What the Terrorists Want

On Aug. 16, two men were escorted off a plane headed for Manchester, England, because some passengers thought they looked either Asian or Middle Eastern, might have been talking Arabic, wore leather jackets, and looked at their watches—and the passengers refused to fly with them on board. The men were questioned for several hours and then released.

On Aug. 15, an entire airport terminal was evacuated because someone’s cosmetics triggered a false positive for explosives. The same day, a Muslim man was removed from an airplane in Denver for reciting prayers. The Transportation Security Administration decided that the flight crew overreacted, but he still had to spend the night in Denver before flying home the next day. The next day, a Port of Seattle terminal was evacuated because a couple of dogs gave a false alarm for explosives.

On Aug. 19, a plane made an emergency landing in Tampa, Florida, after the crew became suspicious because two of the lavatory doors were locked. The plane was searched, but nothing was found. Meanwhile, a man who tampered with a bathroom smoke detector on a flight to San Antonio was cleared of terrorism, but only after having his house searched.

On Aug. 16, a woman suffered a panic attack and became violent on a flight from London to Washington, so the plane was escorted to the Boston airport by fighter jets. “The woman was carrying hand cream and matches but was not a terrorist threat,” said the TSA spokesman after the incident.

And on Aug. 18, a plane flying from London to Egypt made an emergency landing in Italy when someone found a bomb threat scrawled on an air sickness bag. Nothing was found on the plane, and no one knows how long the note was on board.

I’d like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We’re all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it’s doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn’t even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers’ perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they’ve succeeded.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that’s basically what’s happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we’re terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists’ actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

(I am not saying that the politicians and press are terrorists, or that they share any of the blame for terrorist attacks. I’m not that stupid. But the subject of terrorism is more complex than it appears, and understanding its various causes and effects are vital for understanding how to best deal with it.)

The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways. Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security. I’ll bet the terrorists are laughing at us.

Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn’t engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn’t write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn’t use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we’d reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

It’s time we calm down and fight terror with antiterror. This does not mean that we simply roll over and accept terrorism. There are things our government can and should do to fight terrorism, most of them involving intelligence and investigation—and not focusing on specific plots.

But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show’s viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.

This essay originally appeared on Wired.com.

EDITED TO ADD (3/24): Here’s another incident.

EDITED TO ADD (3/29): There have been many more incidents since I wrote this—all false alarms. I’ve stopped keeping a list.

Posted on August 24, 2006 at 7:08 AM296 Comments


Tim August 24, 2006 7:38 AM

Well said.

What all of us should do is send a copy of this to our elected officials and to the press and see if they wake up and smell reality.

My idealistic self says they will listen; my more realistic self figures they will keep the fear mongering going.

I fear the latter self is right.

Frank Ch. Eigler August 24, 2006 7:52 AM

And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.

Is it not perhaps a tad presumptious to speak on behalf of terrorists? Or to equate travel inconveniences with … er … death? or changes in foreign policy and military alliances?

Hullu August 24, 2006 7:56 AM

“Or to equate travel inconveniences with … er … death?”

People actually might die because of travel inconveniences if their local fireman missed his shift, or fail to see their loved one for the last time before they die.

It’s not just -1hour vs +1death.

Chris August 24, 2006 7:58 AM

I think we’ve crossed a line here. Whats to stop terriorists now just getting on flights and acting suspiciously on purpose. If no crime was committed (I was just checking my watch, saying my prayers, going to the bathroom etc.) they can caues disruption, create paranoia and terror at will and get off scott free.

Paul Crowley August 24, 2006 8:08 AM

“Is it not perhaps a tad presumptious to speak on behalf of terrorists?”

The clue is in the name, dude. Responding to terror without trying to make any guesses about the terrorists mental state would be an interesting challenge.

Aaron August 24, 2006 8:16 AM

Your best Wired editorial yet. I only wish more people would read this and agree with you.

Mike Scott August 24, 2006 8:19 AM

We have to trade-off travel inconveniences against death every time we travel. If you don’t want to make that trade-off, and you believe that the risk of death trumps the inconvenience every time, then you have to ground all passenger aircraft permanently. Otherwise, you’re into the business of choosing an acceptable balance between safety and convenience — and the current hysteria is definitely moving that balance too far away from convenience, given that the actual risk from terrorist attacks on planes is far lower than perfectly mundane risks such as driving to the airport.

Ed T. August 24, 2006 8:22 AM

For some reason, as I read this the following quote kept replaying in my brain:

“The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself.”

Maybe we should quit talking about terrorism, and just call it what it is: Fear Itself.


Bob S August 24, 2006 8:30 AM

While I feel your comments are correct with respect to the political goals of the terrorist, I think that they downplay the hatred our policies have created in some persons. People do not blow themselves up our of a desire to disrupt someone elses life, they do it because something has kindled a hatred that make them want to destroy us.

Pseudonymous August 24, 2006 8:33 AM

@Frank Ch. Eigler:

In the US (and, I suspect, most European countries), terrorists are not a serious danger to people’s lives. There are scads of things that have killed over three thousand Americans in the last five years.

If you actually want to make things safer for the US people, work on reducing drunk driving, or getting more people affordable basic medical care, or reducing gang violence. Something that actually kills significant numbers of people.

If the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist is too high for you, I don’t know what you can do. Certainly you can’t get in a car to go anywhere, but household accidents kill more people than terrorists. You could try catatonia, but do you know how many people die in hospitals in ways that can be prevented?

We are spending incredible amounts of money on screening (assuming you’re willing to admit that people’s time is worth something), and we’re barely any safer because of it. It’s time we stopped focussing intently on making an exceedingly safe method of transportation even safer, and took a look at the real dangers in life.

Jim August 24, 2006 8:34 AM

The Greeks warred with the Turks on and off for 900 years. The Greeks massacred 20,000 Moslems in April 1821, then declared their independence from Turkey. 100 year later they were still at war. During the 1920’s it all ended. It’s an amazing tribute to the Russians. A united Greece and Turkey became partners in NATO. An old Istanbul grocer explained it simply. “The Greeks don’t like the Russians much and I hate them.” Schoolchildren learned a new word, Zito meaning long live in Greek.

Huge August 24, 2006 8:35 AM

No, it is not presumptious to assume you know what terrorists want – Mao Tse Tung said it best; “The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise”. Bruce’s article is the best thing I have seen written recently on this subject (and I frequently disagree with Bruce’s opinions – not in this case); the “liquid explosive” terrorists have succeeded perfectly without getting on a single aircraft or detonating a single bomb. We are terrorised. Air travel is disrupted. Millions of dollars worth of economic damage has been done (I bet the Board of Ferrovia, the Spanish transport company who have just bought the operator of most British airports, BAA, are pretty pissed off. I’m not … I was a BAA stockholder.)

Of course, it doesn’t help that Governments and the media are quite happy to further the stories, since it helps one to pass otherwise unacceptable legislation and the other to sell newspapers.

Steve August 24, 2006 8:37 AM

We’re all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain.

Bruce, are you really more “jumpy” as a result of the scare, or are you just expressing your sympathy for people who are?

I’m not more jumpy, and I live here. I expect the police (etc) to be investigating people on suspicion of terrorism, and I expect them to make arrests from time to time. That’s their job – a demonstration that they’re doing it should, if anything, be reassuring.

What does concern me is that I think the authorities may have made a bit of a mess of it (half the suspects still haven’t been charged, and I’m fairly sure the government has deliberately exaggerated the threat they posed). But that doesn’t make me any more nervous, just disappointed and angry…

Clive Robinson August 24, 2006 8:55 AM


You have forgoton to mention Cyprus, where the Greeks and Turks still face each other with supposed war like intent.

In the early 1970’s the Greek Junta managed to get it’s officers incharge of a militia/police organisation in Cyprus. The result was a number of incidents where the Turkish Cypriots where terorised and murdered. The result was that Turky invaded Northan Cyprus which they occupied to an extent in percentage terms to that of the Turkish population. A peace keeping force finally went in and the Green line was formed to keep the two sides seperated.

A very short while later the Greek Millitary Junta collapsed but guess what the Green line is still there today, and Greek Cypriots keep blocking any attempt to get unification of Cyprus.

It is possibly for this reason and the more recent Eastern European (Surbia etc) conflicts why Continental European countries are not keen on being involved with peace keeping activities unless the ground rules are very very clearly stated, and an end plan is inplace.

Greg August 24, 2006 8:57 AM

We having nothing to fear but fear itself…. and I’m afraid of our response, and the type of people “attracted” to the kind of power that the govs are demanding.

First a quote:
Mr Reid said had the attack gone ahead it would have caused a loss of life of “unprecedented scale”. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4778575.stm

Yet lets look at a precedent:

56 MILLION people….many think that this is rather underestimated, but its in the ball park. ~4000 people is a disater to be sure, but not in anyway unprecedented.

Even road deaths in the US for 2002 was over 40 000.

Now when I bring this up, others often say, “yea but a terroist attack is so unexpected”. How many expect to get killed in a car crash?
The people that are left behind or the innocent that are killed. Are they any less important just because it was “just a car crash”?

We don’t feel like ignoring the terrorists is a good trade off. But investing more into cutting the road toll in the US would save many many more lives even if a sep 11 was pulled off every year.

When i take my daughter to a feild in Turki, with over 8,000 ANZCs were killed during WWI. I’m hoping it will put things into a proper perspective for her.


Tired Ben August 24, 2006 9:00 AM

Can we please quit calling them terrorists and start calling them what they really are: anarchists? These people exist to create chaos and to undermine the structures of society and civilization. Just as blowing things up are tactics of creating chaos, so is their religious affiliation merely a convenient recruiting tactic.

Given the above term change, I disagree with the following:
“I am not saying that the politicians and press are terrorists, or that they share any of the blame for terrorist attacks.”

These politicians and so-called journalists are, in fact, terrorists. They are perpetuating terror in society using various movie plot FUD stories about the actions of said anarchists.

amp August 24, 2006 9:08 AM

for a 24 year old its hard to believe whats happening in this world right now.
even here in germany they started to prepare people for their insane government operations against terrorism by showing these fear-news 24/7!

so far it turned out like this:
a new law that says that isp´s have to save log-files for 90 days,
plus we got new biometric passports with rfid-chips, which will be totally hackable half a year from now (theres already a clone by lukas grunewald).

wiretapping, (e-)surveillance, gene-databases…everything gets monitored.
this is no fiction, we are already living in this state of fear.

Zito August 24, 2006 9:10 AM

Zito says, terrorism is a dead end and war can only get you so far. It can get you dead, so war is a dead end too. If people hate terrorism, they are likely to hate war. That’s why you avoid war. It’s just not popular at a great expense. Terrorism is war on a tight budget.

Rory August 24, 2006 9:15 AM

A big problem here is that while you and I and any other infosec professional can look at this and give this type of advice, and it seems like kindergarten instruction – so sensible and obvious – it is a nightmare to try and penetrate the various selfish reasons for politicians and the media to hype terror messages – as Huge mentioned earlier.

As the wider population gets more hacked off with the knee-jerk reactions removing our liberties while offering no added security, it may get easier to have our messages heard. The audience may become more sympathetic.

I reckon it’ll be a long slog though

Jim August 24, 2006 9:16 AM

I didn’t know about Cyprus, so how could I have forgotten something I didn’t know?
I don’t know.

TOMBOT August 24, 2006 9:18 AM

The majority of people in the US, UK etc all agree with you, Bruce. The problem is that we elected a gang of twisted, mendacious lunatics and their terms aren’t up yet.

Mark J. August 24, 2006 9:21 AM

On our recent trip my wife’s purse created a ruckus. Supervisors were called in and some myopic troll with blue gloves valiantly fished through her purse for 10 minutes and finally brandished his prize; an old tube of chapstick. After sniffing it and having to consult with another TSA guru, he still couldn’t decide if it was ok to let such a dangerous item on board. My wife told him to trash it.

I felt immensely better knowing the flight was saved from a 120 lb librarian with chapped lips.

Mark J. August 24, 2006 9:29 AM

“Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat.”

The politicains are only helping themselves, which is what they do best. And the press is only trying to sell stories, which is what they do best. Terrorism serves many purposes and those sly enough to take advantage will continue to do so as long as it benefits them. They couldn’t care less how adversely it affects the rest of us.

Jim August 24, 2006 9:30 AM

Information I didn’t know but I forgot. That would make a good book. Absofuckinglutely Unsure.

Tom Grant August 24, 2006 9:31 AM

Well spoken, Bruce.


Perhaps we should put a twist on an old watergate maxim: “Follow the Fear”…

Chris August 24, 2006 9:35 AM

“I felt immensely better knowing the flight was saved from a 120 lb librarian with chapped lips.”

I also routinely fly with a small tube of chap-stic with me. I do the sensible thing; I keep it in my pocket, keep my mouth shut, and walk through the metal detector. Never had a problem. I wonder how many other people do the same?

no1 August 24, 2006 9:41 AM

@Tired Ben: Can you please call them what they are, and call them nihilists, fascists, or psychopaths? Or why not simply terrorists, since the ones in question lately have no announced objective, and the only one we can say for certain that they do have, is terror.

I can’t speak for other anarchists, but I resent your grouping me with anyone like that.

Next you’ll be telling us Noam Chomsky was behind the WTC attacks.


Get a clue, dude, and don’t lecture others on English when you can’t speak it yourself.

whomever August 24, 2006 9:49 AM

This erratic behavior opens the door to ‘plausible deniability’ terrorism; consider the following scenario (especially when the anthrax fear was running high)

Sit in a visible public place, eat a powdered sugar donut, leaving a mess. Disappear. Wait for someone to panic. Even if you are identified, it would be hard to legally quantify sloppy eating as a terrorist act, but the goal of panic is accomplished.

no1 August 24, 2006 9:51 AM

@TOMBOT: “The majority of people in the US, UK etc all agree with you, Bruce. The problem is that we elected a gang of twisted, mendacious lunatics and their terms aren’t up yet.”

You get the prize for most defeatist statement of the week.

1) You sound very sure that they were elected.

2) “A gang of twisted, mendacious lunatics” should be allowed to serve terms anywhere except in prison … in which universe?

3) “We” … speak for yourself, see 1 and also

4) If “The majority of people in the US, UK etc all agree” then where is the harm, in a democracy, in turning these sadsacks out? Oh .. the rules? The rules are stopping us? Damn. Terrorists win again.

PerfDave August 24, 2006 9:51 AM

All the talk of the value of one life versus the inconvenience of one hour has gotten me thinking. How many lifetimes of man-hours have been wasted due to extra delays at airports caused by overreaction to fear of terrorism? I’m happy to guess at least a dozen.

Helge August 24, 2006 9:52 AM

I am not saying that the politicians and press are terrorists, or that they share any of the blame for terrorist attacks.

If there is a way to profit from something, it will be done.

(Certain) politicians and the press, who both carry a very large responsibility in our society, profit hugely from terrorist attacks, so there is a very powerful incentive to let them happen. This motivation for terrorist attacks stems from inside our society, not from “the terrorists” (who are usually viewed as standing apart from it).

As long as politicians and press profit from terrorist attacks, they share a responsibility. This may not be exactly the same as “blame”, but I tend to view blame as irrelevant anyway. Responsibility is what counts.

Moshe Yudkowsky August 24, 2006 10:10 AM

The fear of terrorism is very real and very rational; the measures against it will vary from effective to silly until we reach an equilibrium; but this claim that we’re doing what the terrorists “want” is absurd.

What the terrorists want is for the US and Europe to surrender to Islamic rule: nothing less will satify their demands. They’re quite explicit about it in their statements and their writings; which is why, for example, Moslem protesters in Washington D.C. carry posters that show an Islamic flag flying over the White House.

As for the incident with the two Arab-speaking men removed from the plane: I’ve seen reports (I can’t find them now) that an Arabic-speaking woman overheard them say words to the effect of “these are the last thirty minutes of our lives.” I’d leave the plane too if I heard that.

bfd August 24, 2006 10:15 AM

In 2002, I went to Philly on a business trip. Since I had never visited the city, and as a history nut, I was especially interested in seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall among other sites. Both were cordoned off with the bright orange barriers, and you had to go through a metal detector at both sites (if I remember correctly, but definitely at the Hall).

I decided that day that the terrorists had won, and it was a blow-out. As an American, I could not see two landmarks without first being treated as threat. Two months later, I was searched on all four legs of a trip. When and how do we really win the “War on Terrorism?”

Nice post, Bruce.

greg August 24, 2006 10:19 AM

@Moshe Yudkowsky

I don’t care about terrorism. I care about the rapid removal of my rights in the name of terrorism. This has happend many times in that past for many different reason. It has never lead anywhere where i would want to be. The most popular recent event would be the gastopoe.

We do not seem to learn from history.

Fear of terrorism is irrational by any rational or logical reasoning. No matter how you slice it.


Alice Gray August 24, 2006 10:28 AM

Considering the current American political attitude toward religion, I find the story of the Canadian doctor who was removed for praying to be especially sad. What ignorance!

Bullymania August 24, 2006 10:29 AM

There are two schools of thought on dealing with bullies:

Stand up to him/her — maybe you win, maybe you lose.. but odds are that bully will stand down before it comes to that.

Ignore them and they will go away — maybe they’ll got tired of it, or maybe they’ll consider it a challenge and escalate to the apparent situation where you have no choice but to confront.

You’ll never find a solution for terrorism/anarchist/whatever you want to call it. People are not computers and while they are predictable to a degree, the ability of free thought and higher level thinking will always lead to potential acts of cruelty.

How much of your privacy/freedom are you willing to sacrifice? And at what point would too much control put you on the other side of the fence? The one fighting for your own belief?

Yes, 9/11 is tragic and should have trigged the massive search and capture of those involved at all levels. It should have brought to light the issue with airplane controls and safety as well as other means of travel (a bomb on the golden gate bridge in rush hour would be just as costly, if not more). It should have brought about changes and awareness.

To a degree, I agree with some setiments above. The press and politicians are just as largely to blame. Their beliefs of instilling fear/regulations promoted by fear is helping the “terror” win. There is a fine line between terror and aware. You don’t tell someone to walk down a dark alley and not pay attention to the surroundings,do you?

Karl August 24, 2006 10:33 AM

“Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that’s basically what’s happening right now.”

You left out the 1000+ people killed part.

“Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers’ perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they’ve succeeded.”

Well gee, wouldn’t it be nice if they all they did was sit in a comfy office somewhere and maintain a terror website, updated with daily threats? Then everybody can go there and get their drama. Except that doesn’t work, the terror part comes from the slight chance of succeeding in a mass killing.

David August 24, 2006 10:38 AM

Ran across this quote the other day. Similar in vein to the Roosevelt quote.

“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by implication, by erosion, by default, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other – until the day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.” ~ Ayn Rand

Benny August 24, 2006 10:38 AM

@ Moshe Yudkowsky:

Not all terrorists are Islamic extremists who want US and Europe under Islamic rule. What they do have in common is that they seek to use fear to gain leverage over people. So yes, giving in the the fear IS doing what the terrorists want you to do. Refuse to succumb to fear, and you take away their leverage. To me, that’s a more effective measure of combating terrorism than anything the government’s proposed so far.

Chung Leong August 24, 2006 10:44 AM

An interesting thing I’ve noticed is how society’s response to terrorism fits with the definition of Battered Woman Syndrome. Given the stimulant is the same–that is, physical violence–this really isn’t surprising.

Here’s a short description of BWS –

Symptoms: BWS is a psychological reaction that can be expected to occur in normal people who are exposed to repeated trauma, such as family violence. It includes at least three groups of symptoms that assist the mind and body in preparing to defend against threats. Psychologists call it the “fight or flight” response.

The “Fight” Response Mode: In the “fight” mode, the body and mind prepare to deal with danger by becoming hypervigilant to cues of potential violence, resulting in an exaggerated startle response. The automatic nervous system becomes operational and the individual becomes more focused on the single task of self defense. This impairs concentration and causes physiological responses usually associated with high anxiety. In serious cases, fearfulness and panic disorders are present and phobic disorders may also result. Irritability and crying are typical symptoms of this stage.

The “Flight” Response Mode: The “flight” response mode often alternates with the fight pattern. Most individuals would run away from danger if they could do so safely. When physical escape is actually or perceived as impossible, then mental escape occurs. This is the avoidance or emotional numbing stage where denial, minimization, rationalization and disassociation are subconsciously used as ways to psychologically escape from the threat or presence of violence.

Cognitive Ability and Memory Loss: The third major impact of BWS is to the cognitive and memory areas. Here, the victim begins to have intrusive memories of the abuse or may actually develop psychogenic amnesia and not always remember important details or events. The victim may have trouble following his or her thoughts in a logical way, being distracted by intrusive memories that may be flashbacks to previous battering incidents. The victim may disassociate himself or herself when faced with painful events, memories, reoccurring nightmares or other associations not readily apparent to the observer.

who weeps for planet Earth? August 24, 2006 10:48 AM

I recommend a war on cars, accidents involving gas sucking, oil spewing coffins on wheels are the real problem.

People terrorize the poor Earth every day by sealing it up in a concrete tomb, chasing away plant life and human life.

One day when all the ice melts people will look around and say, “hey, the Earth can’t breathe, what did we do?” but by then they will be so fat they won’t be able to speak, they will spend their days rolling around on beaches like drunken seals, still wagging their tongues about their little techy trinkets while the pollution of their design continues to worsen the state of all life on Earth.

