Sensible Comments about Terrorism

Two, at least:

Is this a new trend in common sense?

In case you forgot, here's a comprehensive list of ridiculous predictions about terrorist attacks (and an essay).

And here's the best data on U.S. terrorism deaths since 9/11.

Posted on July 9, 2012 at 12:36 PM • 41 Comments

Comments

keithJuly 9, 2012 1:35 PM

Reminds me of the famous "Ecstasy is less dangerous than alcohol". Some things are so true that they sound ridiculous and are widely mocked. You can bet some radio journalist is quoting that bee sting one to a British government minister, who responds by laughing smugly and explaining why we need reduced human rights laws.

Andy SJuly 9, 2012 1:42 PM

I don't know what's the most interesting thing here:


  • That more Americans are killed by falling furniture than by terrorist activity

  • That the US Government actually has a study entitled "Instability of Televisions, Furniture and Appliances"

  • That - according to said report - those killer appliances seem to be more discriminating than terrorists in that they appear to be targetting children


Random J. NerdJuly 9, 2012 2:29 PM

In the case of Clinton's 1990's prediction of a biological attack in 10 years, did prove to be true. (unless the prediction was qualified as a foreign attack).

BuruJuly 9, 2012 2:34 PM

Well, of course mosquitoes kills more humans than tigers, but if you correct the statistic by the probability of being exposed to mosquitoes rather than to tigers you can easily understand why it is easier to scare people yelling that there is a tiger in the room rather than a mosquito...

ronwJuly 9, 2012 2:43 PM

The person in the Dept. of Homeland Security designated to read your blog is now writing a memo recommending a study of possible uses of genetically modified bees by terrorists. Members of Congress will praise Secretary Napolitano for protecting us from grave threats. She might get a whole new Bureau out of the deal.

Kiaser ZohsayJuly 9, 2012 2:44 PM

Quoting from the predictions list:

2001 December
The United States is in retreat by the grace of God Almighty and economic attrition is continuing up to today. But it needs further blows. The young men need to seek out the nodes of the American economy and strike the enemy’s nodes.
Osama bin Laden
Quoted in Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press 2006), p. 290.

That explains it all! Thousands of Al Qaeda operatives entered the US and took out sub-prime mortgages, and then promptly defaulted, and disappeared into the night!

kz

Kevin CantuJuly 9, 2012 2:50 PM

@Buru: there are so few tigers in California that if somebody shouted a warning about a tiger, i would assume it was a joke and look for a little kitten, or a kid in a costume...

paranoia destroys yaJuly 9, 2012 3:10 PM

I already had the terrorism since 9/11 web page link bookmarked but wished the predictions link wasn't a PDF file.

I was corrected a while back about death by furniture that it is mostly children from TVs. A child was crushed by a gravestone last week.
Is there more information as to how many bee stings were fatal to adults?
The demographics should be similar when making any comparison.

kingsnakeJuly 9, 2012 4:18 PM

If the furniture is a sofa, it will be minted a "US ally". If the furniture is a futon, we'll bomb it back to the stone age ...

GweihirJuly 9, 2012 4:48 PM

Sadly, this will not help. The smart people have already found out that the "terrorist threat" does not apply to them in any real sense. The dumb ones will not be convinced by mere numbers and will continue to cower in fear.

BDJJuly 9, 2012 5:06 PM

The Atlantic needs to check their math.

Of 978 terrorism-related kidnapping last year, only three hostages were private U.S. citizens, or .003 percent.

That's 0.3%, not 0.003%. The same goes for the other statistic:

Of the 13,288 people killed by terrorist attacks last year, seventeen were private U.S. citizens, or .001 percent.

That's 0.1%, not 0.001%.

mikeJuly 9, 2012 6:28 PM

It seems to me that these statistics could be read two ways: Way 1 is that the threat of terrorism is (always has been?) greatly exaggerated. Way 2, which seems darker to me, is that the threat of terrorism is now very low _because_ of all of the extraordinary and expensive and civil-rights-encroaching measures that governments undertook post-9/11. IOW, the statistics could be used as justification both by those who want to relax anti-terror laws ("See? Nothing to worry about") and by those who want to keep, possibly expand, those laws ("See? All our efforts have paid off. We need even more to be even safer!")

Of course, I might be misreading both the stats and what the proposals are for reacting to them.

StartARumorJuly 9, 2012 9:36 PM

I am much likely to be affected by the actions of the DHS or the TSA then I am of Al Qaeda. I heard that in 2012, that the TSA shot 12 passengers while the terrorists shot 10 passengers.

Tim KeckJuly 9, 2012 9:42 PM

@StartARumor - Shouldn't that read "terrorists shot 22 passengers, 12 of the terrorists killings were by employees of the TSA"?

yodeling prionJuly 9, 2012 11:18 PM

I am afraid high-level terrorism is still more of a threat than ever. Unlike the directly violent and futile lower versions publicised for purposes of distraction, the more elegant variety hiding in the white*house is inflicting damage not even seen in wartime. Slow, creeping, unstoppable destruction.

I wonder how the US would be doing on the subject of human*rights if such things as prison population were factored in.

I also think that for many parents, given the choice of either flying with evil constitutionalists or explaining to their children why they are living in a cardboard box and eating at soupkitchens, they'd probably take their chances not only with evil constitutionalists, but a few brown extremists too.

Is it not truly time to reckon this age of paper terrorism? I doubt even nuclear weaponry could compete with the virulence of the insurgent pen.

