TCS Daily


Risk-Terrorism Analysis

By James H. Joyner - August 21, 2006 12:00 AM

Reason magazine science correspondent and TCS Daily contributor Ron Bailey argues that our fear of terrorist attacks is irrational, because you're more likely to die of a car accident, drowning, fire, or murder. He concludes that, "with risks this low there is no reason for us not to continue to live our lives as though terrorism doesn't matter -- because it doesn't really matter. We ultimately vanquish terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized."

He's right, of course. Then again, most of us already do that. Who among us isn't living our lives more-or-less normally, scarcely giving the possibility of getting killed by terrorists a thought?

Indeed, the only time I can recall being personally worried about terrorism was during the reign of the DC snipers, who were randomly murdering people at gas pumps in the two surrounding counties where I was living at the time. Even then, I lived my life normally but was more wary than I normally would have been when purchasing gasoline. Of course, that was a specific, publicized, plausible threat in effect over a very short period of time. Were Malvo and Muhammad still on the loose, I suspect that fear would have simply faded into the background long ago.

I react to the fear of being murdered, mugged, falling, and so forth in the same way. That is, my radar goes up if I'm walking through a "bad neighborhood" at night or hiking on the edge of a cliff or otherwise in a specific danger situation. Presumably, most people do the same thing.

From a public policy standpoint, however, I'm not sure what to make of Bailey's analysis. That the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are low does not mean that we should not try to prevent acts of terrorism, although it does suggest that we should allocate our resources rationally and limit the incursion into people's personal freedom.

Unlike being struck by lightning or a meteor, terrorism and other murders are variable human actions, not random events. Taking reasonable proactive measures such as training and deploying police officers, locking one's doors, and making prudent choices about the situations one places oneself in markedly lower the odds of bad things happening. Even though few planes are hijacked, it probably still makes sense to put secure doors on cockpits and ensure that passengers do not bring dynamite on board. Not only does doing these things make specific plane trips somewhat safer but doing so systematically makes hijacking less attractive as a terrorist endeavor.

At the same time, however, countermeasures can be excessive. Keeping passengers from taking nail clippers, toothpaste, and hair gel with them causes an inconvenience disproportionate to the infinitesimal gain in safety provided. Likewise, forcing people to arrive at the airport three hours early so they may stand in line to have their shoes checked for explosives is plainly silly.

It makes far more sense to harden targets and screen for likely terrorists than to treat all citizens as potential terrorists. It is conceivable, if not likely, that sophisticated terrorist groups like al Qaeda will adapt to this and ensure that operatives selected for such tasks look more like John Walker Lindh than Mohammad Atta. That means taking a scintilla more risk. The trade-off, though, would return a substantial measure of freedom to the traveling public and save billions in lost productivity. Further, we could reallocate the resources spent harassing little old ladies at the airport into intelligence efforts to catch actual terrorists.

That's a trade-off I'll gladly take.

James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D. writes about public policy issues at Outside the Beltway.

Categories:

66 Comments

Not Big Brother-- Big Mommy
The most sensible things we could do to extend our own life span are to stop smoking, drink in moderation, get plenty of sleep and exercise and lay off the empty carbs.

The author is correct that getting killed by terrorists is way down the list. Below slipping and dying in a bathtub fall, for instance. But above lightning.

Nonetheless, if the vanishingly small number of actual, committed and capable terrorists only knew, they could reduce the country to blubbering impotence by only keeping up a steady campaign of occasional, small but deadly strikes. That's because we've become bred to be a nation of sheep-- and we panic easily.

It's very comparable to an auto-immune reaction, where the actual inflammatory agent is almost inconsequential but it's the body's own disproportionate reaction that ends up killing you.

Our politicians could do much worse than to encourage toughness and pliability in the citizenry-- not fearfulness and reliance on authority figures to lead them from danger every time.

concealed carry licensed gun owners cause city crime to go down............
Perhaps armed passengers would solve the problem. Personally, popping a round into a turban in coach sounds like stress relief at this juncture.

politicians urge us to be tough and not rely on politicians?
what world are you living in.
Turning the population into sheep who depend on govt for protection, has been the sole purpose of govt for the last 100 years.

Why don't we do this?
The conserfvative Republican leaders of our nation have no intereste in a rational response to terrorism. They get elected on irrational responses. Did you send this piece to Karl Rove?

RISK-TERRORISM ANALYSIS
Well, you lost me with one word: "It probably still makes sense to put secure doors on cockpits . . .". PROBABLY? You downplay a terrible threat and I hope people like you never get their way with my security.

