Bad Cards #2: The "Corsi '5" Terrorism Impact

Many of the pieces of evidence that students frequently read in debates are unquestionably terrible. Often, the desire to bolster an impact’s magnitude and raise it to extinction-level leads debaters to rely on evidence with a host of problems including but not limited to:

  • evidence used to advance arguments outside its intended context;
  • evidence citing unqualified, (functionally) anonymous, or even nefarious authors;
  • evidence culled from (typically internet or tabloid) sources that are at best unedited and at worst contemptible;
  • evidence advancing hyperbolic arguments supported by vitriolic and/or over-the-top language;
  • evidence so old that it no longer makes sense given subsequent events or changes in the topic it discusses; and
  • evidence which must be liberally interpreted in order for it to be used to support the desired conclusion.

The “Bad Cards” series is an attempt to highlight some of the most egregious examples of poor-quality evidence that is nonetheless commonplace in high school policy debates. It is not the author’s intention to “scold” or “shame” those who have read these pieces of evidence in the past or who will do so in the future. Instead, it is an attempt to influence the way that evidence is selected for inclusion in debate arguments by arming opposing students with the tools they need to defeat bad cards.


A common terminal impact to terrorism advantages and disadvantages, the Corsi ‘5 card is used to support the claim that terrorism is an existential threat to humanity. There are many problems with this so-called “evidence,” but the bottom line is this: it outlines a fictional account of a specific sequence of events dreamed up by a discredited and indeed contemptible author that—even if true—is not relevant in the vast majority of debates in which it is deployed.


Jerome R. Corsi debated for St. Ignatius High School and Case Western Reserve University in the 1960s. At the 1966 National Debate Tournament, he and his partner (Ken Seminatore) cleared to the octafinals before losing to Emporia State; Corsi was named the 20th speaker. In an interview with “Set the Record Straight,” Corsi mentions his experience in debate:

SWETT: Dr. Corsi, you knew and debated against John O’Neill back in the early 1970s. How did you come to re-establish contact with him? Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what led to the decision to write the book “Unfit for Command.”

CORSI: Yeah, it’s interesting, Scott. When I was in college, I was in Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, and John O’Neill was at Annapolis. We were intercollegiate debaters. And we knew each other quite well. I had been very successful in intercollegiate debate. In fact, my partner and I won the Georgetown tournament. I believe it was 1966. And Bob Shrum was organizing and he was the head of that tournament at that time because he was working in debate at Georgetown University.

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer also mentions his debate experience:

A champion high school and college debater, he graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1964, Case Western Reserve University in 1968 and Harvard University (with a doctorate in political science) in 1972.

After graduating, Corsi maintained a connection to debate. In 1984, he presented a paper at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association in Chicago that he co-authored with David A. Thomas entitled “Extending the Boundaries of Debate Theory: A Value-Bounded Policy Decision Making Paradigm”. While Thomas was noted as an Associate Professor and Director of Forensics at the University of Houston, “Dr. Corsi” was listed as “Vice President with Benefit Concepts, a business and financial consulting firm in Denver”. He also wrote an article in the Journal of the American Forensic Association in 1983 called “Zarefsky’s Theory of Debate as Hypothesis Testing: A Critical Re-Examination” in which he “attack[ed] the intellectual roots of hypothesis testing” and another in 1986 entitled “The Continuing Evolution of Policy Systems Debate: An Assessment and a Look Ahead.”

Corsi explains his background a bit more in the interview with “Set The Record Straight”:

ZIEGLER: So you’ve been studying, Dr. Corsi, for decades – I mean John Kerry for decades. You’ve been into this – you’re a historian trained by profession and education, and essentially the book “Unfit for Command” is a continuation of a historical analysis.

CORSI: Yeah Tim, I’m a political scientist. I got my Ph.D. at Harvard in 1972, and I have always been fascinated with and studied political violence, political protests.

The very first things I wrote were even before I went to Harvard. I wrote some things on political – racial violence, on race riots. “Shootout in Cleveland” I was co-author of, and that ended up being one of the task-force reports to the Eisenhower Commission on the causes and prevention of violence. That was in 1969 it was published.

I always had an intuitive understanding of political protests and political violence. I got a top-secret clearance from the government in 1981 after I published a computer model that predicted the outcome of terrorist events. I published that in a journal at Yale in 1981, and then I started getting requests all over the world from intelligence agencies for that paper, and I got contacted by the Agency for International Development to help them on hostage survival when the Reagan administration just came in.

So I’ve been at this for a long time. I stopped doing the work on political violence – it kind of burned me out for a while – and I changed careers. I left universities and I went into financial services. I’ve been an innovator bring annuities, selling insurance in banks. That was really my claim to fame in financial services. I created four companies doing that that were all very successful.

