Terrorism in the U.S. Since 9/11

John Mueller and his students analyze the 33 cases of attempted [EDITED TO ADD: Islamic extremist] terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11. So few of them are actually real, and so many of them were created or otherwise facilitated by law enforcement.

The death toll of all these is fourteen: thirteen at Ft. Hood and one in Little Rock. I think it's fair to add to this the 2002 incident at Los Angeles Airport where a lone gunman killed two people at the El Al ticket counter, so that's sixteen deaths in the U.S. to terrorism in the past ten years.

Given the credible estimate that we've spent $1 trillion on anti-terrorism security (this does not include our many foreign wars), that's $62.5 billion per life [EDITED: lost]. Is there any other risk that we are even remotely as crazy about?

Note that everyone who died was shot with a gun. No Islamic extremist has been able to successfully detonate a bomb in the U.S. in the past ten years, not even a Molotov cocktail. (In the U.K. there has only been one successful terrorist bombing in the last ten years; the 2005 London Underground attacks.) And almost all of the 33 incidents (34 if you add LAX) have been lone actors, with no ties to al Qaeda.

I remember the government fear mongering after 9/11. How there were hundreds of sleeper cells in the U.S. How terrorism would become the new normal unless we implemented all sorts of Draconian security measures. You'd think that -- if this were even remotely true -- we would have seen more attempted terrorism in the U.S. over the past decade.

And I think arguments like "the government has secretly stopped lots of plots" don't hold any water. Just look at the list, and remember how the Bush administration would hype even the most tenuous terrorist incident. Stoking fear was the policy. If the government stopped any other plots, they would have made as much of a big deal of them as they did of these 33 incidents.

EDITED TO ADD (8/26): According to the State Department's recent report, fifteen American private citizens died in terrorist attacks in 2010: thirteen in Afghanistan and one each in Iraq and Uganda. Worldwide, 13,186 people died from terrorism in 2010. These numbers pale even in comparison to things that aren't very risky.

Here's data on incidents from 1970 to 2004. And here's Nate Silver with data showing that the 1970s and 1980s were more dangerous with respect to airplane terrorism than the 2000s.

Also, look at Table 3 on page 16. The risk of dying in the U.S. from terrorism is substantially less than the risk of drowning in your bathtub, the risk of a home appliance killing you, or the risk of dying in an accident caused by a deer. Remember that more people die every month in automobile crashes than died in 9/11.

EDITED TO ADD (8/26): Looking over the incidents again, some of them would make pretty good movie plots. The point of my "movie-plot threat" phrase is not that terrorist attacks are never like that, but that concentrating defensive resources against them is pointless because 1) there are too many of them and 2) it is too easy for the terrorists to change tactics or targets.

EDITED TO ADD (9/1): As was pointed out here, I accidentally typed "lives saved" when I meant to type "lives lost." I corrected that, above. We generally have a regulatory safety goal of $1 - $10M per life saved. In order for the $100B we have spent per year on counterterrorism to be worth it, it would need to have saved 10,000 lives per year.

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 6:26 AM • 57 Comments

Comments

MarkAugust 26, 2011 7:50 AM

Conspicuous omissions:


  • July 4, 2002: lone wolf attack on El Al counter at LAX. Two killed, four wounded. Since the shooter was also killed, there was no arrest.

  • July 28, 2006: lone wolf attack on Seattle Jewish Federation. One killed, five wounded. The shooter was convicted in a state court.

Maybe these weren't considered "cases of terrorism" because there weren't federal criminal charges brought in response to either incident. Shooting a military recruiter is a federal crime; shooting a Jewish civilian is a state crime.

Trichinosis USAAugust 26, 2011 8:08 AM

Indeed.... *starting* with 9/11. Hey, it worked once, right? Why not stick with the formula that works?

We need a new, impartial scientific investigation now.

BobAugust 26, 2011 9:19 AM

Hysteria may be way overblown, but I don't know that this analysis really means anything. How many cases of attempted terrorism were there between the 1993 WTC bombing and the Sept 11, 2001 attacks? Besides the angry lone wolf Islamists out there, the people behind both elaborate attacks have been on the defensive since 9/11 and their resources heavily depleted.