What are you...
typing with your fists?

Your libs and Dems all trumpet that... "There's no terrorist threat..." Then London happened. Ans you just look foolish.

There is a threat. We are not lying about it. You are offering no solutions or methods for keeping us safe.

Again, I propose Why there is overreaction...
The People Demand It.

"Make us safe!" Even ol' mikey moore said that no gun law would have prevented 9/11. A simple box cutter. That's all they needed. Once, the screeners took a pair of 1" mustache scissors from me. Being a Marine, those aren't a weapon to me. The screener held them to his neck... oooooh yea... I see now...

A news pundit and even this article said, "instead of banning items, look for the perpetrators." Why not an incentive reward program for the screeners? "If you catch a terrorist..." That way, they will have more of a drive to do their jobs properly, and these jackarses who like to tape tinfoin gun silouettes in their luggage will get slapped.

Even Bush today said that we have in place, and require all of, the Tools we have to fight and prevent terrorism. Some opposing parties want those tools taken away. Then, when a terrorist attack happens, they will demand, "Why weren't those tools in place?!?" Frankly, if you aren't going to address the majority who demand security and protection, and block all of those trying to do their jobs, then sit down and shut your mouth.

Rivenburg
"Perhaps armed passengers would solve the problem . . ."

You're a funny person AND I like your solution! Thanks for the humor!

No need for politicians
"Our politicians could do much worse than to encourage toughness and pliability in the citizenry-- not fearfulness and reliance on authority figures to lead them from danger every time."

From this statement I might begin to think you would be in favor of a smaller, limited government as described in that musty old US Constitution.

Fool me once....
An attack similar to 9/11 would never be successful again.
Passengers assumed it was just another hijacking and they felt the best way to survive was to play along.
When the passengers of flight 93 realized they were on a suicide flight, they weighed the risks and took their chances, and saved a lot of people.

Marjon
"An attack similar to 9/11 would never be successful again". Hummm, how about a flight made up of the French?

thats a good little Republican
Insult, mislead, attack. Thats what happens when you buy the party message, meant to keep you in fear.

"Your libs and Dems all trumpet that... "There's no terrorist threat..." Then London happened. Ans you just look foolish."

And what happened in London exactly? 24-some guys/girls were arrested. Did they have explosives? Did they have plane tickets? Nope. So what was the threat? They had a plot, but we were fed with the message of immediate threat, the highest alert. Why is that? Its not because citizens demanded it, its because the Administration controls by fear. They'll create the threat when its not big enough on its own. Thats what happended with London.

BTW, who are you quoting as saying "There's no terrorist threat..."? I haven't seen anyone say that. We all know there is a threat, and I want our government to be proactive and go after these guys, but as citizens we shouldn't act and think irrationally with fear. Give me a break, thats exactly how Bush got elected in '04. He put fear of terrorism in enough moderate people that they thought switching President at that time would be a mistake. There are a lot of other big factors, but I'd peg this one as the biggest influence.

Again, offering no solutions..
"And what happened in London exactly? 24-some guys/girls were arrested. Did they have explosives? Did they have plane tickets? Nope. So what was the threat? They had a plot, but we were fed with the message of immediate threat, the highest alert. Why is that? Its not because citizens demanded it, its because the Administration controls by fear. They'll create the threat when its not big enough on its own. Thats what happended with London." So, what you are saying, is, that there's no terrorist threat? Oh, except fo what we "manufacture"?

Insult, mislead, attack. But offer no solutions. You can do better than that. At least, that's what you say.

We do learn,
But they are adapting.

We are trying to adapt. We get blocked.

by the way...
"Further, we could reallocate the resources spent harassing little old ladies at the airport into intelligence efforts to catch actual terrorists."

Until the terrorists start using little old ladies.

The problem with the "likelihood" is
its historical. A foreward looking analysis in this situation would assess the inclination and FUTURE capability of Al Quaeda and similar groups. Looking back tells you what WAS, not what will be. 2001-August 21, 2006 is history. Its Auguust 22, 2006 and beyond that matters.

Is there a person here that doesn't believe another attack will be be foregone simply because OBL will suddenly lose his inclination OR will it fail to occur because we distract and disrupt his operations?

That having been said, its ridiculous to be frisking 80 year old women @ airports to preserve some ridiculous notion of "blind justice".