It was John Kerry running for president that got me to feel an enormous urge that I just had to get out and tell the public what I had known. I kind of always felt, even back in the 1970s, that if this guy ever decided to run for president, I was going to speak out against him because I knew in detail the radical nature of his anti-war activities.

Exactly what Corsi’s relationship to academic debate between the time he graduated from Case Western and the time he transitioned to a career in the financial industry is unknown.



Terrorism causes extinction.

Jerome R. Corsi, author who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, 2005 [“Sleeper Cells and Nuclear Bombs: The Threat To American Security,” Atomic Iran: how the terrorist regime bought the bomb and American politicians, Published by WorldNetDaily Books, ISBN 1581824580, p. 176-179]

The combination of horror and outrage that will surge upon the nation will demand that the president retaliate for the incomprehensible damage done by the attack. The problem will be that the president will not immediately know how to respond or against whom.

The perpetrators will have been incinerated by the explosion that destroyed New York City. Unlike 9-11, there will have been no interval during the attack when those hijacked could make phone calls to loved ones telling them before they died that the hijackers were radical Islamic extremists.

There will be no such phone calls when the attack will not have been anticipated until the instant the terrorists detonate their improvised nuclear device inside the truck parked on a curb at the Empire State Building. Nor will there be any possibility of finding any clues, which either were vaporized instantly or are now lying physically inaccessible under tons of radioactive rubble.

Still, the president, members of Congress, the military, and the public at large will suspect another attack by our known enemy – Islamic terrorists. The first impulse will be to launch a nuclear strike on Mecca, to destroy the whole religion of Islam. Medina could possibly be added to the target list just to make the point with crystal clarity. Yet what would we gain? The moment Mecca and Medina were wiped off the map, the Islamic world – more than 1 billion human beings in countless different nations – would feel attacked. Nothing would emerge intact after a war between the United States and Islam. The apocalypse would be upon us.

Then, too, we would face an immediate threat from our long-term enemy, the former Soviet Union. Many in the Kremlin would see this as an opportunity to grasp the victory that had been snatched from them by Ronald Reagan when the Berlin Wall came down. A missile strike by the Russians on a score of American cities could possibly be pre-emptive. Would the U.S. strategic defense system be so in shock that immediate retaliation would not be possible? Hardliners in Moscow might argue that there was never a better opportunity to destroy America.

In China, our newer Communist enemies might not care if we could retaliate. With a population already over 1.3 billion people and with their population not concentrated in a few major cities, the Chinese might calculate to initiate a nuclear blow on the United States. What if the United States retaliated with a nuclear counterattack upon China? The Chinese might be able to absorb the blow and recover.

The North Koreans might calculate even more recklessly. Why not launch upon America the few missiles they have that could reach our soil? More confusion and chaos might only advance their position. If Russia, China, and the United States could be drawn into attacking one another, North Korea might emerge stronger just because it was overlooked while the great nations focus on attacking one another.

So, too, our supposed allies in Europe might relish the immediate reduction in power suddenly inflicted upon America. Many of the great egos in Europe have never fully recovered from the disgrace of World War II, when in the last century the Americans a second time in just over two decades had been forced to come to their rescue. If the French did not start launching nuclear weapons themselves, they might be happy to fan the diplomatic fire beginning to burn under the Russians and the Chinese.

Or the president might decide simply to launch a limited nuclear strike on Tehran itself. This might be the most rational option in the attempt to retaliate but still communicate restraint. The problem is that a strike on Tehran would add more nuclear devastation to the world calculation. Muslims around the world would still see the retaliation as an attack on Islam, especially when the United States had no positive proof that the destruction of New York City had been triggered by radical Islamic extremists with assistance from Iran.

But for the president not to retaliate might be unacceptable to the American people. So weakened by the loss of New York, Americans would feel vulnerable in every city in the nation. “Who is going to be next?” would be the question on everyone’s mind. For this there would be no effective answer. That the president might think politically at this instant seems almost petty, yet every president is by nature a politician. The political party in power at the time of the attack would be destroyed unless the president retaliated with a nuclear strike against somebody. The American people would feel a price had to be paid while the country was still capable of exacting revenge.

None of these scenarios bodes anything but more disaster. The point is simple: America cannot tolerate the risk that some insane group of radical Islamic terrorists might want to buy their way into heaven by exploding a nuclear device in the heart of New York City. The consequences are too devastating to imagine, let alone experience. As a nation we must realize that this type of attack can happen. It may only be a matter of time, unless we act right now. We must not permit the mad mullahs to have a nuclear capability they can turn clandestinely into a nuclear weapon to use in attacking America. That we might believe we can solve the problem diplomatically is exactly the conclusion the mullahs are praying we will come to.


The problems with the Corsi card can be divided into two parts: its content and its author.