ReaderJuly 10, 2012 2:15 AM

As far as the victim goes (the population that was subjected to fear propaganda): Too late. You cannot fight deliberately created irrational fear with statistics anymore. If this is directed at policymakers, it is just as useless as they are driven by an chosen agenda.

D0RJuly 10, 2012 3:44 AM

Bruce, it seems to me that you're missing the point here.
It's clear that we need to start a War on Bees. And a War on Furniture.

DCJuly 10, 2012 4:34 AM

Not only does Mueller have the field of common sense regarding terrorism practically all to himself, but he's pretty good at it and has had a lot of practice over the last decade. He was one of my favourite professors.

AntonJuly 10, 2012 6:00 AM

Ahhh.... It's the box. I spent fifteen years without television and I always had good command of my neurons.

Now the box has taken over and I get dragged into the manipulations of media... and sometimes I forget I have my own brain!

kingsnakeJuly 10, 2012 8:05 AM

I have personally experienced bees, and other insectal terrorists, seeking 27 virgins by jihading my car's windshield. I demand something be done!

BryanJuly 10, 2012 11:21 AM

@StartARumor: How did TSA shoot anyone? I was under the impression that even though they dress like police, they have no police powers and depend on the presence of local law enforcement to actually detain or arrest someone. I have never seen a TSA employee with a gun.

kingsnakeJuly 10, 2012 2:26 PM

I wouldn't trust a TSA "agent" with a gun. Though there would be the happy side benefit that they would be more likely to shoot themselves (accidentally) or their co-workers (postally) ...

Anonymous10July 10, 2012 9:53 PM

Bruce makes a good point that while many of the US's post 911 security measures were and are controversial, they are clearly effective. The articles he cites demonstrate that US has gotten vastly better value for its post 911 security spending than almost anyone would have predicted ten years ago.

SejanusJuly 11, 2012 7:32 AM

If terrorists and furniture united forces they could achieve so much more...

kingsnakeJuly 11, 2012 7:55 AM

Sejanus: Look at the NYT style section -- it's the furniture terrorist Al Jazeera!

TommyJuly 16, 2012 12:21 AM

I find it funny that an expert on security ... Schneier ... and a trusted writer on the psychology of/feeling of/reality of security continues to pose this same type of flawed criticism of the government in their spending habits without one credible, thought provoked statistical justification for his theory that terrorism is not a real threat.

What I find funnier are all the idiots who seem to want to create a parade of "wooooots, you go bruce..." you all sound JUST LIKE THE GOVERNMENT YOU ARE CRITICIZING. and hooray for the poster that corrected the conversion of .oo3 to .3% and .001 to .1% vs the idiots that wrote it calling them .003%/.001%. intellectual gods, they are.

Bruce, please, for the love of GOD, when you write an essay and claim that the government spends "tens of
billions of dollars per year (not even counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) on terrorism" (Schneier, 2008, p. 3) ... please provide sources, reference them, then quantify your argument. Until you actually do so, your umbrella argument is weak, to say the least.

May I suggest you stop using irrelevant facts about spending and "trade-offs" and comparing them to the goals of anti-terror legislation. despite what you think, or what all the other anti-anythingwedon'tagreewith idiots out there think, the fact is that every body blamed the govt for 9/11 crying about they didnt do enough to prevent it and now that they ARE preventing it, you all cry about your fu**ing civil liberties (which you haven't really lost, BTW) and poke fun at anybody who takes terrorism seriously. Just to let you know....all these other things you compare the spending on to terrorism don't have any relevant effect on the global markets. one isolated incident, depending on where and how gruesome it is, can destroy world markets and it destroys lives in the periphery amounting to MUCH MUCH more than just some interesting factoid with a dollar sign attached to it for effect.

wake up people.

References...

Schneier, B. (2008, Jan 1). The Psychology of Security. http://www.schneier.com/essay-155.html Retrieved from http://www.schneier.com/essay-155.html

IndyRobJuly 16, 2012 9:21 PM

Tommy, as far as the statement "...every body blamed the govt for 9/11..", while I remember a lot of talking heads and politicians saying that this should not have happened, there did not seem to be a general consensus that the government was responsible for the acts of these terrorists.

It does seem like a lot of politicians and police agency used these terrorist acts to justify tightening down on our freedoms to be secure in our papers and person. As far as civil liberties go, everyone travelling in the US has lost the ability to travel without providing a name, or passing federal oversight and approval. If you do not think that this is much of a loss, you obviously do not depend on commercial air for your travel.

As far as cost goes, consider the cost of the TSA and homeland security, if you calculate the cost of these two organizations as being less then 10 billion (including salaries and spending grants to the state and local governments), you need a new calculator.

My trouble with the actions of the TSA and homeland security is scope creep and these agencies being terrible at catching terrorists. For specifics, the TSA has a list of persons too dangerous to fly but they can't arrest them for some reason. The TSA does not limit their searches to weapons, but includes excessive cash, drugs, bootlegged dvds as reason to call local police. Having the TSA policy forbidding water, soda, or juice from being carried through checkpoints on the premise of theoretical explosive plot is unnecessary. Going through a virtual strip search along with being felt up by $9.00 per hour TSA agent is overkill. All of this is justified in the name of security.

And when I cheer people like Bruce or others for pointing out the absurdity of calling these over-the-top actions "security", I have people such as you saying that I do not take terrorism seriously. Of course I do. I think that weapons should not be allowed on planes, I just do not agree that any measures beyond secure cockpit doors and metal detectors are necessary or effective.

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