Wars and rumors of wars isn’t some dot on a time line to call back a ninja savior from the sky, it’s happened since ancient times. Meanwhile, our Earth needs help, but no one cares, because there’s always another new song to discover for the iPod, another stupid myspace page to read, another opinion to launch to sugar our ego while our fingernails grow longer, bellies grow larger, and the Earth continues to be sealed up like a tomb for profit.

libertas August 24, 2006 10:50 AM

Funny thing is, if you read Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies, this is precisely the tack that Clinton took. It wasn’t until the Bush team came in and dropped the ball that everything went to shit.

quincunx August 24, 2006 10:53 AM

Tired Ben,

Please learn what the word ‘anarchist’ means before you start making things up. If anarchy means what you say, then such an absurd definition would lead you to conclude that FDR,Hitler,Mao,Stalin,Castro,Che Guevera, et al are anarchists!

Anarchy means no rule, not random spouts of violence.

Government means rule, systematic propaganda and violence, and a random scattering of people that seek to gain the top positions.

The moment you use aggression is the moment become a non-anarchist. Why? because aggression is rule, therefore it is antithetical to anarchism.

Western civilization has always been the home of anarchist ideas, because naturally this is where liberty has had the longest history.

Perhaps you should study some leading anarchists: Proudhon, Spooner, B. Tucker, Molinari, LeFavre, Rothbard, Hoppe, Block, Kinsella, and Rockwell, before jumping on gravy train of state propaganda.

If one changes the word ‘terrorism’ to ‘guerilla warfare’ one comes to a very different conclusion as to the cause of it: US foreign policy.

urbanek August 24, 2006 10:57 AM

The point of terrorism isn’t terror. The point of terrorism is power. A terrorist tries to take power away from a government by making that government look like it’s failing at one of its basic tasks: protecting its citizens.

Governments fight back by providing ‘security theatre’ (not my phrase, but a good one). They make a big show of thwarting terrorists. If an actual threat can’t be found, it suffices to concoct a reasonably believable one.

If security theatre is done well, then when a terrorist succeeds, it’s a process failure, not incompetency. A scapegoat is found and punished. No power lost.

It’s not done consciously, but this is what is really happening.

Dima August 24, 2006 10:59 AM

I wholeheartedly agree with almost all of the essay except for one point – the inclusion of the case of smoke alarm tampering on the list of false positives. MHO is that that guy should’ve been sent over to Guantanamo and lost there together with all evidence of his existence – the danger of an Air Canada 797-type disaster is very much real regardless of what terrorists want.

quincunx August 24, 2006 11:05 AM

“The point of terrorism is power. ”

If you claim to be my sovereign leader and then club me over the head, my attempt to stop you or fight back will be labeled as terrorism.

Terrorism need not be power-seeking, it can also be power-repelling.

If the American Revolution was not won by the Americans, but by the British, history would have written off the dissenting Americans as anti-social terrorists.

Ale August 24, 2006 11:08 AM

Great advice, Bruce.

I think one of the most important repercussions of a generalized “refusal to being terrorized” is that the whole logic and leverage of “fear politics” would be undermined. Once politicians felt that FUD was not the best discourse to sway the masses, it would be substituted with something else… and this would break the current positive feedback.

Jungsonn August 24, 2006 11:09 AM

it seems a lot of psychology comes into view when thinking it trough.

Isn’t it also the effect of: people are beaten numb when an attack takes place, so the next attack must be bigger in order to raise more fear?

derf August 24, 2006 11:15 AM

Why escort a passenger plane with fighter jets? What can they do? If the passenger plane blows up, will they finish the job or just look on helplessly? What a waste!

We have two choices…unpanic or 1984. We either take a step back and realize that there are much easier US targets than the airlines or we continue to enjoy being harrassed and strip searched by the TSA every time we board a plane, because it will only get worse.

Think about it realistically – airports with bomb sniffing dogs or a cross town bus or the local school building that have little to no security? If I can see how much easier and more effective other targets would be, I’m sure Joe “Blowup-meownself-inna-crowd” Mohammed can too. Banning hair-gel on airplanes can’t stop terrorism, but it does destroy the freedom that so many have fought and died for.

Chic August 24, 2006 11:16 AM

Excellent essay!

Here’s my comment.

The USA may have won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union. And terrorist may win this war by causing so many costly responses that they bankrupt the USA. It is incredible how much value terrorists are getting out of their actions for such a small expenditure of resources.

Mister Whirly August 24, 2006 11:17 AM

My God, finally a voice of reason in the media! What a well thought out and written summary of the sad state of affairs this “War on Terror” has led us. I am so sick of idiot’s “the end justifies the means” and “won’t somebody think of the children” rhetoric. Thank you for speaking the truth, and refusing to propogate more
media hype on this subject.

Ian August 24, 2006 11:29 AM

this is the best description i’ve read on terrorism & our country’s failed response to it. The proof is in the difference
between how the U.S. handle threats and how Isreal handles them. for
20 years, El Al airlines has not had a single hijacking. why?
because they implement security functions that WORK. and when
terrorists strike their land, they don’t do outlandish, useless scare tactics like ban liquids on planes. Since this ban really is a worthless jesture on the part of the US Gov’t., you have to wonder
what the REAL reason behind it is. is this the administration trying
to win image points from a population in which only %36 approve of
him? is this the response from disconnected, ivory towered agencies?
or is it all just a part of an agenda to grab more power, bypass
constitutional checks and balances, and use terror as a wedge issue
to do it? i would argue that the current administration BEST FRIEND
right now is Al-Qaeda.. how else would they have gotten away with
violating so many laws? as you said in your article bruce, it
doesn’t really matter if the terrorists succeeded in the london
plot if the reaction is the same. we end up voting for and being
happy with loss of freedom, privacy, and increasingly intrusive
gov’t. monitoring…in the end, isn’t this what the terrorists
want? to destroy our open and free societies? to destroy western
culture? why are we doing it for them?

Andy August 24, 2006 11:31 AM

I’ve felt this way for a long time…back when it was just street gang mayhem. Ever stop to think that every kidnapping victim, widowed spouse, orphaned child ends up becoming a spokesperson for said terrorist organization? They’re going to talk about it. “I was kidnapped by blank. My mom was killed by blank. My husband was taken by blank and beheaded in the streets.” It becomes a cycle of promotion and advertisement.

David August 24, 2006 11:41 AM

This is too simplistic. Terrorists are not doing all of this because they want to terrify us. There’s little to be gained by us being afraid. Their goals are myriad, but they usually entail changes in foreign policy, such as removing troops from their region, not propping up weak governments, not selling arms to Israel and complaining that Iran is selling arms to Hezbollah, removing Israel from its West-mandated creation out of other people’s lands, etc.

Sure, scaring the populace is part of the strategy because the populace can effect political change, but the goal is not to scare us into believing they are boogie men!

Just as the American revolutionaries used asymmetrical tactics to fight the Red Coats, these groups must do the same because they cannot possibly hope to win fighting head on.

If fear were the only goal, I’m sure we’d see more of what is suggested: people not breaking the law but acting suspiciously to create more fear. People leaving backpacks here and there. Heck, we don’t even have discos or easy targets being bombed, nor do we have terrorists doing sniper attacks, etc. These would all create fear and are very easy to accomplish, yet these are not being done. Are we really to believe that they cannot accomplish any of these simple attacks, yet they can blow a hole in the Cole, blow up two embassies minutes apart, take down both WTC buildings, hit the Pentagon, elude capture in Tora Bora, etc., but they cannot put a backpack on a train?

Al Qaeda, in particular, has been very deliberate in its attacks to not just create random terror, but to attack highly symbolic or miltary targets.

Anonymous August 24, 2006 11:41 AM

Just as you say, 99% of Americans seem to think the terrorists’ goals are to harm us. What they really seek is to change our way of life, remove our freedoms. Our government is more than willing to oblige the panicked populace that freely give up civil liberties in order to feel “safe”. “Hey, I don’t do anything wrong…what is wrong with the government monitoring my emails and phone calls?”.

I find it ironic that our government lauds our soldiers overseas for “fighting for our freedoms” (although how the war liberating Iraqi citizens is protecting American freedoms is beyond me), meanwhile the same politicians are quickly removing said freedoms in the name of the “war on terror”. I suppose our soldiers need to come back home and march to Washington if they really want to protect our freedoms.

Anonymous August 24, 2006 11:44 AM

 BRAVO!  Well said Bruce.

For a long time I have been concerened that we are focusing too much on terrorism, and draining resources away from disaster prepardness (see Katrina), and old fashoned street crime that sill kills thousands of us.

I do not beleve that the FBI’s #1 goal should be preventing terrorists.  Is it really right to tell a kidnaping victim that their case will take 2nd priority to catching Bin Laden, or worse… tracking down tips from a racist old lady in a Shoney’s?

In my view, we are at best saving a few lives from terrorism, at the cost of many more lives, and untold suffering that could otherwise be prevented.

Toramak August 24, 2006 11:47 AM

@urbanek, you have a very strong point on the escape-goat-ism mechanism currently applied.

This article brings you back to the only way that terrorist have really been defeated: by changing the living conditions of the populations from where their recruits come and by prosecuting the most extreme and hard core as delinquents or criminals. Declaring a war against them is saying they are worthy of the ultimate state of mobilization a country can achieve, nothing else can be done after this, therefore if it fails, it equals defeat. On the other hand, downsizing them to “crooks” takes a part of their panache away.
This has been applied and has worked (in Chile, the return to democracy led to the extinction of the “Lautaro??? terrorist/freedom-fighter group, while the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front seized the moment and became a political movement).

So, if effective action is possible, the question then becomes, is there an interest by those who yield power, both political and economical, to do away with this menace?

JohnJ August 24, 2006 11:48 AM

@PerfDave: “All the talk of the value of one life versus the inconvenience of one hour has gotten me thinking. How many lifetimes of man-hours have been wasted due to extra delays at airports caused by overreaction to fear of terrorism? I’m happy to guess at least a dozen.”

Let’s assume people live to an average of 80 years old. 80 years * 365.25 days/year (accomodates leap years) * 24 hours per day = 701,280 hours per life. Now, from page 30 of http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports/2005/december/0512atcr.pdf we get that from January-September of 2005 there was just over 410 million passengers. Assuming everyone arrived about an hour earlier than they otherwise would to allow time for the ‘security’ screening process, which has been basically advised ever since 9/11, some 584 lifetimes were wasted waiting in line in the first 9 months of 2005. Extrapolate that out and something nicely over 2000 lifetimes have been wasted waiting in line.

Jack C Lipton August 24, 2006 11:49 AM

I’ve commented on-and-off of how the press uses terrorism as a marketing tool and with how politics uses it to “go for the gut” but this article pretty much puts it together.

Terrorism, Politics and the Press are symbiotic, aren’t they? Each is “gaming the system”.

What I find amusing is that this whole issue has already been seen in fiction: Anyone here remember “Dragnet” in the mid-1980s with Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd?

It’s all a matter of manipulation, right?

Suhaib August 24, 2006 11:51 AM

Moshe Yudkowsky, you clearly appear to have a predisposition against Islam, which has clouded your view of a well-constructed essay that supports the crux of its title. If you feel the essay is, absurd, then provided some meaningful comment instead of unsubstantiated comment and anti-Islamic drivel.

For those interested the Guardian newspaper has an interview with the two men ejected from the aircraft at Malaga, Spain:

Geoff Lane August 24, 2006 11:54 AM

When a member of the British government can say in public that “rights must be restricted in order to defeat terrorists” and not immediately be required to resign, the terrorists have already won.

Today, another pair of suspected terrorists were released without charge. This implies that currently there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. Soon we will have Dr Reid telling us that terrorists have been released because the current law prevents the police from finding the necessary evidence and he will renew his attempt to obtain 90 day detention without charge rules that were defeated earlier in the year.

dragonfrog August 24, 2006 11:56 AM

@ Huge

the “liquid explosive” terrorists have succeeded perfectly
without getting on a single aircraft or detonating a single bomb.

The saddest thing about it all is that the “liquid explosive” terrorists did it by ruining the lives 23+ innocent people, by arresting them on false charges.

There’s a two month old baby whose single mom will be forever hindered in her attempts to find work and provide for her child

Clive Robinson August 24, 2006 11:58 AM


“Why escort a passenger plane with fighter jets? What can they do? If the passenger plane blows up, will they finish the job or just look on helplessly? What a waste!”

The reason is to try and prevent the aircraft getting over populated or other high value areas, and as a tactic it is quite sensible.

Since 9/11 an aircraft is effectivly written off when a terorist alert is raised about it, the authorities switch to damage limitation mode. If the aircraft tries to fly into an excluded area then it is shot down, likewise if it disobays orders given by the pilots of the fighter aircraft it is likley to recieve the same fate.

The secondary reason for the fighter planes is to check if the aircraft has had an unfortunate accident like loss of cabin presure and crew etc. What they are expected to do (except observe/shoot down) under this eventuality I am not sure.

Clive Robinson August 24, 2006 12:13 PM

For those of you who live in the UK especially in or around London and are old enough to remember PIRA attacks whilst Maggie Thatcher was in power.

You may remember the odd way things where reported. When damage from the bombs etc was restricted to property not peoples lives then there was a reasonable amount of press coverage.

However when life was lost the press and newspapers played it down with limited amounts of information.

For a while PIRA appeared to resopond to this and limited it’s attacks to things like railway signals etc. Although this created mayhem, and caused considerable disruption to peoples lives, they where atleast still alive to complain about it.

A number of people have claimed that this was a deliberate policy of “educating terorists”. I have no evidence one way or the other but it might well be a sensible stratagie to follow (it has also been said that Bill Clinton followed a similar philosphy).

MikeH August 24, 2006 12:15 PM

I propose that whenever there is one of these scares, on every route, each airline should offer a special once per month, “extra-safe” flight. For that flight only, all passengers would be searched in depth, all luggage would be examined exhaustively, and all personal items would be banished to the cargo hold or simply be discarded. Depending on the details of the current news situation, additional preventative procedures could be imposed. And of course, only the people who sign up will bear the costs of this new service. The people on the safe flights can be interviewed ad nauseum by the media – expressing their willingness to undergo extra expense, personal indignity and inconvenience to remain safe. The rest of us can continue to fly the same way we used to. My guess is that no one will go on these flights. But if any do, it is probably best to separate them from sane people anyway.

Rod August 24, 2006 12:18 PM

Fantastic essay, Bruce.

This should be required reading for everyone in the U.S. A link to this essay has now shown up on a number of blogs. It should be promoted in any way possible – this is truly the best summary of current events I’ve ever read.

Sukotto August 24, 2006 12:19 PM

When I have bad dreams about being unable to protect my family against harm I do not dream of the terrorists.

I dream about the US authorities. “Anti-terrorism” men who have mistaken me for a terrorist. They break down my door in the middle of the night, hurt my family, kidnapp me, and “disappear” me to someplace like Guantanamo Bay where I will never be seen or heard from again.

I’m seriously thinking about leaving this country and returning home to Canada. Even though I am here legally and am not a Muslim.

It’s sad, since I love the ideal that America is supposed to represent. 🙁

Just Sayin August 24, 2006 12:20 PM

The kind of surveillance that foiled the terror plot in Britain is not legal in the US, and there is much screaming whenever we try to even come close.

You want it all.

quincunx August 24, 2006 12:20 PM

“The USA may have won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union.”

Ha ha, you’re kidding right?

The Soviet Union was bankrupt because socialism doesn’t work (capital is consumed, not invested).

The US too will be bankrupt, but it won’t be because of the ‘terrorism’, but because of the socialism.

AnthonyX August 24, 2006 12:22 PM

I agree. And the same rules should be heard for the fear mongers, who cry racism. The evironmentalists who continually try to scare us with there doom and gloom and of course big government who stea our money away from us, becasue if we don’t society will to hell.

Richard Braakman August 24, 2006 12:24 PM

Has anyone asked the terrorists what they want? I see far more speculation than source material…

Fotios August 24, 2006 12:25 PM

I think it’s high time for an open letter to be written to the politicians. Seriously, are there any of them that actually listen to anything ‘we’ (and by we, I mean the scurity community who actually knows that we’re talking about) have to say otherwise. I know I have personally written my Senator many times about other topics as well (such as Internet regulation) and just get canned responses. But if a single open letter goes out and gets good media penetration, maybe somebody would finally notice. Ok time to leave fantasy land and get back to working for the man…

Richard Harlos August 24, 2006 12:29 PM

Stand in front of an elephant and describe what you see.

Now stand behind the same elephant and describe it.

These two descriptions are not entirely compatible, yet they are both correct.

The differences are not those of the elephant itself (same elephant, right?) nor the perceiver (same you, right?); they are differences of perspective, or points of view.

I agree with this post in the context of its point of view. I also agree that there is a rational basis for an increase in wariness.

To say that when terror-related aggression increases that we must jettison our heightened awareness of safety (self-preservation at work here) for the sake of some national pride seems very one-sided to me (indicative of the “only one point of view” mindset).

I’m not saying we should OVER-react to the threat but neither do I advocate UNDER-responding to it.

There is (or ought to be) a balance in this area and I’m not sure that we, as a nation, have found it just yet.

John Davies August 24, 2006 12:29 PM

It seems so easy to second guess those passengers.

I wasn’t ther, but I know that I wil do everything I can to defend my life and my family. If that includes overreacting then so be it.

In any system in absence of complete information, there will be false positives and false negatives.

harmon August 24, 2006 12:32 PM

On vacation this past several days, we had two search incidents – one airplane & one at the Liberty Bell of my wife’s purse.

First, the three of us are me (59 yr. old size 40 white blue eyed brownish hair cargoshorted sandaled) my wife (mid 50s greying haired curvacious white Jr. League type) & our son (15, blue eyed long blond wavy haired studlier than he realizes beach boy.)

Now, at the Liberty Bell, something in my wife’s knapsack purse looked unfamiliar to the barely out of her teens black girl running the scanner. Seems she had never seen a barrette hair clip on the xray before. So the middle aged white security guy comes over to paw through her purse. He probably had seen one before, but it never occurred to him that the barrette was what the scanner girl was seeing. So we spent ten minutes standing there (backing up the line) while this played out. What was lacking here was judgement – not on the part of the scanner girl, who merely made the first cut, but of the security guy, who should have taken one look at us & waved us through, after a quick look at the purse for form’s sake.

Later, getting on to the plane, I put my eyedrops out of my pocket into the scanner container, & another barely out of her teens girl picked it out & said No to it because the label was worn off. I told her it was eye drops & offered to put some in my eyes. But hey, that’s too sensible. Meanwhile, the exact same kind of drops, in the precise size, was in my wife’s purse & went right through the scanner without a hitch. Same purse & contents, BTW, that was a problem at the Liberty Bell.

Bottom line is that no one seems to be empowered to make decisions – the rules about what can go through are necessarily extreme, because the people doing the first cut shouldn’t have to do anything more than make a first take on what ought to be looked at. That cut should err on the side of caution.

But once someone has been selected out, second line people with some judgment should be in a position to make reasonable decisions about things.

What seems to be happening is that the second line people have no more leeway to make judgments than the first line scanners.

I will not let the terrorists scare me off of the airplanes. But the pettyfogging indiscriminant searching is driving me nuts.

It’s not the fear, it’s the 99 percent unnecessary inconvenience. This might be why the terrorists have not simply sent bombs through with the baggage. If they did that, we’d screen all the baggage, & that would take care of that. But what they are doing now throws sand into the air transportation system, and has the potential of actually shutting the system down – and driving passengers away.

MaxKelly August 24, 2006 12:36 PM

found this article from a link on Instapundit… and after reading it, and most of the comments, I’m so happy to see that there are some “sane” people left in this country. One thing many people forget is that the terrorists are real people… with real mothers and fathers… and real thoughts and feelings. There’s a deep psychological imbalance that convinces them that blowing up thousands of innocent people (and themselves) is acceptable. Sure, there’s a religious aspect, but human instinct is based on survival and 99% of the people in the world would NOT give up their lives on purpose. To overcome that basic notion is huge.

Make no mistake, these suicide bombers are merely pawns in a greater war. Those terrorists is power do have defined goals for this war (which we may not be 100% aware of), and none of THEM want to be killed. And sadly, their terrorist tactics ARE working. People are overreacting on airplanes…. Americans are willingly giving up their Constitutional rights… it’s become acceptable to question another American’s patriotism over a disagreement in policy… and the politcal “left” and “right” are more divided and polarized than in anytime in recent history (possibly since the US Civil War).

I really hope the kind of level-headed sanity demonstrated in this post can have a ripple effect through the country.

Lee Passey August 24, 2006 12:41 PM

In my mind, the number one terrorist organization in the United States today is the TSA. It is probably more responsible for creating Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt than any other terrorist organization.

Bob P. August 24, 2006 12:47 PM

We give the terrorist FAR more credit than they ever should deserve.

They are Not that bright. They plan for 5 years for one ‘threat’ that may or may not actually work. Heck, give any 5th grader a similar task and they would figure out how to do it in just a few days.

As horrible as 9/11 was… it was only 1/5 successful and that’s not because we foiled their plans but because their plans didn’t work properly.

The media needs to stop giving them credit and stop holding our soldiers back from catching and killing them.

We didn’t lose Vietnam because of our soldier’s ability – we lost it because of the media and politics. We’re going to lose the war on terror for the same reason.

Stop giving our soldiers political boundaries – let the soldiers do their job and Fight. Let them win this war.

(And be sure to support the coming wave of civilian space exploration so we can get off this rock.)

Jack C Lipton August 24, 2006 12:48 PM

Another little humorous item, along the lines of the “Underwear Bomber”, that’s been making the rounds on various UseNet newsgroups that, sad to say, I had to share with you all:

Paris (AP) – French secret police today foiled an attempted bombing using materials that appeared like ordinary fabrics, disguised as clothing, fashioned into lethel explosives. Cottons, polyesters, and the like,” reported the constable. “They just wore them. Looked like ordinary shirts and dresses from a strip mall.”