Before assessing the card itself, it is important to place it in the context of the book as a whole. As a blurb on the “WND Superstore” advertisement for the book makes clear, Corsi’s goal is to uncover “the true intentions and practices of the Iranian regime” and give light to “the aid and comfort being supplied by some key U.S. politicians.” The chapter that this card is excerpted from is called “Sleeper Cells and Nuclear Bombs: The Threat To American Security.” The introduction to the chapter provides a summary of what is to come”

A major point of this book is that the tragedy of 9-11 might well be small in light of what the terrorists have planned for America. If the mad mullahs can pull it off, the sight of a nuclear cloud roiling over New York or Washington, D.C., would dwarf the glee they derived from our misery over the 9-11 attacks.

Most likely a nuclear terrorist attack in a major U.S. city would come just as 9-11 came – unannounced and unanticipated. A sleeper cell like the 19 terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon may be living with us right now, unseen, below the surface, ready to strike when the order is given. It is frightening to think that people who are living among us now as apparently ordinary citizens are secretly planning when, where and how to explode a nuclear weapon in one of our major cities. (p. 156)

After first graphically describing a possible “dirty bomb” attack, Corsi decides that the more likely scenario involves the use of an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND)—”the preferred choice of serious terrorists.” Corsi proceeds to describe in great detail what he calls “Operation IND,” a fictionalized account of exactly how the terrorists would plan and carry out a nuclear attack on New York City. The next several pages of the book read like a Tom Clancy thriller—Iran, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and perhaps Iraq and North Korea all work together to carry out the attack.

The mullahs may be the driving force behind Operation IND, but the action itself would combine skills sets from across different terrorist organizations. Al-Qaida may be best equipped to provide the delivery team on-site in New York. Hezbollah and Hamas would have responsibility of selecting and coordinating the activities of operatives already on-site in the United States. The nuclear scientists and engineers working at the nuclear facilities in Iran may come from nuclear operations in Iraq or Pakistan, possibly even North Korea. (p. 171)

The attack itself is then described—including very specific details about its timing and location.

The terrorists’ operational team would calculate the timing of the attack to permit them to enter the city with the least chance of detection and to arrive at the maximum opportunity to kill people. Entering New York City just as morning rush hour is tapering off would allow the terrorists to seek the cover of many vehicles crowding the highways. The police might spot check, but the urgency in most rush hours in New York is to keep traffic moving. Detonating the IND as the lunch hour is beginning gives the greatest chance to have people in the streets. Also, late morning arrivers would be at work by now, so the maximum expected population density for the day should have been achieved.

Detonating the IND in Midtown positions the bomb where the largest number of people would be located, in the many skyscrapers that house the city’s offices. Assume the IND is detonated outside the Empire State Building at 11:45 a.m. Assume that the weapon is a 150-kiloton HEU gun-type bomb. Damage estimates can be scaled down to approximate damage and casualties should the bomb be a lower-yield weapon. Assume the day is the beautiful day that 9-11 was – clear and cool, few clouds in the sky, with a light wind from the east. Assume the population density is uniform, with an average of 125,000 people per square mile. Assume the bomb’s shock wave spreads out evenly, not affected by the structures.

For the terrorists, the mission is a suicide mission. Those driving the truck will remain in place, acting normal, so those inside the truck can trigger the device before anyone becomes suspicious. Remote detonation of the IND, or timed detonation, would be too risky. The way to make sure the device explodes is to stay in place and trigger the detonation locally. All terrorists on the weapons delivery mission are vaporized as the weapon detonates. (p. 171-172)

What follows is a disturbing and extremely thorough account of the effects of the detonation of this nuclear device. Corsi spares no detail: he graphically describes what would happen 1 second after detonation—and 4 seconds, 6 seconds, 10 seconds, 16 seconds, and 1 hour after detonation. He finishes this gruesome account with a section titled “By the end of the day.”

More than 1.5 million people are dead in New York City and another 1.5 million severely injured. Fewer than 25 percent of the injured will survive longer than a week. The old will die first, along with the very young. Those survivors who can move around will not know what to do. Looting will break out, as will random acts of violence. Thousands will be trapped in elevators, sealed in what are about to become their tombs. Those not at home will be unable to communicate with loved ones, to find out what has happened to husbands, wives and children. For all but a few there will be no words said of “Goodbye” or “I love you.”

Soon those who can emerge above the rubble will realize they are on an island with no escape. The Hudson and the East rivers are too strong to swim across. Who will come to rescue when the radiation will kill all who enter the devastation without protective clothes? The survivors will be homeless, mostly without food or water. There are no hospitals for the injured, and even if there were, there is no way to transport the injured to medical treatment. Darkness and the cold of night will descend with no apparent answers available to anyone.

Disaster recovery will be nonexistent in the first 24 hours as officials in the state government in Albany and the federal government in Washington realize they cannot get relief and rescue resources into Manhattan as the city begins to burn out of control.

