Evan Kohlmann; 'the Doogie Howser of terrorism'?


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.

Kohlmann wrote several such articles but then for a time left terrorism research behind him, hoping to “be a conventional lawyer of some sort”1. After graduating from Georgetown he started a three year law course. His plans changed on September 11th. He recalls racing out of class and calling Rita Katz. “Time to get to work”, she told him. And they did. Kohlmann returned to his website monitoring and began writing a book on Al-Qaida's jihad in Europe. He wrote several more articles on terrorism which were published by the conservative National Review. Although still a student, Kohlmann says he was “basically the deputy head” of The Investigative Project at this time2. His research has mostly involved monitoring and recording postings on Islamist websites which he says can yield important intelligence on the plans and activities of terrorists. He considers himself an academic and a “micro-historian”3.

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.

Kohlmann now works at the NEFA foundation, a terrorism research institute set up by the Washington Group - a US lobbying firm and a subsidiary of the giant PR corporation Ketchum. He also works at Counterterrorism Blog, which hosts numerous rightwing terrorism experts and was established up by a former Reagan advisor Andrew Cochran, who worked as a lobbyist for Steven Emerson and The Investigative Project.

Kohlmann has now appeared at over a dozen terror trials. Most of the cases are based on charges of conspiracy or supporting a terrorist organisation, where the individual’s guilt is established by association. In some cases there is no evidence of links to terrorism at all and the defendants have been charged purely in relation to materials in their position such as literature on weapons or explosives, or merely material downloaded from the internet. In Britain for example, Kohlmann testified against Younes Tsouli, aka Irhabi 007, who the Judge said “came no closer to a bomb or a firearm than a computer keyboard”, before sentencing him to 24 years in prison6. He also testified against Samina Malik who was convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 for books in her possession and poems she had written “glorifying terrorism”.

The demand for Kohlmann’s expertise by prosecutors is not surprising, even if its acceptance by the courts is shocking. Like other ‘terrorism experts’, Kohlmann tends to demonise Islamist groups, and to link disparate groups and individuals into an encompassing narrative of international terrorism. His ‘expertise’ are therefore very useful to prosecutors who seek to demonstrate the malevolent intent of a defendant in the absence of convincing evidence of their preparation or planning of acts of terrorism. As Kohlmann himself explains: “There are a lot of people who know a lot about the world, but they don’t know what every terrorist group represents...I am able to bring this to life for the court."7 What in particular Kohlmann tends to “bring to life” is connections linking defendants to Al-Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden. This, in the political climate of the United States greatly increases the prosecution's chances of a conviction. As one US defence attorney explains: “If a jury in the US finds any connection between your client and Osama bin Laden, you’re going to get convicted.”8

One of the most blatant examples of Kohlmann's modus operandi is the recent case of USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad. That case concerned a former signalman in the US Navy accused of purchasing extremist material and leaking classified information, including his Battle Group’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack.9 Kohlmann submitted a 19 page expert report, which included a three page section entitled ‘Usama Bin Laden and the Rise of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan’. It mentioned Osama Bin Laden 27 times and Al-Qaeda 34 times.10 Kohlmann even proposed to use a photograph of Osama Bin Laden during his testimony but after the Judge expressed concerns, the prosecution withdrew the request.11 He also proposed to show three videos during his testimony which included images of dismembered fighters and soldiers.12

The use of violent films as scare tactics seems to be a common feature of Kohlmann’s testimony. At the 2007 trial of a young Scottish Muslim, Mohammed Atif Siddique, Kohlmann showed the jury footage of an American man Paul Johnson being beheaded, as well as footage of the British hostage Ken Bigley before he was beheaded. Siddique was charged with downloading similar material from the internet, but the footage Kohlmann showed was from Kohlmann’s own website not on Siddique’s computer. Kohlmann said he showed the footage to show the brutality of al-Qaeda.13 In his closing remarks in the trial, Defence Barrister Donald Findlay QC said the material was the “most horrific ever shown to a jury”14. Findlay commented that “Instead of being brought from the US to be put in the witness box, [Kohlmann] should have been put in the dock.” Although a spokesman for Central Scotland Police was quoted as saying that there was “no evidence that Siddique was involved in an actual terrorist plot”,15 he was nevertheless sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