The response has been swift. Havoc at airports multiplied as passengers were instructed that all forms of apparel, including undergarments, are no longer permitted in passenger compartments. (Possible exceptions may apply for Victoria’s secret-style lingerie, but only where sufficiently sexy).

Americans have responded resoundingly by sounding a Ruby-red alert. “Like the ruby-red slippers in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ explained the spokesperson for the TSA. “This is just what the Republicans need for the election. People always vote Republican when they’re confused. Fear is their best friend.” It was unclear whether officials at the TSA are aware that ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is only a movie, and not real life, though on the topic of inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, it seemed like a small point.

Passenger responses were mixed. “I was certain my 12-year-old niece was wearing padding,” said Bertha Weinerschnitzel from Minnesota, “And now I have absolute proof. I mean, really!”

Phila August 24, 2006 12:49 PM

Is it not perhaps a tad presumptious to speak on behalf of terrorists?

Saying that “they hate our freedom” seems more presumptuous than saying that their goal is to terrorize people.

There’s little to be gained by us being afraid.

That’s an odd thing to say, IMO. If they want us to change our policies, making ordinary citizens afraid of the consequences of failing to change those policies seems pretty logical. And if their goal is to draw us into a “clash of civilizations,” as I believe bin Laden himself intimated, then I’d say overreaction on our part plays into their hands.

The fear of terrorism is very real and very rational

Each of us is much more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than a terrorist. Obviously, we need police checkpoints at every freeway onramp, and many more random checkpoints throughout our cities and towns.

Medical emergencies are also a more realistic threat for Americans than terrorism. I’d love to see the same reformist zeal that’s currently being applied to air travel applied to public health infrastructure, emergency rooms, and general healthcare…it’d prevent far more premature deaths.

No matter what kills you, you’re just as dead.

Indga August 24, 2006 12:49 PM

Apart from creating terror, they wish to desensitize us so that we are set up for the kill. For every 10 or 100 incidents in which Muslims deliberately act to arouse suspicion—this is an actual tactic of theirs based on testimony given at a mosque in the south, and the testimony of the terrorizing tactic was approved by the imam as being just as much jihad as killing us—there will be an incident that we cannot afford to dismiss. The thing is, as they continue to play terror games, people become fatigued, businesses lose money, and we either give up on watching them so they can kill us at will, or we demand that they all fly together on Al Jihad Airlines.

Phila August 24, 2006 12:51 PM

Is it not perhaps a tad presumptious to speak on behalf of terrorists?

Saying that “they hate our freedom” seems more presumptuous than saying that their goal is to terrorize people.

There’s little to be gained by us being afraid.

That’s an odd thing to say, IMO. If they want us to change our policies, making ordinary citizens afraid of the consequences of failing to change those policies seems pretty logical. And if their goal is to draw us into a “clash of civilizations,” as I believe bin Laden himself intimated, then I’d say overreaction on our part plays into their hands.

The fear of terrorism is very real and very rational

Each of us is much more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than a terrorist. Obviously, we need police checkpoints at every freeway onramp, and many more random checkpoints throughout our cities and towns.

Medical emergencies are also a more realistic threat for Americans than terrorism. I’d love to see the same reformist zeal that’s currently being applied to air travel applied to public health infrastructure, emergency rooms, and general healthcare…it’d prevent far more premature deaths.

No matter what kills you, you’re just as dead.

Chester Rieman August 24, 2006 12:54 PM

Hi Bruce,
I have been reading your articles for years now. This one hits the nail right on the head as usual and makes a great point. I think the B Franklin qoute reflects this thought perfectly:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Thanks for the great insights- keep them coming!

Maybe you can comment on how the media and government keep on calling this a time of war, yet I seem to recall something in the constitution about congress being the only body that had the
power to declare war (which they have not done, to my knowledge).

Benny August 24, 2006 12:56 PM

@ Just Sayin:

Funny you should say that. As I understand it, British investigators actually obtained warrants for their surveillance, and the US investigators were working within the FISA framework. So the fact that a plot was allegedly broken up actually shows that surveillance that’s already allowed under current laws is sufficient for breaking up terrorist plots, and there’s no excuse for the kind of illegal surveillance (see Judge Taylor’s recent ruling) the Bush administration is pushing for.

Jack C Lipton August 24, 2006 12:57 PM

Wasn’t it Robert Heinlein that remarked:

“You can have freedom or you can have security. You can’t have both.”

I think Larry Niven had some fun turning that into an equation…

Tibboh August 24, 2006 1:11 PM

“Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare”

The problem is, that’s never going to happen so long as the politicians think that this type of high-profile ‘action’ will get them re-elected (and are proved correct).

rightnumberone August 24, 2006 1:11 PM

“And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.”

Um, no, we aren’t.

We are REACTING to their methods by changing our strategic thinking.

What the terorists want is for all of us to BE MUSLIMS. Failing that, to kill us.

That’s it. That’s all they want.

Sharia law worldwide. Death to homosexuals by stoning, burquas for all females, and madrassas for all children.

Since we’re never ever gonna BE MUSLIMS, then the only other option they see for us is DEATH.

So, the way to fight back is to try to avoid death, by doing reasonable things such as checking people more carefully when they board airplanes. Annoying? Yes, but then again, the Islamofascist muslims aren’t trying to annoy us, they’re trying to KILL us.

If the most they can accomplish is annoying us, then, in fact, we have won and they have lost.

I travel A LOT. What I see a lot of is people getting pissed off at Muslims and refusing to befriend them, or interact with them. Certainly they aren’t gonna HIRE them, or socialize with them or sympathize with them. People are now beginning to refuse to fly with them, and this is ONLY THE BEGINNING for the Muslims.

Soon, all Muslims will be outcasts, unemployable and friendless outside their Mosques. Who wants to work next to a guy whose religion commands him to KILL people? Why, he could be perfectly normal at work one moment – and then come back from daily prayers where his Imam issued a new fatwa commanding the faithful to slaughter his co-workers.

Farfetched? Is it really?

The only ones being defeated by terrorism are the Muslims. They’ll be escorted out of our societies soon because people will eventually come to the conclusion that they are members of an unpredictable death cult who cannot be trusted.

And so, they will have lost.

Carlo Graziani August 24, 2006 1:16 PM

@Just Sayin:

It is in fact false that “The kind of surveillance that foiled the terror plot in Britain is not legal in the US, and there is much screaming whenever we try to even come close.”

The kind of electronic surveillance against specific suspects employed by the UK against the alleged bombers is perfectly legal in the US, and is in fact what the FISA statute is all about. This is the sort of warrant that the FISA court approves in a heartbeat, that court being more in the nature of a rubber stamp than a gatekeeper.

What is not legal is wholesale untargeted sifting through all domestic communications, as enabled by the ATT feed of interstate phone comms to NSA. There is no court supervision of any kind, and in effect it makes a potential suspect of everyone who makes a long-distance call.

The Bush administration has gone out of its way to confuse the issues, so that the London investigation appears makes the case for their illegal bulk wiretapping. But people who wish to think clearly about this stuff should learn to keep the two separate. We don’t “want it all”, we just don’t want to get administered a polygraph every time we make a phone call.

Tired Ben August 24, 2006 1:17 PM

@no1 and @quincunx

Irrelevant personal jibes aside, you should do research before speaking. You’ve assumed a definition of “anarchist” that implies a subscriber to “anarchism” instead of the broader definition that includes anyone who seeks to spread/cause anarchy.

The purpose of these so-called terrorists is to undermine governments and the structures of society. They use violence as a means to create chaos. People who pursue this kind of agenda are, by definition, anarchists, even if they do not subscribe to the philosophical view of anarchism.

Some definitions for you to take back to your teachers (note that the philosophical view of anarchism is only exclusive as the 3rd definition of anarchy on either dictionary.com or m-w.com; also note that the 2nd def from m-w.com of anarchist specifically calls out violent actions):

anarchist (from m-w.com)
1 : a person who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power
2 : a person who believes in, advocates, or promotes anarchism or anarchy; especially : one who uses violent means to overthrow the established order

an‧ar‧chist (from dictionary.com)
1. a person who advocates or believes in anarchy or anarchism.
2. a person who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of society and government, with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed.
3. a person who promotes disorder or excites revolt against any established rule, law, or custom.

an‧ar‧chy (from dictionary.com)
1. a state of society without government or law.
2. political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control: The death of the king was followed by a year of anarchy.
3. a theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.
4. confusion; chaos; disorder: Intellectual and moral anarchy followed his loss of faith.

an·ar·chy (from m-w.com)
1 a : absence of government b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government
2 a : absence or denial of any authority or established order b : absence of order : DISORDER

eb August 24, 2006 1:22 PM

I will quote you from your own blog:

“it’s often better to keep ones mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt”

Anonymous Coward August 24, 2006 1:34 PM

I hope the terrorists keep on using people with dark skin, squinty eyes and wearing turbans to accomplish their dastardly goals. I would hate it if they started using people who look like me, and all of a sudden whites started getting shot at by air marshalls or taken to jail for praying in airplanes or fiddling with their cell phones in flight.

hah_i'mjustacting August 24, 2006 1:47 PM

Given all the incidents and their corresponding disproportionate impacts cited in Bruce’s article, I think I have a really good strategy for terrorist organizations: stop committing actual terrorism, and just create a series of ultimately harmless disturbances that have nearly the same effect as an act of terrorism.

Here’s an example: instead of blowing up a plane in flight, just get a dozen or so people of obvious south Asian ethnic appearance to board a flight and “act suspicious.” Or, hire an actress to feign claustrophobia and mental instability on a transatlantic flight. Or, pay a couple ethnic Arabs to wear odd clothes, speak Arabic in whispered tones, and fidget nervously before boarding their flight.

The result is world-wide headlines and a major disruption in airline operations, with the added benefit of putting yet another dent in the confidence level and economies of Westernized societies.

Ultimately harmless acts have nearly the same effect as a terrorist act, but with much less risk of reprisal. In fact, investigators would probably never suspect such things as being initiated by a terrorist organization. They’d probably get as far as interviewing the “actors” and when they hear a story about claustrophobia, cell phone re-sale schemes, or just language-related misunderstandings, they’ll drop the case & go back to looking for explosives in toothpaste.

Charles August 24, 2006 1:49 PM

Brilliant. Absolutely Brilliant. You GET it.

As Ben Franklin is often quoted: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Charles August 24, 2006 1:51 PM

I not only agree with your thesis in “Refuse to be Terrorized”, I actually go further. I believe that every single incident you list in your piece is another example of the various governments handing the terrorists a victory.

I am not a chemist and my chemistry knowledge ends with high school chemistry. I did not take chemistry in college. Yet, with my basic
chemistry knowledge, and plain common sense, I immediately saw numerous holes and contradictions in what the British and American
governments were telling us about the recent “scare” in Great Britain. For starters, highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide is simply not available “over the counter.” And of course, one cannot get to 10 or 16 in multiples of three, yet that is what these governments were claiming (The planes would be attacked in groups of
three, and, depending on who you asked, 10 or 16 planes were going to be involved.)

not-quincunx August 24, 2006 1:53 PM

@Tired Ben

No wonder you’re tired. Perhaps the solution is to privatize anarchy. Or socialize terrorism.

Donald Sensing August 24, 2006 2:03 PM

Actually, most of the world’s Muslims are not Arab, but Asian and East Asian. As David Warren, who was raised in Pakistan, has pointed out, the “center of gravity” of the world’s Muslim population is east of Kabul. Malaysia alone has more Muslims than all the Arab countries combined.

olivier blanchard August 24, 2006 2:05 PM

Thank you. I’m all for security, but when baby formula, basic toiletries and cell phones start being banned from flights, I get nervous about our security infrastructure as a whole.

It reminds me of those kids in the nineties who were being expelled from elementary schools for bringing “weapons” (microscopic plastic “guns” for their GI-Joe action figures) to school. There’s a fine line between common sense and stupidity… and we’re no way near it anymore.


… Or maybe Al Quaeda’s cave-dwelling alchemists have trumped every major military lab in the world to create a proprietray blend of lime-flavored explosives out of Gatorade.

It’s embarrassing.

Joe Buck August 24, 2006 2:13 PM

Clive: you write “The result was that Turkey invaded Northan Cyprus which they occupied to an extent in percentage terms to that of the Turkish population.”

This is incorrect; at the time of the Turkish invasion, about 18% of Cyprus’s population were Turks, but they wound up with 37% of the territory. Since then, some Turks have moved to Cyprus from the Turkish mainland, and the question of just how many they are is disputed, but there’s no question that your claim is not correct.

quincunx August 24, 2006 2:23 PM

Tired Ben,

Why does the word ‘liberal’ not mean the same thing it meant a hundred years ago? It used to mean almost-anarchist.

‘Irrelevant personal jibes aside, you should do research before speaking. You’ve assumed a definition of “anarchist” that implies a subscriber to “anarchism” instead of the broader definition that includes anyone who seeks to spread/cause anarchy.’

So in other words if you jumble together popular opinions of what anarchy is, you can get a good objective understanding of it.

Now I get the way you think: put things to a vote and let the zeitgeist decide the meanings.

The problem with kind of analysis is that it doesn’t hold with the other things I’ve said:

Where the American Revolutionaries, terrorists?

Wouldn’t that make the great political killers (see list above) anarchists?

Can you understand what’s wrong with your methodology?

‘The purpose of these so-called terrorists is to undermine governments and the structures of society. They use violence as a means to create chaos. People who pursue this kind of agenda are, by definition, anarchists, even if they do not subscribe to the philosophical view of anarchism.’

You’ve made the fundamental political error of equating government with society. The government, or the State, is not society, it’s an exploitative institution built on keeping the gun under the table.

I will make this clear again: You can not be a violent anarchist, because it’s anti-thetical. What you are attempting to do is akin to calling a serial killer, a pacifist, and then claiming that pacifists are anti-social.

The attempt is to hijack a word. For example, Social Security and Ponzi Scheme are exactly the same thing, but you’ll never hear it called the latter.

Conscription and Involuntary Servitude (slavery) are the same thing, but you’ll never hear the latter.


“No wonder you’re tired. Perhaps the solution is to privatize anarchy. Or socialize terrorism.”

Why try? It’s already done! That is exactly how it works.

Government = Socialized terrorism
Private Anarchy = Charity, Free-Market exchange, International Law, Black Markets, etc…

187Corporate August 24, 2006 2:26 PM

Fantastic post. The public’s ability to recognize and reject a government’s conspiracy of fear-based policy is the surest sign of individual freedom.

Jack C Lipton August 24, 2006 2:34 PM


“Thank you. I’m all for security, but when baby formula, basic toiletries and cell phones start being banned from flights, I get nervous about our security infrastructure as a whole.”

Weren’t cell-phones in the hands of the passengers what kept Flight 93 from reaching a more sensitive target?

Perhaps treating people more as citizens rather than subjects and expecing a majority to “deal with a problem” might be more helpful? Issue Bowie knives to every adult passenger?

All right, so that goes a bit far on the other side, but it sure keeps the passengers from feeling like victims.

diablo943 August 24, 2006 2:40 PM

Thank you for the great post. You concisely sum up many of my ideas on the nature of our response to the terrorism threat and it is refreshing to see the media actually printing an article that isn’t a “sky-is-falling” fear-based article.

Recently as the hysteria gets whipped up more and more by the media and our government, I have started to wonder whether this seemingly misguided response to terrorism isn’t actually on purpose. There is a lot of scientific evidence that anxiety and insecurity are strong control tools as well as strong motivators to shop. Since we live in a consumer-driven economy, is it possible that the “war on terrorism” with its constant press coverage, color-coded threat levels, and “security” measures are all designed to be a motivating factor to drive our economy? Could fear be the flame under the cauldron of our economy?

paul a'barge August 24, 2006 2:50 PM

“The point of terrorism is to cause terror”

Wrong. The point of terrorism is to cause us to give the terrorists what they want because we’re terrified and we think that if we give terrorists what they want, the terrorists will leave us alone.

Big difference.

In one case, you think that you can defeat these monsters by swaggering your way through an airport security line.

In the other case, you realize that you have no alternative but to kill these blighters… every one of them.

Hope you see the difference.

quincunx August 24, 2006 2:51 PM

‘Since we live in a consumer-driven economy, is it possible that the “war on terrorism” with its constant press coverage, color-coded threat levels, and “security” measures are all designed to be a motivating factor to drive our economy?’

How could a fiat dollar expansion and a $1billion dollar a day deficit be good for the economy?

It’s can’t, but what it can be is a great boost to certain segments of the economy: military-industrial complex, and the sub-contractors of those, and all the indirect factors of production that are imputed from ‘war’ demand.

The US economy is going to take a huge nose dive in the not to distant future, expect the government to come up with price controls, rationing schemes, and basically more fascism.
The question is, who will be our next Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot? Any guesses?

Fugate August 24, 2006 3:06 PM

I wish with all my heart that this silly, delusional, head-up-the-*** “our government is the real problem” groupthink circle-jerk were right. That is not the case. You people have no idea the threats that we face. No idea. When New York dissappears or when the entire West coast is thrown into total chaos via an emp device, and not 10, but 100 airplanes fall out of the sky, perhaps you will.

Jonathan August 24, 2006 3:08 PM

Brilliant. Whenever I get frustrated with my family or whoever is watching too much TV (which guarantees ad revenue by scaring people into watching), I’ll just refer them to this essay. Thanks for saying everything that’s in my head and backing it all up.

Daedala August 24, 2006 3:11 PM


“I wish with all my heart that this silly, delusional, head-up-the-*** “our government is the real problem” groupthink circle-jerk were right. That is not the case. You people have no idea the threats that we face. No idea. When New York dissappears or when the entire West coast is thrown into total chaos via an emp device, and not 10, but 100 airplanes fall out of the sky, perhaps you will.”

But…how is banning hand cream, or carry-on luggage, or Muslim students going to prevent that? What we will need if something like those things happens is a robust disaster preparedness plan, not a vat of shampoo that couldn’t be carried onto a plane.

Sure, there are threats. The problem is that demonizing deoderant really isn’t going to do much about them.

Tantor August 24, 2006 3:12 PM

Bob: “While I feel your comments are correct with respect to the political goals of the terrorist, I think that they downplay the hatred our policies have created in some persons. People do not blow themselves up our of a desire to disrupt someone elses life, they do it because something has kindled a hatred that make them want to destroy us.”

Liberals believe that hatred was kindled by America, just as America has kindled their hatred. Conservatives believe that Islamist hatred was kindled by Islam. The conservative view is grounded in history and is well documented while the liberal view is grounded in fantasy and treason.

Islam is a religion of hate which propagates a doctrine of hating and destroying non-Muslims. It has made war on non-Muslims most of its history until it was too feeble to do so in the 1600s. It’s will to make war in service of religious imperialism has been revived by petrodollars, courtesy of the very infidels it hates and seeks to enslave or destroy.

The answer does not lie in tweaking our defenses in airports but rather in taking the war to the doorsteps of the Islamists. That means ending the sanctuary for terror in Saudi Arabia, which finances two thirds of Islamic terror and actively propagates the most vile form of bloody Islam.

The weakest point of the Islamic jihad is its finances. Sever the connection between the oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabi clergy and most of the terror campaign will whither on the vine.

In other words, Saudi Arabia must cease to exist.


Rich August 24, 2006 3:19 PM


In practice most religions are religions of hate, in that they practice ‘us’ and ‘everybody else’. Even those that express good will towards ‘everbody else’, they’re still not ‘us’ and they would be better off if they were ‘us’.

I doubt if many people who ‘know’ why terrorists hate us have ever actually considered what the terrorist says.

Euphrosyne August 24, 2006 3:19 PM

I agree with some commenters here that the old trope about “the point of terrorism is to cause terror” is a bit outdated.

Recent history has shown that Islamic militants are fixated specifically on blowing airplanes up. There are many easier and more effective ways to cause “terror”, but that doesn’t seem to be what these guys want. They want to express that they have “power”, and are a force to be reckoned with.

Samuel Huntington put it best: “…a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.” This is about power, and commenter Chris’ idea about terror-lite isn’t going to happen–it’s too subtle for these guys. They need to blow stuff up to be satisfied.

boure August 24, 2006 3:21 PM

I don’t experience terror. Don’t feel it. Never have. I do, however, experience a great deal of ANNOYANCE. Pure and simple annoyance with every single aspect of flying settled in long before suicide bombers ever became fashionable. Flying coach is enough to turn one misanthropic on a good day.

Philip August 24, 2006 3:22 PM

I sent an e-mail to Mr. Schneier and he asked me to put it on this blog. It is included below. What is not in the e-mail, but deserves mention was the remark a teacher and close friend of mine made yesterday: “In everything you hear, substitute ‘terrorism’ with ‘communism’… sound familiar?”


Dear Mr. Schneier,

I read your article and was pleased to read a bit of sense. I can’t say you are the first, but you are one of the rare few that seem to still have a sensible mind at the ready when it comes to terrorism. A note I would like to add about the media is the difference in tone when reporting about PRESUMED terrorism. I see this both in the Dutch (I’m from The Netherlands) news and on American websites;

When there is video footage of Castro, holding that day’s paper, with his brother and Chavez at het bedside; the woording that goes along with said footage is usually something like “this footage presumably shows Castro’s still alive,” while the wording regarding the liquid bombing attempt is referred to as the “foiled terrorist attack” (where’s the note about presumption there?).