GmfarfolAugust 26, 2011 9:22 AM

You also don't know how many were prevented. With so many countries now working together to thwart terrorists, most of the info is classified. I don't believe for a moment that those are the only incidents. I believe that MANY more have been stopped.I personally think the cost is worth it!

BenAugust 26, 2011 9:37 AM

Actually, it's $62.5 billion per life lost, not saved. To determine the per life saved figure, you would need to know how many lives would have been lost if all the plans had been carried out, and then subtract the number of lives that were actually lost.

Drew HerrickAugust 26, 2011 9:38 AM

Mark-

We had a limited number of people in the class so we unfortunately were only able to cover those 33 cases (time constraints, accessibility of information, etc.).

I'd also recommend reading the introduction on case selection for further information.

Best,

Drew

cmwaldenAugust 26, 2011 9:44 AM

This is a tough one, because it's hard to prove a negative. Here, we've examined the instances of terrorism that were not prevented, where the system failed. I have heard of a few instances where terrorism was prevented, but it is usually a prelude to a more stringent security measure. "We almost didn't catch the underwear bomber, so we need more underwear scrutiny."

It may be that the measures are extremely effective and that terrorism is actively prevented every day, but we just don't hear about the successes. It might also be the case of having a banana in your ear to keep away alligators.
"Why do you have that banana in your ear?"
"To keep away the alligators."
"But there are no alligators here."
"See! It's working!"

FrankAugust 26, 2011 9:44 AM

Any guessing about what might have been stopped behind the scenes is exactly this: guesswork. Anyone can guess in whatever direction he preferes. Still, I think western governments should be held responsible and provide evidence to their citizens if investing all this money and restricting citizen rights at this extent provided any tangible benefit worth the damage done. And I havent seen anything remotely looking so. Therefore, our governments have failed, should take responsibility for the damage and then step back to make room for a fresh start.

Jonathan SandoeAugust 26, 2011 9:46 AM

The study concerned Islamic Terrorism against the US wherever in the world not "terrorism in the US". Non-islamic terrorism is uncounted and probably more deadly, but then the focus of the trillion dollars has been Islamic terrorism, so your point holds.

ChristopherAugust 26, 2011 9:54 AM

So... how do we rollback all of the kneejerk initiatives instituted after 9/11, up to and including DHS creation and repealing all of the Patriot Act? Or is that it, we're stuck with this retarded way of life for eternity?

Bruce SchneierAugust 26, 2011 10:14 AM

"Actually, it's $62.5 billion per life lost, not saved. To determine the per life saved figure, you would need to know how many lives would have been lost if all the plans had been carried out, and then subtract the number of lives that were actually lost."

Good point.

I think it's fair to say that almost all of the plans would not have been carried out. Some of them were just plain stupid. Others required substantial FBI help to get as far as they did.

But yes, it would make more sense to add some number of lives to that total.

Bruce SchneierAugust 26, 2011 10:15 AM

"It may be that the measures are extremely effective and that terrorism is actively prevented every day, but we just don't hear about the successes."

It may be. I doubt it, though.

Bruce SchneierAugust 26, 2011 10:17 AM

"So... how do we rollback all of the kneejerk initiatives instituted after 9/11, up to and including DHS creation and repealing all of the Patriot Act? Or is that it, we're stuck with this retarded way of life for eternity?"

I think we're stuck with it for a generation.

Jeff WegersonAugust 26, 2011 10:18 AM

Why are you holding that widget?

To keep elephants away.

I don't see any elephants.

See, it's working.

JoeAugust 26, 2011 10:18 AM

@Ben - I was thinking the same thing.

The US population is estimated at 312,072,881. Minus 16 is 312,072,865, giving a mere $3,204.38 per person unkilled by terrorists! A bargain - wouldn't you pay a mere $3,200 to save your child, your wife, from a senseless, explosive death? Act now, this bargain basement price won't last long!*

*Yes, this is meant in jest and should not be taken seriously. However, I think this figure is as misleading as the 62.5 billion for the purposes of highlighting the outrageous expense vs the minimal benefit post 9/11 security theater has provided.

grumpyAugust 26, 2011 10:27 AM

A month ago the worst terrorist attack so far in Scandinavia (and in top 5 for Europe) was carried out by a lone gunman. Why he bothered with the car bomb at all I'll never fathom. Mumbai - handcrafted terrorism using guns and grenades. We have single-point security and just as soon as the bad guys discover that we're going to see more events like this. And don't start on "Oh if they'd all just been armed he would've been stopped" - that'll only make sure that we'll have many more casualties every year from accidents alone than any attack so far has managed to produce.

