Corri Zoli Assesses President Trump’s Speech to Congress on WSTM/WTVH

On Feb. 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump addressed a Joint Session of Congress to outline in more detail his foreign and domestic policy priorities. The wide-ranging speech touched on several national security issues, including immigration, border control, and the ongoing struggle against terrorism, both at home and abroad. Syracuse, NY-based TV news stations WSTM and WTVH asked INSCT Director of Research Corri Zoli to discuss Trump’s performance in live interviews after the address. 

SU Panel of Experts to Discuss President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order, Feb. 24, 2017

Action by President Donald J. Trump on immigration policy has been swift. Just a week after his inauguration, Trump issued an executive order (EO) temporarily halting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. It was immediately met with popular protests, scholarly analysis, and eventually judicial review in the forming of a temporary restraining order (TRO) upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“I worry the damage is already done,” says Ken Harper. “I know that some SU departments are seeing a decrease in student and faculty interest.”

Critics contend the Jan. 27 EO wrongly suspended travel for all immigrant and non-immigrant visa holders from the seven countries, including those holding resident alien, student, and business travel visas. The TRO lifted some of these restrictions, but a chilling effect on business and educational travel—including to and from Syracuse University—has been reported.

Trump’s immigration policy continues to evolve rapidly. The president, after resolving to push the original EO through the courts, now appears to be preparing a new executive order; the Department of Homeland Security has issued “guidance memos” that outline plans for “aggressive enforcement of immigration laws”; and confusion about how to implement the original EO continues.

For those confused by Trump’s immigration EO; interested in the legal, social, and political ramifications of Trump’s immigration policies; or even affected by the original “travel ban,” the International Law Society will host an interdisciplinary roundtable on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Empire Lecture Hall, 440 Dineen Hall, SU College of Law.

Speaking at “President Donald J. Trump’s Immigration Order & Travel Ban” will be SU experts from the fields of political science, Middle East studies, immigration law, international law, human rights, and public affairs: Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Chair, Department of Political Science, Maxwell School; Ken Harper, Director, Newhouse Center for Global Engagement; Gary Kelder, Professor, SU Law; Andrew Kim, Associate Professor, SU Law; Stephen Pike, Assistant Professor, Newhouse School; and Corri Zoli, Director of Research, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.

SU Law LL.M. students Kseniia Guliaeva and Amanda Freire de Almeida developed the idea for the panel after hearing from friends and colleagues in the wake of the Jan. 27 EO. “Many of us know people personally affected by the EO,” says Guliaeva, a Fulbright scholar from Krasnoyarsk in central Russia. “They have a lot of questions about what is happening, and they pushed us to organize this event.”

Freire de Almeida, from Belém, Brasil, says she has friends from Iran and other countries listed in the EO, some of whom are now reluctant to leave the US to visit family. “I believe that the travel ban has been very chaotic, but I believe that justice will prevail,” she says. When setting up the panel, she and Guliaeva wanted to ensure that many viewpoints would be heard, not just legal. “I hope the discussion will help the audience respect a diversity of views. When critiquing the EO, we can’t just rely on one perspective, we must open our minds in order to reach a common sense opinion.”

Panelist Mehrzad Boroujerdi says he also knows of SU students who aren’t travelling abroad and others reconsidering their decisions to attend the University. The panel, he hopes, will give students and others a more “holistic” view of issues surrounding immigration and Trump’s “travel ban,” although he is skeptical that even a revised order will calm the waters. “The EO was an ill-advised and draconian measure,” he says. “Re-writes will be tried, but if Trump insists on some of the more radical aspects, then protracted legal battles will ensue. Even if it is presented in a revised manner, it will have a chilling effect on research and studies at SU.”

I worry the damage is already done,” says Ken Harper, another panelist. “I know that some SU departments are seeing a decrease in student and faculty interest.” Harper, who works on international student projects, says he is concerned about how new immigration policies will affect SU’s international partnerships. “What better way to cut higher education institutions off at the knees than push international students away. We are in uncharted territory with this administration’s immigration actions.”