Another note about the London incident; the people SUSPECTED to be involved in a PRESUMED attack are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 200x. When I was halfway through highschool, I saw the film “In the Name of the Father” about people wrongfully imprissoned for IRA-bombings they had nothing to do with (they were actually never involved with the IRA). It turned out, the movie plot was based on a real story; there really was a Guilford Four, that was captured under the “Prevention of Terrorism Act of 197x”. They were kept without indictment for seven days, in which they were heavily tortured (this was only admitted many years later) and caved under pressure to sign a blank confession.

I had written it off as an isolated incident which was Hollywood-ised. These recent (say, since 9/11) changes in policy and law have brought back memories. Especially because they didn’t even bother to come up with a new name for the same disproportionally empowering law. Even if I give politicians that use terrorism as an argument the absolute benefit of the slightest doubt (i.e. I don’t accuse them of specifically causing fear, or stimulating it) I still conclude they use it to find fall-guys. I’m just hoping they’re not about to steal 30 years from innocent people again.

Anyway – this turned into a bit of a rant, for which I apologise – I wanted to say: keep up the good work.



lifeofliberty August 24, 2006 3:28 PM

This article is crap (sorry). It TOTALLY misses what “terrorists want”. Terrorism is NOT the goal and never was. Randomly killing people, or randomly terrorizing people is not the agenda. It serves no purpose, acheives no objective and accomplishes no goal. These are definitely NOT tactics used by true terrorists.

Now, having said that, terrorism is real (what little is actually not being orchestrated by governments). Terrorism is the last resort tactics used by desperate people who have real, true grievances (usually). Terrorists in this category, utilize “terrorism” (which isn’t the proper term) to bring attention to their plight, grievance and / or condition.

Palestinian suicide bombers are not seeking to engage in terrorism to simply terrorize people – they are seeking to bring a stop the occupation and oppression of Palestine.

This is in almost all case, the goal of terrorists. Hezbollah demanded essentially the same thing – release of thousands of prisoners held by Israel. Yet the media refuses to face the facts and distorts the truth. We’re being told that terrorist seek to “terrorize” as if that would actually give the terrorist some sort of benefit.

This is not the case. Terrorism can be traced back to grievances, either real or perceived, and who would benefit from engaging in these acts. Terrorist living in caves or hovels or wherever they hang out do NOT have their lives bettered because airline flights are being cancelled. This is ridiculous, but that is exactly what we are being told to believe.

Terrorist engage in terrorist acts because there is something that they want, even the alleged Osama Bin Laden tapes revealed that. So did the so-called kidnapping tapes we’ve all seen with kidnapped civilians and soldiers. They’re all ASKING or rather, DEMANDING something and are using terror to get it.

But the hard questions are not being asked while we are being distracted with psuedo-psychology, why are these people willing to engage in terrorist type acts? What has happened to cause this?

I am making NO excuse for their actions, but I’m sick to death of stupid fools who fail to identify the source of these problems repeatedly, and instead would have us to believe the terrorism occurs simply because there are people who enjoy it. Bullshit. This type of illogical thinking is meant to dissuade us from asking the real questions and dealing with the answers we come up with.

Schneier is clueless and utterly fails to identify why desperate people do desperate things. There are reasons why terrorism exist today, but these are questions nobody is willing to address nor answer.

Jungsonn August 24, 2006 3:29 PM

@Tantor who said:

“The weakest point of the Islamic jihad is its finances.”

I guess not, terrorism only exist (and existed) by the ones who have no power and are deprived of justice. (in their eyes)
“it’s the power of the weak.”

They attack with carboard cutters, manure bombs, and maybe other household appliances. They aren’t in need of money. To bring there acts out with result, they only thing they need is day to day brainwashing.

toxonix August 24, 2006 3:31 PM

It is worth saying that government agencies should be busy eliminating terrorist threats quietly. Setups and knockdowns should not be used as publicity opportunities for politicians who had little or nothing to do with the operations of field agents. The Miami setup was a rediculous publicity stunt, and gained the intelligence offices no insight into domestic terrorist operations and wasted resources on students that had no connection to foriegn terrorist groups.

Bruce Schneier August 24, 2006 3:32 PM

A bunch of commenters are saying that my essay ignores that terrorists have a political motivation.

I thought I said as much when I wrote: “The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred.”

I didn’t expand on the “…further a political goal…” bit because it’s besides the point of this essay, but please don’t think I don’t realize that it’s there.

Fugate August 24, 2006 3:33 PM

Daedala – Of course you are right. Banning hand cream and all other forms of the law enforcement solution, is little more than sticking a few fingers in the dyke. We are in a war not of our choosing with a vile culture that breeds death-worshipping psychotics as a matter of government policy (even so-called “friendly” governments). Sometimes this is for religious ends and sometimes not.

What is the solution? I have the impression that most everyone in this forum feels that he is bravely ‘speaking truth to power’, but Tantor actually succeeds.

quincunx August 24, 2006 3:45 PM

@ Fugate

‘You people have no idea the threats that we face. No idea. When New York dissappears or when the entire West coast is thrown into total chaos via an emp device, and not 10, but 100 airplanes fall out of the sky, perhaps you will.’

Seems like only another government can do that. Can you name me a terrorist organization with the power to tax and inflate in order to pay for such fanciful weaponry? No, they have to get most of their money through trade.

The funny thing is that you think our own government can and wants to stop that kind of thing.


The question is who attacked first? Who’s been dicking around in foreign territories creating puppet regimes?

‘Islam is a religion of hate which propagates a doctrine of hating and destroying non-Muslims. It has made war on non-Muslims most of its history until it was too feeble to do so in the 1600s. It’s will to make war in service of religious imperialism has been revived by petrodollars, courtesy of the very infidels it hates and seeks to enslave or destroy.’

Interesting, why is that they hate the US so much and not others like Switzerland, Japan, Sweden? Any clues? See above.

Why is UAE more capitalist than the USSA? (Specifically Dubai, with its already small oil stock)

“In other words, Saudi Arabia must cease to exist.”

Maybe we should rename to America Jr or the Sandy State.

Fugate August 24, 2006 3:53 PM


-as to your comments directed to me; thanks for restating my points. As to the rest – Theo Van Gogh was an American?

quincunx August 24, 2006 3:59 PM


Restating your points?

Your point was we need despotism to protect us from random violence.

In what way have you refuted my points, other than asserting a prospective movie plot threat as the reason for despotism, without bothering to explain HOW it can come about.

‘As to the rest – Theo Van Gogh was an American?’


MathFox August 24, 2006 4:01 PM

The question is, who will be our next Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot? Any guesses?

Jeb Bush?

On a more serious notice: I think that the USA will lose the war on terror for economic reasons. Guerillias live cheaply, US soldiers are expensive. The Iraqi occupation is a drain on the US economy and there are no signs that a victory is near. (On the contrary, the insurgents seem to gain terrain.)
I live in a country where pirates (sorry “privateers”) like Piet Hein and Witte de With are revered freedom fighters for disrupting the money flow to our opponent. It took money to wage a war in the 16th century and it still takes money nowadays. If your opponent has more sustainable funding, he’ll win in the end.

OneMonkeysUncle August 24, 2006 4:04 PM

Thanks for the quick dose of common sense, Bruce. I must say the only thing I feel terrorized by today is the utter ignorance of huge portions of the American population. As a country, we have been so self-centered and so self-righteous, we’ve not even educated ourselves or our children about the rest of the world to any significant depth… Hence “our” surprise that there are “others” out there that wouldn’t mind inflicting a little of the suffering we’ve inflicted on others back on us. This sentiment, I’m sure, will get me excoriated by my fellow countrymen in this forum, most of whom are unable to understand, let alone accept, the responsibility America has for the plight it finds itself in.

procyon August 24, 2006 4:11 PM

I wonder what airplane pilots and stewardesses in europe/usa who are of arabic origin are going through atm.
I wonder when this panic also turns against them.

Fugate August 24, 2006 4:11 PM

Well, ok, if I must explain. Theo Van Gogh was a Dutch filmaker. He routinely insulted Christians, Muslims, and Jews, among other. However, only the Islamicists found this to be grounds for multiple gunshot wounds, a slit throat, and bodily mutilation. He was Dutch. He was not an American. Do. You. Understand. Now. ?

Here’s another way to look at your contention that because the Islamicists hate us the mostest, we must be baaaaaaad. The Nazis bombed London, but not Paris. Why?

Wristink August 24, 2006 4:24 PM

Bravo! I couldn’t agree more – there are some sensible people creating and reading this site. I don’t have much to contribute, but just wanted to say how perfectly accurate I felt the piece was.

jagcap August 24, 2006 4:25 PM

More “sustainable” funding? Terrorists and their sponsoring nations do not produce anything anyone wants, except oil. And dates. If the terrorists win/USA loses, the oil loses its value and there goes the “money flow to our opponent.”
Besides, our economy is $13 trillion. CBO says the occupation costs $1-4 billion per month or, at most $50 billion per year… Can you splain to me how a .4% drain on our economy will enable the terrorists to win? Do the math, fox…

Anonymous August 24, 2006 4:30 PM

“there are “others” out there that wouldn’t mind inflicting a little of the suffering we’ve inflicted on others back on us.”

I had nothing to do with “Ishtar” and besides, collective punishment is wrong. (As I keep being told by the PA)…

Kevin August 24, 2006 4:31 PM

@Richard Braakman

“Has anyone asked the terrorists what they want? I see far more speculation than source material…”

For a nice frank assessment of goals, how about this:

‘Hussein Massawi, the Hezbollah leader behind the slaughter of U.S. and French forces 20 years ago, put it this way’:

“We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.”

quincunx August 24, 2006 4:32 PM

‘He was Dutch. He was not an American. Do. You. Understand. Now. ?’

Yes. Your anecdote is so generic, it must work for all cases then. I guess I must be wrong then, US foreign policy had nothing to do with terrorism, they just really don’t like perpetually unprofitable Office Buildings made by the Port Authority of NY & NJ (government boondoggles) and the shape of the Pentagon.

‘The Nazis bombed London, but not Paris. Why?’

Because Paris was gained easily! Why bomb what you already have?

Jake August 24, 2006 4:34 PM

In a brief to response to “lifofliberty”, who said terrorism is a tool of people who are desperate.
I think that he is overlooking the religious factor. When ones religion glorifies death and the killing of non-believers, it is not a matter of desperation or occupation or anything else. The perpetrators of terrorism so far are not desperate financially. They just absolutely can’t stand the idea of someone who does not follow Islam should be allowed to live in the middle east, or anywhere else. They die for the same reason our people try out for American idol. They want to be heros in the eyes of their fellow Muslims. Palestinian kids say that they want to grow up to be martyrs and kill Israelis. Kids are not desperate nor occupied. Its the culture of not being able to tolerate non-Muslims.
When they say they attack us because of our “foreign policy”, the foreign policy they are talking about is us preventing them from killing Jews. Of course they hate the US, we stand in the way of them creating the holocaust they so so desperatly need to commit to make Allah love them, and for them to be true heros.

Toramak August 24, 2006 4:40 PM

On the uselessness of racial profiling: the two major bombings in Ben Gurion International were by: 1) a group of Japanese and 2) a tall blond European. Listen to a very interesting podcast on “Science Friday???: Aug18-2006.

To all discussing what the terrorists want:

Terror is the MEANS to an end.

It is only a TOOL.

Over-reacting and getting terrified is handing the terrorists a victory. So, while not turning blind eyed to basic security measures, the only USEFUL action is to disarm the enemy: not to cave in to irrational fear and look for ways of denying the enemy of recruits by bettering the conditions of the general population (various ways and grievances are already mentioned by others in their posts).

Toramak and most of you are wrong August 24, 2006 4:47 PM


Just because you have a minority of bombers who aren’t of arab-muslim descent does not mean racial profiling is “useless”.

Who bombed the Cole?
WTC Bombing in 1993?
British Plot?

Need I go on?

I suppose when a nuke goes off in a major US City, you’ll stop with the barrage of “cars kill more”. But I do like seeing you point that out. I always use the cars and household buckets kill more people than guns ever have argument against gun control advocates. And I’m sure folks making such an argument would never, ever disagree with me.

If we’re going just by the numbers of what causes death, airport security and guns use the same argument.

MathFox August 24, 2006 4:53 PM

Rote Armee Fraction
Oklahoma bomber

Do you need more counter-examples?

Why does Islam hate us? August 24, 2006 4:55 PM

Why do you guys constantly defend a religion that violates all manner of human rights?

Did you read the article about the objections to a bill in Iran modifying the burden of proof of women facing a death sentence for adultery?

While crusaders against porn (and for the record, I’m a porn loving athiest) are called the american taliban, we are told to look at why Islam hates us?

Why does Islam hate their women?

And why do you hate America more than you hate people who stone 16 year old girls to death.

You want to experience the religion of peace, get out of this rich, decadent vacuum of a country and go live with Sharia. I lived in Saudi Arabia as a child in a US compound. I saw public executions. I saw the “beauty” of sharia in it’s treatment of life itself. HAVE YOU?

nope August 24, 2006 5:00 PM

Don’t forget the shooting of jews in Seattle
The UK 7/7 attacks

Wow, the IRA sure is a threat to the US, hardee har har. McVeigh is dead. NEXT.

quincunx August 24, 2006 5:02 PM

‘Why do you guys constantly defend a religion that violates all manner of human rights?’

Non-intervention is not a defense.

Rather than set an example for the oppressed people of the middle east, we bomb them, so naturally they will cling to their leaders who will get back at us. Duh.

Yvur August 24, 2006 5:08 PM

Non-intervention does indeed show your hypocrisy. Why not criticise BOTH SIDES EQUALLY? That would show a fair and rational mind.

I have serious issues with Iraq, but it does not render me blind and deaf to the threat of terrorism.

Did we bomb Egypt, Iran or Saudi Arabia. That is where most of the terrorists that aren’t home grown are coming from.

Carlo Graziani August 24, 2006 5:09 PM

Unfortunately, there is a small riot in progress here over a side issue. I know it was in Bruce’s title, but the core point of the article really has nothing to do with what “terrorists want”. That’s a red herring, and a source of much disconnected high-temperature chatter, given the relatively broad categories covered by the terms “terrorist” and “want”.

The central argument here is the fact that when we over-react hysterically to the comparatively small damage inflicted by terrorists, we inflict far more damage on ourselves, both in petty inconvenience cost and in loss of liberty.

It doesn’t really matter what they want. It’s what we allow them to achieve that is our problem. Unfortunately, the title of this otherwise excellent article is feeding a lot of non-sequiturs. I wish the title had been something like “Our Irrationality Is The Terrorists’ Most Effective Tool”, or something snappier along those lines.

frumgeek August 24, 2006 5:18 PM

The article and most comments here have no idea whatsoever what the goals of terror are or how to deal with them.

Terror is not about the level of security one passes through in an average day, or while flying for that matter. Terror is not about “giving up essential liberties”, or metal detectors at the entrance of public buildings, or purses being checked. All of these are responses to the types of terrorist attacks we have been subjected to, but even that skirts the real issue.

Terrorism is violence (or the threat of violence) to ordinary civilians going about their ordinary life. Without warning. Without specific meaning or intent. It is intended to send a message to the entire population: “You could be next. You have no control.” Depending on the nation, terrorism could cause the citizens to insist that their government give in to any demands that the terrorists have, just to make sure that you’re not the next victim.

It is also extortion of the highest order.

How do terrorists win? Not by “compromising our idealized freedoms”, but rather by preventing the civilian population from living life — going to work, to school, to the zoo and the museum, to the restaurant and the cafe. It’s not our high-minded Utopia of a security-guard free world that the terrorists are threatening — it’s our everyday business.

Yes, @lifeofliberty, terrorism is a tactic used by “militants” to advance some other goal, and though I completely disagree with the validity of the goals you’ve mentioned (particularly with Hamas and Hezbollah), that’s not what makes terrorism such a dirty word and such a reprehensible strategy. Terrorism targets specifically non-combatants, which is a style of warfare that civilized countries can only condemn.

Regardless of the “lofty cause” of various terrorist organizations, ask yourself this: what system of morals would you hold to, in order to achieve your goals?

Joe August 24, 2006 5:30 PM

Shneier: Brilliant!
Totally agree with what you write.
Let’s not be ‘terrorized’. But, at the same time, let’s be aware, be informed (having a good degree of skepticism from what we hear in the media), be patient and take a few proactive steps that can increase our personal preparedness – just in case.
Good tips for that in http://www.technonllc.com/pd1

MidNight August 24, 2006 5:34 PM

A well thought out position in a story that described exactly what is going on in the US today. Thank you for at least telling the truth.

Now be prepared to be called a terrorist sympathizer, un-American and a traitor.

Jared August 24, 2006 5:51 PM

The way that I see it (after a great deal of research) is that 9/11 and other incidents were not pulled off by Muslim groups, rather by a cooperative consisting of Israeli intel agents and American military/industrial agents. Together, with the aid of American media interests, they’ve been framing Muslims for actions that they have had no involvement in. The aim of this is to turn western public opinion against Muslims and to create plausible rationales for war. Their hope is, that with enough of this, they will be able to initiate real terror actions rising from the Muslim community. If they are allowed to continue with this evil theater of theirs, they will achieve their goal of causing a flow of genuine reaction from these heretofore overwhelmingly passive peoples. The only hope we have to stop this is to immediately recognize the phony nature of the “Islamofascism” rhetoric and to expose the real culprits behind 9/11, none of whom were Islamic militants, rather they were the enemies of Islam and those that covet the oil beneath Arab land.

MonkeySaltedNuts August 24, 2006 5:53 PM

Bruce writes in the article: “The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in TWO ways. Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security.”

No, they hurt in THREE ways, the third being people getting used to cries of “wolf”.

There has been enough panicing over imagined wolfs recently that when I heard about the British “liquid bombers” story I immediatly assumed it had little substance.

Phila August 24, 2006 6:17 PM

The Nazis bombed London, but not Paris. Why?

Something to do with the comparative difficulty of getting tanks and troops en masse over the Channel, maybe?

Phila August 24, 2006 6:29 PM

Why do you guys constantly defend a religion that violates all manner of human rights?

Why do you assume that because the terrorists are wrong, what we’re doing is right? Or effective?

Because everything you folks keep saying could be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are effective and ineffective ways to respond to terrorism. And saying “kill ’em all” isn’t really espousing a strategy…honestly, it’s more of a tantrum, or a tic.

powder monkey August 24, 2006 7:32 PM

No comment on your politics Bruce, but sorry, your chemistry sucks.

When you write:
“…In truth, it’s doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public.” you include 4 links to support this claim BUT THEY DON’T.

  1. The first link:
    is an essay by Thomas C. Greene, who in fact is not a chemist, explosives expert or scientist of any kind, but an IT columnist noted for writing (sometimes ill-supported) polemics. A discussion on this blog has previously pointed out that his essay is riddled with serious errors. He doesn’t bother to provide any references for his claims (surely a serious offence for a journalist writing outside his own purview), but the inaccurate description of hydrogen peroxide as a “hair dye” strongly suggests he is using one of the internet teeny bomber guides which includes the same error.
  2. The second link:
    is a brief email by another IT guy, who by his own admission has recently started as a beginning chemistry student. He attempts to analyse the plot on the assumption that manufacture of TATP requires intermediate production of “piranha bath”. As discussion on this blog has previously pointed out, this is completely wrong and thus, so is the rest of his analysis.
  3. The third link:
    is not only not by chemists (it’s just a discussion by bloggers, none of whom claim to be chemists although one anonymously claims to have manufactured TATP), but it doesn’t conclude or even hint that the plan was implausible! It merely discusses TATP without coming to any specific conclusions.
  4. The fourth link:
    is–at last!–both a more credible reference and includes quotes from actual professional chemists, including ones with experience with explosives. However, it doesn’t debunk the idea at all, in fact it does the exact opposite! All of the experts quoted agree that there would be difficulties associated with doing the preparation on an aircraft, but that it is in fact quite plausible and could work!

There is currently a wave of conspiracy theory illness infecting the left wing blogger community–an illness, I call it, because it cripples your ability to be seen as a serious alternative by the mainstream community–and one current symptom are the claims that this plan was unworkable (which then usually segue into concluding that it was fictitious, as if terrorists couldn’t possibly come up with an unworkable plan). These claims are nonsense; all the genuine experts acknowledged without hesitation that the idea might present difficulties but was workable and some acknowledged it was in fact pretty clever. Several commented how the terrorist plan had apparently considered some of these difficulties and worked around them. One even commented that at present “…there is no efficient way to stop a suicide bomber who carries peroxide-base explosives on his body or in his carry-on luggage.”

You do a great disservice to serious discussion by treating the extreme fringe ideas seriously.

Anonymous August 24, 2006 7:37 PM

Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn’t engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. – I lived with a bloke once, he was army and his dad was ex-British army, could make deadly explosives from what we had under the kitchen sink. The problem with what you call pointless airline-security is that lower grade security allowed the 9/11 terrorists to smuggle knives and other ‘harmless’ objects that enabled them to take control of aircraft and kill thousands. When you’re in a position of authority or responsibility, you have to do everything you can that you believe may assist in preventing people from getting hurt. Better to be terrorised than dead.

zzzzz August 24, 2006 8:13 PM

@Jared sez:
[quote]The way that I see it (after a great deal of research) is that 9/11 and other incidents were not pulled off by Muslim groups, rather by a cooperative consisting of Israeli intel agents and American military/industrial agents.[/quote]

Mind sharing some of the sources and results of your research, eh? Thanks in advance.

Davi Ottenheimer August 24, 2006 8:28 PM

@ powder monkey

Interesting points and well said, but could you be more specific than “left wing blogger community”?

