Steven Emerson

Steven Emerson
Emerson at a convention in June 2008
Born (1954-06-06) June 6, 1954
United States
Occupation Journalist, author, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT)
Nationality American
Alma mater Brown University (B.A., 1976; M.A., 1977)
Subject National security, terrorism, Islamic extremism
Notable works Jihad in America
Notable awards 1994 George Polk Award for best television documentary; top prize for best investigative report from Investigative Reporters and Editors

Steven Emerson (born June 6, 1954)[1] is an American journalist, author, and pundit on national security, terrorism, and Islamic extremism.

Some have called Emerson a terrorism and intelligence expert, while critics have said that he is an Islamophobe.[2][3][4][5][6]

Education and early career

Emerson received a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University in 1976, and a Master of Arts in sociology in 1977.[1] He went to Washington, D.C., in 1977 with the intention of putting off his law school studies for a year.[7] He worked on staff as an investigator for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee until 1982, and as an executive assistant to Democratic Senator Frank Church of Idaho.[8][9]

Journalist and commentator

Emerson was a freelance writer for The New Republic, for whom he wrote a series of articles in 1982 on the influence of Saudi Arabia on U.S. corporations, law firms, public-relations outfits, and educational institutions. In their pursuit of large contracts with Saudi Arabia, he argued, U.S. businesses became unofficial, unregistered lobbyists for Saudi interests.[10] He expanded this material in 1985 in his first book, The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection.[1] Emerson has contributed commentaries to Newsmax since July 2009, covering terrorism-related topics.[11]

U.S. News and World Report and CNN

From 1986 to 1989 he worked for U.S. News and World Report as a senior editor specializing in national security issues.[8][12] In 1988, he published Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era, a strongly critical review of Ronald Reagan-era efforts to strengthen U.S. covert capabilities. Reviewing the book, The New York Times wrote: "Among the grace notes of Mr. Emerson's fine book are many small, well-told stories".[13] In 1990, he co-authored The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation, which argued for the then-mainstream theory that Iran was behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Reviewing the book, The New York Times wrote: "Mr. Emerson and Mr. Duffy have put together a surpassing account of the investigation to date, rich with drama and studded with the sort of anecdotal details that give the story the appearance of depth and weight."[14] The newspaper listed it as an "editors' choice" on their Best Sellers List, and cited it as a "notable book of the year".[15][16]

In 1990, he joined CNN as an investigative correspondent and continued to write about terrorism. In 1991, he published Terrorist: The Inside Story of the Highest-Ranking Iraqi Terrorist Ever to Defect to the West, detailing how Iraq spread and increased its terror network in the 1980s with U.S. support.[1]

Jihad in America

Emerson left CNN in 1993 to work on a documentary, Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America, for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).[17] It aired as "a PBS special" in November 1994.[18]

In the documentary, he stood in front of the Twin Towers and warned:

"The survivors of the explosion at the World Trade Center in 1993 are still suffering from the trauma, but as far as everyone else is concerned, all this was a spectacular news event that is over. Is it indeed over? The answer is: apparently not. A network of Muslim extremists is committed to a jihad against America. Their ultimate aim is to establish a Muslim empire."[7]

Emerson noted at the outset that "the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not members of militant groups." But the message of the documentary was that Muslim organizations have ties with militants who preach violence against moderate Muslims, as well as against Christians and Jews, and that charitable contributions to those organizations inevitably become "extremist." He documented meetings in American hotels at which Muslims called for a holy war, raised funds for "terror" organizations.[7] He also filmed Muslim-American youth training with weapons in summer camps, and interviewed supporters of terror who he claims operated under the cover of charitable organizations.[7]

He showed videos of Muslim speakers such as Abdullah Azzam in Brooklyn urging his audience to wage jihad in America (which Azzam explains "means fighting only, fighting with the sword"), Fayiz Azzam (a cousin of Abdullah) telling an Atlanta audience:

"Blood must flow. There must be widows; there must be orphans, hands and limbs must be severed, and limbs and blood must be spread everywhere in order that Allah's religion can stand on its feet",[19][20]

and Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman in Detroit (later convicted of conspiring to blow up several New York City landmarks, and sentenced to life in prison) calling for jihad against the infidel. Sheik Mohammed Al-Asi of Chicago said: "If the Americans are placing their forces in the Persian Gulf, we should be creating another war front for the Americans in the Muslim world," and at a November 1993 Hamas rally in New Jersey hundreds chanted: "We buy paradise with the blood of the Jews."[21]

