Terrorism Is Not Effective

More effective ways to kill = terrorists are stupid, or killing not most important thing to them
sociology, politics
2009-04-142017-04-21 finished certainty: highly likely importance: 8


Ter­ror­ism is not about caus­ing ter­ror or ca­su­alties, but about other things. Ev­i­dence of this is the fact that, de­spite often con­sid­er­able re­sources spent, most ter­ror­ists are in­com­pe­tent, im­pul­sive, pre­pare poorly for at­tacks, are in­con­sis­tent in plan­ning, tend to­wards ex­otic & diffi­cult forms of at­tack such as bomb­ings, and in prac­tice in­effec­tive: the modal num­ber of ca­su­al­ties per ter­ror­ist at­tack is near-ze­ro, and global ter­ror­ist an­nual ca­su­alty have been a round­ing er­ror for decades. This is de­spite the fact that there are many ex­am­ples of ex­tremely de­struc­tive eas­i­ly-per­formed po­ten­tial acts of ter­ror­ism, such as poi­son­ing food sup­plies or rent­ing large trucks & run­ning crowds over or en­gag­ing in spo­radic sniper at­tacks.

One of the least com­monly noted pieces of ev­i­dence for the the­ory that Ter­ror­ism is not about Ter­ror (be­sides the other points like the com­plete fail­ure to ob­tain their pol­icy goals) is how un­ter­ri­fy­ing most ter­ror­ism is, and how at­tacks usu­ally have such low death tolls.

No ter­ror­ist group has achieved a kill rate any­where near a con­ven­tional mil­i­tary; and are vastly less than those death tolls for guer­rilla or­ga­ni­za­tions or dic­ta­tors. Stalin or Mao could, in a bad day, ex­ceed the deaths caused by all in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism over the last 2 cen­turies1. , the crown­ing in­ci­dent of ter­ror­ism in those cen­turies, was equaled by just 29 days2 of car ac­ci­dents in the USA345678—and 9/11 was only ac­ci­den­tally that suc­cess­ful9! 9/11 is also a ster­ling ex­am­ple of the : be­sides it, how many at­tacks could the best in­formed West­ern cit­i­zen name? Per­haps a score, on a good day, if they have a good mem­o­ry; inas­much as the MIPT data­base records >19,000 just 1968-2004, it’s clear that ter­ri­fy­ingly ex­cep­tional ter­ror­ist at­tacks are just that. Re­mark­ably, it seems that it is un­usual for ter­ror­ist at­tacks to in­jure even a sin­gle per­son; the MIPT data­base puts the num­ber of such at­tacks at 35% of all at­tacks.10 Cer­tainly the post-9/11 record would seem to in­di­cate it was a fluke11. And sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, it seems that for es­tab­lished ter­ror­ist groups, as­sas­si­nat­ing their leader does them a fa­vor—they sur­vive longer, pre­sum­ably be­cause they had os­si­fied.12 Many ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions keep very de­tailed fi­nan­cial records (con­sider the troves of data seized from Al-Qaeda-in-I­raq, from Bin Laden’s safe­house, or Al Qaeda’s in­sis­tence on re­ceipts), with lit­tle trust of un­der­lings, sug­gest­ing far less ide­o­log­i­cal de­vo­tion than com­monly be­lieved & se­ri­ous . Sto­ries about ter­ror­ist in­com­pe­tence are le­gion1314 and the topic is now played for laughs (eg. the 2010 movie 15), prompt­ing colum­nists to tell us to ig­nore all the in­com­pe­tence and con­tinue to be afraid.

The mys­tery is that this does­n’t have to be the case. Mass mur­der is quite fea­si­ble with­out the tech­niques ter­ror­ists re­sort to. We don’t even have to re­sort to spec­u­la­tion to im­prove on the con­tem­po­rary ter­ror­ist state-of-the-art16; his­tory teaches us quite enough.

The most fa­mous ter­ror­ist at­tacks like the (10 at­tack­ers killed >173, wounded >308) may not suffice to prove the point that ‘grand spec­ta­cle’ ter­ror­ism is in­effi­cient in killing, since the Pak­istani sup­port un­der­mines the fact of their low-tech sim­ple ap­proach (ex­ten­sive state spon­sor­ship, arm­ing, train­ing, en­gag­ing in lit­er­ally an am­phibi­ous as­sault, and re­al­time intelligence/advice from their Pak­istani han­dler­s), and nev­er­the­less, the effi­ciency per-at­tacker was far be­low many other in­stances of ter­ror­ism (like Breivik or Nice). But we can point to oth­ers:

  1. The in­ci­dent, in­volv­ing nee­dles found in straw­ber­ries, cost rel­a­tively lit­tle (only a few grower bank­rupt­cies & es­ti­mates of sales losses as low as $12 mil­lion), but is strik­ing be­cause the orig­i­nal stil­l-un­known cul­prit may have planted only a few needles, and the rest were done by copy­cats

  2. The 1982 (7 deaths, na­tional pan­ic, cul­prit re­mains un­known) seem to have in­volved noth­ing more com­pli­cated than some shoplift­ing, dump­ing in some cyanide, and putting the bot­tles back on the shelves; this forced the re­call & de­struc­tion of $100m (2017: $254m) of Tylenol prod­ucts, in­dus­try-wide up­grades of tam­per-ev­i­dent safety seals & pack­age seal­ing & pills, and large losses in sales.

  3. Some pes­ti­cide in the wrong place can cost a na­tion $150 mil­lion17,

    • a com­pany >$250 mil­lion18,
    • or a con­ti­nent $1.5 bil­lion.19
  4. And an 20 cost the Chilean econ­omy $300 mil­lion.21

Competent murders

The nat­ural com­par­ison, of course, is to pri­vate cit­i­zens with­out gov­ern­ment or or­ga­ni­za­tional back­ing who set out to kill a lot of peo­ple over a brief, no more than few days long, pe­ri­od. Or as we call them where I come from, ‘mass mur­der­ers’; but let’s nar­row things down: how many peo­ple can you kill in a short pe­riod of time? Let us con­sult Wikipedia which – ever help­ful – has even com­piled a sorted list for us: “”.

The 2001 killed 108 peo­ple and was offi­cially blamed on an un­em­ployed deaf man. As of 2010, the global record for undis­puted at­tacks was held by one , who killed 56-6222 peo­ple in 1982, with an hon­or­able men­tion to William Unek (57 con­firmed kills as of 1957). The US record goes to with 32 kills in 2007 (the US record be­ing bro­ken by in 2016 with 49 kill­s). Bum-kon lost the record in 2011 to the Nor­we­gian who killed 8 with a bomb and then killed 69 campers with firearms23, to­tal­ing 77 kills. This record was bro­ken 5 years later in the by Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel, with 84+ deaths.