Incidentally, I thought Sepia Mutiny did a nice job reviewing the threat of liquid explosive past and present. Don’t know if it counts as part of the community you mention:


“You do a great disservice to serious discussion by treating the extreme fringe ideas seriously.”

Really? Maybe you didn’t mean it the way it came out, but on the one hand you tell us to take ideas by the extreme fringe (e.g. liquid bombs on aircraft) seriously, and then the next minute you are telling Bruce not to take them seriously. Which is it?

Mark August 24, 2006 8:42 PM

Isn’t the real goal of political terrorism (which is what we are really talking about here – not crazies, but people with specific political ends in mind) the step that comes after what Bruce is describing here? My understanding is that political terrorism (hereafter “terrorism) works like this:

The terrorists, realizing they cannot stand toe-to-toe with their targeted enemy, start rhetoric along the lines of “those guys are evil???, “they oppress you???, “they want to dominate the world???, and “they want to destroy your way of life???.

Then the terrorists start blowing things up, shooting people, etc., basically the “terror??? part of terrorism.

The targeted government naturally takes steps to counter these attacks and to attempt to prevent them. As the fear escalates the government is forced to take larger and more visible efforts to contain the terrorist activity, especially the limiting of freedom and the undertaking of excessive military action. [this is the stage Bruce describes above]

The terrorists then point their fingers and say, “See, we told you so!??? and the lemmings sagely nod their heads and say, “Oh, hey, they were right. I secretly always knew they were???.

Look at this in the light of what action we in the West are taking right now. The actions described above by Bruce and others play directly into this tactic as they undermine authority at home, while the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq work even better for the terrorists, undermining authority both at home and abroad. Now the terrorists can point to those wars and show how imperialistic and martial and evil the West is. The actions taken by our governments in the West have both increased the confidence in the Muslim world that those cries of how evil the West are were actually right and undermined our own sense of confidence in our governing officials.

ambrose August 24, 2006 9:04 PM

“EDITED TO ADD (3/24)”?

Am I the only one who reads these posts properly?

Is this some game, or code? What do I win?

Presumably we meant eight/twentyfour?

quincunx August 24, 2006 9:34 PM

Hey Mark,

Even a casual overserver can see that America broke its stance on neutrality starting 1898 (Spanish-American War).

Only an idiot would think that imperialism is brought about by recent muslim forces.

I find it funny that you fall for government rhetoric and attribute it to others.

quincunx August 24, 2006 9:43 PM

sorry for double post.

One should examine US foreign policy in the early 20th century towards the Phillipines and Cuba, and see EXACTLY the same thing play out 100 years later.

Any attempt of the local people to create their own governments were prevented, and puppet regimes setup in place. If that isn’t a clear cut case of imperialism, I don’t know what is.

Read the long list of US foreign interventions in Grenada, Guatemala, El Salvador,Chile, Peru, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Mexico, Yugoslavia, various islands in the South Pacific, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Sudan, Liberia, the list goes on.

In any case, Mark, your observation is wrong because the major opinions (and the critical ones) of such activities come from the US itself (mostly universities), and not from the terrorists. Therefore it amounts to making strawmen from false sources.

Some of the finest generals have spilled their guts on the truth behind the matters, when later in life their guilt had finally gotten to them.

solinym August 24, 2006 9:53 PM

Are the targets really us? I thought we were just a middleman, and the real targets were the policy-makers at the top. I think that if the terrorists could kill the policy-makers they would, and since they can’t they are trying to kill people who can influence the policy-makers or vote them out of office.

Actually, terrorists benefit from the polarization of the electorate caused by terrorism; most clamor for more security and security measures, and encourage overreaction on the part of public safety individuals, which in turn drives the other end of the electorate towards the terrorists. After being roughed up by the cops, or having their country invaded, certain normally peacable muslims decide they’ve had enough, and retaliate… anyways, let’s not allow fear to cloud good judgement, common sense, and our notions of humane treatment of the least of us.

Last time I checked, you had less of a chance of being a casualty of terrorism than you had from dying of a snakebite. Yet we aren’t declaring a war on snakes, even though some apparently found their way onto some planes 🙂

It seems to me that attacking a third party in order to influence the second is at the root of the disgust with terrorism. UN resolutions forbid group punishment, and I think the sentiment is the same.


I hate to agree with our resident quin*, but anarchists are not usually bomb-wielding maniacs. Anarchism has a fine scholarly heritage; instead of his list, consider reading Bakunin:


Don’t worry, it’s a short article and uses small words. After reading it, tell me if you think terrorists read that kind of literature.

I think the problem with both civil-libertarianism and anarchism is that while the intelligent people who discuss it could probably be relied upon to comport themselves without an authority, there are always those elements that would cause trouble, and then we’d have to choose police-like protection agencies, and the most efficient one would end up becoming a monopoly, and then there’d be one “company” who has a monopoly on force…. wait a minute, this is sounding familiar, where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, right now, pretty much everywhere. Only I think in a free market the protection agency with the reputation of being the most brutal and the most extoritionate would get the most money, and they would silence their critics, and that’s not an improvement.

seamus August 24, 2006 11:51 PM

All you “Islam is a religion of death” people:

Not to argue with the premise, but what is your point, besides that the religion of a billion people is bad? What are we supposed to do with that information, from a security standpoint?

Should we force people to state their religion before boarding an airplane? Should we target men with Muslim names or brown skin? What about Richard Reed and Jose Padilla?

In other words, if every argument about terrorism security becomes an argument about the drawbacks of Islam, then what are we supposed to do? Convert them all to Christianity at gunpoint? “Fighting them over there” is not an acceptable answer.

A1 August 25, 2006 1:19 AM

Al quaeda does not want to delay our flights or cause us to miss meetings. They want to kill us and to make us believe there’s always a chance we will be randomly killed while going about our normal business until we force our government to give in to their demands. This is not about inconvenience and silly security policies.

quincunx August 25, 2006 1:38 AM

“Only I think in a free market the protection agency with the reputation of being the most brutal and the most extoritionate would get the most money, and they would silence their critics, and that’s not an improvement.”

Would you fund the most brutal organization?
Would you appreciate your neighbor funding a different brutal organization?

Is destruction mutually profitable? As opposed to free trade?

Why would you fund an organization that was brutal to you? Wouldn’t you switch to a more peaceful one? Wouldn’t the nuclear weapons of a peaceful one be just as effective as the brutal one?

If you think anarcho-communism can sway human nature, I will not argue this for now.

But let it be said that anything other than a free market can not arise – because you have to FORCE people from engaging in mutual exchange, a tendency of human action you can not ignore other than by academic denial.

Socialization of property is exactly a conflict ridden situation that anarcho-communism entails, plus the fact that a reduction in the division of labor will literally starve BILLIONS of people.

” the most efficient one would end up becoming a monopoly”

Except for the fact that there has never been a free market monopoly, and there can never be any as long as humans disagree, and you can always form your own. Self defense can be quite effective, and costly to your aggressors.

But if you think a communal ant-heap lifestyle is suitable for a portion of the population, then by all means go homestead some land and build a property-free community.

vbob August 25, 2006 2:16 AM

I can’t believe you all still buy this carp. Look .. WE’VE BEEN PUNK’D .. WHAT TERRORISTS???!!!?? They’ve had FIVE YEARS to hit us .. with our wide open borders, uninspected containers and cargo holds .. I THOUGHT THESE GUYS WERE MOTIVATED!!!

Either the “terrorists” are f*kin’ retarded, or they don’t exist. ALL of our juiceiest targets are largely unguarded. Why don’t they just come on over, park a rented fertilizer bomb truck next to Dodger Stadium, then walk across the street and have a nice latte.

FIVE YEARS KIDS .. how much longer are we gonna continue to buy this BS??

And just so you know .. intelligence agencies NEVER disclose operational details. They NEVER trot out real terrorists and parade them before the world’s TV cameras. They NEVER share information with us for our edification. COME ON, PEOPLE .. YOU KNOW THIS!!!

REAL terrorists are investigated, surrounded, cut off from their people, and f*ing EXECUTED. They are NEVER dragged through courts. The CIA and other intelligence agencies enjoy “Quiet Victories” .. and THAT is the Truth.

Any time you see this kind of dog and pony show on TV, you can bet that it’s political.

Elections Are Coming. Expect Daily Emphasis that Strangers Want To Kill You.

Get Real, People .. Wake up before it’s too late .. it’s great to be patriotic, but don’t be fooled by this pale b.s. .. history will make us out to be pathetic sheep if we don’t expect more TRUTH out of our government.

vbob August 25, 2006 2:29 AM

Two Words: Taqiyya and Kitman

Why it is absolutely impossible to negotiate with Islamists:

It’s their religious duty to deceive us.
Tradecraft Term: Deception. Disinformation. Islamic terrorists have their own terms: taqiyya (pronounced tak-e-ya) : precautionary dissimulation or deception and keeping one’s convictions secret and a synonymous term, kitman: mental reservation and dissimulation or concealment of malevolent intentions.

Taqiyya and kitman or ‘holy hypocrisy’ has been diffused throughout Arabic culture for over fourteen hundred years since it was developed by Shiites as a means of defence and concealment of beliefs against Sunni unbelievers. As the Prophet said: ‘he who keeps secrets shall soon attain his objectives.’

The skilful use of taqiyya and kitman was often a matter of life and death against enemies; it is also a matter of life and death to many contemporary Islamic terrorists. As so often in the history of Islam, a theological doctrine became operational.

During the Spanish inquisition, Sunni Moriscos attended mass and returned home to wash their hands of the ‘holy water’. In operational terms, taqiyya and kitman allowed the ‘mujahadeen ‘ to assume whatever identity was necessary to fulfill their mission; they had doctrinal and theological and later jurisprudential sanction to pretend to be Jews or Christians to gain access to Christian and Jewish targets: ‘the mujahadeen can take the shape of the enemy’.

According to Christian ethics lying is a sin; In Islamic jurisprudence and theology, the use of taqiyya against the unbelievers is regarded as a virtue and a religious duty.

Like many Islamic concepts taqiyya and kitman were formed within the context of the Arab-Islamic matrix of tribalism, expansionary warfare and conflict. Taqiyya has been used by Muslims since the 7th century to confuse and split ‘the enemy’. A favored tactic was ‘deceptive triangulation’; to persuade the enemy that jihad was not aimed at them but at another enemy. Another tactic was to deny that there was jihad at all. The fate for such faulty assessments by the target was death.

Look, I’m just some Bubba .. and even I get this stuff ..

no1 August 25, 2006 2:34 AM

@tired ben.



1539, from M.L. anarchia, from Gk. anarkhia “lack of a leader,” noun of state from anarkhos “rulerless,” from an- “without” + arkhos “leader.” Anarchist (1678) got a boost into modernity from the French Revolution. Anarcho-syndicalism is first recorded 1913.

The definitions you provided in fact defeated your own proposition anyway, despite being largely incorrect due to being a recording of what the popular (ie cartoon, media, Government, School teacher) use is of the word, not of it’s correct meaning. Note that all the sources I just listed have an absolute vested interest in misrepresenting anarchy, and this is one of the ways that the culture you have apparently been raised in words. Re-read 1984 until you understand this point, as it is very important.

Dictionaries that you buy in shops and find on University bookshelves concern themselves with both sides of the story, both the logical meaning of a word imbued by its derivation and historical usage, as well as it’s current, transient, popular usage. But only one is correct.

English is a mish-mash of words derived from numerous lingual sources. If you speak it without investigating the original meaning you speak it without understanding, parrot fashion. I can teach a parrot to quote your dictionary definitions, if you had read and understood them, it would be apparent that your thesis is flawed.

Almost all of the origin lanuguages from which our pidgin borrows its loan words have a sophisticated underlying, logical structure, which remains in the language we talk, but students in English-speaking schools are taught that this is just a little bit too complicated and nerdy for enyone except the architypal English Professor types to bother with. (Do you see yet what is the problem with these institutions? They are not wholly useless, but you should take the time to identify their flaws before imagining that the lessons you have been taught amount to “knowledge”.)

To summarise the flaw in your thesis: The terrorists are trying to set up an Islamic state in place of our own Government, and yet they are anarchists?

powder monkey August 25, 2006 3:52 AM

@Davi Ottenheimer:

… could you be more specific than “left wing blogger community”?

Erm, no. “Left wing blogger community” is a deliberately broad term which probably includes at least hundreds of thousands of blogs, most of which are not spreading conspiracy theories or any other kind of FUD. If you meant to say you’d like examples of those spreading conspiracy theories, start at Bruce’s post “On the Implausibility of the Explosives Plot”, look at some of the trackbacks, and go on from there, you can find a number of examples pretty quickly.

Many more can be found by googling various combinations of “uk bomb plot”, “liquid explosives”, “implausible” and “infeasible”.

Don’t know if [Sepia Mutiny] counts as part of the community you mention

Nor do I, I’m not familiar with it. At first glance, that summary page does look quite reasonable.

Maybe you didn’t mean it the way it came out, but on the one hand you tell us to take ideas by the extreme fringe (e.g. liquid bombs on aircraft) seriously, and then the next minute you are telling Bruce not to take them seriously. Which is it?

A nice piece of confusion, Mr. Ottenheimer, constructed by entangling two different meanings of “take seriously”, two different types of “extreme fringe”, and using “ideas” as a placeholder for two very different things. But I strongly suspect you know exactly what I meant, and arguing semantics has no attractions to me, so I won’t try to spell it out. What I am not so sure about is what you were trying to achieve; perhaps you could state it more plainly?

erasmus August 25, 2006 4:13 AM


We’re all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain.

I’m not more jumpy, and I live here.


Interesting to note that Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways appears about to sue or claim compensation from the British Govt for causing excessive delays, unless they immediately scale back these new onerous airport procedures.

Ryanair’s CEO: “The way to defeat terrorism is for the Government to show leadership and return air travel in Britain to normal.”

Jungsonn August 25, 2006 4:58 AM

@vbob “aka bubba”

I understand what you mean, and there is also something to say for your ideas. It is true that despite all threaths there has happened little in the past 5 years.

I think that they could do much more damage, by attacking oilrigs, refineries, and water supplies etc which is easier because they are often remotely located, what would be the impact on those ones?

Anarcho Mario August 25, 2006 5:11 AM

I totally agree with you post, but what if ours governements want us to be afraid, and want us to know about terrorist (failed) attacks?
Remember “V for Vendetta”: it’s a way for governements to prove their utility, to remember us why we “need” them…

Hullu August 25, 2006 5:44 AM

“Remember “V for Vendetta”: it’s a way for governements to prove their utility, to remember us why we “need” them…”

Heh, I actually watched it last weekend (the second time). I noticed too many things I missed the first time. First time many slipped by but now watching it again right after this UK threat made it … scary.

I very nice movie in my opinion, and current.

Kearneycation August 25, 2006 6:10 AM

Fear helps everybody. The terrorists get off on it, the government gets to coddle you, the papers sell more, the advertisers get more coverage. Everybody wins.

The worst part now is that it just takes one person to raise an alarm. A flight with 250 people can go smoothly, until just one of them gets nervous about the Muslim sitting across from him. Then that guy gets pulled off. That’s it. One person.

The Terrorists Have Won: http://theterroristshavewon.wordpress.com/

Anonymous August 25, 2006 7:06 AM

I think we have already lost the war on terror. I am very much sure the terrorists are laughing at us right now. I also agree with you that the press, TSA, and politicians are all scaring people by repeatedly reminding them of what could have happened or what did happen. I just wish people used more common sense when it comes to things like this. By discriminating against people from a specific religion this, we are just creating hatred, which will lead to more terrorism.

someone who cares August 25, 2006 7:17 AM

When are we going to stop using the word terrorist and start telling it like it is? That these sick people and any government who supports them are no more than common murders and should be held accountable to the world courts. When a group crosses borders it should be considered an international act and if it kills innocent people should be declared international murder – period – if a government wants to turn there backs on these groups and let them have a safe haven within there borders then that government should also be held accountable for the loss of life the same as the ones who committed the act

Chris W. August 25, 2006 8:29 AM

One of the probles is politicians who want to look like they are doing something. Gov. Mitt Romney called out the National Guard to patrol Boston’s Logan Airport after the recent London arrests. Guys with M-16’s were now poised to do what? The overwhelming effect is to scare the average traveller. Even if a plane was headed to Boston it would have blown up en-route.

My tax dollars were spent and my fellow citizens were frightened so Mitt Romney could look good. This is amplified on a national scale with President Bush.

Here us a geman terror-thermometer:

The plot shows how often the words terror danger
attack etc. show up in relation to the number articles looked at.

Perhaps we need this for the US.


Thucydides Jr. August 25, 2006 9:26 AM

You know, folks in the Gov. & the media act like the terrorists are one moment Einstein’s mental clones threatning the whole of western civilization and the other complete idiots that will do exactly what we want them to do so we can bring democracy and freedom overnight to the places we want.

They’re not looking at them as enemies – they’re treating them as boogymen and useful posterboys for re-election and ad revenue.

They don’t seem to try to even be coherent. The only thing consistent in their message is “they could be anywhere and right next to you too”. The good thing is that is we fight them in Iraq they won’t come to our airports and subways and buses here.

Oh. right.

Janet August 25, 2006 9:34 AM

Darn! I thought “Finally someone is going to intelligently discuss what these different groups of terrorists want.” EG.
Bin Ladin wants the US to…. Al Quida wants… Iraqi insurgents want…

I was sorely disappointed and am still waiting for that intelligent and serious discussion.

Brother Bark August 25, 2006 9:37 AM

“I’d like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.”

Mr. Schneier, normally I am a great fan of your writings in general. I do add, however, that the phrase “… take a deep breath …” is condescending and irritating. When other people utter this phrase, I tend strongly take a deep breath, add their names to a list, then utterly ignore them afterwards. Perhaps you could consider other wording.

The general rule is to assume your entire audience is composed of adults, not hysterical children to be scolded; any immature individuals who have slipped past the door screeners can be escorted outside by security when and as needed, nor will the rest of the audience appreciate being treated as if they were the ones waving pitchforks.

mo August 25, 2006 9:54 AM

Hmm, where could someone find a couple thousand people in a completely insecure environment? I know, airport security lines! Whether the terrorists get root on the ground or in the air, we’re screwed either way.

For 5 years (9/1/01-7/1/06) I lived 4 blocks from the white house and 2 blocks from the State Dept. If I managed to get out of bed every morning without shitting myself everyone else can too.

A Hermit August 25, 2006 10:00 AM


My first reaction on 9/11 was shock and horror. My second reaction was a promise to myself to refuse to live in fear.

We see this again and again in the Middle East; peace talks are progressing, there is movement to an agreement on the whole WestBank/Gaza mess and some fanatic who opposes the peace process sets off a bomb or assassinates someone.

And what is the reaction to a terrorist attack designed to derail the negotiations? A suspension of the negotiations. Mission accomplished…

Happens every time.

Jungsonn August 25, 2006 10:28 AM

@mo who said:

“Hmm, where could someone find a couple thousand people in a completely insecure environment? I know, airport security lines! Whether the terrorists get root on the ground or in the air, we’re screwed either way.”

Exactly, the problem will only shift to less secured areas. In the end, nothing can be protected, or as the ol’ Douglas McArthur rambled: “there is no security on this earth, only opportunity”.

C Gomez August 25, 2006 10:53 AM

To say the terrorists are winning is ridiculous.

First of all, it is highly unlikely there is a definable group of people we can call: “The terrorists”. A terrorist is anyone who decides its okay to try and further his ends by targeting civilians.

It is far better to be prepared against terrorism than to close our eyes and “refuse to be terrorized” by saying “well we cant stop it, so let them blow up all the planes they want.”

Every day that there isn’t a successful murder of civilians is a day the terrorists have lost. Now, that’s a big goal, but breaking it down, there have clearly been victories.

If you live in the U.S., do you live in fear of going to work, going to the mall, going out with friends? Not likely, anymore. That’s because there haven’t been any large scale, seemingly random attacks since say… the D.C. sniper (who again, is not connected with any identifiable group we might call “the terrorists”, but just someone out killing innocent civilians). And nothing since 9/11 that could be connected to this loose mythical group of people we call “the terrorists”.

Remember how you felt right after 9/11?… When you had tickets to a Yankees game and honestly wondered if you’d be safe there?… When you wondered if the local mall might be a target?… When you wondered when the next attack would be? Surely, if the “terrorists” were as brilliant, connected, and organized as we all thought they were, they’d attack again, and again, and again… to inflict terror.

But they either don’t, or can’t… which it is I think we don’t really know. Maybe the network was largely affected and forced into hiding by activity in Afghanistan. Maybe there isn’t anything to it and never was. But the point is, we don’t live in fear in the U.S. and every day we don’t, we win again.

There are some spots in the world not so lucky. Israel, Baghdad. People there really don’t know if the market they enter will be terrorized. That is terror… that is terror inflicted by terrorists who have lost any human rights or reason to be called human. They don’t deserve trials or privileges. They have taken whatever problems they have and decided instead of solving them politically, or even militarily, that they would attack innocent people. They are lower than the lowest scum.

Sure, there are problems with security at airports. There are problems with some methods that aren’t any better at securing anything. There are some methods that aren’t being employed that really would improve security. It’s under a magnifying glass and way too many cooks (many of them non-security experts like oh say… Congressmen) are involved in the security recipe.

And it’s right to argue about those problems and fight for good security. That’s the discussion that naturally takes place in a democracy.