Across America, the nation will come to a stunned standstill of shock and disbelief. Public officials all over the land will call for all police and fire departments to report for duty. Pleas will go out nationwide for National Guard and military assistance to maintain calm and prevent rioting or looting. No one knows for sure what needs to be done, or if there will be another attack.

In the span of less than one hour, the nation’s largest city will have been virtually wiped off the map. Removal of debris will take several years, and recovery may never fully happen. The damage to the nation’s economy will be measured in the trillions of dollars, and the loss of the country’s major financial and business center may reduce America immediately to a second-class status. The resulting psychological impact will bring paralysis throughout the land for an indefinite period of time. The president may not be able to communicate with the nation for days, even weeks, as television and radio systems struggle to come back on line.

No natural or man-made disaster in history will compare with the magnitude of damage that has been done to New York City in this one horrible day. (p. 172-176)

Debaters, never satisfied unless their impact can be framed as an existential threat, generally do not include this portion of the chapter and instead excerpt only the following section about nuclear retaliation (posted above as “the card”).

Even if everything that Corsi has written is correct and all questions regarding his credibility are bracketed off, this card is useless in almost every debate. The evidence is typically deployed in one of two ways:

  1. By the affirmative: “The plan solves terrorism,” “Corsi 2005.”
  2. By the negative: “The plan causes terrorism,” “Corsi 2005.”

But the Corsi card is not an impact to “terrorism” in general; it is only applicable to a very specific scenario in which terrorists backed by Iran’s nuclear program execute a successful nuclear attack against New York City. In reality, this is an impact to Iranian nuclearization, not to “terrorism”—Corsi’s argument is that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons because they will provide them to terrorists who will then strike against the United States.

Moreover, the “extinction” claim that debaters read into this evidence is pure hyperbole. Corsi himself does not use the term extinction: his claim is that after “a war between the United States and Islam,” “the apocalypse would be upon us.” What would need to happen in order for this worst case scenario to come true? According to Corsi, the United States would need to respond to a successful nuclear attack against New York City by using its own nuclear arsenal to destroy Mecca and Medina. Perceiving weakness, this would then provoke Russia, China, North Korea, and France to launch nuclear weapons of their own—mostly at the United States. If this chain of events were to occur, it would certainly constitute an existential threat.

But what is the probability of this worst case scenario? Corsi certainly does not provide any grounding for his assertions about the behavior of the United States and the rest of the world if terrorists successfully attacked New York City with nuclear weapons. “Bomb Mecca and Medina” is certainly one of many possible responses available to the U.S., but it is obviously not the only one—and certainly not the most likely.

And how likely is it that Iran will cooperate with Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah to execute a nuclear attack against the United States? If Corsi is right about the capabilities and motivations of these terrorists and their supporters, it seems like such an attack is inevitable. Corsi’s solution, of course, is regime change in Iran—either via an Israel strike (the so-called “Samson Option”) or through internal revolution backed by people like himself (Corsi has donated money to opposition groups through his Iran Freedom Foundation). Reducing the likelihood of terrorism in general is not enough; this specific threat must be addressed in order to “solve” the impact that Corsi outlines.

In practice, debaters deploy the Corsi card as an all-purpose impact to “terrorism”: a simple search on the NDCA Wiki reveals over 50 instances of its use in the past two seasons alone. Examples of the way that the Corsi card is deployed include:

  • Developing mini-nukes by increasing funding for the National Ignition Project will deter proliferation and win the war on terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Promoting clean energy in Kyrgyzstan is key to prevent terrorism that results from instability in Afghanistan… Corsi 2005.
  • Adopting a national renewable portfolio standard is crucial to shore up U.S.-E.U. relations and thereby improve anti-terrorism cooperation… Corsi 2005.
  • Removing the tariff on imports of sugar ethanol is vital to stabilize the Caribbean; failure to do so risks terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Providing the Department of Defense with clean energy technologies is key to defense transformation which enables more effective anti-terrorism efforts… Corsi 2005.
  • Providing the Department of Defense with clean energy technologies is also key to combat opium trafficking in Afghanistan which funds terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Procuring additional nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy is necessary to develop additional Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities which prevent terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Decentralizing the U.S. farm sector by promoting the use of solar power is key to prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. agriculture… Corsi 2005.
  • Expanding federal authority to construct new transmission lines for wind power is key to protect the electricity grid from terrorist attacks… Corsi 2005.
  • Increasing development of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion technology is key to cement U.S. hegemony which solves terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Adopting a plan that spends money will divert funds from missile defense which is crucial to prevent terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Increasing Medicaid funding to the states is key to shore up U.S. soft power which is key to solve terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Covering undocumented immigrants with Medicaid health insurance is key to effectively respond to bio-terrorist attacks… Corsi 2005.
  • Indo-Pak war would devastate Pakistan and solve terrorism… Corsi 2005.
  • Economic growth is key to reduce terrorism… Corsi 2005.