The most strik­ing thing one no­tices in the en­tries is how these atroc­i­ties rarely in­volve ex­tremely elab­o­rate prepa­ra­tions, and how min­i­mal the equip­ment was:

  • Bum-kon’s Uiryeong mas­sacre was lit­er­ally on the spur of the mo­ment, when he got drunk after an ar­gu­ment with his girl­friend; some­what un­usu­al­ly, he had ac­cess to grenades via the po­lice, but the grenades ar­guably did not con­tribute to the death toll24.
  • William Unek killed his first 21 peo­ple with just an axe.
  • In the Japan­ese , Katō had noth­ing but a rented truck and a knife, nor any known mar­tial arts train­ing or es­pe­cial fit­ness—and yet, in a large crowd with mul­ti­ple po­lice al­ready at the scene, he still man­aged to kill 7 peo­ple and wound 10. In the 2016-07-26 , the at­tacker Satoshi Ue­matsu killed 19 peo­ple & in­jured 26. (Like Bum-kon’s mas­sacre, Ue­matsu ben­e­fited from the late-night cir­cum­stances, as al­most all of the men­tally & phys­i­cally hand­i­capped peo­ple were stabbed in their sleep.) The wit­nessed 8 men & women with knives kill >33 peo­ple and in­jure >143, while an 2015-09-18 at­tack by 9 at­tack­ers killed 50 peo­ple (see also ). The (ex­actly what it sounds like) killed 17.
  • Cho had two pis­tols, bought a few weeks be­fore the Vir­ginia Tech mas­sacre. Se­ung-Hui made the most elab­o­rate prepa­ra­tions (videos & let­ters, mul­ti­ple gun store trip­s), but one still has the im­pres­sion that he could’ve fin­ished all his prepa­ra­tions in just a few hours.
  • The one that did, An­ders Breivik, is al­most the ex­cep­tion that proves the rule—he had bought fer­til­izer in May 2011, months be­fore the at­tack, but that bomb was al­most a non-event: he killed an or­der of mag­ni­tude more in the sec­ond at­tack with his firearms. (He ap­par­ently worked on his 1500-page man­i­festo for 2 years, though he did­n’t kill any­one by drop­ping it on them.)
  • Omar Matene sim­ply en­tered a night­club with a hand­gun and semi­-au­to­matic ri­fle (hav­ing failed at buy­ing body ar­mor be­cause he went to the wrong store first, then was turned away at the sec­ond) and started shoot­ing; he bluffed about hav­ing bombs dur­ing the at­tack, but oth­er­wise had made no fur­ther prepa­ra­tions
  • Bouh­lel had ac­quired a small ar­se­nal of weapons, most of which were fake or bro­ken; his main weapon was sim­ply a rented truck he ran peo­ple over with

The speed with which these mass mur­ders were pre­pared and car­ried out are quite shock­ing when we com­pare them to the mul­ti­ple years and in­tri­cate multi­na­tional ter­ror­ist net­work it took to bring 9/11 to fruition. I am not the only one to no­tice this, nor is Schneier25; the ter­ror­ists them­selves know it, ac­cord­ing to STRATFOR:

It must be re­mem­bered that sim­ple ter­ror­ist at­tacks are rel­a­tively easy to con­duct, es­pe­cially if the as­sailant is not con­cerned about es­cap­ing after the at­tack. As ji­hadist groups such as have noted in their on­line pro­pa­gan­da, a de­ter­mined per­son can con­duct at­tacks us­ing a va­ri­ety of sim­ple weapons, from a pickup truck to a knife, axe or gun. Ji­hadist ide­o­logues have re­peat­edly praised and have pointed out that ji­hadists op­er­at­ing with mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions and act­ing within the scope of their train­ing and ca­pa­bil­ity can do far more dam­age than op­er­a­tives who try to con­duct big, am­bi­tious at­tacks that they lack the ba­sic skills to com­plete.

OK. So this alone sug­gests that per­haps ter­ror­ists are, to put it mild­ly, adopt­ing sub­op­ti­mal tech­niques for killing peo­ple. But wait! These are im­pres­sive body counts, but maybe ter­ror­ists are hop­ing to win the lot­tery and achieve a 9/11 at­tack (even though for every 9/11, there are dozens & hun­dreds of at­tacks which kill 10 or 20 peo­ple, or even only the ter­ror­ist). After all, the 19 ter­ror­ists av­er­aged 157 kills just in that one at­tack. That’s nearly 3 times Bum-kon’s life­time to­tal.

Competent soldiers

Now we should shift com­par­isons. Civil­ian­s—with min­i­mal prepa­ra­tion, with no train­ing, with noth­ing spe­cial what­so­ever about them—­can kill up to 60 peo­ple. What could some­one with years of prepa­ra­tion and hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars avail­able26 do?

Well, I can’t an­swer that. But I can point to an in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple.

was a Finnish in the , when the So­viet Union in­vaded Fin­land. He ul­ti­mately killed over 54227 Rus­sians – and sur­vived the war.

Now, Simo was a rare marks­man; this is true. But con­sider the hand­i­caps he la­bored un­der:

  • he is fight­ing in Fin­land in the depths of an un­usu­ally harsh win­ter;
  • he is sub­ject to mil­i­tary discipline/constraints;
  • he is in the mid­dle of a ful­l-s­cale con­ven­tional war, where life is cheap and death could come at any mo­ment if he is on the wrong side of the shift­ing bound­aries;
  • he is us­ing a rel­a­tively old and or­di­nary bolt-ac­tion ri­fle with iron sights;
  • he is be­ing specifi­cally tar­geted by the Rus­sians (who are not mil­i­tary in­com­pe­tents, even after Stal­in’s purges), who are dis­patch­ing their own snipers and ar­tillery squadrons for the sole pur­pose of killing him; etc.

Simo was work­ing in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions, let us say.

But a mod­ern sniper can buy the finest ri­fles on the mar­ket, and can con­fine his ac­tiv­i­ties to tem­per­ate ar­eas where he does not need to freeze his tookis while wait­ing for a shot. He is op­posed only by po­lice and para­mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions with lit­tle train­ing or even fa­mil­iar­ity with coun­ter-s­niper weapons and tac­tics. (It is not as if they have ever had to!) He can travel any­where within the coun­try and wait in­defi­nitely for his next at­tack. The many his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of teach us this dis­turb­ing lesson: if he is con­trolled and pa­tient, a man can kill in­defi­nitely even while mak­ing close per­sonal con­tact with the vic­tim and killing in in­effi­cient ways. (One run­ning theme with se­r­ial killers is how effec­tive sim­ply pick­ing ran­dom vic­tims is at pre­vent­ing cap­ture or even iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of vic­tims, eg de­spite pro­vid­ing a count & de­scrip­tions, 6+ mur­ders re­main uniden­ti­fied and cer­tainly would have never been solved). How much more so could a sniper pick­ing ran­dom tar­gets!

The Belt­way snipers offer an (in­com­pe­tent) ex­am­ple: the na­tion was trans­fixed and hor­ri­fied, the DC area grid­locked for weeks, and ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures were taken like the Sec­re­tary of De­fense au­tho­riz­ing the de­ploy­ment of Army . An­other du­bi­ous ex­am­ple comes cour­tesy of the Swedish shooter who eluded cap­ture for 6 months de­spite crip­pling his guns with pseudo-si­lencers, walk­ing up to sev­eral of his 11 vic­tims, and rob­bing banks on a bi­cy­cle.