I can't see how trillions of dollars of expenditure can stop single gunmen. Even the bodyguards of every head of state in the world fear lone gunmen and they're supposed to be best-of-breed...

ironauAugust 26, 2011 10:35 AM

The number figures are highly misrepresentative, but what sticks out to me is that all of the deaths since 9/11 have been lone wolf attacks. Lone wolves are very hard to detect and stop. It is very likely that with pre 9/11 funding those same attacks would have succeed and cause the same body count. With tripple the post 9/11 spending the body count is likely to still have been exactlly the same.

Ultimately I think this is Bruces point we haven't demonstrated any increased security for the increase in cost.

SAugust 26, 2011 10:50 AM

The linked article refers only to Islamic extremist terrorism. It may help if you added that to the title/first couple of lines of your post.

I was certainly confused at first, for example the statement

"In the U.K. there has only been one successful terrorist bombing in the last ten years; the 2005 London Underground attacks."

is only true if we limit ourselves to Islamic extremism.

Although perhaps a minor nitpick, I think it's especially sloppy of you to omit that detail, in light of the furore surrounding the events in Norway, the media's rush to attribute them to al-Qaeda (although per Europol statistics that was always the less likely option), and - most relevantly - the fact that once the media found out he was white, he was no longer referred to as a terrorist, despite still being one.

Terrorism is wider than 'Islamic extremist terrorism', and I'd expect you to acknowledge that Bruce.

gooberdeluxeAugust 26, 2011 10:55 AM

One silly thing was all the possible terrorist plots mentioned immediately after 9-11. One of the better ones was where the terrorist would force poison into the water system with a higher pressure on their kitchen faucet. Panic! Be afraid! Spend a trillion dollars! If we see the US collapse, it will be from economic mismanagement, not terrorist attacks.

Anonymous 1August 26, 2011 10:55 AM

Ben: Even a pessimistic estimate would probably only be ten times more deaths (that would assume all the plots stopped were real and would have had a death rate about the same as the terrorist attacks which actually happened).

Still gives about six billion per life saved, by comparison some of the radiation protection regulations are estimated at costing over a billion dollars per life saved but I can't think of anywhere else where that kind of money gets spent saving lives.

Of course then you get into the fact that the money could have been better used for other things which could have saved many more lives (or improved many others).

DavidAugust 26, 2011 11:27 AM

Adding some more numbers to the "lives saved vs lives lost" thing...

Assuming each and every one of those threats, without any government interference, would have produced an event on the scale of 9/11 (a hugely exaggerated assumption, but let's get an upper bound) -

$1 trillion / (14 * 3000)

gives just under $24 million. Per some quick googling, that's more than triple the value the EPA puts on a human life (says http://orlando.injuryboard.com/defective-and-dangerous-products/what-is-the-dollar-value-of-human-life-oh-yes-it-is-calculated.aspx) and (says the same source) wrongful death awards are typically lower still.

Clearly an overreaction even with these exaggerated numbers.

JeffAugust 26, 2011 11:33 AM

Lisa: "By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away."

Homer: "Hmm; how does it work?"

Lisa: "It doesn’t work; it’s just a stupid rock!"

Homer: "Uh-huh."

Lisa: "… but I don’t see any tigers around, do you?"

Homer: "Lisa, I want to buy your rock…"

MikeAAugust 26, 2011 11:53 AM

@grumpy:
Why he bothered with the car bomb at all I'll never fathom.

Not being inside his head, I don't know, but my first guess was "to create the sort of situation where a person in a police uniform could show up unannounced, gain access to a large crowd, and start shooting them, counting on confusion to delay response". He may have been crazy, but not stupid.

BeckyAugust 26, 2011 11:57 AM

While Mueller's paper specifies "Islamic extremist terrorism", your synopsis of his paper does not. That's an important detail, as I think the shooting at Giffords' town hall meeting can be classified as terrorism. (Likewise, there have been documented cases of arson at Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.) Without that detail, at a glance the analysis looks incomplete.