There is a disconnect in each of these examples between the internal link to “terrorism” and the Corsi card: he does not speak to the consequences of terrorism generally, only to the impact to a specific scenario for a nuclear terrorist attack against New York City funded by Iran and carried out by Al Qaeda with the support of Hamas and Hezbollah (and perhaps Iraq and North Korea). Unless the probability of this specific scenario is effected by the internal link, the Corsi card is wholly irrelevant.

Defenders—if they exist—will perhaps claim that the “warrants” in the Corsi card apply to all acts of terrorism, not just to the specific act of terrorism explicitly discussed in the book. This is clearly not the case; Corsi not only fails to provide an explanation for why the U.S. would respond to terrorism by bombing Mecca, but to assert that this would be the default response to any attack is preposterous and empirically denied.

Putting things in perspective, it is also exceedingly silly for debaters to claim that the reason a nuclear terrorist attack on New York City is bad is because the U.S. would respond by bombing Mecca. Would the attack be acceptable if the U.S. did not retaliate against Mecca? And if the biggest “impact” to a terrorist attack is U.S. retaliation, why shouldn’t the U.S. simply not respond by bombing Mecca? Corsi’s assertion that “the first impulse will be to launch a nuclear strike on Mecca, to destroy the whole religion of Islam” is absurd. Maybe Corsi would consider adding Medina “to the target list just to make the point with crystal clarity,” but that certainly does not seem like the most probable response of the Obama Administration.


It is not just the content of the Corsi card that warrants its inclusion on any “greatest hits” list of bad debate cards. Its author, it turns out, is a contemptible right wing hack who has no credibility in mainstream public discourse. Joseph A. Palermo, an Associate Professor of History at Cal State University at Sacramento, provides a brief overview:

A few minutes of Googling around the voluminous hate sites on the web and we quickly discover that Jerome R. Corsi is well known for holding many “controversial” views. According to Corsi watchers, he called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion,” and referred to the Koran as “the ‘software’ for producing deviant cancer-cell political behavior and violence in human beings.” He also calls Muslims “Ragheads” and “Boy-Bumpers.” But Corsi apparently doesn’t care much for Catholicism either: “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Corsi calls Senator Hillary Clinton “Hillary FAT HOG Clinton,” and he calls John Kerry “John Fucking Commie Kerry.” “Anybody ask why HELLary [sic] couldn’t keep BJ Bill satisfied?” Corsi asks. “Not lesbo or anything, is she?” And on Kerry: “After he married TerRAHsa, [sic] didn’t John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal grandparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry?”

Corsi, like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and other chickenhawks, staunchly supported the Vietnam War when he was draft age but he ducked military service with the excuse of being afflicted with “hereditary eczema.” His love for the Vietnam War did not translate into love for the veterans who fought it, or else Corsi might have hesitated before Swiftboating vets who disagreed with his defamation of John Kerry’s exemplary Vietnam War record.

Corsi is also well known for his paranoid ramblings about the “North American Union,” which is a “black helicopter” conspiracy theory that posits that the Council on Foreign Relations is seeking to impose on the United States a “super-government” that will comprise the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It is a favorite argument of the extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican crowd.

Corsi first rose to national fame in 2004 when he co-authored Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, a book that accused the Presidential candidate of treason during the Vietnam War. Since then, he has written several books promoting his far right conspiracy theories including The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, a book that accused Barack Obama of—among many other things—being a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya and therefore not eligible for the Presidency.

Corsi’s rise came despite a sordid past. In an article published in The Nation, Max Blumenthal—a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute—revealed some of the details:

Corsi’s success represents the apotheosis of a long, strange trip from the furthest shores of the right into the national spotlight. During George W. Bush’s first term, Corsi was a little-known financial services marketing specialist. In 1995, according to the Boston Globe, he coaxed twenty people into a shadowy investment venture in Poland that ultimately lost them a total of $1.2 million. “It ruined my career in the brokerage business, and it was a sad story for a lot of people,” said Bradley Amundson, one of those enlisted into Corsi’s bungled scheme. The FBI opened an investigation but never filed any charges.

Corsi had dabbled off-and-on the fringes of conservative backlash politics for nearly three decades. In his spare time, which he appeared to have lots of, Corsi busied himself at his computer, firing off opinions on the far-right website Free Republic, marked by their sexual and racial obsessions.

Atomic Iran itself contains an obvious political motive: connect the Democratic Party in the United States to the mullahs in Iran who are pursuing nuclearization. These and other antics have alienated Corsi even from mainstream conservatives. Jon Henke, a Republican blogger and political strategist, explains the conservative case against Corsi:

The continued tolerance and prominence of Jerome Corsi – his books, columns and appearances – is just embarrassing. It is embarrassing for the Right, embarrassing for Republicans, embarrassing for conservatives and libertarians, embarrassing for all of us.

