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Experts Say Trump's New Travel Ban Targets People Rarely Linked To Attacks

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now more on today's new executive order on immigration. It includes several modifications to the first one which was blocked by the courts. Iraq has been removed from the list of banned countries. We'll have detail on that change in a moment.

Six majority Muslim countries remain on the list. And as NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has found, critics say it focuses on people who are rarely linked to attacks.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: The president signed the initial travel ban on January 27 in front of the cameras and with great fanfare. This time, he left it to three Cabinet members. The new order addresses controversial parts of the original. It will be phased in to avoid chaos at airports. Those who already have visas can still come to the U.S., and Iraqis are no longer barred. But it still starts from the premise that immigrants and refugees from six countries pose a major threat. Former CIA officer Marc Sageman argues that this approach is fundamentally flawed.

MARC SAGEMAN: There is a very disturbing trend at least of some people within the administration that seem to go back to this notion of clash of civilization between Islam and the West.

MYRE: Sageman has been involved with radical Islam for decades, and he likes to joke he's been on both sides. As a CIA officer in the late 1980s, he helped funnel U.S. weapons to the Muslim holy warriors in Afghanistan when they were fighting the occupying Soviet troops.

Since then, Sageman, a psychiatrist, has advised law enforcement on how to prevent extremism. He's interviewed more than 30 people who've carried out violent attacks. His latest book, "Misunderstanding Terrorism," says the government has overreacted to the terror threat since the September 11 attacks, and he sees that happening again.

SAGEMAN: 9/11 was an outlier. I mean we now have data on many, many attempts and alleged attempts in this country. And this is really the only one where you just have pure outsiders to have carried out an attack.

MYRE: Deadly terror attacks on U.S. soil have been rare since 2001. There's been fewer than 10 lethal attacks, almost all of them by American citizens, and fewer than 100 deaths. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the six countries on the list are not giving the U.S. information needed to assess their citizens.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF SESSIONS: We cannot compromise our nation's security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly.

MYRE: Sessions says 300 refugees admitted to the U.S. are under FBI investigation for possible terrorism offenses. It's not clear how many might eventually be charged. Counterterrorism analyst Jessica Stern says many Americans seem to be ignoring the successes of recent years.

JESSICA STERN: On 9/11, it wasn't clear whether we would continue to have major attacks. And I think it's pretty clear that we have made it much harder for foreign terrorists to attack us.

MYRE: Stern worked on the National Security Council in the 1990s and has tracked the terror threat ever since. She's the co-author of "ISIS: State Of Terror" (ph). The president says he wants Muslim nations to help in the anti-terror fight. But Stern says the administration is setting a tone that treats individual Muslims and Muslim countries more as a threat than a partner.

STERN: Over the long term, we rely on Muslim majority countries to help us, and indeed we rely on Muslim communities to help us to stop this threat.

MYRE: Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.