Sunday, September 10, 2006

Crying "Wolf"?

I was going to quote from the NYT Week in Review article "Adding up the Ounces of Prevention."

But this article, in Foreign Affairs, is actually more interesting:

On the first page of its founding manifesto, the massively funded Department of Homeland Security intones, "Today's terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon."

But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?

One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad. But this explanation is rarely offered.
And there is a panel response to it (what a concept!) which is equally interesting.

As for the NYT article, I already have this part quoted, so I leave it in. Suffice to say the "Big Fear" the GOP is counting on, is beginning to unravel. Which is not the same as being secure; but it may be a sea-change in national politics.

“The idea that we are surrounded by terrorists who could strike anywhere, anytime, is a complete misconception,” said Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University.

That misconception, she said, is fueled in part by the Justice Department’s much-publicized pursuit of what it calls “terrorism-related” cases. But a new study of all such prosecutions since 9/11, conducted by the university center, found that of 417 people charged in the cases — including some involving anti-abortion violence and other crimes unrelated to the threat from Al Qaeda — the overwhelming majority faced immigration or other lesser charges. Just 39 have been convicted so far on terrorism-related charges, and only three of actual terrorism.

And some antiterrorism successes claimed by the government seem distinctly underwhelming.

The four “examples of W.M.D. cases” described in a June Justice Department report on counterterrorism efforts over five years include accounts of two Texas survivalists caught with hazardous chemicals, two Chinese-born American citizens who offered shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover F.B.I. agent, a Washington State engineer who wanted to use poisonous ricin to kill his wife, and an Arizona man whose attempt to make ricin failed but who wore the harmless powder he did make in a vial around his neck.

As time has passed without a new attack, the voices of skeptics who believe that 9/11 was more a fluke than a harbinger are beginning to be heard.

“A perfectly plausible explanation is that there are no terrorists here,” said John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University who advances the doubters’ case in an article in Foreign Affairs. “I don’t say there’s no threat, but the threat has been massively exaggerated.”
Kind of interesting to see the facts assembled and assessed in this way; especially on this weekend.

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  1. Anonymous8:52 PM

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