But there’s no reason to believe a car bomber will drive into my local grocery market today. There’s not even a reason to believe an airplane will be used in terror today. There is no living in terror. We win again today… just like yesterday, and the day before.

peetie August 25, 2006 11:04 AM

I agree with Janet I’m still waiting for something intelligent to be written by this guy. What a puff piece. Definately a waste of time reading this drivel.

derf August 25, 2006 11:26 AM

Unless you are dead (excuse me – Living Impaired) or living under Sharia, then Islamic terrorism has not, in fact, won.

Joe August 25, 2006 11:40 AM

@Brother Bark: “I do add, however, that the phrase ‘… take a deep breath …’ is condescending and irritating”

I would normally agree, but in this case–used as a literary device to, metaphorically, slap some sense to the panic-stricken public–it works. I agree with the article wholeheartedly. Not sure why some find it offensive or meritless. Much of the objections seem a bit shrill. But I guess it’s a bit of the old BWS, as Chung Leong pointed out: “The victim may have trouble following his or her thoughts in a logical way…”

Pedro August 25, 2006 11:44 AM

Hi, problem is one may be too eager to say that

The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act

However, that may not be right (here in Spain, the ETA does want something quite different, to wit: at least the independence of the Basque Country and the release of all their convicted members -I do not want a flame war on whether they are terrorists or not, this is just an example and they have done quite a bit of terror). Terror is a mean for an end, at least in this case.

For the terror, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ETA#Under_democracy

I agree that getting scared is just playing their game (they want us to think in their terms in order to somehow get to their aims more easily) and I am the first not to want to get scared.

But the term terrorism describes the immediate consequence of an action (or a group of actions), not their final purpose.

The mean layman’s way to defeat terrorism is -as you say- not to panick: keep on living exactly as you do, take no extra measures.

However, take into account that in the Basque Country all the politicians but those belonging to a couple of parties are escorted etc… And not just because “they are afraid”, there are lots of citicens there and elsewhere who do not want them dead.

I speak of what I know. I was tempted to say something about Al-Qaeda’s aims but I am not proficient on the subject.

markalan August 25, 2006 11:45 AM

I find it interesting how our security measures were sufficient enough to foil the plot of the ‘gel bombers’ before they could even make it to the ticket both, and that, because of this successful display of security, we need to revamp our security measures. The thing with security is, it only works if its sufficient before the attack takes place. If the security measures successful in diverting an attack then the security measures work! Why do we feel the need to revamp our security after a glorious display of its success? By manufacturing security protocal based on previously diverted terror attempts we only make our security weaker.

I couldn’t agree more that ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ It has been stated before and its true: the purpose of terrorism is to terrorise. Those terrorised aren’t the ones having died as a result of the attack, but the ones looking on who allow themselves to be afraid of the possibility of that happening to them. While I do fault the media and those in government who actively proliferate this feeling of ‘fear’, I fault more the people who are allowing themselves to fear. The goal of terrorism is to create fear, it only works if WE let it.

Joe Yowsa August 25, 2006 11:45 AM

“The point of terrorism is to cause terror,”

“And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.”

I know the first one was partly contradicted by a following remark but this is absurd. I guess “liberals” have to travel from ignoring the evidence before their own eyes, to conspiracy theories and finally to ridiculous word games. These particular terrorists have told you what they want, so if you don’t buy that … please … start off by telling us why not and why you insist on playing word games instead.

JoeP August 25, 2006 12:02 PM

@Joe Yowsa: “I guess “liberals” have to travel from ignoring the evidence before their own eyes, to conspiracy theories and finally to ridiculous word games”

I’m not sure why there is a political slant to the objections to the article. I know that some “liberal” blogs have picked up this article as testament against current policy (which may or may not be applicable) but I’m a conservative and I’m similarly appalled at the amount of panic fomented by the events of the past month.

Bruce is merely telling everyone to to give in to fear–because doing so causes problems with a sober and cogent risk assessment.

The most egregious effect of poor risk assessment is that we end up spending far too much money for so little gain. As a conservative and a businessman, that is something untenable.

Chase Venters August 25, 2006 1:01 PM

Well said, Bruce! I believe the only way to effectively fight terrorism (that is, combat it, without creating MORE terrorism than was there when you started):

  1. Do not be terrorized
  2. Educate the world rather than going to war with it

Anonymous August 25, 2006 1:30 PM

The United States and England are the biggest terrist. They taught the world. The Islamic group want Bush and Blair out the way. The United States and England people is not in harm way just their government. Tgey to create a white democracy which is control by them. Islam is a democracy in its right. Islam is a perfect religion, but when others interfere it cause problems. The western world and Europe want drugs to brought from Islam Nation. Asia,and Afric to corrupt the world. Islamic, Asia, Africa Society see it and the way to make money. The Queen of England need to open her eyes and fire Blair because of the war. Bush is a big ass and smell like a shit ass. Rice is a yes lady of the new slave platation, and the rest os staff is ignorant political leaders Bush being lead by an ass hole. Russia, Germany, France and European countries can have peace without England, and the United States. Japan with other Asians countries can be leader for peace. Korean believe the United and Islamic countries believe the United States with England don’t the power to the only nation with Nuclear war heads or Nuclear energy. Isreal is to bethe power over Islam Countries with the US. and England. Islam not Gods chosen few. All man kin kind is Gods chosen people. The United States used the first Nuclear Bomd (Atom) on a small country. The US. don’t want or beleve in peace. The US. were in wars since this country became a nation. This country was taken from indian by England the mother country of the US. Terrious are England and the United States. Islam is part of society no matter the US. and England don’t it to be.


Jungsonn August 25, 2006 1:36 PM

Well, if i see all the reactions here i think i can deduct what the sollution might be.

1) If the only way to stop terrorism is to give them what they want, the awnser is simple:

almost every attack was against americans, or their allies, but mainly americans. Why? because america is sticking it’s nose in everything, and now facing the repercussions of it. It is american policy that made this world into a terrorzone, and a place of war.

Sollution is simple: stop supporting Israel.

How about them apples?

C Gomez August 25, 2006 1:55 PM

You do not “create” terrorism.

Someone who takes the mental step that attacking and killing civilians is the proper step to solve whatever diplomatic, poltical, or military based problems one has, is a terrorist.

No one makes you pick up a gun, hijack a plane, build a car bomb.

Jungsonn August 25, 2006 2:01 PM

the truth is hard, it is what they always wanted.

u know some stupid apples?

With all the money spend on Iraq ($300 Billion!), americans could have build 2 million new homes, or give the poor people in the world a descent life.

How about them?

Go put your head in the sand
Don’t you talk to me what’s stupid or not.

Anonymous August 25, 2006 2:03 PM

I’ll put my head in the sand when you pull your head out of your ass. I am sure terrorism would stop if America didn’t support Israel. Right.

not a chemist August 25, 2006 2:08 PM

I didn’t see this yesterday, and now there are tons of comments here. However, the statement “it’s doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public” seems strange since the London bus bombings “used liquid explosives made from common household items.” One of these things is not like the other.

Overall, I like the point of the article. But I think that example is misplaced. It was a potentially effective plot, but there’s no reason to jump at shadows even in the face of real terrorism.

not a chemist August 25, 2006 2:10 PM

Just to be clear “used liquid explosives made from common household items.” isn’t a quote from the original post. It’s not really a quote of anything, other than a general statement that I’ve seen in newspapers a lot recently.

C Gomez August 25, 2006 3:36 PM

“I am sure terrorism would stop if America didn’t support Israel. Right.”

Absolutely not. Either the same people or new people would use terrorism in response to a different perceived gripe, instead of using civilized means to address problems.

No, terrorism can never be appeased.

bcoffee August 25, 2006 3:40 PM

First, I will admit that I did not take the time to read through all of the comments, so if this has been said already please forgive me.

I find this darkly, sadly comical, in that Bruce just said the same thing that my Poli Sci professor taught 25 years ago. Yes, terrorism is complex and difficult if one wishes to study the multitude of causes from which it springs; however, it can also be distilled to one simple premise: the goal of terrorism is to inspire terror. And that is an amazingly simple thing to do. What is often overlooked in these discussions is the fact that terrorists do not need to actually kill anyone or blow anything up; they simply need to offer a credible threat.

If one accepts that the goal of terrorism is to inspire terror, then it logically follows that if there is no terror then the act of terrorism has failed. And we have known this for longer than I have been alive.

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Winston Churchill knew the correct answer 60 years ago. Where are the Churchill’s that will stand up today? Not in our government; the politics of fear make accomplices of our politicians. Likewise the media; by telling us repeatedly that we should be afraid they are also advancing the goal of terrorism.

Well, I am not afraid.

Is anyone willing to stand with me?

Joe August 25, 2006 5:28 PM

I don’t see anything wrong with the corrective actions detailed in the article. In this war, every person is a member of the new police.

Consider the metaphor of a neighborhood. If there’s a bad seed in a neighborhood, everyone watches out. Everyone helps.

Today, the neighborhood is the world. Due to capital liquidity, people outside your neighborhood can take your money (say, that you used to buy gas), and make bombs with it.

So you have to resort to neighborhood-watch liquidity.

This is how we do it.

Jungsonn August 25, 2006 5:45 PM

Well some very clever russian (an expert in the terrorism field) said something very interesting few months ago, let me summarize it loosely:

Why the war on terrorism is futile.

…Take histroy as guidance, then you’ll also see that in Russia, the war on terror had been the downfall of all tsars in Russia.
The tsars fought terrorism, and they all lost, throwing the country into oblivion and mayhem. To my humble opinion is the only sollution that the U.S. attent other agendas then destroying terrorism, because if there is a lesson from history to be learned it is this one: You always loose a war on terrorism, simply because terrorism is the power of the weak and those deprived of justice, which will outnumber anyone.

33Nick August 25, 2006 7:03 PM

Bingo! Right on. Thank you! Unfortunately with a dwindling TV news audience and paultry Newpaper sales, the only thing these Dinosaures have left is pure sensationalism. I don’t read the news anymore nor have I had a TV in three years. However, I read blogs and some reputable international media sites more than ever.

Anonymous August 25, 2006 10:12 PM

“You always loose a war on terrorism, simply because terrorism is the power of the weak and those deprived of justice, which will outnumber anyone.”

Attacks on civilians is the power of dogs. End of story. You have a problem, solve it diplomatically or even militarily. Organize a valid army and put on uniforms. Don’t hide among civilians and endanger them like lowly dogs… wait, that’s insulting to dogs.

Don’t attack their schools, churches, homes. That’s what lowlifes do. Be men and go to war, not kill innocent people.


Phil Karn August 25, 2006 10:23 PM

Bruce, this is the most insightful, on-target essay about terrorism and our counter-productive response to it I’ve ever seen. Bravo!

I do have to take issue with one point, though. You’ve sometimes said that the purpose of “security theater” (great term) is to “make us feel safe”. I think it’s really intended to keep us afraid. I’ve known this at an intellectual level for some time, but I didn’t really grok it until this latest event in the UK. Even I was scared for a few seconds.

RichA August 25, 2006 11:25 PM

Mr. Schneier
I agree with your article as far as it went. I notice that you did not mention that the primary way to protect against terrorists (in my opinion) is for us not to interfere in another countries business. Is this something that you do not agree with or was this article only intended to deal with the immediate physical aspects of the problem?

Scott August 25, 2006 11:50 PM

The point of terrorism is to cause terror?
hmmm.. I do not think so.

Terrorism is:
“the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”

It is the product of terrorism that rightfully causes a “feeling” of terror.

Mr. Schneier suggests:
“And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties ..”

Seem to me if Mr. Schneier is truly concerned about liberties, then our job is to fight those TERRORIST who use fear as an tactic to take away our liberties.

Bruce Schneier August 26, 2006 7:15 AM

“Seem to me if Mr. Schneier is truly concerned about liberties, then our job is to fight those TERRORIST who use fear as an tactic to take away our liberties.”

Instead of the politicians who use fear to take away our liberties? Why can’t I fight them both at the same time?

Bruce Schneier August 26, 2006 7:16 AM

“I agree with your article as far as it went. I notice that you did not mention that the primary way to protect against terrorists (in my opinion) is for us not to interfere in another countries business. Is this something that you do not agree with or was this article only intended to deal with the immediate physical aspects of the problem?”

The article was just about our reaction to terrorism. Terrorism is a complex topic. There’s a chapter about it in Beyond Fear; certainly geopolitics plays a part, although I’m not sure isolationism is the answer.

DaveK August 26, 2006 9:24 AM

Moshe Yudkowsky: ” As for the incident with the two Arab-speaking men removed from the plane: I’ve seen reports (I can’t find them now) that an Arabic-speaking woman overheard them say words to the effect of “these are the last thirty minutes of our lives.” I’d leave the plane too if I heard that. ”

Which proves the point exactly.

Because they weren’t talking Arabic, which neither of them even know how to speak.

They were talking Urdu, and that woman’s fear and paranoia completely prejudiced her perception of what she was hearing; essentially she fantasised in accord with her worst fears. Then mob hysteria took hold, and her imagined perception was accepted without question by all those other people whose fear had overruled their rationality.

The entire incident appeared from nothing because of fear, paranoia, groupthink and mass hysteria, which completely overruled common sense and reason in all those present. Those are not admirable qualities for a group of people to display and the lot of them should be ashamed of themselves and their cowardice.

And Moshe should learn from this incident to be mistrustful of gossip and rumours and not just take people’s fear-fuelled assertions at face value, because they are far more likely to be wrong than right. If he states that he would willingly embrace the hysteria were he in such a situation, then he should also be ashamed.

Courage Vow August 26, 2006 9:55 AM

I vow to hold true to the principle of courage: to think and act clearly in the presence of fear. I vow to acknowledge my fear as part of being human, but I will not allow it to control me.

I will control my fear.

I will not be paralyzed or panicked by barbarian bombers, by suicidal saboteurs, by homicidal criminals with explosives. I refuse to call them terrorists because I refuse to allow them to terrorize me.

I vow to fight these individuals with a clear head even though I may feel fear.

I vow to fight them with the weapon of superior principles: truth, liberty for all, justice for all, freedom of religion for all, freedom of speech for all, freedom of dissent for all, freedom of privacy for all, freedom to vote for all, and a government that responds to the people.

I vow to apply these principles to all humankind. If clear thinking determines that action is needed to enforce these principles, then I vow to take action.

I vow to act from these principles, from the strength of character that makes me better than the barbarians and better than the cowards.

I vow not to act from anger, vengeance, or hatred. I vow not to act from fear, panic, or terror. I vow not to fight simply based on physical strength. I vow not to encourage others to succumb to their fear. I vow not to surrender my principles.

I vow to call a coward anyone who would surrender all my principles
because they have succumbed to fear.

I vow to call a coward those who see enemies in every shadow, who lash out at the innocent and uninvolved, who surrender all of my principles, all in an attempt to fight their own fear.

I vow to call a coward anyone who tries to hide their fear with false bravado or with unprincipled acts of violence, including attacks on civilians, kidnappings, cruel and unusual punishments, or torture.

I vow to call a coward anyone who says we cannot win unless we sacrifice my principles. Without my principles, the only difference between me and the barbarians is the color of the uniform and the type of weapon used.

I am better than them only so long as my principles are better.

I vow to hold true to all my principles in the presence of fear.

I vow myself to courage.


This work licensed under the Creative-Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike license.

deddio August 26, 2006 1:49 PM

monday morning quarterbacking. it’s easy
to say that all these precautionary actions
were unnessessary after they are investigated. what person with any imagination at all can’t understand that if you are going to stop terrorism that there going to be some false alarms?

the terrorists are not some teenage pranksters. their goal is to kill as many of us as possible, and if they succeed all you bleeding hearts for the poor opressed muslims would be screaming the loudest
about why our government didn’t do
something to stop it. you would also
blame us for making them hate us so much.

AArgh August 26, 2006 2:18 PM

Call me crazy, but what if Americans trusted their founding principles and left airline security to the private sector? Members-only airlines? Options of travelling naked and shackled, anaesthetized…the possibilities are endless. Freedom of choice for those wealthy enough to fly! I suspect that the resulting security would be more cost-effective, preserve individual rights, and deliver no less actual security than is afforded by ANY governmental actions taken or proposed.

Declaring wars on terrorism and drugs are ludicrous measures that spring from a desire to deny human nature and that fundamentally reveal an anti-humanist mind set. We are a confused and messy lot, and would be better served by appeals to our brighter and better natures! Let’s declare alliances with compassion and reason….and fight FOR something we do understand rather than against things that we don’t.

HISTORYDUDE August 26, 2006 9:55 PM

Gosh study some history people, it’s the only way it’ll help understand ‘terrorism’, or at least what people think of it today.

Al-Qaeda, was originally known as “The Database”. It was established in the 1980’s by the CIA that involved international recruiting for the Mujahideen aka “Freedom Fighters” in Afghanistan. The mission was to defend against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden was one of the big contributors to the effort and was trained by the CIA.

Taliban, a people that were born and raised in training camps in parts of Pakistan in the 1980’s for the sole purpose of war. They were supported by the United States and Pakistan and they eventually took control in Afghanistan.

How about a super small lesson on the Muslim World? Over a thousand years ago they were the most advanced civilization on the planet. Empires fell (Byzantine etc) whether it was through conflict or by faith (The Mongols etc) they were a civilization that was expanded to India, Central Asia, North Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

They had the technology, they had the universities (the oldest I believe is Al-Azhar in Cairo), they had a powerful economy and a unique social system while not the 21st century type, women rights for example did exist right from the start. Sure minorities (non-muslims) had to pay a ‘tax’ but in a secular society we all have to do so anyway. Yet there leaders were not always perfect, of course you’ll have your arrogant or power hungry types.

The Europeans differed on there views of this civilization. The Crusades helped spread hate for the Muslim world while influential philosphers like Alghazelle (Al-Ghazali) was praised by the Europeans. In many ways we are influenced by this civlization from the muswak (a stick to clean teeth) to the mathematics and medical fields all the way to even our traditional cap when we graduate from High School (The Ottoman Sufis used to wear them, you know that thing that hangs out of it? It was to remind them of God)

Did you know Jews and Muslims lived together like brothers for a thousand years before the Isreali Confict; that caused a huge friction between both sides to the point that many evangelists, zionists and islamists today want you to forget?

While the Europeans lived in the dark ages the Muslims lived in a golden age…until centuries ago the civilization began to collapse through economic means and foreign conquest and eventually…was put into THE DARK AGES (yes thats the keyword…).

Ok so that is a start… NOW READ SOME DARN HISTORY and learn something for once..

Alex August 27, 2006 8:01 AM

Historydude, what’s your point? All people know now is that there is a strain if Islam, regardless of how it started, that is interested in causing death and destruction to westerners and even all “non-believing” muslims. I don’t see anything in your “analysis” that helps us figure out how to stop it.

Victor August 27, 2006 8:18 AM

Lets sum up the whole Terrorized Society and this Industry of Fear in few key words: Money, Greed and above all Education.

HISTORYDUDE August 27, 2006 10:47 AM

Alex, It’s called about looking at the facts especially from the beginning…Or perhaps history in your opinion doesn’t matter at all…

How is Islam interested in causing death and destruction to westerners? Let me guess you’ve researched it on ‘hate’ websites about how ‘evil’ Islam is? Give me a break, study some ACTUAL religion…

The question is what is a persons intention? If you study religion, if you have personal issues with a people you’re not going to research it from an open mind, your going to simply interpret it in a way filled by your emotion.

I can easily look at Judeo-Christianity, interpret the Bible and read about war and destruction of peoples and say that the faith is barbaric.

At the same time some people interpret things from the actions of a people. We all know Buddhism teaches about inner peace, but I can easily look at how war-like they were in India, how Asoka for example conquered and killed many people. So maybe Buddhism is a barbaric faith?

I recall looking back of how the West looked at Jews in history. I’m not talking about Hitler, we all know what he did but in the West Jews were actually hated…they were seen as terrorists by the British due to extremism in the early 20th century in the middle east…in many ways the West wanted to get rid of them, Russia is a great example…. do you get where I am going with this…?

Bruce Schneier August 27, 2006 1:14 PM

“…the terrorists are not some teenage pranksters…”

Exactly. That’s why security measures designed to catch teenage pranksters don’t make a whole lot of sense. Now, some terrorists are teenage pranksters. As I’ve said, airline security catches the sloppy and the stupid. But to catch the serious terrorists we’re going to have to do better than to freak every time there’s a funny something-or-other on an airplane.

M. Turyn August 27, 2006 6:10 PM

1.) You need an immune system, because real disease organisms (and wayward endogenous cells) exist.

2.) Some immune responses are very unpleasant, but worth it: you’re probably better off with a low-grade fever than not if it inhibits the growth of something much worse for you….

3.) Autoimmune diseases can be extremely unpleasant. Lupus, arthritis, maybe MS, probably type I diabetes—they can cripple you or kill you, or just make your life very unpleasant and noticeably shorter.

All these are true at once for the human body. Arguing that the body is a perfect metaphor for Society (or the State, or some such useful figment) should ring an alarm bell, especially because everyone who does so seems to think that they and others like them are the natural choice for Brain, and certain others for left little toe or for appendix…but in this case it’s I think it’s apt.

What level and kind of response should we have, addressing the problem while not hurting our ourselves too much? That’s politics; it’s particularly difficult because we have such wildly varying assessments of the risk and threat (hello, Mr Schneier), and what constitutes hurting ourselves “too much” (you might like someone in uniform looking in on your conversations or bedroom at regular intervals…I’d be willing to pay to avoid that, even if the payment is a slightly higher chance of being blown up).

As usual, the only point of view I automatically reject is “My solution is the only decent/sane/righteous one, and you are part of the Problem if you aren’t with me.” I have no great love for “There is no problem except that Bad Men want to get power by claiming that there is one,” either, but that at least seems vaguely possible if unlikely—to crib from Niels Bohr, the latter at least can rise to the level of being wrong.

