Others are engaging even in an eco- type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.
- Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, April 28, 1997
Cohen was talking at a conference about the time and resources wasted by false or imaginary terrorist threats, and for examples, he listed some speculative threats by Alvin Toffler, a futurist writer.
Step 1 - Original Source:
Step 2 - Context
Cohen made the remark as part of an answer given at a conference, the Sam Nunn Policy Forum being hosted by the University of Georgia, "on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy", on April 28th 1997. His full answer is below, showing the quote in context. Emphasis mine.
Step 3 - Establish the meaning of the terms, allusions and references in the quote and context
The question is about "last week's scare here in Washington" and "that ... at B'nai Brith". This is referring to an incident on April 24th 1997, when a package labeled as antrax was found at the international headquarters of the B'nai B'rith Jewish fraternal organization in Washington D.C.
The incident created chaos, but turned out to be a false threat.
So what Cohen is talking about is a "false threat", and "a false scare of a threat". He then goes on to list things that Alvin Toffler has written about. He's referring here to Toffler's 1995 book "War and Anti-War", which contains the following passage (pages 142-143, emphasis mine)
Step 4 - Explain the meaning of the quote
You have keep in mind that this is Cohen speaking off the cuff, in a live Q&A session. He's basically just saying things that come to mind. You also have to remember he's trying to promote policy. The message he reiterates is "we have to intensify our efforts [to deal with terrorism]".
First, because the question was about an hoax terrorist attack, he's talking about the "false scare of a threat" and how that can use up a lot of resources. The example he gives is the genetically engineered virus. He then mentions that Toffler wrote about this as a potential future weapon, and then added some other things Toffler wrote about. (Judging by how closely he listed Toffler's items it's likely he'd read the book pretty recently before the conference.)
Then he steps back from this and says, basically, that clever people are trying to figure out ways of inflicting terror, and the threat is real. Here he means the threat of biological terror is real. He does not mean everything Alvin Toffler listed is real. It's like he realized that he just listed a bunch of imaginary threats, thought that this was making it seems like all biological weapon threats were imaginary, and so qualified this by saying the general threat is real.
Unfortunately, with the disconnected nature of live speaking, it's a bit tricky to summarize this in a single sentence. The conspiracy theorists like to take the last sentence of his first paragraph, and pair it with the last paragraph ("it's real"), as if that's what he's referring to. For someone who wants to believe, you are not going to convince them otherwise.
Step 5 - Single Sentence Debunking
Cohen was talking at a conference about the time and resources wasted by false or imaginary terrorist threats, and for examples he listed some speculative threats by Alvin Toffler, a futurist writer.