Emerson added that: "As the activities of Muslim radicals expand in the United States, future attacks seem inevitable. Combating these groups within the boundaries of the Constitution will be the greatest challenge to law enforcement since the war on organized crime."[22]

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim organization in Washington, noted that PBS denied requests by Arab and Muslim journalists to screen the program before its showing, and argued that Emerson was promoting "a wild theory about an Islamic terrorist network in America".[20] Writing for The New York Times, Walter Goodman opined that the request to change or cancel the documentary was not justified, but that the concerns about Emerson's claims of an Islamic terrorist network were justified "since 'Jihad in America' is likely to awaken viewers' unease over what some Muslim groups here may be up to."[20]

After the film aired in South Africa, Emerson said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informed him that a South African Muslim group had dispatched a team to the U.S. to assassinate him. According to Slate, people who visit his Washington, D.C., office are blindfolded en route, and employees call it "the bat cave". [23]

He received the 1994 George Polk Award for "Best Television Documentary."[24][25] He also received the top prize for best investigative report from the Investigative Reporters and Editors Organization (IRE).[26]

A review of the book by The New York Times's Ethan Bronner, says that conservatives and some Jewish organizations took Emerson seriously, but that others have dismissed him as "an obsessive crusader", and concludes that while Emerson sometimes connects unrelated dots, occasionally he can be wrong; but that as an investigator focusing on radical Islamic groups in the US, his information should be taken seriously but not just at face value.[27]

Emerson elaborated on this subject in his 2006 book, Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S.[28]


While he has testified congressional committees on such topics including Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, some of his more recent statements concerning Muslims in the US and Europe have been criticized for inaccuracies; in particular, some of his claims during a Fox News segment about the relationship between British Muslims and the city of Birmingham were subsequently rebuked by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron and led to a censure of Fox News by Ofcom for the airing of the comments which the broadcasting regulator characterized as "materially misleading" and "a serious breach for a current affairs programme".[29][30][31][32][33][34]

It was Emerson's 1994 documentary Jihad in America that first linked Sami Al-Arian to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).[35] When in February 2003 the U.S. indicted Al-Arian, accusing him of being the North American leader of PIJ and financing and helping support suicide bombings, The New York Times noted that Emerson "has complained about Mr. Al-Arian's activities in the United States for nearly a decade."[36] In 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to help a "specially designated terrorist" organization, PIJ, and was sentenced to 57 months in prison, after a jury deadlocked on 9 charges (8 of which the government agreed to drop as part of the plea bargain) and acquitted him on another 8.[37] Al-Arian said that he knew of the terrorist group's violent acts, though no evidence was admitted at trial showing that he was involved with violent acts.[37]

In 1995 CBS interviews, prior to any knowledge the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, Emerson said "Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East",[38] and that the bombing "was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait, and something that has been generally not carried out on this soil until we were rudely awakened to it in 1993".[39][40][41] He also told viewers not to believe Islamic groups' denials of their involvement.[42] Emerson has said some critics fail to recite the rest of his statement that references the 1993 World Trade Center attack which was also carried out with a fertilizer truck bomb.[41][43] Emerson indicated that he was one of many experts interviewed after the bombing who concluded there were similarities between the Oklahoma City bombing and Middle Eastern terrorism. He said the initial reporting did not "tar the entire Muslim community", that he referred only to a fanatical minority in the Islamic community. He acknowledged there were outbreaks of harassment which he referred to as unfortunate. In response to claims that all Muslims were blamed Emerson said "the charge of racism against Muslims is a canard designed to justify radical Islamic activities in this country." He supported the media's decision to report the possible link to Middle East terrorism, saying "There was no doubt" that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies suspected it.[44]

In testimony on March 19, 1996, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Emerson described the Holy Land Foundation as "the main fund-raising arm for Hamas in the United States."[45] In 2007, federal prosecutors brought charges against Holy Land for funding Hamas and other Islamic terrorist organizations. In 2009, the founders of Holy Land were given life sentences for "funneling $12 million to Hamas."[46]

In early 1997, Emerson told the Middle East Quarterly that the threat of terrorism "is greater now than before the World Trade Center bombing [in 1993] as the numbers of these groups and their members expands. In fact, I would say that the infrastructure now exists to carry off twenty simultaneous World Trade Center-type bombings across the United States."[47]