“The Jan. 27 EO came at a time of crisis in international affairs over immigration and refugees, a crisis that is testing whether norms and assumptions are sustainable,” say panelist Corri Zoli, putting the US immigration debate into its geopolitical context. “The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there’s an unprecedented 65 million forcibly displaced people on the move today, including more than 21 million refugees, more than half of whom are children. Many are fleeing conflict zones and rising ethnic and religious persecution in the Middle East and North Africa, while others are escaping from unsustainable economic and political conditions.”

As a young lawyer interested in a career in international law and human rights, Freire de Almeida believes that the strengths of American jurisprudence and separation of powers will balance the president’s executive powers in this case. “The US has a strong judicial system,” she says, “and you just can’t rely on presidential orders to create law.” Guliaeva, however, declined to predict what path Trump’s immigration policies will follow. “I will be able to answer that question with more authority after attending the panel discussion on Friday!” she says.

A Need to Be Responsive: Corri Zoli Speaks to About the Trump Immigration EO

Trump immigration order: Is it a Muslim ban? What’s the case for it?

(Syracuse Post-Standard | Feb. 2, 2016) The partisan furor over President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the problems caused by its rushed implementation and the campaign rhetoric that preceded it are drowning out discussion of the policy itself.

“Trump has an uncanny ability, in part through his ‘brute force’ use of language, to force difficult conversations.”

The executive order halts for 90 days the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from seven nations – Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The countries are not named in the order. They were identified as “countries of concern” by the Department of Homeland Security pursuant to a 2015 law that tightened visa requirements for travelers after the Paris terror attacks.   

Trump’s executive order also shuts down admission of refugees from any country for 120 days, caps refugee admissions at 50,000 and indefinitely suspends admission of Syrian refugees.

During these pauses, the Secretary of Homeland Security is required to review security procedures and develop new screening procedures with the goal of, as the title of the order says, “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

Corri Zoli, director of research and assistant research professor at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said the negative reaction to Trump’s order may have more to do with the political polarization around the new president than its content. The executive order is not all that different in its assumptions from the Obama-era law that drew little attention or protest, she said. 

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. The law closed security gaps that could have allowed terrorists to get to the United States through countries whose residents don’t need a visa to travel here. The law requires such “visa waiver countries” to strengthen their own security measures and to share information with the United States. It requires travelers or nationals from the “countries of concern” to obtain a visa, subjecting them to greater scrutiny.

Zoli said rationale for the 2015 law was the 6,000-plus Europeans who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight with ISIS or other terror groups. Their European passports could have allowed them entry into the United States without a visa. The countries of concern also lack basic security protocols, do not cooperate with international police to identify fraudulent passports, or simply may be hostile to the United States. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing from war may have little or no documentation of their identities. All of these factors heighten the risk of a terrorist slipping through.

“The sheer size of the immigrant population the U.S. deals with — not to mention all the categories of visa holders and travelers — makes these security policies need to be responsive to changing global conflict dynamics and terrorist changing strategies,” Zoli said.

Her reading of the executive order is that it is not a religious/Muslim ban, a nation of origin ban or a travel ban, “but it does aim to make for a better security screening system from countries of concern, even if one is just traveling through these repeatedly” …

… In a BBC interview, Jacobson responded to critics who pointed out that none of the terrorists who have attacked the United States came from the seven countries referred to in Trump’s order:

“… in terms of whether people from those countries have conducted past attacks, that’s not the point of the security measures that are taken in immigration, it’s meant to prevent foreign fighters in a new environment, one that didn’t exist 10 years ago, being infiltrated into the U.S. much as they’ve been infiltrated into Europe, and ISIS stated goal is to infiltrate people. That’s not something that existed several years ago. So I think it’s apples and oranges to say that just because no one from these countries has previously attacked that there isn’t a real threat.”

Zoli, of Syracuse University, said the president’s brash approach is forcing us to have discussions we’ve largely sidestepped in this country as millions of refugees streamed out of conflict zones and into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the European continent.

“Trump has an uncanny ability, in part through his ‘brute force’ use of language, to force difficult conversations and get us to break through on the sensitivities and political correctness barriers that had held the public back from dealing with some basic obligations of governance,” she said.

To read the full opinion piece, click here.