This year Kohlmann went as far as putting together a ‘documentary’ he calls The Al Qaeda Plan. It was part of his assistance in the prosecution of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, better known as Bin Laden's chauffeur.16 Hamdan is being tried before the Military Commission, a special court system created by the US government in blatant violation of basic human rights, as has been pointed out by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others. In another case that came to court this year, three men were charged with planning to assist in fighting US troops in Iraq. Like several of the other cases Kohlmann has been involved in, USA v. Mohammed Zaki Amawi et al followed on from an FBI string operation. The prosecution created a multi-hour video montage for presentation to the jurors, which included suicide car bombings, sniper shootings of American soldiers, execution of civilians, and the desecration of bodies. In that case Kohlmann was finally barred from testifying on the basis that his proposed testimony was “not relevant to the issues in this case”. Although the prosecution did not allege that any of the three defendants had any connection to any terrorist group, they nevertheless wanted Kohlmann to provide “general information regarding international terrorism.” The Judge commented that the “limited probative value of his testimony is outweighed very substantially by its very considerable potential for unfair prejudice to the defendants”.17

It was a breakthrough of sorts, but it is remarkable that it has taken so long to successfully bar Kohlmann from testifying. There have been numerous attempts to do so in the past four years, which until now have been unsuccessful. In one such case Kohlmann was put forward as an expert on the Bangladeshi Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami. Under cross examination it transpired that he had never written any papers on the party, nor been interviewed about the group. He had never been to Bangladesh, could not name the country’s Prime Minister nor the name of the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami. Neither could he name a single political party in the country. When he was asked if he had heard of the Bangladeshi National Party – which led the political coalition joined by Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh at that time – he said it sounded “vaguely familiar".18 Incredibly Kohlmann was still permitted as an expert witness.

The first challenge of Kohlmann’s expertise appears to have been in the 2005 case of USA v. Ali Timimi. The defence objected that the prosecution had provided no evidence that Kohlmann’s research had been “tested, subject to any peer review, whether there are known error rates applicable to his theory or technique, nor whether his technique enjoys general acceptance within any scientific community”. The prosecution’s response was to argue that such tests were “irrelevant to Mr. Kohlmann's field of expertise”.19 The Judge apparently agreed because Kohlmann was allowed to testify and Timimi was subsequently convicted. Being subject to peer review is an important aspect of whether a witness can be considered an expert and Kohlmann was challenged again on this point in several subsequent cases with no success. In the 2008 case of USA v. Amawi et al, Kohlmann said he enjoyed “a unique form of peer review which is because of [the] fact that my materials are published on the Internet sometimes they are also reviewed by individuals who are members of terrorist organisations”.20

In fact it has never been shown that Kohlmann has ever published anything that has been formally peer reviewed, and it is unlikely that he has because he has never conducted any post-graduate research. The closest Kohlmann has come to producing an academic study is a Working Paper he produced for the Institute for International Studies. The scholarly sounding Journal of Counterterrorism & Security International for example, where Kohlmann has authored several articles, states in its writers guidelines that it “is not a technical or scholarly journal” and that, “footnotes should be avoided when possible”. Similarly Foreign Affairs, where Kohlmann has had an article published, say they “try to avoid using footnotes in print”,21 and although well respected, it is arguably a journalistic rather than academic publication. In USA v. Mohammed Zaki Amawi Kohlmann was cross examined again on the question of peer review and his knowledge of Arabic (of which he has none save for what he’s picked up from watching Jihadi videos). Kohlmann referred to Arabic speaking academics he works with and specifically named Dr. Mohammed Hafez of the University of Kansas City, who he referred to as a “close colleague”. The defence contacted Dr. Hafez who signed a sworn affidavit stating that he is not a “close colleague” of Kohlmann’s and that in fact they had merely exchanged emails and spoken two or three times at conferences. He said he had never peer reviewed Kohlmann’s work.22