On February 24, 1998, Emerson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee: "The foreign terrorist threat in the United States is one of the most important issues we face.... We now face distinct possibilities of mass civilian murder the likes of which have not been seen since World War II."[48] And just a few months before 9/11, he wrote on May 31, 2001: "Al-Qaeda is ... planning new attacks on the US.... [It has] learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings.... Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups ... have silently declared war on the US; in turn, we must fight them as we would in a war."[49]

In January 2001 it was reported that Emerson pointed out that the U.S. had missed clues that would have allowed it to focus on al-Qaeda early on. One of the men convicted in the World Trade Center bombing, Ahmad Ajaj, returned to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1992 with a bomb manual later seized by the U.S. An English translation of the document, entered into evidence in the World Trade Center trial, said that the manual was dated 1982, that it had been published in Amman, Jordan, and that it carried a heading on the front and succeeding pages: "The Basic Rule". But those were all errors, as Emerson pointed out. The heading said "al-Qaeda" – which translates as "The Base". In addition, the document was published in 1989, a year after al-Qaeda was founded, and the place of publication was Afghanistan, not Jordan.[50]

In 2010, The New York Times quoted Emerson criticizing the Obama administration's solicitation of Muslim and Arab-American organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America, which was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a 2008 case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, whose leaders were convicted of funneling money to Hamas, saying: "I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates. These are the wrong groups to legitimize."[51] ISNA denies any links to terrorism.[51]

Investigative Project on Terrorism

The Investigative Project on Terrorism was founded by Emerson in 1995, shortly after the release of his documentary film, Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America, which first aired in the United States in 1994 on PBS.[52][53] The documentary was faulted for misrepresentation, and Robert Friedman accused Emerson of "creating mass hysteria against American Arabs."[54]

IPT maintains a data center which includes archival information relating to the past activities of known Islamic terrorist groups. They also investigate suspected funding activities and networks of Islamic extremists in the US and abroad. IPT obtains information from a variety of sources, including "websites, list-serves, publications, informants, undercover recordings, government records, court documents, and so on". IPT has provided useful evidence to law enforcement and government agencies, and occasionally provides testimonial evidence during special committee hearings of the US Congress.[52][53][55] IPT has been criticized by various proponents of Islam. The liberal think-tank, Center for American Progress (CAP), stated that the IPT was one of ten foundations constituting what it called "the Islamophobia network in America".[56]

In January 2014, former congressman and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, was named the Shillman Senior Fellow for IPT specializing in national security, international relations, global terrorism and cyber security.[57]

Emerson is also the founder and Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a large intelligence archive on Islamist groups around the world.[7] In 1995, he incorporated his company, SAE Productions, in Delaware, and also established his private think-tank, The Investigative Project, to conduct investigations into radical Islamist groups and terrorist activities. Since September 2001, Emerson has testified numerous times before committees of both houses of Congress on terrorist funding, and the operational structures of groups including al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.[7] He has also given interviews debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, and was a contributing expert to the Counterterrorism Blog.[58]

In a television interview after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Emerson incorrectly pointed at Muslim terrorists, suggesting the bombing showed a Middle Eastern trait.[59] Emerson has stated that he was chastened by the experience and learned a lesson.[60] Christopher Bail, author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream, postulated that Emerson's doctoring of FBI evidence in his film Terrorists Among Us, his speculation about Muslim involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing and widespread criticism from Muslim American organizations resulted in most major media outlets abandoning IPT until the 2001 September 11 attacks.[61]

In March 2004, Newsweek ran an article detailing the high level of reliance Richard Clarke, placed on Emerson's information, in lieu of that of the FBI. Clarke wrote in his book Against All Enemies that Emerson's American Jihad, "told me more than the FBI ever had about radical Islamic groups in the U.S."[62]

In April 2006, Emerson organized The Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation as a nonprofit organization, and serves as its executive director. In January 2007, the IRS granted the organization tax exempt status. The organization's nonprofit status received a great deal of scrutiny from critics. According to an article published in the Tennessean by Bob Smietana, allegations of ties between the newly organized charity, and Emerson's for-profit company, SAE, were brought to the attention of the IRS.[63] It was alleged that the foundation's tax free dollars were being funneled to Emerson's production company in violation of the law. A spokesperson for Emerson's SAE Productions said the approach had already been vetted by the group's lawyers and declared legal, that it was set up that way for security reasons, and he further explained that Emerson does not take any profits from SAE Productions. No formal charges were made, or disciplinary actions taken against Emerson. The foundation maintained its nonprofit status.[64]