It is not un­rea­son­able to think that a ter­ror­ist-s­niper could kill in­defi­nite­ly, at a high tem­po. If he shot one per­son a mon­th, he will ex­ceed Bum-kon in just 5 years. If the 20 9/11 hi­jack­ers had in­stead be­come snipers, they would at that slow rate match Simo in 2 years or so, and 9/11 in ~12 years. And they could keep on killing. It’s not like they have to re­tire after a decade or two.

Why not?

Propaganda, not deaths

So if all these other meth­ods are eas­ier, or more effec­tive, then why do ter­ror­ists like hi­jack­ings and bomb­ings? Stu­pid­ity or fa­nati­cism might ex­plain why one group would sab­o­tage it­self, but it can’t ex­plain all groups for cen­turies.

One pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion is given by Ter­ror and Con­sent – the pro­pa­ganda of the deed is more effec­tive when the killings are spec­tac­u­lar (even if in­effi­cien­t). The dead bod­ies aren’t re­ally the goal.

But is this re­ally plau­si­ble? Try to con­sider the ter­ror­ist-s­niper plan I sug­gest above. Imag­ine that 20 un­known & anony­mous peo­ple are, every mon­th, killing one per­son in a tri-s­tate area28. There’s no rea­son, there’s no ra­tio­nale. The killings hap­pen like clock­work once a month. The gov­ern­ment is pow­er­less to do any­thing about it, but their na­tional & lo­cal re­sponses are tremen­dously ex­pen­sive (as they are hir­ing se­cu­rity forces and buy­ing equip­ment like mad). The killings can hap­pen any­where at any time; last mon­th’s was at a Wal-mart in the neigh­bor­ing town. The month be­fore that, a kid com­ing out of the li­brary. You haven’t even worked up the courage to read about the other 19 slay­ings last month by this group, and you know that as the month is end­ing next week an­other 20 are due. And you also know that this will go on in­defi­nite­ly, and may even get worse—who’s to say this group is­n’t re­cruit­ing and send­ing more snipers into the coun­try?

Con­sider the after 9/11. In my mem­o­ry, the sheer ter­ror and re­flex­ive jin­go­ism that gripped the coun­try after 9/11 was at least dou­bled dur­ing them.

The an­thrax at­tacks killed very few peo­ple & a tiny per­cent­age of 9/11 (0.17%29). But their ran­dom­ness and du­ra­tion through time made them deeply & ir­ra­tionally fright­en­ing.

Just 5 peo­ple died of an­thrax over the 3 weeks of the an­thrax at­tacks; and peo­ple were pan­icked. How much more dev­as­tat­ing would it have been if it had been 20 peo­ple who had died? Or if the mail­ings had con­tin­ued month after mon­th? I think that it would have been much more effec­tive, and that this sup­ports the value of my sniper plot30.

Social factors

If I may, the so­cial ex­pla­na­tion (see my “”) ex­plains much about ter­ror­ism, and in par­tic­u­lar it ex­plains this odd­i­ty. Have you never dis­cussed flip­ping out or go­ing postal or car­ry­ing out a ter­ror­ist at­tack with your friends? Have you no­ticed that al­ways it is the elab­o­rate and fun-to-dis­cuss at­tacks you dis­cuss?31 (Have you no­ticed how in­ter­est­ing a topic the ques­tion “how many peo­ple could some­one eas­ily kill?” is, and how many sub­ject ar­eas it draws up­on?)

No ter­ror­ist says to him­self, “I’m go­ing to fol­low a bor­ing but effec­tive strat­e­gy: I’ll en­list, get sniper train­ing, and kill a cou­ple hun­dred civil­ians”—even though it worked so well for Simo against much more chal­leng­ing tar­gets.

This kind of strat­egy would ac­com­plish much more than a reg­u­lar sui­cide bomb­ing, but they never do it or any halfway effec­tive strat­e­gy. (I re­fer again to “Why Ter­ror­ism does­n’t work”; if many ter­ror­ists failed to adopt effec­tive strate­gies, that’d be one thing—but just about all of them? That’s a sys­temic fail­ure which re­quires a sys­temic ex­pla­na­tion.)

They don’t want to adopt mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline, train in sniper tac­tics and marks­man­ship for years, and sep­a­rate per­ma­nent­ly.

It’d spoil the fun.

Appendix

On the absence of true fanatics

“A few hon­est men are bet­ter than num­bers.”

, let­ter to Sir William Spring (Sep­tem­ber 1643)

“If we were bees, ants, or Lacedae­mon­ian war­riors, to whom per­sonal fear does not ex­ist and cow­ardice is the most shame­ful thing in the world, war­ring would go on for­ev­er. But luck­ily we are only men—and cow­ards.”

,

The fa­mous Tueller drill re­ports that a knife man can cover 21 feet & stab in just 1.5 sec­ond­s—­faster than most trained peo­ple can draw and shoot a gun. While vic­tims fight back, they are still dis­patched in sec­onds32.

“The Benefi­cence of Oth­ers”, Ab­struse Goose

There is a les­son here. I take away this mes­sage: most peo­ple don’t re­ally care. Most or­ga­ni­za­tions lack . The ex­is­ten­tial­ists tell us we have tremen­dous power & free­dom but we don’t use it and we for­get it ex­cept on oc­ca­sion when we read with awe of prodi­gious feats by re­li­gious fig­ures like or or the end­less marathons, or en­joy fic­tional ex­am­ples. I agree that we have tremen­dous de­struc­tive pow­ers, but this also im­plies that we have lim­ited con­struc­tive pow­ers. (De­struc­tive pow­ers don’t in­ter­fere with each oth­er, but they mean that it is far harder to cre­ate than to de­stroy. Any­one can de­stroy a DVD with ease, but to man­u­fac­ture it, much less cre­ate what­ever it stored, is much hard­er—a task fit for an en­tire coun­try or civ­i­liza­tion.)

De­struc­tion can be use­ful though. Many peo­ple all over the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum has ex­pressed earnest de­sires in the last few years to de­stroy some group or in­sti­tu­tion. Ter­ror­ists come to mind.

But the odd thing is, very lit­tle de­struc­tion has hap­pened. A nut with a gun has an av­er­age kill or de­struc­tion rate bet­ter than that of your av­er­age ter­ror­ist. A lit­tle effec­tive plan­ning, and a nut could do a lot. is a case in point. De­spite un­re­lent­ing po­lice op­po­si­tion, he and his ar­mored bull­dozer de­stroyed 13 build­ings worth $7 mil­lion. He was stopped by his own in­com­pe­tence when he drove the bull­dozer into a base­ment; he then com­mit­ted sui­cide.

I also point out a far more effec­tive ter­ror­ist strat­egy than ex­ist­ing ones in the pre­ced­ing es­say on ter­ror­ism.

A good an­swer for ter­ror­ists specifi­cally is the so­cial one; but what about every­one else? Why do they not pur­sue their tar­gets with all the highly effec­tive means pos­si­ble?