Whether Kohlmann’s scaremongering and blatant amateurism will continue remains to be seen. Although this year saw Kohlmann’s first exclusion from testifying it also saw a new low. The so called Convening Authority which oversees the Military Commission trials not only allowed Kohlmann to testify, but rejected the defence’s requests for expert assistance in refuting his testimony.23


1. Robert Strauss, ‘Terrorists Beware: Kohlmann is on the case’, Penn Law Journal, Fall 2006
2. R v. F, Cross Examination of Kohlmann by Geoffrey Robertson QC, 23 January 2007
3. R v. F, Cross Examination of Kohlmann by Geoffrey Robertson QC, 23 January 2007
4. GlobalTerroralert.com,About Evan Kohlmann, (accessed 6 March 2008)
5. All Things Considered, National Public Radio, broadcast 8 June 2006
6. Mark Oliver and agencies, ‘'Internet jihadist' jailed for 10 years’, Guardian Online, 5 July 2007
7. Robert Strauss, ‘Terrorists Beware: Kohlmann is on the case’, Penn Law Journal, Fall 2006
8. Petra Bartosiewicz, ‘Experts in Terror’, The Nation, 4 February 2008
9. USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad (District of Conneticut, 2008), Indictment
10. USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad (District of Conneticut, 2008), Expert Report submitted by Evan Kohlmann
11. USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad (District of Conneticut, 2008), Daubert Ruling
12. USA v. Hassan Abu-Jihaad (District of Conneticut, 2008), Daubert Ruling
13. ‘Terror trial shown beheading film’, BBC News Online, 7 September 2007
14. ‘Terror jury Islamophobia warning’, BBC News Online, 12 September 2007
15. ‘Terror Scot ‘may have been planning attack in Canada’’, The Scotsman, 18 September 2007
16. USA v. Salim Ahmed Hamdan (Military Commission), Defense Motion to Dismiss the Charges and Specifications for Unlawful Influence, 27 March 2008
17. USA v. Mohammed Zaki Amawi et al (Northern District of Ohio, Western Division), Court Order granting the defendants’ motion in limine to preclude testimony by Evan Kohlmann
18. USA v. Aref and Hossain (Northern District of New York, 2006), Transcript of Kohlmann’s cross examination by defence attorney Kevin Luibrand
19. USA v. Ali Timimi (Eastern District of Virginia, 2005), Motion in Limine Regarding Items Found in Search of Masoud Khan’s House
20. United States v. Amawi et al (Northern District of Ohio, 2008), Uncertified Rough Draft Copy of Transcript
21. Editorial Guidelines, accessed 12 March 2008
22. United States v. Amawi et al (Northern District of Ohio, 2008), Affidavit of Dr. Mohammed Hafez dated 29 February 2008
23. USA v. Salim Ahmed Hamdan (Military Commission), Defense Motion to Dismiss the Charges and Specifications for Unlawful Influence, 27 March 2008

Guilt by association

with someone who has not been charged with the 9/11 crimes. How can this be allowed?


FBI officials say the [FBI's bin Laden] wanted poster merely reflects the government's long-standing practice of relying on actual criminal charges in the notices.

"There's no mystery here," said FBI spokesman Rex Tomb. "They could add 9/11 on there, but they have not because they don't need to at this point. . . . There is a logic to it."

David N. Kelley, the former U.S. attorney in New York who oversaw terrorism cases when bin Laden was indicted for the embassy bombings there in 1998, said he is not at all surprised by the lack of a reference to Sept. 11 on the official wanted poster. Kelley said the issue is a matter of legal restrictions and the need to be fair to any defendant.

"It might seem a little strange from the outside, but it makes sense from a legal point of view," said Kelley, now in private practice. "If I were in government, I'd be troubled if I were asked to put up a wanted picture where no formal charges had been filed, no matter who it was."

a matter of legal restrictions.

Yes. It is a matter of legal restrictions. The fact that they don't have enough evidence to indict is why they don't indict and why it isn't on the FBI poster. The Post is a tool of the status quo. They are there to perpetuate the myth for the pseudo thinkers.