It’s not just that he’s frequently, remarkably wrong – something pretty well documented and acknowledged by both the Left and (while less enthusiastically) the Right. (and the Obama campaign (PDF), of course) Both the Obama campaign and Hugh Hewitt acknowledge that Jerome Corsi is “fringe”.

Bad as his gross errors are, though, it’s not just that. It’s also about who Jerome Corsi is.
* Jerome Corsi is a smear artist (e.g., he has claimed that “Hillary Rodham Clinton is a lesbian and Muslims worship Satan”).
* Jerome Corsi has advocated the hysterical, deceptive North American Union conspiracy theory.
* Jerome Corsi associates with white supremacists.
* Jerome Corsi is guilty of plagiarism.
* Jerome Corsi is a 9/11 Truther.

I mean, c’mon. Have some standards. This guy does not deserve the platform, he does not deserve the publicity, and he does not deserve to be treated as member-in-good-standing on the Right.

The Right seems to engage today in social promotion of hatchet men, bullies and political hit men. Those people poison the Right, and – whatever their temporary electoral effects – they serve to discredit us all.

Ross Douthat, another popular conservative blogger and an editor at The Atlantic, agrees whole-heartedly with Henke:

I’m not big on ritual denunciations: I’d rather argue with people than read them out of the conversation, as a general rule, and I hope my distaste for certain styles of political discourse is clear enough without my having to publicly denounce Ann Coulter every time she pulls an offensive, sales-goosing stunt on live TV. But along with Jon Henke and Pete Wehner, I think it’s worth making an exception in the case of Jerome Corsi’s anti-Obama book, whose Amazon page won’t be linked here. It isn’t just that Corsi himself is a conspiracy theorist and a crank, or that his best-selling farrago of innuendo and outright smears exemplifies everything that’s wrong with a certain sort of right-wing publishing, or that David Freddoso’s The Case Against Barack Obama demonstrates that it’s perfectly possible to write an anti-Obama book without descending into the fever swamps. It’s that this is an election where conservatives need to be very, very conscious about the importance of line-drawing: If the Right is going to resist the ongoing attempts by Obamaphiles to define various sorts of normal political elbow-throwing (cutting ads making fun of Barack Obama’s political style, calling attention to the controversial public utterances of Michelle Obama and Jeremiah Wright, etc.) as inherently racist and hatemongering, conservatives need to be very clear about where the line actually is, and what sort of attacks are actually beyond the pale and worth condemning.

Defenders—again, if they exist—will cite Corsi’s academic credentials as proof that he is “qualified”. After all, he has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University and a B.A. from Case Western Reserve University… isn’t that good enough? Clearly not. As Professor Palermo explains in a separate article about Obama Nation:

Corsi’s view of American society is ahistorical. He might have a Ph.D. from Harvard in political science but he has no understanding whatsoever of how fundamental political rights in this country were won through hard work, organizing, and struggle. In Corsi’s worldview all labor unions and trial lawyers are evil, women shouldn’t have reproductive rights, blacks and Mexican immigrants should know their places, and anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman is a “socialist.”

Corsi is forever fixed in 1972 like an insect embedded in resin. Every four years we repeat the McGovern-Nixon battle and re-fight the same culture war. But the bottom line is that Corsi is intellectually dishonest and he willfully lies and misrepresents his subject matter for maximum emotional effect. He impugns Obama’s integrity and patriotism so many times in this work it’s impossible to chronicle them all.

The fact that Corsi received a doctoral degree from Harvard almost forty years ago does not mean that everything he has subsequently written should be accepted as the product of rigorous academic scholarship. Atomic Iran, like most of Corsi’s other books, was published by WND Books, the publishing wing of the discredited right wing website WorldNetDaily. None of his “scholarship” has been subjected to independent editorial or peer review—and when independent organizations like Media Matters and have reviewed his books, they have found them full of inaccuracies and outright lies.

In the end, reading evidence from Jerome Corsi in debate rounds lends credibility to his work—it places him on equal footing with qualified authors whose work is a product of sincere, rigorous scholarship. Even if debaters cannot resist the urge to quote him in debates, judges should certainly approach “evidence” from Corsi with extreme skepticism and assess its credibility accordingly. Treating the Corsi evidence as gospel requires the suspension of disbelief regarding the internal link to “terrorism” and it undermines the credibility of debate as an academic activity. The debate community can—and should—do better.


It is unlikely that debaters will require an in-depth author indict to sustain a devastating attack on the Corsi evidence. In the rare case that the internal link and the impact are sensibly connected, the credibility portion of the attack may need to be expanded (cutting the articles cited here will provide ample evidentiary support). In most cases, though, it will be enough to efficiently point out the disconnect between the internal link chain outlined by one’s opponent and the terminal impact described by “Corsi ‘5”.