AutolykosAugust 26, 2011 12:47 PM

@Breivik's car bomb:
Terrorism is all about show and symbols. Killing lots of people isn't actually the goal, it's just a side-effect.
Detonating the bomb in the government district just showed that he can attack everywhere (plus the point with the strategically exploitable panic reactions).
That's probably also the reason why terrorists attack planes so often - there is a lot of security theater concerning them, so attacking them is a good way to show off your capabilities and humiliate the guys implementing all that security (also, airlines often are national symbols).
If you actually look at the early attacks by the RAF, they usually didn't kill anyone, or at least not on purpose - and they still were quite effective. As soon as they started to kill people, they lost sympathies and started to dissolve.

David AkAugust 26, 2011 12:54 PM

I don't understand how the Ft. Hood incident can be considered terrorism any more than the Columbine incident could be considered terrorism. Doesn't the very definition of terrorism require there be some organisational principle behind the act?

Brandioch ConnerAugust 26, 2011 1:01 PM

The problem with "how many attacks were prevented" is that there is no reason why the terrorists would not strike at a different target.

So the TSA makes airport attacks too difficult ... wouldn't the terrorists strike at a mall or hospital or school or whatever?

That "logic" depends upon a "terrorist" completely forsaking "terrorism" if his first target is too difficult for him to even TRY to attack it.

The extreme vulnerability of various potential targets has been discussed here for years. Also the ease of getting the equipment needed to attack those targets.

Yet NONE of that happens.
The reason is because there are almost no terrorists operating in the USofA.

ModeratorAugust 26, 2011 1:04 PM

PoBCBTbF, you can link to security news stories in the weekly squid post; please don't put them in other threads.

NZAugust 26, 2011 1:14 PM

@grumpy
Even a lone driver can be nasty. And a kitchen knife is deadly in capable hands. In an average living room there are 1,242 objects Chuck Norris could use to kill you, including the room itself.

We cannot have LEOs everywhere...

@gooberdeluxe
Technically speaking, the Soviet Union wasn't defeated in a war.

DanielAugust 26, 2011 1:20 PM

I have several thoughts on this. The first is, as several people pointed out, you can't prove a negative. It comes down to a question of trust. Someone somewhere is always going to insist that the reason Bad Thing X didn't happen was because of their Behavior Y. All one can do is disprove it by having Bad Thing X actually happen, at which point they will claim that that the reason Bad Thing X happened was because there wasn't enough of Behavior Y until the Soviet Union collapses under it's own weight. (oh, wait.)

My second thought is that Bruce is exactly right (see, I don't always disagree with you). It's primarily a generational problem.

So lets look at this issue through a generation lens. I predicted some major event was going to happen back in the 1990s, well before 9/11. I honestly didn't know WHAT was going to happen but I knew something would. The reason? The rising popularity of the SUV among middle-class suburban Americans, especially white women. I had an acquaintance who was a car dealer and I never will forget his puzzlement at why these women where buying what had always been a rural macho truck. "What are they afraid of?" he asked me. I didn't know then. I think I know now.

I personally believe that most of the hysteria around terrorism is just that, hysteria (look at the history of the word.) I don't think it is any coincidence that the SUV/terrorism shtick happened right at the same time that most American women born in the 1950s (the heart of the Boomer generation) were going through menopause. From Woodstock to Viagra, the Boomers have always been a generation that put sex front and center in public life. I think they reacted with a great deal of angst and fear to the diminished /loss of their procreative powers to which TERRORISM gave an outlet. Some analysts have said that Bush was American's first macho president. Not shocking at all that the Boomers would choose that time period in their generation to elect a macho president.

Some will say this logic is sexist and it is. I think it's a mistake to underestimate the power of such primal forces in political/cultural life.

Bill DietrichAugust 26, 2011 1:28 PM

How about the incidents we didn't prevent ? Underwear bomber, Times Square bomber, maybe another I can't name right now, all got to where they planned to be and set off their bombs. The bombs fizzled, and that's the only thing that saved us. All of our money spent failed us.

CombaticusAugust 26, 2011 1:45 PM

And almost all of the 33 incidents (34 if you add LAX) have been either lone actors, with no ties to al Qaeda."

...or what?

I remember back at the government fear mongering after 9/11.

Hwuuhh? Did you mean that you remember the government's fear mongering?

