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Season 14 | Episode 5

Threat Level

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We begin with NPR's East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner, who takes us back to the 2013 terrorist attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Warner reported on the attack as it happened, listening to eyewitness accounts, sorting out the facts, establishing the truth. But he's been been wrestling with it ever since as his friends and neighbors try not only to put their lives back together, but also try to piece together what really happened that day. 

Then, things get really murky as we try to fix a clear line between empty threats and concrete criminal plans. While working on The Bad Show, our then producer Pat Walters ran across some recordings that spooked him--partly because they seemed like they had to be a big joke ... and partly because, at the same time, they sounded so deadly serious. That uncertainty is precisely what makes this story feel so unnerving on the one hand, and weirdly ridiculous on the other, and we’re left wondering: When should we consider someone a threat? 


Comments [8]

Marcus P Irwin from Camano Island WA

You guys renamed a show you already aired back in 2014? According to the original comments, we didn't like it back then either. I thought this was supposed to be a science show.

Sep. 09 2016 05:15 AM
Sofia Flores

I agree with other commentors. This episode was very disappointing. Not addressing the subject of race and white privilege in the second story was very naive. You are subtly propagating that white men can't be terrorists.

Sep. 05 2016 03:23 PM
Cathoryn from Future

If the gunman was security & not terrorist, then tell those eye-witnesses that the guy or gal they saw with the gun was security - solution seems obvious.

Aug. 29 2016 11:21 AM

I'm really glad that I'm not the only one deeply disappointed in the intellectual rigor of this episode. Agree about entrapment as an issue-- TAL did a very good story on this a few years ago. That aside, what's ridiculous about these men as would-be terrorists? agree that race is a big factor, but I also felt that their ages were a constant source of bemusement to the reporters of this story. Barring dementia, etc, which was not mentioned, there's no logical reason to take these men less seriously than Timothy mcveigh or any of the racist militia groups in Idaho, etc. A novelty Frank Sinatra parking sign? Wtf? Was this piece scripted by the attorney for the accused? Or are the radiolab guys really this ageist and clueless? (They're usually so much more curious and thorough.)

I also noticed that the beginning of the story basically hints that these guys are white supremacists but refused to say so: shortly after Obama was elected, they felt wronged, "for whatever reason."

I also thought the first story missed a lot of opportunities for deeper exploration of the discrepancies... Both on unreliability of witnesses, and on why the official story may not be the real one. Just felt half baked. What happened wit h this episode?

Aug. 29 2016 02:11 AM
Aria Carmela from Santa Barbara CA

Entrapment is an issue, and I am all for discussing it. But the reason it is being considered as a way of mitigating the charges in this case is because this group of men are white. FBI informants are always used when there is early knowledge of a group that is planning to do violence. How far the informants go in assisting the group in carrying out their plans is a worthy subject of debate, and this would have made an interesting part of the discussion. But this discussion would hopefully look at entrapment that is used in ALL cases of this type, not just the cases that involve white men.
But the thing that truly revealed the naivete' of storyteller was his feeling that a 73-year-old man with emphysema was incapable of shooting a gun or detonating explosives in a public place. All of you need to get out more.

Aug. 28 2016 07:25 PM

The FBI entrapment campaigns against terrorists have been far more blatant than the codger killer you showed- they spent months talking some of the reluctant young Muslims (in Lackawanna + elsewhere) into violence and setting the entire thing up- some would never have done anything without the Gov's encouragement. In that respect, I wonder when there will be a serious investigation of just what exactly the FBI and their informant / agents did with Omar Mateen.... did they create the entire crime in Orlando where none would have happened??????

Aug. 27 2016 07:27 PM
MK from Mount Rainier, MD

This is the first time I have been so disappointed in the whole hearted curiosity that usually guides RadioLab. The ONLY reason there is question of whether the 70+ year old men are terrorists is because they are white, in 2016. In 1816, or 1916, these men would clearly "fit the profile". In fact, the overwhelming majority of terrorists in American history have been white men. To ignore the racialized aspect of this "fit the profile" piece, particularly for ithe writer, hosts and guests to claim that they don't feel any better because these men are off the street, is a deep privilege of whiteness. To cloak this privilege in ageist wonderings is silly. As a Black women who can vividly recall the stories about my father's fear as a young man of disappearing into the woods near his country home due to very explicit threats from old white men, Yes, I'm am relieved that these men are off the streets.

Aug. 27 2016 07:13 PM
weh3 from Midwest

Doesn't fit the "profile"? To give ourselves peace of mind, we believe that terrorist are easily recognized. As we Americans have experienced, terrorists come in all sizes, colors and sex. If a person, regardless of race or ethnic background, enters a public venue and takes human lives, that person is a terrorist. We as Americans have hundreds of years of experience with domestic terrorism.To think critically and effectively about solutions to terrorism we must consider ALL terrorists, foreign and domestic.

Aug. 27 2016 05:12 PM

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