Retrenchment of Nationalism: Corri Zoli Speaks to The Daily Orange About the “Mexican Wall”

President Donald Trump builds more than one wall with his latest executive orders

(The Daily Orange | Jan. 31, 2016) United States President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order calling for the construction of a controversial wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump needs congressional approval to authorize the building of the wall, and experts agree that because Congress currently has a Republican majority, the president will have little problem getting support for his plans.

“We already have a significant investment in border fencing.”

The length of the border between the U.S. and Mexico is approximately 2,000 miles long. Almost 700 miles of fencing already exists along the border. There are several remote areas along the border that don’t have border fencing.

Since 2000 there have been more than 65 border walls built around the world, said Corri Zoli, a research assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“We’re entering a new period of retrenchment of nationalism,” she said.

The construction of Trump’s wall is estimated to cost around $12-$15 billion, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump has said he expects Mexico to pay for the wall. However, Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto has frequently said his country will not pay for the border wall.

“The Trump administration is not initiating this on its own, even though it’s been a part of campaign rhetoric,” said Zoli, “We already have a significant investment in border fencing” …

To read the full story, click here.

A Return to Deterrence? Corri Zoli Discusses Trump’s Counterterrorism Policy with Newsday

Donald Trump signals shift in foreign policy, counterterrorism

(Newsday | Jan. 16, 2016) President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to employ a national security strategy of “peace through strength” as the nation’s next commander-in-chief — proposing to boost military spending while re-evaluating the country’s longstanding international alliances.

“I think we’re going to see a significant return to that default mode of deterrence under Trump.”

Foreign policy and counterterrorism experts say the real estate mogul, who during the campaign proclaimed he knew more about the Islamic State terrorist group than “the generals do,” will soon be confronted with the reality that change is deliberately slow-moving in the deeply methodical worlds of military planning, intelligence gathering and diplomacy …

… Corri Zoli, director of research for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said Trump’s tweets and public comments signal at the United States returning to the military posture of “deterrence.”

“Our traditional posture has been one of deterrence making sure that our military and our institutions and all of our instruments of national power were so strong … ,” Zoli said. “This last administration has really backed off deterrence. Some people describe that strategy, that the Obama administration has used, and to certain degrees the Clinton administration as well, as leading from behind. This idea that you can sort of step back a little bit, promote engagement with the world, instead of showing people a hard face … this is shifting now, I think we’re going to see a significant return to that default mode of deterrence under Trump” …

… Zoli, of Syracuse University, said she believes Trump’s choice of Kelly and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, two battle-tested generals who are willing to oppose his controversial positions, indicates some level of willingness to seek guidance from two figures widely respected in national security circles. Mattis is often referred as the “Warrior Monk,” because he is a well-read scholar and someone who prefers diplomacy over combat to resolve major conflicts.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Mattis told the panel, “We have to deliver a very hard blow against ISIS in the Middle East so there is no sense of invulnerability or invincibility there” …

To read the whole article, click here.


Candidates Must Address “Low Tech” Terrorism, Corri Zoli Tells Newsday

Terror, civil unrest rise as presidential debate topics

(Newsday | Sept. 25, 2016) The arrest of a suspected terrorist accused of orchestrating two bombings in New York and New Jersey. An Islamic State-inspired stabbing spree at a Minnesota shopping mall. Days of violent protests on the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, following an officer-involved fatal shooting.

“This is what is now becoming our new normal, and the candidates are going to have to address this.”

In the week leading up to Monday night’s first presidential debate at Hofstra University, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have been confronted with a string of domestic crises that political analysts say will undoubtedly emerge as issues discussed in the 90-minute faceoff.

Responding to the latest acts of violence at the debate, which is expected to draw a record 100 million viewers, will be “the first and best opportunity” for the candidates to win over disenchanted voters with a commanding performance, said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and Steve Forbes …

… Corri Zoli, director of research for the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said that while both candidates have spoken out forcefully against the Islamic State in the wake of recent attacks, both “have been pretty weak” in detailing how they would respond to the ever-changing face of terrorism, which has gone from the al-Qaida model of planning large-scale attacks to the Islamic State approach of smaller-scale ones.