One way of phrasing the argument is as follows:


Disregard their Corsi evidence—

A. Context—It describes a specific scenario in which Iran supports a successful Al Qaeda nuclear attack on New York City and the U.S. responds with a nuclear strike on Mecca, sparking a great power nuclear conflict. If Corsi is right, this is inevitable because of Iranian nuclearization—reducing the risk of terrorism in general does not reduce the risk of this specific scenario.

B. Credibility—Corsi is a discredited conspiracy theorist with a track record of bigotry and academic dishonesty—his writing has not been independently edited or peer reviewed and should be considered presumptively false.

You should couple this indict with evidence disputing the probability and magnitude of terrorism in the specific context of your opponents’ internal link(s); searching for “terrorism” AND “existential threat” can yield lucrative results as can researching the work of Ohio State Professor John Mueller.

This is the second in a series of articles highlighting popular but poor-quality pieces of debate evidence; the first featured the South China Morning Post ‘96 disease impact. If you’d like to recommend a card for inclusion in this series, please leave a comment or contact the author.

16 thoughts on “Bad Cards #2: The "Corsi '5" Terrorism Impact

  1. Scott Phillips Post author


    With these "bad card" posts you should post an alternative that you think is better so that people who read this and agree can sub in a better card.

    I await your bad cards posts almost as much as I await roys baker post, speaker points post, impact turning post….

  2. Bill Batterman Post author

    A<span style="font-size: 200%; text-decoration: underline;">2</span>: "Persons" PIC

    (Both these cards are better than Corsi.)

    The use of the term "persons" is key to value to life.

    Andrew Markoff, student-debater at the Bronx High School of Science, 2010 [Comment on "The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb’," Chrisendom—a blog, February 23rd, Available Online at… Accessed 03-04-2010]

    I would like to respond to the anonymous poster who stated (without explanation) that the term "persons" is dehumanizing.

    I have conducted several studies that show not only that people feel less dehumanized when referred to as a collective group labeled "persons," but that it may make actually boost the very value of their lives (yes, this is scientifically proven).

    The counterplan triggers massive global violence that culminates in nuclear war and ontological damnation.

    Andrew Markoff, student-debater at the Bronx High School of Science, 2010 [Comment on "The alleged ‘Jesus family tomb’," Chrisendom—a blog, February 23rd, Available Online at… Accessed 03-04-2010]

    I would even venture so far to say that the widespread adoption word "people," which you advocate, would have disastrous implications. In fact, it may take just one use of replacing the term "persons" with the term "people" to trigger global violence on a scale unprecedented. One can only imagine the nightmare scenarios: India may strike Pakistan, Russia may unleash nuclear weapons at the United States, and perhaps the whole world will burn in some forsaken state of ontological damnation, whereby death would come to be seen as a blessing.

  3. Trevor Aufderheide

    Bill – what are your thoughts on the application of the Corsi evidence as an impact to nuclear retaliation (against a terrorist attack)? To me, it seems like most of your indictments are predicated on Corsi's ability to analyze the probability of a terrorist attack and whether or not it would provoke retaliation. If the affirmative (or negative) has already established the internal link into retaliation, it seems reasonable that Corsi would be able to effectively estimate what the effects of that would be, as he does in his hypothetical New York scenario. Any reasons for why Corsi couldn't speculate on that could just as easily be applied to any other large, global nuclear war impact that assumes every major nation going ballistic.

    As for his credibility, you question his lack of analysis regarding the probability of a terrorist attack and his conspiracy theories, but that doesn't seem to address the "nuclear retaliation" portion of his argument.

    Having a vested interest in this topic, seeing as the Corsi card plays a rather large role in our 1AC, I'm interested in seeing what you have to say.

  4. Rick

    I agree with Scott that there should be a new card posted. It seems a lot of the nuclear terrorism cards are predicated on some kind of ridiculous scenario to get any real risk.
    The Allison evidence seems to be the best. It argues terrorism would cause the port of Los Angeles to be closed killing international trade because of fears of another bomb(probable) and economic contraction from a large city being eliminated. This evidence provides strong internal links to free trade completely collapsing and the economy collapsing. Allison also is a professor at Harvard and a generally respected author.
    "Trevor comments"
    The biggest problem with general retaliation arguments is the lack of intrinsicness to the aff. Sure as a negative impact it might work(still questionable on the probability side but ignoring that) teams will juts CP don't respond with nuclear weapons. Solves all the impacts to the evidence and wipes out the 1AC's scenario entirely.

