The ‘known unknowns’ of today’s terror war

“The message is that there are no knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together and we then say, well, that’s basically what we see as the situation – that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. It sounds like a riddle. It isn’t a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter.”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responding to a reporter’s question about the challenges facing the alliance while fighting the “War on Terrorism,” at a NATO headquarters press conference in Brussels, Belgium, June 6, 2002

Rumsfeld’s “known and unknown” answer (usually shortened and taken completely out of context) eventually became his most famous (and ridiculed) statement while serving as President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense. Subsequently, 10 years later, in 2012, Rumsfeld titled his autobiography, “Known and Unknown: A Memoir.”

As 2015 draws to a close with fears of terrorism permeating our culture, I thought this was an appropriate time to revisit Rumsfeld’s intriguing answer to a reporter’s question. My intention is not to poke fun at it, but to view it as a template from which we can analyze the most challenging aspects of what was then known as the “War on Terrorism.” (If you recall, this phrase was officially banned and flushed down the memory hole by ` in August of 2009 – problem solved.)

Let’s begin our discussion with a “known unknown” emanating from last week’s “homegrown” terror attack in San Bernardino. The key question is: “Going forward, how will authorities identify ‘normal’ American-born Muslims who have been secretly and quietly radicalized?”

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Shortly after the shootings, the L.A. Times neatly summed up the situation with this headline: “San Bernardino killers traded the American Dream for a nightmare of terror.” But, in fact, this couple never intended on living the “American Dream.” Instead they methodically plotted and planned to destroy the dreams of others.

Known is that routing out Americans such as the Farook family will require intense cooperation from the Muslim community at a level that has yet to materialize.

Meanwhile a larger known unknown remains – just how many more foreign-born radical Islamic killers are hiding in plain sight currently living “peaceful lives”? (Except for that pesky, yet to be discovered, bomb factory in their kitchen, basement or garage.)

Unknown, too, is how many neighbors out there across the fruited plain have seen suspicious activity but, like those in San Bernardino, have failed to report it out of fear of engaging in the embarrassing crimes of racial profiling and Islamophobia.

This is proof that the fruits borne from the seeds of political correctness have rotted before our eyes.

Such rot is further illustrated by what happened to school officials who reported the suspicious activity of “Clock Boy” that led to his very brief arrest. Now all involved are facing a Justice Department investigation recently announced in front of a Muslim advocacy group.

Another overarching known unknown is by what method, and how destructive, the next terrorist attack must be in order to catapult the defeat of radical Islam to the top of our national priority list.

This is a revealing question in light of a recent Quinnipiac poll released on Dec. 3, the day after the San Bernardino attack and based on data collected the prior week.

Amazingly, the poll found that 83% of American voters believe it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that a major terrorist attack will strike the U.S. in the near future. (Obviously, this does not bode well for confidence is our government’s ability to keep the homeland safe.)

In Rumsfeld-speak, the certainty of a major attack qualifies as “things we know that we know.” Unfortunately, “knowing things” and the willingness of our government, political leaders and corporate hi-tech communication chiefs to proactively work together using all the available politically incorrect tools to prevent such an attack are not currently aligned.

Here is another known known, touched on earlier, but has yet to be a fully operational on a massive national scale. To defeat terrorism it is imperative that all Americans of every faith must lose their apprehension against reporting suspicious activities of their spouses, neighbors, friends, relatives and co-workers.

This will be especially difficult because such behavior is anathema to our American way of life. Yes, it wreaks of Nazism, totalitarianism, communism, and Orwell’s “1984″ – everything we have always been taught to hate and as a nation have fought against.

Since the 9/11 attacks our government has been asking us to do this – albeit in a friendly sugarcoated way with the gentle suggestion, “If you see something, say something.” Now is the time for this “suggestion” to take on a more urgent tone as a national “call to action.” It must be practiced without hesitation and fear of retribution because in recent videos ISIS has bragged that, “We are back in America,” and most of us believe them.

Moreover, an extremely provocative ISIS video egging America to “bring it on,” released Nov. 25, was produced to taunt and reinforce the ISIS message that they are at war with us. And their message was indeed timely, as witnessed by the findings of a Nov. 20 Rasmussen poll indicating that 60% of Americans believe that the U.S. is at war with Islamic terrorism. (The next poll results will likely be even higher.)

Today, ISIS released a new threatening “end of world” video showing the final battle with “crusaders” as their army advances toward Rome.

The consequences of engaging in a full-scale “War on Terrorism” (with the phrase rendered inoperative) are unknown and unimaginable to the great majority of Americans. Still the greatest unknown remains, “Is our fractured, polarized nation even capable of uniting and waging what is sure to be an extremely politically incorrect and violent war?”

This we know with great certainty: The Islamic State and their secret allies are working overtime right here and now – perhaps even in your city, school, church, neighborhood or workplace – to test that notion.

Known is that Islamic terror and all its ripple effects (see Trump, Donald J.) is currently shaping up to be the defining issue for Republican primary voters.

Also known is that the GOP primary winner will almost certainly face Hillary Clinton.

You know Hillary Clinton, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who recently said, “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”

Clear and known is 2016 will be a most difficult, dangerous, polarizing and volatile year.

Cross-posted at WND

Myra Kahn Adams

Myra Kahn Adams

Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign's creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign's ad council. Writing credits include, National Review, Washington Examiner, World Net Daily, Breitbart and many others. Contact Myra at [email protected]


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