Mirror, Mirror
The liberal Democrat non-leaders of this nation have no interest in any response to terrorism. They get elected on irrational responses. Did you send this piece to Howard Dean?

ever see underworld? that would be me, werewolfing my way to the terrorests
the next fool that highjacks an American plane will be torn limb from limb just as a stress reliever. The FBI will probably have a hard time putting the pieces back togather again. 5 years of pent up emotion will come undone in seconds and knowing myself (and my youthfull arrest record for bar fighting) id be going across the seat tops faster then running speed like a werewolf out of the movie underworld.

several people on several different boards have insulted people that say things like this calling them "chicken hawk" & such, I for one have had guns pointed at me & taken them away from the holders. and beat them half to death with the barrel. I have a proven track record going after armed assholes, I have NO doubt several fellow Americans would be racing me to the assholes with rage in their eyes and hands already in the shape of arab necks in a case of highjacking.

I'm betting no Arab will risk it again, not to highjack. they KNOW we are pissed off. The very first Americans in that position proved that we wont sit still for it any more.

frisking old ladies represents a dynamic between real searches
and those that dont want ANY searches, so they insist we search people that will eventualy get pissed off & call the searches off.
The far left (most of the left, these days) doesn't just not want us searching rabs, they dont want us searching ANYBODY.
This insistence on searching inappropreate people is simply as far as the "no searching wanted" crowd can get to no searches.
without far left freaks like the ACLU interfering we would be searching the likely people instead of the inapporpreate.

werewolfing...
And I would leave a big "patty" right on their lawns for them to step in...

LOL "curb your werewolf"
whats the fine in YOUR city?

During the full moon...
we hunt the ticketers...

terrorests need nice hot steaming"patties"
on their dead chests too!.
Wonder if that would do to keep them out of heaven?

Law enforcement
Rather than invading unrelated countries like Iraq, Clinton and his gang of liberal Dems treated it as law enforcement. It was a plan. They took it seriously. They didn't do any worse than Bush.

LiberalGoodman
"Rather than invading unrelated countries like Iraq, Clinton and his gang of liberal Dems treated it as law enforcement. It was a plan. They took it seriously. They didn't do any worse than Bush".

Obviously this is tongue in cheek, right?? "Unrelated" countries?? Didn't do any worse? He haw.

maybe if...
the werewolves are fed a lot of bacon before....

lets try this again

"So, what you are saying, is, that there's no terrorist threat? Oh, except fo what we "manufacture"?"

No, thats not what I'm saying. You'd know that if you read the rest of my post. Here is what I said: "We all know there is a threat, and I want our government to be proactive and go after these guys, but as citizens we shouldn't act and think irrationally with fear."

And thats exactly whats happening in your comments Mazztek. I'm not attacking you, its an observation. Call it criticism if you want, I'm criticizing your comments. And again like a Bush Republican you're not answering to the valid criticism, instead you're misleading what I said and going back to the "offering no solutions" talking point. You're defusing the debate by refusing to move beyond step one.

What is it you're seeking a solution to anyway? Its not my job, but if thats all you want I'll offer it up, just specify. Oops, there it is:
"You are offering no solutions or methods for keeping us safe." (thats what you said to LG) Wow thats general, makes me think its just a talking point and not a valid point.

And you know, if thats what you're looking for, that in itself shows you are controlled by fear. Democrats are beating up on Bush for not doing more to protect trains and ports, but thats politics. In my opinion, he is doing fine protecting us, we haven't had another terrorist attack on American soil, thats all the proof we need. I think it would be good to use more resources on ports and trains security, but to hammer Bush for it is to play politics at this point. I'd say being less unilateral in our support of Israel would be good, less screwing up in Iraq, more of a focus on Afghanistan and negotiating with Pakistan to secure its border areas, more diplomatic discussions with Iran, Syria, and all other countries; those are some solutions to help make us safer for the long run.

I won't claim to know all the answers, and I'm not saying Bush is doing things 100% wrong. I might do some of the same things, but I would do it right, I would put enough money into it and the right people into it. I would welcome criticism and require debate in all departments. That seemingly simple solution right there would open the floodgate of solution-thinking for our present-day incompetent government.

as usual, LG defines rational based on his personal preferences
...

looks like you were right mazztek
I love it when liberals go around whining about other people being insulting.

They didn't do any worse than Bush?
Only if you consider the constantly escalating nature of terrorism against this country on their watch to be "no worse".