“There are all these players whose tactics are changing,” Zoli said. “What they seem to be doing … is not going after the big targets like airports or large iconic buildings, but going after small-scale soft targets … using opportunistic low-tech strategies … this is what is now becoming our new normal, and the candidates are going to have to address this. It’s no longer just thinking about these big, well-developed terrorist cells that takes months to plan an event” …

To read the whole article, click here.

INSCT Experts Discuss NY/NJ Terrorist Attacks With Media

Cuomo and de Blasio at Odds Again Over Word ‘Terrorism’ to Describe Blast

(Wall Street Journal | 9.19.16) Amid the commotion of the Chelsea bombing, political foes New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio found a fresh fault line: how to define the chaos that erupted across a few blocks in Manhattan on Saturday night.

For each, the focus centered on a singular, emotionally charged term—“terrorism”—and its permutations.

Nearly from the start, Mr. Cuomo cast the events as “obviously an act of terrorism” but said they were “not linked to international terrorism” …

“There’s a couple of different ways to approach this. There’s the legalistic way, parsing the statutes, and then there’s the instinctual way,” said Nathan Sales, an associate professor at Syracuse University School of Law and a former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“If a bomb goes off in New York City from a pressure cooker, it’s terrorism no matter how you slice it.”

To read the full article, click here.

Anti-Terrorism Experts React to Recent Attacks

(TWC News | 9.19.16) … ”Perhaps he was trying to make a statement,” [INSCT Faculty Member Bill] Smullen continued. “The UN General Assembly started over the weekend and will run this week in New York City, so he could have been trying to tell people who were coming from all parts of the world that America is unsafe.”

But the Director of Research of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, Corri Zoli, says the U.S. is still safe. She says while these attacks are becoming all too familiar, the FBI and other officials are on guard 24/7, doing their best to prevent them. 

“They are doing surveillance on foreign operatives; they are tracking all kinds of communication to make sure if people are planning or operationalizing some kind of cell; they’re doing something about it,” Zoli explained.

Zoli also says there’s been a shift, with attacks targeting smaller communities, many which are hard to prepare for. 

“Local communities like Syracuse, New York, all of a sudden we might start feeling a little vulnerable because of this, because you’re seeing these kind of attacks become low-tech or defused attacks, instead of targeting LA or an airport or whatever,” Zoli said …

For the full article, click here.

Corri Zoli Speaks About the Arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami with


INSCT Speaks to The Daily Orange About the “28 Pages”

Professors on the Declassification of Documents Detailing Saudi Involvement in 9/11 Attacks

(The Daily Orange | Sept. 12, 2016) After more than a decade, a classified United States report about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was released to the public earlier this year.

The document, known as the “28 pages,” is part of the official report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not to be confused with the 9/11 Commission Report. The document summarizes alleged Saudi Arabian ties to the attacks.

“Saudis were notoriously unconcerned about terrorism before 9/11.”
The 28 pages are a chapter in the December 2002 Final Report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Former President George W. Bush classified the pages in 2003, soon after the completion of the report.

William Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism and a professor of law at Syracuse University, said the reason the pages were kept out of public view for so long is because the Bush administration, and later the Obama administration, didn’t want to complicate the United States’ diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

“They’re an important ally in the region for all kinds of reasons,” Banks said. “They were then, they are now.”

The intelligence oversight committees of Congress felt that the pages could have negative repercussions for U.S. national security, said Corri Zoli, INSCT director of research and research assistant professor of political science.

Zoli added that it may have been because the pages aligned or gave negative impressions about some of the U.S.’ key allies in the fight against global terrorism.

The pages, released on July 15, detailed connections between hijackers from the Sept. 11 attack, people who supported them in the U.S., suspected Saudi intelligence operatives and Saudi Arabian government officials and Saudi royals — notably Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Among the most notable revelations from the pages are: Bandar made payments to an Osama bin Laden supporter; a phone number linked to Bandar was in the phone book of Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda associate; and Zubaydah had the phone number of a bodyguard at the Saudi embassy in Washington who was under FBI investigation, according to the “28 pages” website.

