© 2002 Steve Emerson
The police taught me some techniques about living underground. Stay away
from the windows. Vary your routine. The important thing is not to leave the
house at the same time or take the same route to and from the office every
day. When driving a car, make sure no one is following you. Do a quick
U-turn every once in a while just to make sure. I did that many times.
"Be careful when you jog," they said. That was a big problem. I love to
jog. It's my only opportunity to get outdoors and get my mind off things for
a while. But jogging through Rock Creek Park at night promised maximum
exposure. Now I had to develop a hundred different ways of leaving my
apartment and winding through different streets in inconspicuous clothing in
order to maintain my daily exercise. If I didn't, my health – and sanity –
would probably collapse. It was trying and unnerving.
Along the way I had to decide whether this was all worth it. Did I really
want to live this way? Couldn't I just move on to another subject and be
just as effective as an investigator and reporter? I weighed the idea for a
long time. But there was a stubborn resistance in me. I didn't like the idea
of being intimidated. I'd be giving up an extremely good story. I honestly
believed this was an important concern for everyone in the nation. I could
see the momentum toward domestic terror building. I decided to go on.
One incident that severely affected the course of my reporting was the
Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995. That ended up being an albatross around
my neck. Less than six hours after the bombing I was asked on television
whether I thought militant Islamic groups were involved. There was good
reason for thinking they might be. The bombing, after all, was in Oklahoma
City, where I had first encountered such militant groups in 1992. Several
Hamas operatives were known to be living in the Oklahoma City area. At
first, federal law enforcement officials were suspicious themselves.
When asked on a news program, I responded that "federal law enforcement
officials" were investigating the possibility that militant Islamic groups
were involved. This was true. I also said that "this [was] done with the
attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible" and that "this is not the
same type of bomb that has been traditionally used by other terrorist groups
in the United States other than the Islamic militant ones." All this was
interpreted as my saying point-blank that militant Muslim groups were
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Muslim
Council (AMC), and other organizations immediately took offense. Then when
Timothy McVeigh was arrested and it turned out domestic terrorists were
responsible, Muslim groups claimed they were the real victims. "Surge in
hate crimes against Muslims," was the story on the front page of The New
York Times – based, I believe, entirely on unsubstantiated information fed
to them by CAIR. The Boston Globe, The New York Times, ABC-TV, National
Public Radio – even news outlets that had themselves originally reported
that Muslims were among the suspects now took the position that I was the
only one who had suggested this. I became persona non grata in many places,
including at CBS, which had hired me less than 24 hours after the bombing to
be a consultant. They ended up blacklisting me for five years. Dan Rather
contended, "It was Emerson who misled us."
Still, the news media didn't give up the story themselves. At one point
Newsweek called up and said, "We'll give you $10,000 to help write our cover
story." They were looking for a militant Muslim connection. "Save your
money," I told them. "They didn't do it." As soon as the details of the
McVeigh arrest emerged, it was obvious that he was responsible and had
probably acted nearly alone. Up to that point I had suspected that Islamic
radicals were involved. Now I realized I was wrong. I've never wavered from
that since then, and I have refused to support the conspiracy theorists who
insist that McVeigh himself was actually involved with Muslim groups. But to
this day I regret my hasty comments.
Meanwhile, I continued to discover more information at The Investigative
Project. People in law enforcement would regularly come to me with new data,
records and documents. The most disturbing were the calls I would get from
federal law enforcement agents who had information and wanted to follow up
but were being prevented by their superiors who weren't interested in these
things. More and more, these disgruntled agents turned to us with
information that they weren't allowed to pursue themselves.
Our operations became more sophisticated and far-reaching. One of the
unexplored mountains of evidence we inherited, for example, was the trial
exhibits from the first World Trade Center bombing. Included were the
records of thousands of phone calls made by the suspects to the Middle East
and other parts of the world. We knew the individuals who were placing the
calls, but we couldn't tell who had received them. Yet it was obvious that
this was the key to investigating how far the network of international
terrorism had extended.
We divided the list of calls up country by country. Then, we engaged a
number of Arabic speakers and started making cold calls. Every night at
midnight – when the tolls were low and it was daylight on the other side of
the world – we would begin dialing numbers in the Middle East. When someone
picked up we would engage him in random, nondescript conversation. "How are
you? How are things going? I'm calling from the U.S. Do you want to know
what's happening here?" One way or another we tried to get them to talk to
Exposing Jihad Within Our Borders
In Our Midst
Jihad In America
Emerson goes underground
Read Emerson's entire story in
"American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us,"
available at ShopNetDaily.
Also available is Emerson's video,
"Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America"