GreenSquirrelAugust 26, 2011 2:53 PM

@S

""In the U.K. there has only been one successful terrorist bombing in the last ten years; the 2005 London Underground attacks."
is only true if we limit ourselves to Islamic extremism."

What other terrorist groups have had a successful bombing in the UK since 2002?

SAugust 26, 2011 3:38 PM

@ GreenSquirrel: think Northern Ireland. A policeman was killed by a car bomb about four or five months ago, as I'm sure you'll recall. (think I'm correct in saying you're a fellow right-pondian?)

I'm sure there have been further incidents in NI over the past decade, but I'm on a phone so chasing references down would be quite laborious right now.

Brandioch ConnerAugust 26, 2011 4:39 PM

@Bruce
"The risk of dying in the U.S. from terrorism is substantially less than the risk of drowning in your bathtub, the risk of a home appliance killing you, or the risk of dying in an accident caused by a deer."

If you live in the USofA, you are more likely to be killed by someone in your own family than by a terrorist.

Clive RobinsonAugust 26, 2011 5:09 PM

@ cmwalden,

"It may be that the measures are extremely effective and that terrorism is actively effective and that terrorism is actively prevented every day, but we just don't hear about the successes."

& @Bruce,

"It may be. I doubt it, though"

If you look back you will find the UK had some on going terrorist cases under surveillance and passed the intel on to the US as the cases progressed.

However the US jumped the gun and blew the gaff to the press on a number of occassions. And in atleast two cases compleatly compromised the investigations.

Unlike the US the UK particularly London was an international hub for disidents and others who found that staying alive in London was easier than anywhere else due to the liberal attitude of the UK Government (and the covert protection given).

The down side is that in almost any barrel of apples there will be one or more rotten ones in amongst the good. The various UK LE&intel organisations in the UK had a fairly good idea who some if not the majority of the bad apples were and kept tabs on them and their contacts (and yes we had quite a few realy rotten types wandering about).

The problem was the US Gov releasing info tothe US Press realy realy mucked up things.

The result many have assumed the gross compromise of the opperations by the US was to grab at any straw to keep "the war on terror" afloat...

bcsAugust 26, 2011 5:36 PM

The number I like to quote is that on 9/11/01, terrorism was the #1 cause of death in the US. For 9/11 and 9/12 combined; it was heart disease.

If we had a 9/11 every month, it would be about as common a cause of death as suicide.

mcbAugust 26, 2011 11:21 PM

The LAX El Al attack might be regarded as a lone wolf act of terrorism, but Hadayet's claimed motivation was Palestinian grievances against Israel, not Islamist extremism. Mueller also notes "He was also, however, a failing businessman and deeply depressed because his wife had abandoned him, taking their children with her."

The Ft. Hood shootings are a wobbler; it has many indicators of a workplace violence mass murder. One might even argue that the trillion dollars spent fighting the GWOT contributed to Hasan's disturbed ideation (I hate it when shrinks go crazy).

I agree the anthrax murders were terrorism, though almost certainly domestic, and to what end we may never know. It does not seem that any of the two trillion spent domestically or internationally on the GWOT would have prevented them.

I've only skimmed portions of the anthology but this seems to be a nice piece of work by Mueller and his students.

Kerry VeenstraAugust 27, 2011 12:04 AM

I don't think we have statistically significant data to support this analysis, but here it is anyway: Ten years ago, 3000 people were killed. Over the next ten years we see 16 people killed. Then (ignoring any other deaths in the decade prior to 9/11) that's 2984 lives. So the cost per life saved is $1,000,000,000,000 / 2984 = $335 million.

ImipakAugust 27, 2011 7:32 AM

Excellent analysis of European terrorism statistics over the last decade: http://www.dangardner.ca/index.php/articles/item/90-remember-that-eurabian-civil-war
(source data: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload/TE-SAT%202010.pdf )

(tl;dr: Islamic terrorism makes up a tiny fraction of the whole.) There has actually been another successful recent terrorist bombing in London: David Copeland, the neo-fascist nailbomber, who managed to kill three people. This was just over a decade ago -- before 9/11. I actually heard one of his bombs go off, after spending three years as a student in Northern Ireland without witnessing a thing.

NZAugust 29, 2011 2:20 PM

@Brandioch Conner
AFAIK that chances are pretty high anywhere. Well, unless you are in middle of a civil war.

