By Tom Mills
When terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann first appeared on the scene he was dubbed the ‘the Doogie Howser of terrorism’. For those who don’t know, Doogie Howser was an American sitcom aired in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The main character was a childhood prodigy who became a doctor at the tender age of 14. The label was a light-hearted quip at Kohlmann’s relative youth. It also implied that he was some sort of genius, which he is not. Unlike the fictional Doogie Howser, Kohlmann has no post-graduate research qualifications and has displayed remarkable ignorance when challenged in court. Not that that has held him back. He is one of the most prominent media commentators on terrorism in the US, and is a prosecutors’ favourite in terrorism trials there and in Britain. Perhaps if your chosen field of expertise is the ‘war on terror’ then ignorance is a virtue.
Evan Kohlmann first became involved in studying terrorism when he was 18 and in his first year at Washington’s Georgetown University. In February 1998 he began an internship at the Investigative Project, a Washington Think-Tank set up by Steve Emerson – a notoriously Islamophobic journalist turned terrorism expert. There Kohlmann says he was responsible for tracking North African militant groups, and monitoring Islamist websites. The latter was to become his speciality. Still an undergraduate, he began writing articles on terrorism for The Journal of Counterterrorism & Security. One of his first articles was co-authored with collaborator and fellow ‘cyber-terrorism expert’ Rita Katz. Entitled ‘Pandering to Terrorists’, the article argued that to consider Hezbollah a resistance group was a dangerous misconception. Rather it was a terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of Israel, and of the Western world more generally. His co-author, an Israeli Zionist, would later set up her own think-tank SITE with Kohlmann’s old school friend Josh Devon.
In 2004 after graduating from law school, Kohlmann went into business for himself. He set up his own website Globalterroralert.com and was recruited as an on-air terrorism analyst for MSNBC. With no expertise beyond undergraduate qualifications and an internship at a dubious think-tank, Kohlmann became a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard’s SO-15 Counter Terrorism Command4. Meanwhile he ran his website from his bedroom in Manhattan, sitting amongst photos of Al-Qaeda leaders wearing what a journalist said “looks suspiciously like last night’s pyjamas”5.