According to Deepa Kumar in her book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Emerson's Investigative Project on Terrorism, together with David Yerushalmi's Society of Americans for National Existence, have forwarded the notion that there is a conspiracy by Muslims to take over the US, that Muslims have infiltrated its society, making no distinctions between Muslims and Islamists, and contend that Muslim Americans have ties to terrorist organizations and want to institute Sharia law in the United States.[65]

In November 2016, the Project posted a 2010 speech given by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is being considered to lead the Democratic National Committee, in which he said that United States foreign policy in the Middle East "is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic?"[66]

Indictments and trial evidence

According to an article in the Middle East Forum's Middle East Quarterly, "the IPT has access to information and intelligence to which the government is not privy, and has been instrumental in shutting down more than a dozen Islamic charitable terrorist and nonviolent front-groups since 2001."[67]

On December 2001, CBS: 48 Hours - Erin Moriarity interviewed Steven Emerson, Executive Director of IPT, for the CBS television documentary series, 48 Hours. The episode, "Target Terrorism", was broadcast on January 30, 2002. Emerson said that Sami al-Arian was running an organization in the United States that "was one and the same as the Islamic Jihad".[68] In February 2003, Arian was indicted for alleged fundraising and material support activities on behalf of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). According to the Tampa Bay Times, Arian signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to "conspiring to help people associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad" and covering up his knowledge of the PIJ associations by lying to Jim Harper, a St. Petersburg reporter covering Al-Arian in the mid-1990s, and others.[69]

In the 2007 and 2008 Holy Land Foundation Trials - prosecution relied on evidence produced by IPT, one of the three groups responsible for much of the analysis of exhibits and the links from Holy Land Foundation (HLF) to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and the extended MB network.[70] On May 27, 2009, in federal court in Dallas, "U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis sentenced the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and five of its leaders following their convictions by a federal jury in November 2008 on charges of providing material support to Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization."[71] As a result of IPT's vast archives on the activities of Hamas front groups in the United States Law enforcement officials commented that IPT had an instrumental role in prosecuting and convicting the Holy Land Foundation, a trial that resulted in sweeping convictions for all defendants in 2008.[67]


The fund-raising arm of the Investigative Project on Terrorism is the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization established in 2006 by Steven Emerson. The Foundation is operated for the most part by SAE Productions, a Delaware-based company that was also founded by Emerson in 1994.[52][72] According to an officer of SAE Productions, the arrangement avoids the need for the kind of public disclosure associated with tax-exemption and is necessary for security reasons: "The very nature of our work mandates that we protect the organization and its staff from threats posed by those that are the subject or our research by preserving the confidentiality of our methods."[73]

An article by Bob Smietana in the Nashville Tennessean says that money is transferred from the non-profit foundation to the for-profit production company, SAE.[74][75] In 2008, the non-profit paid US$$3,390,000 to SAE Productions for whats was described as "management services", while Emerson was SAE's sole officer.[74] IPT published a statement in response noting that, "At issue in the Tennessean story is the relationship between the IPT Foundation, a tax-exempt charity, and SAE Productions, a for-profit company run by IPT Executive Director Steven Emerson. The foundation accepts private donations and contracts with SAE to manage operations.N"[76]

IPT has stated that it "accepts no funding from outside the United States, or from any governmental agency or political or religious institutions".[52] In 2002 and 2003, Emerson received a total of $600,000 in grants from the Smith Richardson Foundation, a conservative-leaning policy research foundation.[74]


Emerson has been referred to by The New York Times as "an expert on intelligence",[2] and a "self-described terrorism expert",[4] and by the New York Post as "the nation's foremost journalistic expert on terrorism"[77] The Los Angeles Times referred to Emerson as a terrorism expert,[78] and as a Fox News commentator.[79]

Richard Clarke, former head of counter-terrorism for the United States National Security Council, said of Emerson, "I think of Steve as the Paul Revere of terrorism ... We'd always learn things [from him] we weren’t hearing from the FBI or CIA, things which almost always proved to be true."[39]

Philip Jenkins, in his 2003 book, Images of terror: what we can and can't know about terrorism responded that certain groups criticize Emerson in order to silence and delegitimize his views.[80]

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz wrote an article defending Emerson that attempted to explain why Islamists dislike him.[81]

A review by Michael Wines in The New York Times of The Fall of Pan Am 103, while noting that the authors were "respected journalists" and "not to be lightly dismissed," and that they "talked to 250 people, including senior law enforcement and intelligence officials in seven nations", opined that charges of Iranian complicity were presented "without much substantiation" although Wines did go on to say that: "They build a convincing circumstantial case against Iran and its terrorist agents."[3]