MindbuilderSeptember 2, 2011 7:21 PM

If the trillion dollars had been spent more cleverly so that only one person had been killed, then it would have been 1 trillion spent per person killed. That would be a better performance. So a high number for this statistic is not necessarily bad.

But that misses the point anyway. The real concerns are chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and either world war 4 or the takeover of the world by Islam. The last decade's casualty counts are nothing in comparison to the future potential. A lot of people recognized the anti-freedom threat of Islam and terrorists with CBN before, but now a lot more voters realize it.

Andrew RiddleSeptember 2, 2011 7:29 PM

While I agree in general that our attitude to terrorism has been excessively fearful, your calculations are pretty dodgy. If the US were as soft a target over the last ten years as it was on September 10, 2001, then the prospects of success for any attack would be much higher, and so the attackers would be less likely to be unstable individuals like the El Al and Fort Hood shooters and more likely to be motivated and calculated individuals like KSM and Mohamed Atta. The fact is that over ten years when the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan lent massive motivation and ideological currency to Islamic extremism, there was no significant increase in terrorist attacks on US soil as would have been expected. This is the sort of quantification of human behaviour you need to be a pretty good economist to come up with useful numbers on (which I'm not).

Edward P GibsonSeptember 7, 2011 4:00 AM

Once again Bruce has wandered off into territory in which he knowest not. Given his hypothesis it would be equally righteous to presume that no one needs anti malware, anti spam, firewalls, or even advice from .... Bruce...regarding the state of cyber, encryption, or anything else when most companies state (erroneously) they've not ever been compromised. Surely, as an expert in this field Bruce would find those claims to be not true (and rightly so because he's 'been there'). I would be equally nuts to claim expertise in these areas.

Yet, are we to presume an expertise in one niche field necessarily bestows expertise in another completely unrelated field? Yes Bruce, one always finds it difficult to prove a negative. But if it were not necessary, and proper, then we surely need not try to defend infrastructures against attack because: (to borrow your phrase)" ... concentrating defensive resources against them is pointless because 1) there are too many of them and 2) it is too easy for the terrorists to change tactics or targets."

Stick to what you know Bruce just as other experts stick to what they know.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 7, 2011 7:05 AM

@ Edward P. Gibson,

"Once again Bruce has wandered off into territory in which he knowest not."

What a curious opening statment.

The implication is you are a regular reader, but it has taken you such a long time to post so perhaps you are not such a regular reader, or even an occasional reader at all?

Further you make out that you have more knowledge on the subject matter in hand and that you are "such an expert" that you can make the bold statment "wandered off into territory he knowest not".

Perhaps you would care to provide your credentials and expertise for either the field of endevor being discussed or some other related field of endeavor which enables you to display what you consider such meaningfull insight?

Or will you make a series of unprovable claims such as "need to know" which as many of us know is the usual tactic of a scoundrel upon being challenged, and also a rather silly tactic some government employees use to try and gull others they consider less sophisticated than themselves such as politicians sitting on appropriations commities.

Perhaps we should ask Bruce to check if your IP address comes from a government agency?

Also please don't make the sort of argument the Defence Dept and their related contractors make about defence spending. The only thing you ever know about defence spending is that if and when attacked it was either to little or not in the right place. All you can realy state is what you think it would cost to attack a fully known target, or what you think it would cost to defend against a credible attack from a fully known enemy. Neither of which applies to terrorists as you of course being such an expert would know.

Your second sentance is also of some considerable interest. You state,

"Given his hypothesis it would be equally righteous to presume that no one needs anti malware, anti spam, firewalls, or even advice from ..."

But the only thing close to a hypotheses Bruce offers on this page is,

"The point of my "movie-plot threat phrase is not that terrorist attacks are never like that, but that concentrating defensive resources against them is pointless because 1) there are too many of them and 2) it is too easy for the terrorists to change tactics or targets."

What he is doing is gathering together the credible evidence (not the incredible evidence of "if you only knew what I know") available for deaths and costs and making the best comparison from the evidence and presenting it to the readers for comment (which is a not unreasonable thing to do seeing the extrodinary costs involved)

So, perhaps you would care to explain which unstated hypothersis you read into the available facts he has presented to make your argument?

But I guess you won't because your wording is such that your are to quote another "trying to put squirrels in peoples heads".