The an­swer is mo­ti­va­tion and val­ues. We value or­di­nary com­forts & life. The power is avail­able to us only at the cost of every­thing else. Fruit­ful com­par­i­son might be made with id­iot sa­vants or autis­tics with ob­ses­sive in­ter­ests, or less patho­log­i­cal­ly, sub­groups like ‘otaku’ or ‘’.

Fic­tional ex­am­ples are also of in­ter­est. offers us the —a ge­nius va­ri­ety of hu­man who are ob­sessed with pro­tect­ing their kin­dred. Though de­scribed as su­per-in­tel­li­gences, Niven, be­ing an or­di­nary hu­man him­self, de­picts Pak feats within reach of a mo­ti­vated hu­man. pos­tu­lates ‘Fo­cus’ in his : a or per­ma­nent state of be­ing —with the that im­plies. (It is worth not­ing that stud­ies of hu­man ge­nius fre­quently say that raw IQ and tal­ent suffer di­min­ish­ing re­turns past 130 IQ, such that while very high IQ in­di­vid­u­als are still far more likely to make break­throughs or reach the heights of pro­fes­sional ac­com­plish­ment than any lower per­centiles (see for ex­am­ple the SMPY life­time achieve­ment re­sult­s), there’s still a good chance of be­ing fairly or­di­nary and they don’t come off as an en­tirely differ­ent species—per­haps be­cause they are held back by be­ing less ex­cep­tional in other key ways like mo­ti­va­tion, open­mind­ed­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­tra­ver­sion, or mono­ma­nia, traits which cur­rently can­not be affect­ed.)

Fa­nat­ics are fright­en­ing. Sui­cide tac­tics in even small quan­ti­ties can be highly effec­tive. The Jew­ish , or Japan­ese are cases in point. Though small in num­ber, they were more effec­tive than con­ven­tional meth­ods. (Kamikazes were neu­tral­ized by the end of WWII, but only by vast op­po­si­tion—hun­dreds of de­fend­ing planes, pick­ets sta­tioned more than 50 miles away, im­proved ar­tillery, etc.) That ter­ror­ists do so lit­tle en­hances this point: one was so effec­tive that for a mil­lion dol­lars or two at most, it trig­gered the ex­pen­di­ture (and waste) of thou­sands of lives and lit­er­ally tril­lions of dol­lars. 1 or 2 mil­lion dol­lars would­n’t even buy a dic­ta­tor a worth­less tank which the USAF could bomb! Com­pare this to some­thing like , which has de­ter­minedly avoided vi­o­lence, in a mis­guided at­tempt to shame the shame­less and in­spire ac­tion. (The shame seems im­por­tant; Gandhi suc­ceeded with min­i­mal vi­o­lence on his part be­cause he waged in essence a pro­pa­ganda cam­paign against the British elite, who never be­fore had trou­ble hold­ing In­dia, while it is often for­got­ten that Nel­son Man­dela was a ter­ror­ist, per­haps be­cause the South African elites were uni­fied and could not be sim­ply shamed—so the ANC switched to in­ter­na­tional pro­pa­ganda com­bined with long-term threat­s.) Moral sua­sion is nei­ther suffi­cient nor nec­es­sary, and I sus­pected OWS would run into a sim­i­lar fate as the : burned out of their camps, dis­persed, and ul­ti­mately as effec­tive as the an­ar­chists and so­cial­ists of yore who were gi­ants com­pared to their pusil­lan­i­mous con­tem­po­raries. As it turned out, OWS was eas­ily dis­persed by po­lice when they tried, and at least of Au­gust 2013, the OWS pro­gramme has been a fail­ure & they have dis­ap­peared from na­tional con­scious­ness.

The idea of elite co­he­sion (or ) is an in­ter­est­ing one; what I won­der, as I watch mod­ern pol­i­tics, is ‘are the cur­rent An­glos­phere elites more or less co­he­sive than past co­horts, and if they are, is this due to free mar­ket ide­olo­gies and mech­a­nisms which serve to pun­ish dis­si­dents and el­e­vate those who are ca­pa­ble [so­cio­pathic and in­tel­li­gent enough to ’s­parkle’?] and also who wish to de­fend and cleave to the sta­tus quo?’ Some in­ter­est­ing quotes from “In­sight: The Wall Street dis­con­nect”:

Paul­son re­sponded by putting out a press re­lease that de­scribed his $28 bil­lion, 120-per­son fund as an ex­em­plar of the Amer­i­can Dream: “In­stead of vil­i­fy­ing our most suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es, we should be sup­port­ing them and en­cour­ag­ing them to re­main in New York City.” Other cap­tains of fi­nance like to por­tray them­selves as hum­ble en­tre­pre­neurs. One owner of a mul­ti­-bil­lion-dol­lar hedge fund grum­bled in the midst of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis that he has to worry not only about mak­ing trad­ing de­ci­sions but also about “all the has­sles that come with run­ning a small busi­ness.”…“I think every­one gets what the anger is about… But you just can’t say, ‘Well I want all debts for­giv­en.’ That is not hap­pen­ing,” says one West Coast trader, who like most still work­ing in the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try, de­clined to be iden­ti­fied by name in this ar­ti­cle…“At first I had friends who were scratch­ing their heads at the protests,” says Ader…Thomas At­te­ber­ry, a part­ner and port­fo­lio man­ager with Los An­ge­les-based First Pa­cific Ad­vi­sors, a $16 bil­lion money man­age­ment firm, says his suc­cess “was­n’t a gift” and he had to work hard to get where he is. At­te­berry says he un­der­stands the frus­tra­tion many feel about in­come in­equal­i­ty. But he said the prob­lem is­n’t with those who are suc­cess­ful, but rather our “tax codes and reg­u­la­tions.”…Many of Amer­i­ca’s well-to-do, not just Wall Streeters, say they don’t feel par­tic­u­larly ad­van­taged. A re­cent sur­vey by mar­ket­ing firm HNW Inc. found that half of the na­tion’s rich­est 1% “don’t see them­selves as be­ing part of that elite group.” Al­so, 44% of those sur­veyed told HNW’s poll­sters they al­ready pay too much in tax­es….“I think Wall Street has­n’t taken in how much anger there is out there and they haven’t taken par­tial re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fi­nan­cial cri­sis,” says Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion fel­low Dou­glas El­liott, who was an in­vest­ment banker for two decades be­fore join­ing the lib­er­al-ori­ented pub­lic pol­icy group. “I think both sides—Wall Street and Main Street—misun­der­stand each oth­er.”

Sup­pose peo­ple an­gry at Gold­man Sachs were truly an­gry: so an­gry that they went be­yond pos­tur­ing and be­yond act­ing against Gold­man Sachs only if ac­tion were guar­an­teed to cost them noth­ing (like writ­ing a blog post). If they ceased to care about whether le­gal pro­ceed­ings might be filed against them; if they be­come ob­sessed with de­stroy­ing Gold­man Sachs, if they de­voted their lives to it and could ig­nore all bod­ily urges and crea­ture com­forts. If they could be, in a word, like Niven’s Pro­tec­tors or Vinge’s Fo­cused.