Adrienne Edgar, writing in The New York Times Book Review described Emerson and Cristina del Sesto's 1991 book Terrorist, as "marred by factual errors (such as mistranslations of Arabic names) and marked by "a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias."[82] Emerson and del Sesto responded: "We defy anyone to point to any passages that suggest such bias.... these characterizations of the book are wild figments of Ms. Edgar's political imagination."[83]

In their report "Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America", the Center for American Progress accused Emerson of being an "misinformation expert" who, through his testimonies, exaggerates the presence of Sharia law in America and terrorism sympathizers in mosques.[84]

Emerson has been criticized for espousing Islamophobic views by Islamic studies sholars such as Juliane Hamer and Omid Safi, with German media scholar Kai Hafez, and Carl Ernst naming Emerson along with Daniel Pipes as the two most prominent Islamophobic voices in the US.[6][85][86] Emerson responded to these and similar characterizations[87][88] in an op-ed for Fox News, stating that criticism of Islam labeled as Islamphophia, and the labeling of "Islamic terrorism" as a racist generalization of Muslims, is "one of the biggest and most dangerous national security frauds of the past 30 years."[89]

Emerson's work was cited as an instance of poor reporting on Islam in the Sut Jhally film about Edward Said's Orientalism, specifically his claim after the Oklahoma City bombing that the municipality was a center of Muslim extremism.[90]


Sami al-Arian case

Emerson has played a role in criminal prosecutions. In the widely criticized Sami Al-Arian case he was a major source of information and advice to the federal prosecutors and the Tampa Tribune.[91] He has a close relationship to Gordon Kromberg, a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia.[92] The Holy Land Foundation prosecution relied on evidence produced by Emerson's Investigative Project.[93]

Boston Marathon Bombing

On April 17, 2013, Emerson stated on the Fox News program Hannity that he had been informed by an official in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that a Saudi national who was present during the Boston Marathon bombing was suspected of playing a role in the bombing. Emerson wondered why a suspect would be deported and not prosecuted. Emerson reasoned that United States handles Saudi nationals differently to appease Saudi Arabia and not to embarrass the country.[94] Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department supervises the ICE, dismissed Emerson's allegation during a meeting with the House Homeland Security Committee, as being incorrect.[95] United States officials stated that the injured Saudi national was regarded as a witness and not a suspect. A Saudi official at the embassy also stated that there was no known suspect or person of interest that they were aware of.[96] On April 19, 2013, Steve Emerson was featured in an opinion piece on Fox News and referred to the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, YouTube channels as being similar in tone to Al Qaeda videos.[97] Many local, state and federal officials, including President Barack Obama, cautioned against jumping to conclusions while there's an ongoing investigation.[98]

Comments on Fox News about Birmingham, United Kingdom and Paris, France

In January 2015, following terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Emerson stated in an interview on Fox News that the city of Birmingham was populated entirely by Muslims and was a "no go area" for non-Muslims.[99][100] According to an estimate from the UK Census of 2011, Birmingham is estimated to have 21.8% of its population identify as Muslim, with a Christian population of 46%, and 25% claiming no religion or not giving a religion.[101] In the same interview, he claimed that in London, "Muslim religious police 'beat' anyone who doesn't dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire".[102] The errors led to four apologies within 12 hours by Fox News.[99] The UK media regulatory authority Ofcom found Fox News to be in breach of the UK's broadcasting code on account of the comments. Ofcom described the comments as "materially misleading" and "a serious breach".[103]

In response to these comments, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he "choked on his porridge" when he heard them and observed that Emerson was "clearly a complete idiot".[34][104] Local MP Gisela Stuart described Emerson's remarks as "stupid" and that they had "no redeeming features".[102][105] Emerson's remarks, which "embarrassed" Fox, extended to other countries, especially regarding supposed exclusion zones in Paris.[106]

Emerson issued an apology for his misinformation stating, "I have clearly made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry. My comments about Birmingham were totally in error." He further added that he would make a donation to a charity in Birmingham and also place a newspaper ad in Birmingham.[107] It was also reported that Birmingham City Council welcomed his apology, describing Emerson's comments as "curious" and clearly without foundation.[102] Sir Albert Bore, the leader of the council mocked Emerson writing "As I arrived for work at the Council House this morning I was full of awe and admiration for the many commuters who braved the 'no-go area' that is now Birmingham city centre" and described Emerson's remarks as "stupid, untrue and damaging...ridiculous".[108]






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