C Gomez August 28, 2006 8:10 AM

The main problem I have with the thesis of the article is that it draws a conclusion that the “terrorists” (a grouping I think is probably not valid) want to inflict terror.

This is probably way too high level thinking.

Those who are actually willing to inflict terror aren’t interesting in the high level concept of “inflicting terror”. Likely, they just want to kill Americans and Westerners.

No amount of high concept thinking about “well we don’t actually have to do anything, but just scare them into changing their lives and giving up freedoms” is going into this. It’s just “I want to be personally responsible for the mass genocide of as many Westerners as possible, simply because they are Westerners.”

If “the terrorists” were truly interested in inflicting mass terror, why the long break after attacks? That smacks of mass failure on the “terrorists” part. Instead, they should have attacked on small scales every day after 9/11: Try a car bomb into a mall here. Shoot into a fenceyard at an elementary school over there. Intentionally set wildfires somewhere else.

The key to really inflicting terror is these small scale attacks that come after the big one. Do it every day, non stop. It doesn’t even matter if you kill anyone. You’ll spread resources so thin and panic so high, the job will do itself. Witness the terrible effect the D.C. Sniper had on people.

No, instead these “terrorists” seem either largely unorganized and dismantled, or are so concerned with pulling off “the big one”, they don’t manage to disrupt our lives much at all. While many were scared to go to work, the mall, a sporting event, to school the days after 9/11, we no longer fear these things. Life is normal and if you’re a “terrorist”, you’ve lost.

Therefore, go back to the thesis: “The terrorists win if they merely inflict terror.” My conclusions? 1) Hardly any terror has been inflicted at all. 2) Those who become “terrorists” to the point of acting merely have the goal of committing genocide, not any high-concept goal of disrupting society.

chris r August 28, 2006 2:20 PM

@ Bruce
I agree with you and applaud your consistent level-headed-ness when address these topics. It is our reaction that counts, without a doubt. The purpose of terrorism seems to be two-fold:

1) Instill fear in the citizenry to cause irrational behavior and unbearable duress, which translates into pressure on their government and systemic disruption.

2) Push the government to clamp down on their own citizens and stumble while systemically responding to arbitrary threats, which in turn creates unrest and resentment towards that government by its citizens.

How many of our responses, as citizens, news outlets, and governing bodies, have fed into these goals? How many have paid off? Is the trade-off worth it?

I’m always concerned when we’re encouraged to play detective at the airport or train station and announce “anything suspicious”, particularly when most of us are half-informed by repetitive and incomplete news coverage. When was the last time a terrorist plot was thwarted by an untrained citizen properly identifying a concealed bomb or a would-be terrorist? Citizens seem to be most effective at stopping terrorists after they announce their presence, rather than before.

Kevin McGrath August 28, 2006 3:00 PM

The beat goes on! 🙁

WASHINGTON, Aug 28 (Reuters) – A US Airways (LCC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) flight en route to Houston from Philadelphia was diverted to Bristol, Tennessee, on Monday after a bomb threat was found in a note on board, officials said.

The plane landed at the Tri-Cities Airport, which serves eastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina, and the passengers were being questioned by the FBI after leaving the plane, a Transportation Security Administration official said.

“It’s a Philadelphia to Houston flight that was diverted to TRI, which is Tri Cities Airport in Tennessee, due to a threatening note,” the TSA spokesperson said.

“The flight has now landed without incident.”

A US Airways spokeswoman said flight 3441, a US Airways Express flight operated by Republic Airways (RJET.O: Quote, Profile, Research), landed shortly after taking off at 10:10 a.m. EDT (1410 GMT).

“There was a potential threat of a bomb,” she said.

She said 52 passengers and three crew members were on board the plane.

An airport official told Reuters there had been a bomb threat.

It is the latest in a series of scares since police in Britain uncovered a suspected plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners this month. Since then security has been tightened at airports and passengers have been jittery.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Read The Book August 28, 2006 4:55 PM

@HistoryDude, Jungsonn, et al:
Go to http://www.gutenberg.org/, find the book the current crop of terrorists cite as the source of their authority to kill us, the Koran, and actually read it. It is an average size book, so it doesn’t take all that long to read. Pay special attention to Sura 9.

Then read a history that covers Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa between 600 and 1700. Keep a map of the region handy as you read the history book. Tell us all about who conquered whom and when. I think you will be surprised when you see who the aggressors actually were/are.

Your conclusions are as faulty as their foundation.

@Bruce: Yes; govermental over-reaction is wasteful and harmful. Is it, however, as harmful as under-reaction might be at the present?

Yes; changing our lives because of terrorists cedes them some measure of victory. But, terrorism does not exist for itself. It is a tool. The currently predominant stripe of terrorist wants to impose on us one of the three outcomes spelled out in the Koran:
1. We all convert to Islam
2. Those who do not convert pay a tax for the privilege of practicing whatever religion they choose and submit to Muslim rule in all its particulars
3. Those of us who do neither of the above are to die.

The result is the same if we try the contest and fail or just avoid all the hassle and contentiousness of the struggle and accede to their demands without a fight.

@AMajid – I have 2 questions
1. What – exactly – are you saying?
2. Are you serious?

Nightmage August 28, 2006 7:05 PM

Thank you for publishing your story, “Refuse to be Terrorized” (Aug, 24, 2006 Wired News). Your words echo what I have been telling all my friends for some time now. As long as we continue to react out of fear and not act on facts, we will be at a disadvantage to the small number of terrorists truly out there.

matware August 29, 2006 9:01 AM

It feels great to add the 9876th comment, but perhaps someone will read my quiet shout into the darkness.

First off, great article, I’ve been doing the same ‘scare’ and it makes me laugh. I’m thinking of making a T-Shirt that says “Quick, shoot her, she’s got hand cream!”

Secondly, as for the association of the terms terrorist and Islamic. I encourage people to take the Google challenge and find the names three terrorist groups that are not Islamic. I’ll start you guys off and give you a couple of hints, Spain, Ireland. By associating a religious/ethnic group with your fear, you are being sensitised to fear by your government. Take the time to look at how the Nazis built fear and hatred towards the Jews in the 1930s.

Third, I’d guess that most terrorist groups aren’t out to terrorise you (as an end goal). I can’t imagine that a 16 year old kid living in a smashed house on the West Bank, with Hep B, no running water and a sick little sister would gives stuff about your flight being delayed for an hour.
I’m guessing that he will go out and blow him self up because he is:
a. powerless to act;
b. has lost all hope;
c. trying to improve the lives of his friends and family;
d. really, really angry and wanting to exact revenge against people who has made his life a living hell.

And last but not least, England & Ireland are working were proof of how to deal with terror, you just have to not jump at shadows (not announcing bomb threats until after the event) and empower the victimised people. Most radicals make really bad statesmen, and if they good statesmen (another hint, South Africa, Cuba) then they know the blessing of peace blessing when it comes.

Oops, almost forgot, I’d have a lot more time for Americans talking about groups wanting to rule the world if their hands weren’t so bloody with them doing/attempting that in so many places (historically Chile, Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, Cuba and Panama or recently Afghanistan and Iraq)

srp August 29, 2006 2:40 PM

I read the op-ed about the need to avoid overreaction in security and I am in broad agreement that many of the point-defense measures currently employed at airports are more “scarecrow security” than truly protective measures. I also agree that many of these do not pass the cost/benefit test and that stoicism in the face of terror is probably a good idea. A few points trouble me, however:

1) Before 9/11, we basically took the approach you advocate by treating terrorism as just another form of criminality. We shrugged off the first WTC bombing rather than go to battle stations. At the time, I favored this approach. It was good because it minimized security costs, but bad because it encouraged the enemy to ramp up his efforts. If a truck-bomb explosion didn’t get a rise out of us, and didn’t result in drastic counteraction, then the incentive for al Qaeda was to up the ante. They did.

The risk of terrorist action is not the product of a series of independent trials generated by a random device; it comes from the intentional actions of a highly motivated and moderately resourceful enemy. Hence, attempts to compare the risks of dying in a terror incident to the risks of dying in a car crash are misleading. Failure to take precautions against terror attacks increases the gross probability of these attacks, not just the net probability of their success.

2) I also at one time thought that the enemy would switch to bombing our numerous soft targets in the face of post-9/11 air security measures. This hasn’t happened. Maybe our police and intelligence are infiltrating cells and intercepting plots successfully, but I suspect that al Qaeda’s failure to blow up our malls, theaters, universities, etc. is due to their own perceived objectives and constraints. There is a reason they keep coming back to the air transport system.

They have trouble recruiting operators capable of moving through the US successfully, which means they want to make any plot here count. They also need to garner media attention, which means greater and greater sensationalism (or more time between strikes). Truck bombings would seem like a step back from 9/11, even if they killed a lot of people. And constant random killings would lead to an automatic adjustment of public psychology toward stoicism simply through habituation. Thus, al Qaeda needs progressively increasing spectaculars, and jet aircraft full of fuel and hostages/victims are far and away the best targets under these constraints.

3) Random rather than targeted passenger searches, as you suggest, do comport with the idea that we are playing against a strategic opponent rather than nature; if we declare some category of passenger “safe,” the bad guys will naturally move heaven and earth to recruit someone in that category. But random search does not mean equally probable search. An optimal mixed strategy against the terrorists would oversample Middle-Eastern men in the 17-40 age range and undersample grandma from Minnesota. You don’t want to let grandma off entirely, but the greater cost and difficulty for the enemy of recruiting grandma-type terrorists implies that it is not optimal to search them as intensively.

A better question is why we use such statistical procedures at all, rather than questioning people more closely as the Israelis do. While I understand that the vastly greater scale of the US air transport system makes thorough vetting of the El-Al variety impractical, I also think that even if it were feasible Americans would be leery of it. We’re willing to put up with a lot of inconvenience if it seems bureaucratic and impersonal, but if it feels like the arbitrary imposition of authority, Americans tend to get hives. (Michel Crozier’s The Bureaucratic Phenomenon makes this point about American vs. French attitudes to authority very well.) Therefore I think we are doomed to use algorithms rather than human judgment in this area, which means that the optimal mixed-strategy idea mentioned previously is the best we can do.

Stevie Nichts August 30, 2006 10:40 AM

Mr. Schneier decries the false alarms and “scare stories” which not only “increase the level of fear, but… waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security.”

He’s right. The best way to solve these problems would be to prevent would-be terrorists from boarding. And the most effective means of doing so, as the Israelis have shown, is to combine a watchful eye for bombs and weapons with the time-tested and effective tool of passenger profiling.

Effective profiling is not based on ethnicity or religion, but on passengers’ behavior. Jeff Jacoby describes security at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport (http://tinyurl.com/fmgxm):

“Israeli airport security, much of it invisible to the untrained eye, begins before passengers even enter the terminal. Officials constantly monitor behavior, alert to clues that may hint at danger: bulky clothing, say, or a nervous manner. Profilers — that’s what they’re called — make a point of interviewing travelers, sometimes at length. They probe, as one profiling supervisor told CBS, for ‘anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit.’ …Only when the profiler is satisfied that a passenger poses no risk is he or she allowed to proceed to the check-in counter. By that point, there is no need to make him remove his shoes, or to confiscate his bottle of water.”

The question is whether civil-liberties advocates will get behind the idea.

Anonymous August 31, 2006 1:13 PM

@srp: If a truck-bomb explosion didn’t get a rise out of us, and didn’t result in drastic counteraction, then the incentive for al Qaeda was to up the ante.

And what’s the appropriate counteraction? Ban liquids in airplanes? Declare war on Iraq? I think that 9/11 identified issues with our intelligence. Bruce is still on the money on this point that overreaction creates more intelligence risks by diverting resources away from it.

@srp: I also at one time thought that the enemy would switch to bombing our numerous soft targets in the face of post-9/11 air security measures. This hasn’t happened.

And before the WTC bombing, there were no Al-Qaeda attacks in the US. Just because nothing has happened after 9/11 doesn’t mean that our airport security measures are working. What it does mean, though, is that this uncertainty doesn’t come cheap.

@srp: An optimal mixed strategy against the terrorists would oversample Middle-Eastern men in the 17-40 age range and undersample grandma from Minnesota.

Note to potential terrorists: try looking more like a grandma from Minnesota. What’s optimal about that?

Iang September 5, 2006 2:41 PM

The point of terrorism is to cause terror…

I’d like to correct an error in the above. Although you reach the right conclusion, you reach it for the wrong reasons.

The point of terrorism is to create a message. In this sense, it is theatre, and it is aimed at creating a spectacle for the audience.

The mistake is in assuming that the audience is “us” or the terrorised. It is not. The audience is the terrorist’s own people, their homeland as it were. The terrorist cares not at all to what happens to the enemy, he is only interested in how the message comes across to his own people.

The mission of the terrorist is to create the homeland security base from which to launch the next phase (c.f., Che Guevara, On Guerilla Warfare.) To reach the next phase, the terrorist needs to secure the support of the populace in which he operates. This means moving from a ratbag bunch of radicals to a movement with a common enemy; the movement only happens when the homeland decides to throw their lot in with the terrorist. Then, the terrorist becomes the guerilla (different phase, different strategy).

Hence, the message that the terrorist needs to be put out to the homeland is that he is an effective defender of the homeland; more effective than any alternative. In this sense, the more message, the better. The more terror the better, and the more over-reaction by the common enemy, the better.

Your conclusion that “we need to stop being terrorised” is therefore correct — but more precisely, we need the media to stop carrying the terrorists’ message back to their homeland. People might have noticed that during and after the London bombings of last year, that’s what the media did — play it down, play it calm. Life goes on, it’s happened before. That’s because the Brit security services have learnt long and hard that this is how you fight terrorists.

( Another conclusion is also needed: handing the terrorist the “war on terror” is a gift of inestimable value. An enemy that recognises the terrorist as a defender of the people does so in a way that the terrorist could never do — the recognition and approval by the enemy is the greatest accolade. By validating the terrorists as the enemy of the people’s enemy, they immediately add credibility to the terrorists’ role as defender of the homeland. No terrorist could ever seriously hope for such a gift, but as you say, they’re laughing now. )

Randall September 5, 2006 8:38 PM

“The point of terrorism is to create a message.”

No, the immediate point of terrorism is to cause terror. The point of the terror is to create a message. Or more specifically, the point of the terror is to create a state of mind in which certain messages will be interpreted in certain intended ways.

Bruce’s basic point is that if we refuse to be terrorized, then the message won’t be interpreted the way the terrorists intend.

I agree with you on spectacle and theatre, though. I hadn’t thought of it before, but Aristotle’s “Poetics” is surprisingly apropos in understanding the situation. Or see “Computers as Theatre”.

Dogg September 7, 2006 5:58 AM

One thing this all misses, are the millions of jobs worldwide, in all manner of security, private and public. Surely there is a lot of “make work” or justify one’s existence in a lot of all this, or am I just cynical. Same with governments, and political parties who see extensive capital in even greater “security”. Each incident is exploited ruthlessly for every ounce of political capital capable of being extracted. Same with rightwing media (think Foxnews talking heads) and their relentless hammering. I see it all the time in microcosm as well as the macro stage. Where once we had a doorman, then a “bouncer” we now have “security.” Security moves in as soon as the regular police abate or vacate. Liquor laws, smoking laws, traffic control, first response to violence at venues, on and on like an unstoppable octopus or juggernaut. So every time I see another “terrorist” incident, I look to see whose job is made even safer, whose contract becomes even more firmer, whose political stocks benefit. And besides, an unattended bag! We go into overdrive. Adrenalin junkies live!

AN September 15, 2006 9:14 AM

The term “terrorist” is a name that the West has applied to the perpetrators of these violent crimes. Applying this name to them does not allow us to define their intentions by that name, however. If you were to ask them what their goal is, they would not reply, “We want to terrorize all of the West…” They would reply that they want to kill as many “infidels” as possible, and that it is the killing of the “infidel” that is their goal. They want to undermine the “infidel’s” entire society and government. From everything I have read about these extremists, they are not so much interested in creating terror but they are very interested in body counts.

Beyond that, I think they do have at least a few other motives. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that the “martyr syndrome” is something they suffer from – if they didn’t have a cause worth dying for they would create one out of thin air, and that is what they are doing every day. If one could get a private interview with bin Laden and ask him, “Mr. Laden. What is it you are asking the world for? What could we give you that would cause you to cease all violent acts and simply reply to the world, ‘thank you, I’ll stop now.’?” I think his answer would be some tangled mix of complete annihilation of Israel and getting the infidels completely out of their holy lands. But I don’t think he would say his goal is to terrorize.

Kurt Killichly September 15, 2006 10:00 AM

I just wanted to thank you for your well-reasoned lead article in the 15 Sept edition of Crypto-Gram. I had been associated with both physical security (security guard, private investigator, and reserve police officer) as well as “cyber security” (systems and network administrator) for several years, and so appreciate someone who has an understanding of both the theory as well as practice of security. It would be wonderful if those who profit from hysteria (both the “terrorists” as well as the politicians and war profiteers) could be calmed by your practicality. I doubt, however, that they would choose to listen.

Please, nevertheless, continue with your commentary. Perhaps more will be willing to pay attention.

Jeff Siegel September 15, 2006 11:29 AM

I’d like to offer one short anecdote that relates to the story, “What the Terrorists Want.” I believe this really touches on an important issue. My daughter, age 15, participated in August’s Presidential Classroom activities (www.presidentialclassroom.org). Her shuttle flight from Washington, D.C. back to New York was during the same time the London “terror plot” that supposedly was going to use liquid explosives. Though she was warned what not to carry on to the plane, she had forgotten to remove a bottle of very expensive lotion from her pocketbook. Of course, the lotion was confiscated. I have two particular issues with this event. One, how was security enhanced by confiscating the lotion of a 15 year old girl. (Of course it was not but when I phrase it that way…people I say it to suddenly stop and think). Second, and to me most important, in what ways is our government unnecessarily terrifying children? My daughter was 10 years old on 9/11…a very impressionable age…and now this lotion (by the way, it was a birthday present and expensive) is just taken away from her (she was quite upset that there was no provision for her to retrieve it at a later time). That is, she’s already assumed guilty. I wonder how all our terror alerts, etc., will affect the generation of children now growing up.

dm_inside_the_box September 15, 2006 12:30 PM

The agenda of political leaders hasn’t been addressed………

Great article, but I have one point that I think is missed in “What the Terrorists Want”.

There is also a dynamic by which our own politicians are cultivating terror to move forward with their own political agendas which in some cases predate 9/11. e.g., it’s been reported that many parts of the Patriot Act had been on the table since well before 9/11.

So as far a the cultivation of terror goes, our (us American’s) problem is perhaps more the agendas of our political leadership and less the agendas of the terrorists.

For me it always comes down to the question “Evil or Stupid?” — in this case applied to our own political leadership. It’s almost always some combination of these two motivations. But I don’t believe that it’s all “Stupid???.

casbahj September 15, 2006 1:14 PM

One other point is that as people panic and point fingers at innocent people, many of whom are muslim, they reinforce the stereotype that North Americans, Britons, etc are prejudice against them and persecute them, thus giving the terrorist additional ammunition in their recruiting drive. Thus a rather vicious circle is continued and driven forward.

404'd September 15, 2006 4:49 PM

I wanted to comment on the notes about the proposed synthesis of TATP in an airplane.

Some of the cited article claim the synthetic route to TATP on board a plane state it would be very difficult or impossible. I was interested to see some of the people cited in some of the articles, including some of whom I am familiar with, dismissing the likelihood of synthesis in the absence of a “proper” lab. Having been involved in the (federally approved) manufacture and testing of this compound, I think I would be one of the few to voice dissent: I think it could be done.

While not calling it particularly likely (I think the whole dust-up is a joke), and not being able to comment on any specifics because of the work I did years ago, frankly I think it could be done. Were it not for the exceptionally hazardous nature of the compound in question, I’d be able to demonstrate everything from picking up the raw materials- including strong hydrogen peroxide- at retail stores, synthesis, coarse filtration, and disposal. I am well past the stage in my life where I’m willing to take these sorts of risks, making explosives and all that.

Anyway- I generally agree with Bruce that the whole mess is a mess and that the threat is very low at best, but based on my experience- which includes substantial interest on the part of the FAA almost ten years ago to test the contents of bottles going on board planes- the whole problem is messier than it sounds.

Mark Gottschalk September 15, 2006 6:10 PM

I find it ironic that the British — whose police and tactics appear to be even more zealous and fearful than those here in the States — fought terrorism so wonderfully in WWII. The German air campaign to terrorize the public failed largely because of the British public’s renowned poise and character in the face of unnerving events.

Just recently there was a piece on the History Channel (or Military Channel, or …) about the blitz. Much of it was a re-creation of the experiences of two American reporters in London. In one scene, with the city in flames and bombs raining down, they entered a posh London hotel where men were sitting calmly smoking pipes, talking quietly, and reading the paper. The British simply refused to allow civility to be terrorized out of them. In the face of that resolve, the German terror campaign ultimately failed.

Contrast that with New Orleans’ rapid disintegration of civility and descent into chaos brought about by hurricane Katrina. I don’t see that it would differ much from the response to a large-scale terrorist action, as remote as one might be. You are correct, terror is winning here.

One aspect you don’t touch on is that for some businesses and organizations — media, security companies, police departments wanting funding — terror can be beneficial. TV news is now almost universally entertainment, not news, and the stations have an interest in selling sensationalism to the public. People stare, fascinated or horrified, at fearful events. They watch; watching means viewership; viewership means advertisers; advertisers mean profits.