Could they do it? Could they de­stroy a 3 cen­tury old cor­po­ra­tion with close to $1 tril­lion in as­sets, with sym­pa­thiz­ers and for­mer em­ploy­ees through­out the up­per ech­e­lons of the United States Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment (it­self the sin­gle most pow­er­ful en­tity in the world)?

Ab­solute­ly. It would be easy.

As I said, the de­struc­tive power of a hu­man is great; let’s as­sume we have 100 fa­nat­ic­s—a van­ish­ingly small frac­tion of those who have hated on GS over the years—will­ing to en­gage even in as­sas­si­na­tion, a his­tor­i­cally effec­tive tac­tic33 and per­haps the sin­gle most effec­tive tac­tic avail­able to an in­di­vid­ual or small group.

ex­plains the ba­sic the­ory of in a 2006 es­say, “State and Ter­ror­ist Con­spir­a­cies” / “Con­spir­acy as Gov­er­nance”: cor­po­ra­tions and con­spir­a­cies form a net­work; the more effi­ciently com­mu­ni­ca­tion flows, the more pow­er­ful a graph is; the graph, or im­pede com­mu­ni­ca­tion (through leaks which cause self­-in­flicted wounds of se­crecy & para­noia), and its power goes down. Carry this to its log­i­cal ex­treme…

If all links be­tween con­spir­a­tors are cut then there is no con­spir­a­cy. This is usu­ally hard to do, so we ask our first ques­tion: What is the min­i­mum num­ber of links that must be cut to sep­a­rate the con­spir­acy into two groups of equal num­ber? (di­vide and con­quer). The an­swer de­pends on the struc­ture of the con­spir­a­cy. Some­times there are no al­ter­na­tive paths for con­spir­a­to­r­ial in­for­ma­tion to flow be­tween con­spir­a­tors, other times there are many. This is a use­ful and in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of a con­spir­a­cy. For in­stance, by as­sas­si­nat­ing one ‘bridge’ con­spir­a­tor, it may be pos­si­ble to split the con­spir­a­cy. But we want to say some­thing about all con­spir­a­cies.

We don’t. We’re in­ter­ested in shat­ter­ing a spe­cific con­spir­acy by the name of Gold­man Sachs. GS has ~30,000 em­ploy­ees. Not all graphs are , but all trees are , and cor­po­ra­tions are usu­ally struc­tured as trees. If GS’s hi­er­ar­chy is sim­i­lar to that of a , then to com­pletely knock out the 8 top lev­els, one only needs to elim­i­nate 256 nodes. The top 6 lev­els would re­quire only 64 nodes.

If one knocked out the top 6 lev­els, then each of the re­main­ing sub­trees in level 7 has no pri­or­ity over the rest. And there will be or 64 such subtrees/nodes. It is safe to say that 64 sub­-cor­po­ra­tions, each po­ten­tially headed by some­one who wants a bat­tle­field pro­mo­tion to head­ing the en­tire thing, would have trou­ble agree­ing on how to re­con­struct the hi­er­ar­chy. The stock­hold­ers might be ex­pected to step in at this point, but the Board of Di­rec­tors would be in­cluded in the top of the hi­er­ar­chy, and by de­fi­n­i­tion, they rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of stock­hold­ers.

We could in fact par­ti­tion a bi­nary tree in half just by as­sas­si­nat­ing the root node, the CEO, and this has be­come a re­vived strat­egy in this age of the cor­po­ra­tion; John Robb, “Pierc­ing the Cor­po­rate Veil”:

CEO kid­nap­ping is­n’t new. It is com­mon prac­tice in Brazil, Mex­i­co, etc. The differ­ence in Iraq is the mo­tive. In Iraq, it is­n’t purely fi­nan­cial gain. It is be­ing used as a way to un­ravel the fledg­ling Iraqi gov­ern­ment. Here’s why. Amer­i­ca’s sec­ond largest ally in Iraq is­n’t the UK. Not even close. Cor­po­ra­tions like Hal­libur­ton pro­vide al­most as many trig­ger pullers and en­gi­neers as the US Army. They are the bat­tal­ions of foot sol­diers in Thomas Bar­net­t’s sys-ad­min force – con­nect­ing Iraq to the US and the world. This role con­verts CEOs into generals/colonels in the US glob­al­iza­tion ma­chine (lead­ers of new en­trants in the rapidly ex­pand­ing long tail of war­fare). They are now le­git­i­mate and highly prized tar­gets.

…The cor­po­ra­tion is a par­tic­u­larly bad or­ga­ni­za­tion for war­fare. It is much too cen­tral­ized. The in­sti­tu­tion of the CEO is a par­tic­u­lar weak­ness (a in global guer­rilla lin­go). The CEO’s net­work cen­tral­ity makes him/her a sin­gle point of fail­ure for the en­tire cor­po­rate or­gan­is­m….

  • Fi­nan­cial trau­ma. The de­par­ture of the CEO from a pub­lic com­pany can cre­ate sub­stan­tial mar­ket volatil­ity in the com­pa­ny’s stock (see this Fed study for more) for up to two years after the event. Note: This volatil­ity offers the in­cen­tive of rapid fi­nan­cial gains to guer­ril­las with the fore­knowl­edge of at­tacks through lever­aged in­vest­ments in op­tions and de­riv­a­tives…

…a CEO is an ex­cel­lent strate­gic tar­get as well as a tac­ti­cal tar­get. As a rule of thumb, I would con­sider all CEOs that reside/work within a na­tion-s­tate at war with non-s­tate guer­ril­las at risk. Un­der al­most all mea­sures of this new method of war­fare, CEOs are bet­ter tar­gets than gov­ern­ment or mil­i­tary offi­cials. Re­mem­ber, in this flat world, it is easy to pull up a CEO’s name, ad­dress, credit his­to­ry, and even a satel­lite photo of his/her home from a Cy­ber Cafe in Pe­shawar.

A wor­ri­some coun­ter-ex­am­ple is , which lost an en­tire office and 2⁄3 of its head­count on 9/11, but is still around. But this fits into the graph for­mal­ism well if we look at the de­tails and no­tice that the dam­age was en­tirely con­fined to a sin­gle group in CF. An office is just a sub­graph—los­ing an en­tire office meant that the hi­er­ar­chy was pre­served: one sub­tree was lopped off, and the main tree con­tin­ued. Every sur­vivor knew where they were in the hi­er­ar­chy. “The Sur­vivor Who Saw the Fu­ture for Can­tor Fitzger­ald”, re­veals many in­ter­est­ing de­tails from the ‘at­tack’ point of view rel­e­vant to the graph per­spec­tive:

  • Can­tor was the linch­pin of its busi­ness (“In 2001, more than 70% of all Trea­suries were traded through Can­tor.”), a busi­ness which, thanks al­most di­rectly to 9/11 and the sub­se­quent in­va­sions of Afghanistan & Iraq with the con­tin­ued deficits & war-spend­ing, was about to boom from $5.7 tril­lion to $16.1t 2000-2012:

    …based on data re­leased by the com­pany and pay­outs to fam­i­lies, Can­tor and eS­peed made about $150 mil­lion a year, on av­er­age, in the five years after the at­tacks. For all its losses and sor­rows, Can­tor ac­tu­ally had the wind at its back. eS­peed thrived in 2002 and 2003 thanks in part to the na­tion’s bal­loon­ing debt. As the gov­ern­ment sold more bonds to fi­nance its deficit, the bond mar­ket grew and Can­tor had more Trea­suries to trade.