I won't continue with addressing the rest of your post untill you have addressed my questions because I consider that a reasonable person should be given a reasonable right of reply when their statments have as yours have been called into question.

Josh M.September 7, 2011 2:28 PM

This is a very short rebuttal to Schneier's argument but the Bush Admin. when active, set the blueprints for counter terrorism around the world. Do I agree with the amount of money invested in our foreign wars? No. But I do understand the mindset to protect from terrorist activity. *Sigh* If only there was a way to make both left and right wings happy.

Cliff TyllickSeptember 24, 2011 3:19 PM

A couple of points about math:

Bruce, in your 9/1 correction, you gave a single number for number of lives we would need to save each year to justify spending $100B per year on antiterrorism efforts, but that's based on a regulatory goal that is itself a range — a way of stating a ballpark figure. To be fair, your calculated number of lives saved needs to also be a range. And that would be 10,000 to 100,000 lives per year.

As for everyone quibbling about the $62.5B spent per life lost, you're right: that's the wrong number to examine. Because what we are seeing is the residual terrorism left over after all other plots have been foiled. So let's look at it this way: What percentage of terrorist-caused deaths do we think we're failing to stop?

If the 16 lives lost represent half of all the deaths from terrorist acts that would have occurred without our antiterrorist programs, then the cost per life saved is… $62.5B. Because if another 16 people would have died without our antiterrorist activities, we saved 16 lives by spending that money. Another way to state this assumption is to say we're assuming our success rate was 50 percent.

But what if our efforts saved 10 times that many lives? If 160 people would have died without our efforts, then we're spending $6.25B per life saved, and our success rate was 91 percent. And so on.

To get in the ballpark of $1–10M per life saved, our success rate of stopping deaths due to all forms of terrorism in the U.S. would have to be something like 99.99 to 99.999 percent.

Which means that, if we foiled all but 34 acts of terrorism, we foiled a total of somewhere upwards of 340,000 acts of terrorism.

That's roughly 100 acts foiled a day every day for 10 years. And in that time, we've heard of prosecutions for only a handful.

Don't you think we would have heard of a few more?

And don't you think that Guantanamo Bay would be pretty crowded?

I'm with Bruce. Highly skeptical.

TimrepMarch 8, 2012 8:39 AM

As stated by Benjamin Netanyahu a terrorist assassination attpmt was prevented less than a month ago. It was in the US, in Washington DC. Are you saying the money wasnt worth the lives saved?

Clive RobinsonMarch 8, 2012 12:39 PM

@ Timrep,

As stated by Benjamin Netanyahu a terrorist assassination attpmt was prevented less than a month ago. It was in the US, in Washington DC Are you saying the money wasnt worth the lives saved

Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician with a very very strong political bias and a monkey on his back dur to Israels current political position.

As we know from GWBush and Tony Blair, it's very easy to invent a whole specter of WMD and terrorism that did not exist and still largely does not.

We know that the US would quote from the UK's dodgy dossier and vice-versa in a directed spiral that was staged managed to appear to lend credability to claims that tthe man on the ground (Hans Blix) knew to be untrue and had publicaly stated so.

We have reason to believe that the FBI are creating conspiracies using under cover agents and we know this to definatly be the case in the UK. In the US it appears to be in order to show there is domestic terrorism which appart from these cases seeam entirely absent.

So you can see why there is considerable and well justified scepticism and thus we need a lot more details other than a "self interested politician" said something for probably his own political benefit...

After all it's not as though an Israeli Premier has not told provable falsehoods on camera to the head of the UN about shots supposadly coming from a UN compound as an excuse for Israeli forces to attack the compound. The only real question being if he knew or beleived them to be untrue prior to saying them to the head of the UN and if not what action he took against those who had provided him with false information.

So if you have further details that might be verifiable then stick them up so we can check them out.

TommyJuly 16, 2012 12:46 AM

Wow. @ the response that "there were only a few of us in the class" and that this means there weren't enough resources for us to cover all of the other stories.

You know, when you don't know what you don't know, it is impossible to provide factual evidence to your central theme or point. Furthermore, the fact that you admitted that point but still try to justify your stance against spending on anti-terror measures just shows the intellectual ineptitude of your collective research team. I find it rather interesting that many comments in this thread allude to that very fact, but people continue to get on here and marvel at the idiocy of spending to save lives by implementing anti-terror legislation.

