piece of information.

Why does the media need to blame and put a face on tragedy so quickly? As an analyst in the intel community, if I would have jumped to the first ‘obvious’ conclusion after a terrorism bombing, the ramifications could be disastrous and impact innocent lives. In addition, the President and policymakers could be mistakenly influenced by my rash conclusion in their discussions with X country or group that has been implicated as responsible, possibly damaging relations. Speculation by the media has a similar affect–the fervor that boils around the speculation, whether true or not, can incite some individuals to act unnecessarily, whether out of anger or distress.

More importantly, the discussion that is missing from mainstream media, the blogosphere and Twitter is why aren’t Western governments focused on tracking homegrown terrorism? The media speculates that Breivik had no connection to known extremists, what does that mean? Sadly al-Qaeda hasn’t cornered the market on religious extremism.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, since the year 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 54 percent in the United States.

Mainstream media, analysts, experts and bloggers have to resist the urge to cater to the audience’s immediate interest in knowing who the perpetrator is of such heinous acts. More often, we need to let the facts speak for themselves.