  • the Can­tor CEO and chair­man, Howard W. Lut­nick, worked in the NYC office yet by sheer luck hap­pened to not be there

  • Can­tor had a Lon­don office and which was able to han­dle Can­tor’s main busi­ness:

    Un­able to reach Mr. Lut­nick on Sept. 11, Lee Amaitis, the head of the Lon­don office and a close friend, be­gan map­ping out a plan. He helped re­con­fig­ure Can­tor’s trad­ing sys­tems so that trades could be processed through Lon­don, rather than New York. Mr. Lut­nick and his re­main­ing em­ploy­ees in New York soon de­camped to a win­dow­less com­puter cen­ter in Rochelle Park, N.J. Thanks to eS­peed, Can­tor could clear its trades elec­tron­i­cal­ly. Forty-seven hours after the planes hit, as the bond mar­ket ner­vously re­opened for busi­ness, so did Can­tor.

  • the afore­men­tioned eS­peed was also cru­cial—the hu­mans were not that nec­es­sary:

    In 1999, he took pub­lic Can­tor’s elec­tronic trad­ing sub­sidiary, eS­peed. Some of his bro­kers feared that such elec­tronic trad­ing sys­tems would even­tu­ally put them out of work. In fact, Mr. Lut­nick’s elec­tronic push helped Can­tor stay afloat after Sept. 11. Can­tor lost al­most all of its bro­ker­s—but eS­peed did­n’t need bro­kers. With­out the new trad­ing tech­nol­o­gy, Can­tor might have gone un­der. “In a way, eS­peed saved them,” says Richard Repet­to, an an­a­lyst at San­dler O’Neill, which it­self lost 66 em­ploy­ees at the World Trade Cen­ter.

One could launch the at­tack dur­ing a board meet­ing or sim­i­lar gath­er­ing, and hope to have 1 fa­natic take out 10 or 20 tar­gets. But let’s be pes­simistic and as­sume each fa­natic can only ac­count for 1 tar­get—even if they spend months and years re­con­noi­ter­ing and prepar­ing fa­nat­i­cal­ly.

This leaves us 36 fa­nat­ics. GS will be at a min­i­mum im­paired dur­ing the at­tack; fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies al­most uniquely op­er­ate on such tight sched­ules that one day’s dis­rup­tion can open the door to pre­da­tion. We’ll as­sign 1 fa­natic the task of re­search­ing emails and tele­phone num­bers and ad­dresses of GS ri­vals; after a few years of con­stant schmooz­ing and FOIA re­quests and dump­ster-div­ing, he ought to be able to reach ma­jor traders at said ri­vals. (This can be done by hir­ing or be­com­ing a hacker group—as has al­ready pen­e­trated Gold­man Sachs—or pos­si­bly sim­ply by and sources like a .) When the ham­mer goes down, he’ll fire off no­ti­fi­ca­tions and sug­ges­tions to his con­tacts34. (For bonus points, he will then go off on an ad­di­tional sui­cide mis­sion.)

GS claims to have offices in all ma­jor fi­nan­cial hubs. Offhand, I would ex­pect that to be no more than 10 or 20 offices worth at­tack­ing. We as­sign 20 of our re­main­ing 35 fa­nat­ics the tasks of build­ing Ok­la­homa City-sized truck bombs. (This will take a while be­cause mod­ern fer­til­izer is con­t­a­m­i­nated specifi­cally to pre­vent this; our fa­nat­ics will have to re­search how to undo the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion or ac­quire al­ter­nate ex­plo­sives. The ex­am­ple of re­minds us that sim­ple guns may be bet­ter tools than bomb­s.) The 20 bombs may not elim­i­nate the offices com­plete­ly, but they should take care of de­mor­al­iz­ing the 29,000 in the lower ranks and punch a num­ber of holes in the sur­viv­ing sub­trees.

Let’s as­sume the 20 bom­b-builders die dur­ing the bomb­ing or re­main to pick off sur­vivors and ob­struct res­cue ser­vices as long as pos­si­ble.

What shall we do with our re­main­ing 15 agents? The offices lay in ru­ins. The cor­po­rate lords are dead. The lower ranks are run­ning around in ut­ter con­fu­sion, with long-op­pressed sub­or­di­nates wak­ing to re­al­ize that be­com­ing CEO is a live pos­si­bil­i­ty. The ri­vals have been tak­ing ad­van­tage of GS’s dis­ar­ray as much as pos­si­ble (although likely the mar­kets would be in the process of shut­ting down).

15 is al­most enough to as­sign one per office. What else could one do be­sides at­tack the office and its con­tents? Data cen­ters are a good choice, but hard­ware is very re­place­able and at­tack­ing them might im­pede the ri­vals’ efforts. One would want to de­stroy the soft­ware GS uses in trad­ing, but to do that one would have to at­tack the source repos­i­to­ries; those are likely ei­ther in the offices al­ready or diffi­cult to trace. (Y­ou’ll no­tice that we haven’t as­signed our fa­nat­ics any­thing par­tic­u­larly diffi­cult or sub­tle so far. I do this to try to make it seem as fea­si­ble as pos­si­ble; if I had fa­nat­ics be­com­ing mas­ter hack­ers and in­fil­trat­ing GS’s net­works to make dis­as­trous trades that bank­rupt the com­pa­ny, peo­ple might say ‘aw, they may be fa­nat­i­cally mo­ti­vat­ed, but they could­n’t re­ally do that’.)

It’s not enough to sim­ply dam­age GS once. We must at­tack on the psy­cho­log­i­cal plane: we must make it so that peo­ple fear to ever again work for any­thing re­lated to GS.

Let us pos­tu­late one of our 15 agents was as­signed a re­search task. He was to get the ad­dresses of all GS em­ploy­ees. (We may have al­ready needed this for our sur­gi­cal strike.) He can do this by what­ever mean: be­ing hired by GS’s HR de­part­ment, in­fil­trat­ing elec­tron­i­cal­ly, break­ing in and steal­ing ran­dom hard dri­ves, —what­ev­er. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Divvy the ad­dresses up into 14 ar­eas cen­tered around offices, and as­sign the re­main­ing 14 agents to travel to each ad­dress in their area and kill any­one there. A man may be will­ing to risk his own life for fab­u­lous gains in GS—but will he risk his fam­i­ly? (And fam­i­lies are easy tar­gets too. If the 14 agents be­gin be­fore the main at­tacks, it will be a while be­fore the Gold­man Sachs link be­comes ap­par­ent. Shoot­ing some­one is easy; get­ting away with it is the hard part.)

I would be shocked if Gold­man Sachs could sur­vive even half the agents.