There is an obvious conflict there between doing what would be best for the country and what is best for the bottom line. State run media doesn’t have this problem, but instead you get propaganda and distortion for political reasons — which I find even more threatening. At the extreme it becomes comical, such as the infamous Iraqi communications minister who was seen on TV declaring that US troops were nowhere near Baghdad, even though you could see an American tank rolling by in the background.

I know that a start would be for the administration in power to adopt some real backbone and poise themselves. They act like they are being tough and proud, but instead they come across like a police cruiser rolling randomly through suburban neighborhoods broadcasting over the public address system the message, “do not panic; there is nothing to be afraid of; remain calm; go about your normal business.” It’s not just a matter of saying “don’t be afraid”, how it is said matters too.

That’s where we are today, with idiotic red/orange/yellow threat alerts and breaking news broadcasts of “suspicious looking” people on airplanes who are completely harmless.

You know all this, of course. The issue is, in the face of these various conflicts of interest, how do we get the country to adopt even just a bit more old-fashioned British-type stoicism? Pointing out the problem is a start – and I thank you for that — but how do we get the government, the media, etc to see this as an end result that will favor their other profit or political agendas?

Bruce, thanks for your insightful “What the Terrorists Want” commentary. Spot on.

Clive Robinson September 15, 2006 10:13 PM

@Mark Gottschalk

“The British simply refused to allow civility to be terrorized out of them”

There where a number of reasons why WWII terror tactics did not realy work.

First off WWI was still quite recent for most people so the rela horror of trench warefare gasing etc was still very much in the collective memory.

Secondly most men irespective of their age had had military training with active combat so they where used to being under fire.

Thirdly (and I hate to say it) the class system was still very very much in place. The upper classes no matter how scared would not show it in public (stiff upper lip and education at private schools etc) and the middle and working classes would not like to be lloked down on so likewise would appear stoic in public.

Forthly it also had a lot to do with peoles expectations in life. which ever way you look at it life for the lower classes in Britain pre-WWII was very hard there where few comforts over and above a roof and coal for a fire (no running water or indoor sanitation, health or welfare benifits).

It was WWII that effectivly destroyed the class system (although it is a very long time dying) and life for the majority of people of working age or younger is not that hard and “serving your country” a thing of the long past for the majority.

That is not to say that poverty is still not rife in Britain it is, it’s just that we have raised the bar somewhat on what poverty is these days. For one of the wealthiest nations in the world we have a very very high cost of living and comparitivly low wages for the majority. So little in fact that in large areas of the country it is not possible for people to afford non subsidised accomidation.

Terror is after all a matter of a persons outlook, and your outlook is based on your life experiences. In reality you are more likley to die of a so called freek accident than you are of a Terrorist attack. But Terror makes good political sound bites, sells newspapers, and is great to push technology at, and as we all know “the squeekiest wheel gets the oil” first.

Also Political parties make money out of Terror, they spend lots of tax on technology, and award the contracts to companies with a high profile to the polititions via subsidising political confrences, and directors giving loans to political parties. So the wheel is given cause to go around and squeek more loudly…

Anonymous September 16, 2006 10:42 AM

Since the Americans started keeping statistics on terrorism in the
1960s, more people have been killed by lightning or by accidents
with deer… [1] No, I’m not very jumpy…

Perhaps when you’re sitting with the policy makers, trying to give them
sensible advice, you can suggest that they lock up all the deer they can
find in guantanamo bay.

You, as an intelligent and rational scientist, should be able to see
through this game, which is to consolidate power by frightening the
population and removing their rights. And yet you still advise the
policy makers as if their questions were serious, and you still frame
the debate as “what the terrorists want” when you talk to the public.

Very disappointed…

[1] http://michaelperelman.wordpress.com/2006/08/18/be-afraid-very-afraid/

Kurt September 17, 2006 9:38 AM

Nice essay. I’m so frustrated with what’s happened to liberal democracy. The administration and their supporters are making a ton of money on the wars, security theater, and they’ll make a great deal more as they scale up oil production. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex becoming too powerful more than 40 years ago. Organizations like the TSA (and DHS, FEMA, CIA,etc) are created and never go away even if everyone outside were to agree the agency adds little value because law enforcement organizations become self-perpetuating. If the terror were to subside the TSA will redefine its mission to ensure its ongoing survival. I’m not saying that all of these agencies should be abolished, but there are a lot of US federal agencies that long ago reached a point where they are no longer worth their expense.

Another key point: many political leaders have used fear to gain and retain power. The current administration is an amazingly blunt example, I’m surprised that its taking America so long to figure out what’s going on and what sorts of countermeasures are more sensible. I don’t think Senator McCarthy’s run lasted 5 years, but there are a lot of 20th century examples of leaders in other countries who used terror to stay in control for many years. I wonder what new plots will be uncovered and when the threat level will be raised between now and November.

Griffyn September 17, 2006 9:34 PM

“we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want”.

I’m glad someone knows what ‘terrorists’ want – I guess you asked them?

The politicians and the media are the ones that began using the word ‘terrorist’, and the tag ‘war on terror’. Has anyone sat down with Bin Laden and asked him what his long-term goals are? It’s highly presumptious to say that of the people who blow up airplanes, their goal is to cause terror to the survivors. And I’m sure that the ‘terrorists’ don’t use that word to describe themselves. Heck, they probably call themselves soldiers, or killers.

Are you sure it’s not just about killing people they hate?

I’m not a violent person, but I’m pretty sure that if I hated a religious group or country enough to do something violent about it, then killing all of them would be my goal.

Understanding the enemy is the key to defeating the enemy. Let’s not get sidetracked with definitions and phrases.

Anonymous October 15, 2006 12:25 AM

This is what George Soros thinks about the War on Terror – let’s home that more and more people start thinking the same way…

A Self-Defeating War by Geoge Soros

The war on terror is a false metaphor that has led to counterproductive and self-defeating policies. Five years after 9/11, a misleading figure of speech applied literally has unleashed a real war fought on several fronts — Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia — a war that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and enraged millions around the world. Yet al Qaeda has not been subdued; a plot that could have claimed more victims than 9/11 has just been foiled by the vigilance of British intelligence.

Unfortunately, the “war on terror” metaphor was uncritically accepted by the American public as the obvious response to 9/11. It is now widely admitted that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder. But the war on terror remains the frame into which American policy has to fit. Most Democratic politicians subscribe to it for fear of being tagged as weak on defense.

What makes the war on terror self-defeating?

First, war by its very nature creates innocent victims. A war waged against terrorists is even more likely to claim innocent victims because terrorists tend to keep their whereabouts hidden. The deaths, injuries and humiliation of civilians generate rage and resentment among their families and communities that in turn serves to build support for terrorists.

Second, terrorism is an abstraction. It lumps together all political movements that use terrorist tactics. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi army in Iraq are very different forces, but President Bush’s global war on terror prevents us from differentiating between them and dealing with them accordingly. It inhibits much-needed negotiations with Iran and Syria because they are states that support terrorist groups.

Third, the war on terror emphasizes military action while most territorial conflicts require political solutions. And, as the British have shown, al Qaeda is best dealt with by good intelligence. The war on terror increases the terrorist threat and makes the task of the intelligence agencies more difficult. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large; we need to focus on finding them, and preventing attacks like the one foiled in England.

Fourth, the war on terror drives a wedge between “us” and “them.” We are innocent victims. They are perpetrators. But we fail to notice that we also become perpetrators in the process; the rest of the world, however, does notice. That is how such a wide gap has arisen between America and much of the world.

Taken together, these four factors ensure that the war on terror cannot be won. An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money. Most importantly, it has diverted attention from other urgent tasks that require American leadership, such as finishing the job we so correctly began in Afghanistan, addressing the looming global energy crisis, and dealing with nuclear proliferation.

With American influence at low ebb, the world is in danger of sliding into a vicious circle of escalating violence. We can escape it only if we Americans repudiate the war on terror as a false metaphor. If we persevere on the wrong course, the situation will continue to deteriorate. It is not our will that is being tested, but our understanding of reality. It is painful to admit that our current predicaments are brought about by our own misconceptions. However, not admitting it is bound to prove even more painful in the long run. The strength of an open society lies in its ability to recognize and correct its mistakes. This is the test that confronts us.

Jess October 23, 2006 2:58 AM

<Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists.
Well said Bruce, there is no use panicking when something looks suspicious there is a very small chance it will be anything to worry about.


Amy November 5, 2006 7:01 PM

Dear Mr. Schneier,
I am sixteen and the world around me is changing. With so much evil, so much fear and so much hate being provoked amongst society. It’s good to know at least some one understands and can give answers to questions. It appears that society has become weaker, but we have found new strengths to stand up with and fight. I don’t agree with the War in Iraq, I don’t agree with air port raids and body searches, which I feel are not necessary and often just add to the uncertainty of things. But I agree with you: we are letting them win. We already have so many problems that need fixing; it’s hard to know where to start. But posts on the internet, like yours, are making a difference.
Although you haven’t stopped the terror and fear, you haven’t stopped the worry and lost. You have made some sense of what feels to be a complete circle of destruction.
Have a nice day, Mr. Schneier.
From Amy, Australia.

Vince December 2, 2006 9:42 PM

I agree with what you have to say on fighting terrorism Bruce. The people of all terrorized countries need to stay strong and confident to stay on top of this war on terrorism. I also believe that the media is blowing terrorism out of proportion and people need to understand that this difficult situation can and will be handled just like many others. If the terrorized countries want to end this war, then they need to create a structured system to find vital information against the terrorists and attack their weak spots. Because once when we start hitting the terrorists hard, they will have to focus on defending and concentrate less on attacking.

Steve Summit December 18, 2006 10:26 AM

I only just came across this column. This is an extremely important message, that needs to be said again and again. I urge people to do whatever they can to spread this message widely.

“Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage… basically what’s happening right now.”

Just so.

“Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare… that [nobody] engaged in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids… and that the press didn’t write about it endlessly.”

Bruce concluded that in that case, the terrorists would have truly failed. But there’s a completely different, equally important conclusion: imagine that all those fear-elevating things had (somehow) not happened, and ask yourself: Would we have been any less safe?

By not being afraid, by not raising a huge, tendentious alarum, would we have left ourselves dangerously and foolishly vulnerable to the next 23 terrorists, who have not been arrested yet? Or would we have been precisely as safe, blissfully but appropriately ignorant of yet another vanishingly low-probability threat?

Think A Bit January 22, 2007 12:57 PM

“I am not saying that the politicians and press are terrorists, or that they share any of the blame for terrorist attacks. I’m not that stupid.”

Are you sure about that?

a terrorist March 14, 2007 7:12 PM

The War on Terror is a smoke screen behind which the US conducts its desperate but highly profitable energy war.

Those we should fear most are those who control the US armed forces and their clandestine counterparts, the most powerful and dangerous terrorists in the world.

south park rocks March 19, 2007 5:50 PM

I think that this is really well said:The real point of terrorism is not the act itself,but our reaction to the act.

Anthony April 23, 2007 8:49 PM

If all humans are not living in a life of fear, something is terribly wrong. God is before us. Let’s give these bastards something they don’t want, imprisonment or excecution.

Cody Smith May 9, 2007 2:34 PM

Dear Website makers
I am from Layton High school your web page has inspired me! I love you with a great deal of passion.

Weston Marsden May 15, 2007 9:56 AM

thank you for letting people know of what the terrorists want, people at my school dont understand.

Quibble July 16, 2007 9:54 AM

Interesting article. My only quibble would be that although the aim of terrorism is to terrorize, it is generally in support of some aim, rather than being an end in itself. This point was made by Mr Schneier in another article.

Carl G. Looney August 17, 2007 5:41 PM

Fear is natural, especially when faced with injury or death. Politicians HAVE BEEN SAYING to NOT be afraid and to go on with life AS USUAL – where does this nut get his ranting untruths. We ARE fighting terrorism with intelligence, but that won’t solve the problem although it undoubtedly has prevented some incidents. Terrorist leaders are NOT stupid and are devious so as to fool and lead astray from their true aims and acts. Eventually, mad dogs must be tracked down and destroyed – an unpleasant fact of life.

Dimus October 15, 2007 9:57 PM

Everything in this article is right. But let’s do the next step. Terrorism is not a movement or kind of ideology, it is simply a method or tactics of war. We (US) are not fighting the war with terrorism, but with some forces that use terrorism is a weapon. Normally terror is used by the weak party of the conflict. Let’s try to uncover who is this party is, what do they want and whom(or what) do they consider their enemy. Interesting to note that nobody took responsibility for 9/11, we still have circumstantial evidence that it was Bin Laden and Co. Normal terrorists like Hamas are proud to claim their responsibility for such act, sometimes there are few organizations that make false statements about their involvment, but it’s not the case in 9/11.
Before we answer these questions we have no chance to win any war – in Iraq, Afganistan, etc. simply because we don’t know (or afraid ) to tell whom we are fighting. To tell that we fighting Terrorism is the same stupidity as to claim that in the WWII US and allies were fighting german tanks and cannons. At that time they used these weapons.
Another point is that terror works only against liberal or so-called democratic regimes. This only because such regimes are unable to use adequate tactics. History knows many examples of succesful eradication of terrorism by counterterror: Germans successfully
fought partisans during WWII, but measures were pretty dirty. Few years ago Chechen rebels seized Soviet cruise ship in Istanbul and made some demands to the russian government. Turks at that moment were inclined to help russians, thus, they arrested few dozens of family members of the chechen terrorists and promptly put them in jail. Next day the ship and all tourists were free. Eventually terrorists had a sufficient imagination or maybe experience of the conditions in turkish prisons.
So let’s talk about what do they want and who are they.

Deric T. Shaw October 25, 2007 5:43 PM

The article made a lot of good points. One of the truest is that terrorism done to cause terror. That is why it is the horrible violence is called terrorism. I don’t know how many people today are still frightened about what happened on 9/11 in New York and Pennsylvania or are still too afraid to get aboard an airplane, but we, the public, are constantly reminded by politicians and the media of what happened that horrible day. The perpetrators of 9/11 have got to be extremely proud of themselves for what they accomplished on that day, and for the panic that not only hit the United States, but the Western world altogether. Six years later and it is still a big topic of discussion. Supposedly, we are safer today and more ready for an attack or an attempted attack. Even if that is true,(and it can be up for debate), we have paid a great price by less privacy, more government intrusion, going through torute at the airport, a big change with what’s important in our lives, and, some would argue, a erosion of civil liberties.

With these changes and inconveniences in the way we live nowadays because of terrorism, the terrorist probably think that they have the upper hand because they have at least partially accomplished what they set out to do and that was to make people scared to get on airplanes or go to areas where many people gather, to always have them and their tactics in the back of our minds, to engage America in wars in the Middle East, and to force the United Sates and other countries spend billions and billons of dollars trying to fight or even stop terrorism. This is what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan. The terrorist are using this as a model against the U.S.

We need to stop giving the terrorist so much attention for their crimes and their potental threat to us. We also should stop spending so much money trying to prevent terrorist acts. We can stop everything, and how can we be certain that Homeland Security and the TSA have stopped actual terrorist attacks that would have killed many people? True, many so-called plots have been thawrted, but making grandma strip and looking at your library records seems to me to be a little nutty. We have to protect ourselves and money has to be spent on that, but I think we have gone too far overboard; almost to a panic mindset. And that was exactly what the terrorist wanted!

shelleybear November 21, 2007 9:43 AM

Now see here! Before we go running about, killing people, we’d better make damned sure of our facts.
A riot is an ugly thing… and once you get one started — there’s little chance of stopping it short of bloodshed.

"Groans" of disappointment from assorted Villagers.

               So the first thing we'll do, is  march calmly up to the Frankenstein

castle and have a nice little chat
with our good doctor. Now then!
Who doesn’t have a torch and a dog?
All right — follow me!

Tom December 19, 2007 4:02 AM

Some folk here thoughtfully disagree with Mr. Schneier; some folk here thoughtfully agree with Mr. Schneier; they move the discussion in useful ways. Some folk here throw static into the discussion, and they are part of the problem.
I wonder from some of the comments if they actually read Mr. Schneier’s essay, or if they wanted to spout a screed for own inner reasons.

CaliforniaKim January 15, 2008 6:57 AM

I am not afraid of terrorists and I think we should use the same tact on them I use on my 4 year old — when they misbehave, ignore the bad behavior and only reward the good.
I am MUCH more worried about a cell phone using driver slamming into my car than a terrorist.

truth hurts February 1, 2008 9:19 PM

People are beginning to realize that time is running out for saving the planet.
 It seems as though WWIII has begun 

and I think it is being conducted by US and other large corportions competing for power and resources.Our US government is now mostly a tool for these corps and our millitary is being used as a weapon.
Our country was supposed to be a beacon of light for the world in standing up for basic human rights ,instead we have become the worst violators .We have become “the greatest terrorist”.
This nightmare will continue and grow all over the world unless ,,,only if the people of america reclaim their government from the powerful greedy corporations and their minions,our politicians.We sit back and watch this “war on terror”repeat itself day after day after day,its just a big smokescreen a shadow game being played as our attention is diverted from the hijacking of our goverments original purpose “liberty and justice “.
What is life worth living for if we dont live for truth,,,we will never defeat the tribesmen who live in the mountains of Afghanistan,or the millions of young men in the middle east who are willing to die for their countries some who may have nothing left to lose,,,What madness are we being led into????It is pure madness !!!
I tell you we have very little time left to save our selves from ourselves, and that go’s the same for every country who still has the ability to stand up and speakout against the real oppressors, who are the corporations who run the world.IF we keep trying to hide from this reality We will find ourselves lost in this “war against terrorism”.We can win only if we stand for truth and justice,,,Impeach Bush and Cheney now and forever!!!

K.C 817 April 4, 2008 7:46 AM

i think this article is right i mean the terroists probably would have stopped by now if we didnt make such a big deal out of each and every thing that happened

sw June 19, 2008 10:47 AM

Terrorists think they scare us but they don’t, because we know that they haven’t got one real brain amongst the lot of em. SW

sw June 19, 2008 10:47 AM

Terrorists think they scare us but they don’t, because we know that they haven’t got one real brain amongst the lot of em. SW

Elizabeth November 17, 2008 11:41 AM

The theory behind terrorism and not givin g them attention fir that is what they seek seems to be a reasonable one however is that going to play out. Take for example a kid who wants your attention first he starts calling your name and you dont respond then he moves unto jumping on the couch and escalates to throwing things etc. The point is if it is attention they want they will find a way to do so whether we give them the attention or not in the beginning. This article is so true we cannot fight with terror and be spending our wealth of a false alarms. Well hopefully things will get better.who knows.

josh April 14, 2009 8:11 AM

i agree with you 100%, but as for me and the rest of the people that live in Israel, we always have to be alert, because even though most arabs are not bad, theres always a chance for something! And we always have to live in fear!! no one understands that… not even the american goverment!!

anonymous May 14, 2010 6:20 PM

Why do they create terror ? The basis for that ( I am not asking what they want)?

Kennedy Ray MkCathode February 16, 2011 7:10 AM

I won’t ever know how to thank yall, but this internet blobby ma jig will help me get an A++ in my social science and history class I’m taking and the university of houston. I’m 58 years old, and never though i would ever get into univestity. I have worked at the blue bell ice cream factory right down here in good ol texas in amarica for the past 28 years. Now all of a sudden some 30 year old executive b$$ch, squeuez my friench.. the company i work for is going to revoke my retirement if i don’t get the credentials required for my position at the plant. If i would have known that, i would have keep my old job drilling, and mining my own business. I only have 2 years left to get the full retierment. I’m a firm believer in you get what you give… hell.. live and let live. it could be a lot worse… any one of use could die in a terrorist attack at any givin moment. yeah you might probably have a higher chance of getting killied in iran, or oklahoma city or new york. but i’m not worried about no terrorists…. i think they are weak and a bunch of pussies. it’s the terrorists kids you have to worry about… they’ll strap them up with tnmt, and the little girls with plastic exposes and blow up the people at a shopping mall or pedestrians walking throught the street at lunch or something. blows my mind. i should of strapped explosives on my son a long time ago… hell, he thinks he’s the vigina terrorist. when i was your ages you could beat your kid enough that he would want to suicide bomb himself… or at least me that is. now kids will have tough texas laywers that have their bars n all, and you’ll end up having to pay more money when you’re trying to make a living. people think terrorists bomb the world trade just for pure terrorism… i think there was another reason. i bet some military americans hurt innocent arabs at one time.. now their kids are so pissed they never lived it up. they end up killing your kids kids. anyway it’s not my job to save the world, I am a student now continuing education. I’ll start with saving my retierment or else i’ll be working at the ice cream factory for the rest of my life. Am I allowed to cite your citations for my homework? I won’t no how to pay you, but, i can get any one a cold bear at NICs sports bar. looks like i’m going to be hanging out here at the one close to campus quite often. they’ve got free wireless internet so i can do my homework.. they don’t have internet where i live yet.

Thara December 20, 2015 6:45 AM

Very well said. Terrorism is very rare. Bankrupting terrorism is just not possible. Plus you’re far more likely to perish in a car accident of some sort.

The fear of terrorism is exaggerated by right wing politicians to scare Americans. But it doesn’t work on me or my family either.

Gerard van Vooren February 26, 2016 7:12 PM

@ Brian,

The terrorists want to kill us.

Wrong. What the majority of the terrorists want is attention. If you want a more detailed answer, first you have to define who the terrorists are. There are many groups, all with different goals. And second you have to define “us”.

Flying is an unnatural act that should stop.

Driving a car is unnatural as well. We are doing lots of unnatural things today.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.