  5. Alex Zavell

    pretty good terrorism impact…cut this recently

    Nuclear Terrorism is likely, causes nuclear retaliation, and triggers a new arms race
    Rhodes 12-14-09
    Richard, affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, Former visiting scholar at Harvard and MIT, and author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” which won the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. “Reducing the nuclear threat: The argument for public safety”

    The response was very different among nuclear and national security experts when Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar surveyed PDF them in 2005. This group of 85 experts judged that the possibility of a WMD attack against a city or other target somewhere in the world is real and increasing over time. The median estimate of the risk of a nuclear attack somewhere in the world by 2010 was 10 percent. The risk of an attack by 2015 doubled to 20 percent median. There was strong, though not universal, agreement that a nuclear attack is more likely to be carried out by a terrorist organization than by a government. The group was split 45 to 55 percent on whether terrorists were more likely to obtain an intact working nuclear weapon or manufacture one after obtaining weapon-grade nuclear material. "The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is not just a security problem," Lugar wrote in the report's introduction. "It is the economic dilemma and the moral challenge of the current age. On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the destructive potential of international terrorism. But the September 11 attacks do not come close to approximating the destruction that would be unleashed by a nuclear weapon. Weapons of mass destruction have made it possible for a small nation, or even a sub-national group, to kill as many innocent people in a day as national armies killed in months of fighting during World War II. "The bottom line is this," Lugar concluded: "For the foreseeable future, the United States and other nations will face an existential threat from the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." It's paradoxical that a diminished threat of a superpower nuclear exchange should somehow have resulted in a world where the danger of at least a single nuclear explosion in a major city has increased (and that city is as likely, or likelier, to be Moscow as it is to be Washington or New York). We tend to think that a terrorist nuclear attack would lead us to drive for the elimination of nuclear weapons. I think the opposite case is at least equally likely: A terrorist nuclear attack would almost certainly be followed by a retaliatory nuclear strike on whatever country we believed to be sheltering the perpetrators. That response would surely initiate a new round of nuclear armament and rearmament in the name of deterrence, however illogical. Think of how much 9/11 frightened us; think of how desperate our leaders were to prevent any further such attacks; think of the fact that we invaded and occupied a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with those attacks in the name of sending a message.

  6. Bill Batterman Post author

    @Trevor Aufderheide

    Bill – what are your thoughts on the application of the Corsi evidence as an impact to nuclear retaliation (against a terrorist attack)?

    Still terrible.

    1. The motivation of the author remains suspect (at best). His goal is clearly to win elections by convincing readers/voters that the Democrats are supporting Iran. Corsi has a track record of lying for political gain—we should presume that he's doing that here unless there's a good reason to think otherwise.

    2. The credibility of the author remains non-existent. Corsi does not adhere to norms of academic honesty and rigorous scholarship; he consistently makes things up. His credibility *generally* cannot be separated from his credibility *in this specific instance*—he has lost the presumption of academic innocence.

    3. The context of the card still does not assume the internal link. Corsi doesn't say "retaliation to terrorism = bad things," he says "retaliation to terrorism would be nuking Mecca and Medina = bad things". The internal link most often read to support this claim—Conley—does not argue that "lots of casualties from a terrorist attack = nuke Mecca and Medina". Conley says nuclear retaliation would be on the table if casualties were high enough, but he certainly doesn't say that a nuclear first strike against Mecca and Medina is on the table. And the Conley article is a defense of calculated ambiguity as a strategy regarding retaliation to terrorism—he does not conclude that "terrorism = nuclear retaliation", only that "terrorism = nuclear retaliation CONSIDERED".

    4. Corsi's explanation of the sequence of events that would occur should the U.S. first strike Mecca and Medina lack grounding. He cites no sources, he includes no footnotes, he provides no alternate scenarios, and he does not qualify his predictions; in sum, he does none of the things that would be characteristic of a credible scholarly work.

    Think about it this way: why do you need to read the Corsi card? If the argument he's making is valid, then you should be able to make it without appealing to his authority. If you think the argument *requires* an appeal to authority in order to establish its credibility, then your appeal to authority has failed: citing Corsi *decreases* rather than *increases* the persuasiveness of your claim. "But he makes the claim in a very powerful and conclusive way" is a product of Corsi's lack of credibility: self-reflexive and thoughtful academics/scholars/experts do not make the kind of hyperbolic claims that pepper Corsi's writing.

  7. Pingback: The 3NR » Bad Cards #3: The “Harrison ‘05/’06″ Legal Debate Blog Cards

  8. sidharth.artemis

    It looks to me like Corsi is asking for it: terrorists of the world, here's an idea, read my book, and figure out how to destroy NYC.

  9. HeIsAPlant

    Hello? He's a sincere debater having done rigorous research who appears to be a total whack-job for ONE very obvious reason: Jerome Corsi is a political operative. He is an agent provocateur making the right look like lunatics.

    Seriously? One good hard look at his background should tell you EVERYTHING.

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