The reader will ob­ject that this is an ab­surd mad in­tel­lec­tual game! Which it is. Where are 100 hu­mans who would not flinch at such cold-blooded mass mur­der, who will de­vote un­ceas­ing years to the mis­sion, who will live on $1 of bul­gur pi­laf a day to save money for bombs & bribes?

Coordination problems

Why do large coun­tries like France35 or China fo­cus on ham­mer­ing smooth all their eth­nic and lin­guis­tic di­ver­sity and es­tab­lish­ing “pa­tri­o­tism”? Why did find that “di­ver­sity” in Amer­ica cor­re­lated with low com­mu­nity trust, pub­lic goods, char­i­ty, friends, and qual­ity of life? Why do our 100 fa­nat­ics seem the stuff of fic­tion? Read­ing in eco­nom­ics on­ce, I hit the phrase “all eco­nom­ics is ”, and it seemed ex­actly true to me: why do busi­nesses have all these man­agers and in­fra­struc­ture and sheer ap­par­ent waste? Be­cause of and sim­i­lar is­sues, all of which can be con­strued as co­or­di­na­tion prob­lems. Why do we need them? Be­cause there are so many het­ero­ge­neous peo­ple in­volved, all differ­ing in var­i­ous ways with differ­ent in­ter­ests, and they need to be ham­mered into a co­her­ent force.

Why not just se­lect sim­i­lar peo­ple, elim­i­nate this mas­sive over­head of co­or­di­na­tion, and just let them work on stuff? After all, this seems to be ex­actly what hap­pens in places like the Apollo pro­gram or the spy satel­lite pro­grams, star­tups like Github or Ap­ple or Google or Mi­crosoft; far from il­lus­trat­ing how “di­ver­sity is strength”, these pro­grams seem to thrive on be­ing a ho­mo­ge­neous clus­ter of geeky young male White/Asian techs shar­ing the same cul­tural shib­bo­leths like Star Wars or Monty Python, with a strik­ing ab­sence of wom­en, blacks, His­pan­ics, or hu­man­i­ties types. If this bla­tant sys­tem­atic dis­crim­i­na­tion was not use­ful, why do we see so few star­tups blast­ing apart es­tab­lished tech gi­ants with their un­der­priced wom­en? (Alan Greenspan, for ex­am­ple, ran a profitable eco­nom­ics firm us­ing dis­crim­i­nat­ed-a­gainst women.) The easy an­swer is sim­ply that the dis­crim­i­na­tion works in get­ting the peo­ple they need with the Right Stuff. Well… it works for a while: there’s only so many en­er­getic skilled young techies. But when you can clus­ter enough of them in one ho­mo­ge­neous com­pa­ny, you may get some­thing amaz­ing.

Amaz­ing un­til it keeps grow­ing, het­ero­gene­ity builds up, and prob­lems with co­or­di­na­tion start hap­pen­ing…

Discussion

I have just laid out a scheme whereby agents ex­tra­or­di­nary only in ded­i­ca­tion have ex­erted world-shak­ing pow­er. Sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios are true of other sec­tors. (The Se­cret Ser­vice works hard, but can they pro­tect the Pres­i­dent against the 100 fa­nat­ic­s?) De­struc­tion and offense is al­ways eas­ier than con­struc­tion and de­fense, but it’s hard to see why the fa­natic ad­van­tage would be com­pletely negated in con­struc­tive en­ter­pris­es. (S­mall groups of pro­gram­mers and en­gi­neers rou­tinely rev­o­lu­tion­ize sec­tors of tech­nol­o­gy, with­out be­ing es­pe­cially fa­nat­i­cal.) But of course, we see very few such schemes in ei­ther di­rec­tion. That is the point. There is a very large gap be­tween what we can do and what we will do. Co­or­di­na­tion is ex­tremely hard (see again the prin­ci­pal-a­gent prob­lem).

But the scary thought is—will things re­main that way? I have been at pains to keep the agents or­di­nary. Is there any way now or in the fu­ture to cre­ate such agents? My thoughts, any­way, im­me­di­ately turn to the famed As­sas­sins, whose name sup­pos­edly comes from their use of hashish to de­lude their agents into more than usual re­li­gious zealotry, and who were quite effec­tive in bad cir­cum­stances un­til fi­nally ex­tir­pated by the Mon­gols. Yes, drugs are a wor­ry­ing prece­dent; the crav­ings of ad­dic­tion can make some­one do any­thing, no mat­ter how de­praved. And what are drugs but chem­i­cals which affect small parts of the brain? And if a chem­i­cal will affect the brain in such a way, are there chem­i­cals with en­hanced effects? Or an­other way of ac­com­plish­ing the same effect, per­haps with elec­tric­i­ty?

In short, is there any rea­son to be­lieve will not work in hu­mans like it works in mice? Wire­head­ing is gen­er­ally dis­missed36 as a prob­lem that neatly solves it­self: some­one with a elec­trode in their plea­sure cen­ter will be like a drug ad­dict with an un­lim­ited sup­ply—they will be­stir them­selves only enough to stay alive to keep ac­ti­vat­ing the elec­trode, if even that. Dar­win takes care of the prob­lem. But some see wire­head­ing as po­ten­tially very use­ful, and it is not hard to think of safe­guards. For ex­am­ple, what if the elec­trode is not un­der the con­trol of the sub­ject? Some­one else con­trol­ling it could use it to get use­ful work out of the sub­ject, al­though one could analo­gize a wire­head is an evil ge­nie: they truly care only about the stim­u­la­tion and get­ting con­trol of it, and not gen­uinely serv­ing the con­troller (eg ) and like all evil ge­nies, sus­cep­ti­ble to back­fir­ing spec­tac­u­larly on any­one try­ing to use them. (“The only thing that re­ally wor­ried me was the ether. There is noth­ing in the world more help­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble and de­praved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew we’d get into that rot­ten stuff pretty soon.”) That is one sce­nario. Here is an­oth­er: the elec­trode is un­der the con­trol of a pro­gram con­nected to met­rics cho­sen by the sub­ject, like go­ing to the gym. (Re­lated top­ic: nico­tine & habit-for­ma­tion.) The in­cen­tives are much more closely aligned: the sub­ject could gain con­trol of the stim­u­la­tion, but that would frus­trate an­other goal of his (go­ing to the gym). Imag­ine the pro­gram hooked up to a com­pre­hen­sive plan for at­tack­ing Gold­man Sachs; one rather doubts that an agent will break the plan and not eat bul­gur pi­laf if that means he is si­mul­ta­ne­ously sab­o­tag­ing the plan and also de­priv­ing him­self of plea­sure.

Such a prospect is awe­some, in both the neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive sense. A wire­head has such po­ten­tial.

And the next log­i­cal step, an up­loaded mind which has been patched and rewrit­ten to not even need plea­sure-cen­ter stim­uli to carry out its cho­sen goals? That would be a Sin­gu­lar­ity in the Vingean sense that one truly can­not pre­dict be­yond—whether the world will end in fire or ice.