The point I am making is this: you cannot prove a negative, and according to your own theory, you can't even make the argument in the first place without an unknown amount of variable quantification that doesn't exist in the first place.

As somebody who knows the secrets that are I can say with utter certainty that governmental organizations and agencies around the world have thwarted many more plots than are public knowledge. They are classified for specific, varying, and strategic purposes, not the least of which is a tactical advantage in the fight against terrorism. It is not fear mongering, or whatever your limited collective intellect would term it. Subversion is real, and you all know that, but you don't hear about cases of subversion and espionage until such a time that it is considered tactically irrelevant to keep it a secret...but I don't hear any of you crying about the monies spent to prevent it or limit its damage. so, my question to all of you who, for God knows what reason, seem to want to repeal laws that are there to protect you because you don't agree with the policy makers. and remember that it is simple irrational logic that led you to your position in the first place. For example, you disagree with the Bush administration for the simple fact that somebody else told you that WMDs didn't ever get found in Iraq, but you never asked those people to quantify that position. The point is you don't know that this often referenced point of view is true or false. you simply believe it to be true based on what you were told. what if it wasn't true, and could be proved wrong? I already know your answer(s)....well why wouldn't they want to tell us so they could clear the air? because sometimes, and for very good reason, the benefit isn't in sharing that information, but in keeping it hidden. This applies to all sorts of logic and reasoning, but you all seem too eager to stick to this one argument for a political reason, thus making you as hypocritical as those you continue to term hypocritical.

Think about it.

Clive RobinsonJuly 16, 2012 7:29 AM

@ Tommy,

As somebody who knows the secrets that are I can say with utter certainty that governmenta organizations and agencies around the world have thwarted many more plots than are public knowledge.

That is the most meaningles self puff piece I've heard in a while. You cannot know what "secret plots" have been folied around the world because if they were as secret as you imply then most counties would not tell other countries. This is the silly "If you know what I know, but cann't tell you because I'd have to kill you!" argument taught in "Con-artist 101" and is most frequently seen performed by bureaucrats in search of money from appropriations commities.

It's also become clear from the few US domestic terror "plots" that have made it out into the public eye that the persons who supposadly mastermind the plots are not exactly the towering talents of interlect that might have the ability to make them work.

Back in the days of PIRA doing "UK Mainland" attacks the Met Police had six or seven cases a day of concerned citizens reporting people with Irish accents talking about odd things. You could call each and every one of those a "plot" if you wished to but they usually turned out to be the imaginings of "net curtain twitchers" hearing what they thought was an Irish accent (one of the more credible "plots" turned out to be two Scottish soldiers having a chat in a pub about a bassic skills training course).

So pardon me if I smell Male Bovine excrement about your "plot" comments I've been there before a number of times. But especialy where they have already been dealt with on this post.

For instance,

... you disagree with the Bush administration for the simple fact that somebody else told you that WMDs didn't ever get found in Iraq, but you never asked those people to quantify that position.

The fact that there were no weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq was well known by most experts in the field before Bush was elected.

Further it quickly became clear that all the reports of WMD were part of a document spiral that started on faulty assumptions over the Iran-Iraq war some years previously, that just kept going around and around with the US quoting the Brtish and the British quoting the US. Most of it got hovered up to became what was later known as the "dodgy dossier" and as such it's history included downloading a PhD Students thesis from the Internet and calling it a credible intelligence report... It had glaring innacuracies including the 45min attack time that just was not credible in any shape or form from publicaly known evidence (and the claim turned out in the fullness of time to be a load of cock-n-bull that it was originaly called ot to be, but the clique in 10 Downing St just pushed it out regardless).

One assumption on the Iraqi WMD was based on an old and bad press report on supposed "Iraq trying to buy uranium Yellow Cake" that had been thoroughly debunked by the more enquiring of investigative journalists some years before. And they had found a clear money trail leading back to the NSA through various exiled Iraqi persons and their associates selling stories and also bribing others to testify that it was true...

For political reasons nobody in the government agencies wanted to check the bonofidies of these Iraqi asylum seekers who were doing very nicely telling their tales...

So if you would like to come up with some verifiable facts please do so I for one would be interested to see them as I suspect many others would.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.