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The Terrorism Delusion
America's Overwrought Response to September 11

Original Article By: John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart
International Security Summer 2012 vol 37 no 1
Major Topic: Security
Minor Topic: Politics


         Since September 11, 2001 there has been an incoherent notion in almost all parts of America that al-Qaida is some kind of super threat. However, the evidence does not support anything close to that assessment. The fact is that the September 11th attacks were a lucky fluke for al-Qaida. The resulting terror in the US population lead to countless dollars spent and countless lives lost or ruined around the world essentially at a grossly inflated overkill price that is far out of proportion to the actual threat.

         The authors examine all 50 cases of terrorism that have been made public since 9/11. While high level authorities publicly proclaim the great danger and the incredible skills of determined terrorists the writers of the actual cases studies almost always use words like “gullible”, “unorganized” and many of their synonyms to describe the suspects.

         While 9/11 was the most destructive terrorist attack in history the people involved in al-Qaida and many other terrorist organizations are not the terrorist geniuses that could carry out another attack like 9/11. Out of the 50 cases only two seem to be under the command of al-Qaida and one is debatable. The authors claim that world wide terrorist attacks accounts for about 200 to 400 lives every year which they point out is tragic but about the same as bathtub drowning in the USA.

         One circumstantial point the authors draw our attention to is the disconnect between the notices of foiled plots given by authorities – in which no more information is given and the great fanfare and amazing details that the authorities produce when they make an arrest. If there are any details in foiled plots they do not become public but the overwhelming amount of information from arrested terrorist suspects tends to be circumstantial, coerced or set up and always exaggerated.

         It also seems that both the CIA and the FBI have worked hard to keep the fear of terrorism in the forefront of the American people's consciousness. Examples are given in which the CIA seems to discount facts as false that are different from their pre-accepted narrative and image of reality. The FBI has also been very worried about what they do not see: that is they are worried that after more than 10 years they have not found the expected terrorist networks they believe exist.

         The authors are very critical of the various authorities' threat assessments of al-Qaida's nuclear capabilities. With many experts publicly proclaiming that terrorists are actively engaged in trying to acquire and use a nuclear bomb the authors claim that the possibility that al-Qaida could somehow transport and detonate a nuclear bomb of any kind seems to be so far from possible that it dumbfounds the mind to think that so called security experts could be so fact-challenged about nuclear technology. Setting off a nuclear device requires intimate knowledge of the particular technology involved; incredible secrecy and care in transporting it; and the willingness of a supplier to risk the wrath of the USA and the world. The authors ask as to consider that the only know case of a terrorist suspect thinking (or perhaps better fantasizing) about setting off a nuclear dirty bomb involved the suspect believing he could disperse radio active material by swinging a bucket. All these people seem some what naive.

         Another delusion is the expanding legal definition of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The precise definition has expanded far beyond the nuclear and thermonuclear original definition so much that today's definition would make even muskets from the revolutionary war qualify as WMD and therefore every nation on Earth has stock piles of WMD. By expanding the definition of WMD one can increase the number of potential terrorists to the point today that an innumerable number of people even in the USA are carrying around WMD.

         This lack of terrorists seems to be a bit of a problem if one wants to justify huge security budgets and programs. The US government at various levels gets over 5000 tips a day. However none have lead to arrests. One could think that the territories have been hiding extremely well for more than ten years (the preferred narrative) or one could conclude that there are not any terrorists to be found.

         Using statistical math, the authors come up with a cost benefit analysis of the money spent on homeland security. Their conclusion is that we would need to have suffered 333 attacks similar in magnitude to the 9/11 attacks to justify the $75 Billion we have spent on security. In other words we are vastly overspending on security. The authors stress that security spending was rightly increased after the 9/11 attacks but they maintain that the degree to which security spending has gone up is far beyond any reasonable cost benefit analysis.

         Despite the unreasonable increase in security spending and the historical record that shows there have not been any new successful terrorist attacks on American soil Americans should be feeling more secure. However the opposite is true: Americans in 2012 are more afraid of being a victim and/or suffering from a terrorist attack than ever before. This fear is fueled by unwarranted notions of terrorist getting nuclear weapons and by government authorities who stoke the fear by talking about the hopes of terrorists to commit mass damage as opposed to the real outcomes or likely possibilities.

Added on: 2012-11-10 11:46:03
Précis by: James Jeff McLaren
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