Clinton was offered Bin Laden's head on a platter twice.
He turned it down both times, saying that he had no legal grounds to hold Bin Laden.

unrelated countries
Afghanistan was the home of Al Queda.
Iraq was helping to train and fund many terrorist organizations, including Al Queda.

little old ladies
I've been told that one of the problems with infiltrating these groups is that they are so insular.

For them to start recruiting little old ladies, means they have to start letting outsiders in on their schemes. The minute they do that, their networks become substantially easier to penetrate.

Fleeing Freedom in Fear
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

-- Author unknown

Benjamin Franklin, Publisher
An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, 1759

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin

Try as you might...
No, I read your whole post, and you downplayed terrorism. Then, all you did was parrot democratic talking points. Twice. LG offered up a rant. Nothing more. You started with an insult... with the gall to say " Insult, mislead, attack. Thats what happens when you buy the party message, meant to keep you in fear." Your message? Bush Bad, Terrorists good: "'d say being less unilateral in our support of Israel would be good..." "Ahmadinejad provoked a world outcry in October when he said Israel should be "wiped off the map." Yup. Just what they want. Dean questioned the timing of the London arrests. Guess what, Dean? We aren't waiting for your timetable, or lack thereof.

Democrats offer "we can do better..." and NOTHING more. That's why you lost in 2004. And you offered up a traitor to the United States. It was great to have a Viet Nam vet run, but it was the WRONG vietnam vet. And that statement was from an actual Vet.

Frankly, it took me challenging you on your solutions for you to offer one. And Libby still hasn't offered squat.

You need an ID chart
Yes, I suppose one of the things that makes America great is that there are people like you, who approve of carrying a gun so you can pop a round into someone's turban when you feel like it.

Before you do, please be advised that those people with turbans? They're not Muslims. Mostly they're Sikhs. And yes, there are Sikhs in America who've been fatally inconvenienced by armed vigilantes just as dumb as you are.

Learn to tell the difference. Otherwise we'll have the Sikhs on our asses as well as the Muslims.

Good point
Thanks for bringing up the science of risk assessment. Using it we can discover, for example, that last year 31,000 people were killed in America by drunk drivers.

How many people in America were killed last year by terrorists? I haven't looked that one up. But I seem to recall the figure was ZERO.

Now where should we put the greater emphasis?

ROY BEAN
"You Need an ID Charge".

Stop being so stupidly literal. You should get the meaning but, then, usually THAT goes over Dem's heads. They need 10,000 words and a book of drawings to get anything. Actually, I'd much rather give YOU a shot to the mouth!

Add Milk Bone Dog Biscuits to TSA contraband list
We must deny terrorists any means of distracting our last line of defense

that's funny, comming from rhampton
the man who would give up all economic freedom, in order not to have to worry about where his next meal is coming from.

notice your rudeness puts people off?
I refuse to communicate with you past this, your rudeness and CONSTANT insults make reading your posts distasteful. please do not respond to any of my posts here, they are for REAL humans, not scum like yourself.

Really?
I thought the Sikhs wear Noks, not turbans?

No, Iraq was not funding or training Al Qaeda
Iraq was not training or funding Al Qaeda. It's simply not true.

It didn't come from rhampton, dimbulb
It came from Benjamin Franklin.

too bad the documentation says otherwise
but go ahead, keep believing whatever your mother tells you to believe.

Benjamin Franklin is posting to this site?
Stop the presses.

Please learn to read eric. You'll look a lot less dumb.
Or maybe you can ask your mother to read and explain it to you again.

Congratulations-You've given the most transparently stupid post ever.
And trust me, your posts are arguably the worst on TCS. I would think you to be a parody of a left-winger if you weren't so persistent.

Clinton's "law enforcement" approach-which included being unable to think of a good probable cause- now remember, he admitted this publicly and its on tape-let OBL plan and execute 9/11.

Instead, Clinton sent U./S. troops to Bosnia, where the U.S. has no strategic interest, where the remain after a decade and where there hasn't been a peep out of you clowns in objection.










An odd position to take
You criticise my rudeness, in the process calling me scum which is apparently okay. And you voice your approval of murdering people wearing turbans, who don't happen to be Muslims.

And when I point that out, I'm the one at fault, for rudeness? Isn't yours the greater offense?

It NEVER Comes from Hampton, Lemming
If it weren't for the efficiency of google in finding the words of others, the quantity of Rodney's posts would be nil.

That's the conclusion of the 9/11 commission
Maybe you have documentation of something else.

dimbulb, if you have a problem with the quote, it's not rhampton's fault
do you have a problem with the quote? If so, state it.

TCS Daily Archives