9/11 Made us Safer?
There’s an essay on the Computerworld website that claims I implied, and believe, so:
OK, so strictly-speaking, he doesn’t use those exact words, but the implication is certainly clear. In a discussion about why there aren’t more terrorist attacks, he argues that ‘minor’ terrorist plots like the Times Square car bomb are counter-productive for terrorist groups, because “9/11 upped the stakes.”
This comes from an essay of mine that discusses why there have been so few terrorist attacks since 9/11. There’s the primary reason—there aren’t very many terrorists out there—and the secondary reason: terrorist attacks are harder to pull off than popular culture leads people to believe. What he’s talking about above is the tertiary reason: terrorist attacks have a secondary purpose of impressing supporters back home, and 9/11 has upped the stakes in what a flashy terrorist attack is supposed to look like.
From there to 9/11 making us safer is quite a leap, and not one that I expected anyone to make. Certainly a series of events, before, during, and after 9/11, contributed to an environment in which a particular group of terrorists found low-budget terrorist attacks less useful—and I suppose by extension we might be safer because of it. But you’d also have to factor in the risks associated with increased police powers, the NSA spying on all of us without warrants, and the increased disregard for the law we’ve seen out of the U.S. government since 9/11. And even so, that’s a far cry from claiming causality that 9/11 made us safer.
Not that any of this really matters. Compared to the real risks in the world, the risk of terrorism is so small that it’s not worth a lot of worry. As John Mueller pointed out, the risks of terrorism “are similar to the risks of using home appliances (200 deaths per year in the United States) or of commercial aviation (103 deaths per year).”
EDITED TO ADD (5/10): A response from Computerworld.