Banks said while it’s hard to know without the full details, it is likely that if there was some Saudi involvement, it was probably well in advance of and unrelated to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Saudis were notoriously unconcerned about terrorism before 9/11,” he said. “It just wasn’t a problem for them” …

To read the complete article, click here.

“Lone-Wolf” Terrorists Rarely Act Alone, So Let’s Stop Calling Them That

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from, Sept. 14, 2016) There is a disconnect between what we talk about when we talk about terrorism and the facts evident in recent attacks. Take the idea that recent attacks in Europe are disconnected from global terrorism and are instead the acts of “lone wolves.”

“‘Lone-wolf terrorist’ should be replaced with what is really at stake: ‘low-tech terrorism,’ a term that shifts how we orient ourselves to this global problem.”

That was the narrative yet again after the Nice attack of July 14, 2016. It later emerged that seven accomplices of Tunisian-born French resident Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel—who drove a 20-ton truck into Bastille Day crowds—were charged with aiding in “murder by a group with terror links.” Such accomplices contradict the “lone wolf” concept that fails to acknowledge a link between perpetrators and terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida or Islamic State.

In too many cases, the same story of the lone-wolf terrorist has been used to describe incidents in OrlandoSan Bernardino, Ottawa, Bavaria, Belgium, RiyadhSydney.

Social scientists and legal scholars value “case facts” in their research on terrorism. With a data-driven view of the often painful facts associated with an attack, we can better advance our efforts to prevent terrorism. In that spirit, I make some recommendations for scholars, public servants, journalists and members of the general public who want to understand how terrorism is evolving.

Scripted & Orchestrated Violence

First, “lone-wolf terrorist” should be replaced with what is really at stake: “low-tech terrorism,” a term that shifts how we orient ourselves to this global problem. After the initial shock of an attack, later analysis often shows that more than one person was involved, that an international network was used, and that the perpetrator’s violence against civilians was scripted and orchestrated.

The Nice attack, for instance, was as part of multinational criminal infrastructure. Bouhlel was a resident of France and a Tunisian citizen who used weapons from Albanian contacts, communicated plans to contacts in Syria, sent images of his conduct and money to Tunisia, and scouted attack sites, per instructions from Mideast operatives.

Some terrorist acts may appear isolated, random, and spontaneous—but that does not mean they are.

Even if personal motives are found — mental health, vendettas, workplace grievances—savvy jihadist recruiters have often “touched” these individuals because of them, radicalizing them online via a tight-knit network of seasoned operatives.

Ultimately, the “lone wolf” concept misunderstands the nature of terrorism, which at its core is an act of strategic communication. It’s about a weak group spreading a violent message using cheap and convenient means of attack: knives, homemade bombs, IEDs, cars, trucks, etc. This form of violent communication involves teamwork, whether direct “material support” or shared ideological, communications, criminal and recruiting networks. Some terrorist acts may appear isolated, random, and spontaneous—but that does not mean they are.

Better understanding these loosely organized jihadist networks means we have a chance to topple terrorism’s organizational edifice. That means paying attention to individual terrorist acts and linking them to global trends, such as those tracked by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorist Data (GTD) project. Such data show increased jihadist attacks globally, thousands of jihadist groups adept at “low-tech” violence, and a broad use of various methods against “soft” targets.

Data also show how recent attacks follow a conventional approach, in which operatives — no matter how plugged into the group — play a key role before, during and after an attack. Terrorists announce their goals online, as they are trained to do, declare allegiances, make martyr videos, or post extremist material on social media. Contrary to the lone wolf myth, terrorist communiqués reveal group commitment to organizations and causes, a large audience for such material, and willing participants worldwide.

Spreading Weapons, Money, & Ideology

Terrorism is built on real—but often hidden—global logistics, social and communications networks. Three of these were used in this summer’s spate of attacks in Europe: trafficked weapons, illicit money transfers and online ideological communications. Many groups, including ISIS, go to great lengths to cover their organizational tracks, creating covert units—such as Emni—to “export terror abroad,” including over 140 attacks worldwide since 2014. An imprisoned ISIS recruit recently told a New York Times journalist that ISIS undercover operatives are common in Europe to recruit new converts who are used as “clean men” (not yet in intelligence agency databases) to “help link up people interested in carrying out attacks” …

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