The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker

The Bet­ter An­gels of Our Na­ture:

Where are they now? In most of the de­vel­oped world, do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism has gone the way of the poly­ester disco suits. It’s a lit­tle-known fact that most ter­ror­ist groups fail, and that all of them die.194 Lest this seem hard to be­lieve, just re­flect on the world around you. Is­rael con­tin­ues to ex­ist, North­ern Ire­land is still a part of the United King­dom, and Kash­mir is a part of In­dia. There are no sov­er­eign states in Kur­dis­tan, Palestine, Que­bec, Puerto Ri­co, Chech­nya, Cor­si­ca, Tamil Ee­lam, or Basque Coun­try. The Philip­pines, Al­ge­ria, Egypt, and Uzbek­istan are not Is­lamist theoc­ra­cies; nor have Japan, the United States, Eu­rope, and Latin Amer­ica be­come re­li­gious, Marx­ist, an­ar­chist, or new-age utopias.

The num­bers con­firm the im­pres­sions. In his 2006 ar­ti­cle “Why Ter­ror­ism Does Not Work”, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Max Abrahms ex­am­ined the 28 groups des­ig­nated by the U.S. State De­part­ment as for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions in 2001, most of which had been ac­tive for sev­eral decades. Putting aside purely tac­ti­cal vic­to­ries (such as me­dia at­ten­tion, new sup­port­ers, freed pris­on­ers, and ran­som), he found that only 3 of them (7%) had at­tained their goals: Hezbol­lah ex­pelled multi­na­tional peace­keep­ers and Is­raeli forces from south­ern Lebanon in 1984 and 2000, and the Tamil Tigers won con­trol over the north­east­ern coast of Sri Lanka in 1990. Even that vic­tory was re­versed by Sri Lanka’s rout of the Tigers in 2009, leav­ing the ter­ror­ist suc­cess rate at 2 for 42, less than 5%. The suc­cess rate is well be­low that of other forms of po­lit­i­cal pres­sure such as eco­nomic sanc­tions, which work about a third of the time. Re­view­ing its re­cent his­to­ry, Abrahms noted that ter­ror­ism oc­ca­sion­ally suc­ceeds when it has lim­ited ter­ri­to­r­ial goals, like evict­ing a for­eign power from land it had got­ten tired of oc­cu­py­ing, such as the Eu­ro­pean pow­ers who in the 1950s and 1960s with­drew from their colonies en masse, ter­ror­ism or no ter­ror­is­m.195 But it never at­tains max­i­mal­ist goals such as im­pos­ing an ide­ol­ogy on a state or an­ni­hi­lat­ing it out­right. Abrahms also found that the few suc­cesses came from cam­paigns in which the groups tar­geted mil­i­tary forces rather than civil­ians and thus were closer to be­ing guer­ril­las than pure ter­ror­ists. Cam­paigns that pri­mar­ily tar­geted civil­ians al­ways failed.

In her book How Ter­ror­ism Ends, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Au­drey Cronin ex­am­ined a larger dataset: 457 ter­ror­ist cam­paigns that had been ac­tive since 1968. Like Abrahms, she found that ter­ror­ism vir­tu­ally never works. Ter­ror­ist groups die off ex­po­nen­tially over time, last­ing, on av­er­age, be­tween five and nine years. Cronin points out that “states have a de­gree of im­mor­tal­ity in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem; groups do not.”196

Nor do they get what they want. No small ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion has ever taken over a state, and 94% fail to achieve any of their strate­gic aims.197 Ter­ror­ist cam­paigns meet their end when their lead­ers are killed or cap­tured, when they are rooted out by states, and when they morph into guer­rilla or po­lit­i­cal move­ments. Many burn out through in­ter­nal squab­bling, a fail­ure of the founders to re­place them­selves, and the de­fec­tion of young fire­brands to the plea­sures of civil­ian and fam­ily life.

…Only slightly less sub­tle are the meth­ods of Hamas and other Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ist groups, who hold out a car­rot rather than a stick to the ter­ror­ist’s fam­ily in the form of gen­er­ous monthly stipends, lump-sum pay­ments, and mas­sive pres­tige in the com­mu­ni­ty.219 Though in gen­eral one should not ex­pect ex­treme be­hav­ior to de­liver a pay­off in bi­o­log­i­cal fit­ness, the an­thro­pol­o­gists Aaron Black­well and Lawrence Sugiyama have shown that it may do so in the case of Pales­tin­ian sui­cide ter­ror­ism. In the West Bank and Gaza many men have trou­ble find­ing wives be­cause their fam­i­lies can­not afford a bride-price, they are re­stricted to mar­ry­ing par­al­lel cousins, and many women are taken out of the mar­riage pool by polyg­y­nous mar­riage or by mar­riage up to more pros­per­ous Arabs in Is­rael. Black­well and Sugiyama note that 99% of Pales­tin­ian sui­cide ter­ror­ists are male, that 86% are un­mar­ried, and that 81% have at least six sib­lings, a larger fam­ily size than the Pales­tin­ian av­er­age. When they plugged these and other num­bers into a sim­ple de­mo­graphic mod­el, they found that when a ter­ror­ist blows him­self up, the fi­nan­cial pay­off can buy enough brides for his broth­ers to make his sac­ri­fice re­pro­duc­tively worth­while.

Atran has found that sui­cide ter­ror­ists can also be re­cruited with­out these di­rect in­cen­tives. Prob­a­bly the most effec­tive call to mar­tyr­dom is the op­por­tu­nity to join a happy band of broth­ers. Ter­ror­ist cells often be­gin as gangs of un­der­em­ployed sin­gle young men who come to­gether in cafés, dorms, soc­cer clubs, bar­ber­shops, or In­ter­net chat rooms and sud­denly find mean­ing in their lives by a com­mit­ment to the new pla­toon. Young men in all so­ci­eties do fool­ish things to prove their courage and com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially in groups, where in­di­vid­u­als may do some­thing they know is fool­ish be­cause they think that every­one else in the group thinks it is cool.220 (We will re­turn to this phe­nom­e­non in chap­ter 8.) Com­mit­ment to the group is in­ten­si­fied by re­li­gion, not just the lit­eral promise of par­adise but the feel­ing of spir­i­tual awe that comes from sub­merg­ing one­self in a cru­sade, a call­ing, a vi­sion quest, or a ji­had. Re­li­gion may also turn a com­mit­ment to the cause into a sa­cred val­ue-a good that may not be traded off against any­thing else, in­clud­ing life it­self.221

The com­mit­ment can be stoked by the thirst for re­venge, which in the case of mil­i­tant Is­lamism takes the form of vengeance for the harm and hu­mil­i­a­tion suffered by any Mus­lim any­where on the planet at any time in his­to­ry, or for sym­bolic affronts such as the pres­ence of in­fi­del sol­diers on sa­cred Mus­lim soil. Atran summed up his re­search in tes­ti­mony to a U.S. Sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee:

When you look at young peo­ple like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, car­ried out the slaugh­ter on the Lon­don un­der­ground in 2005, hoped to blast air­lin­ers out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and jour­neyed far to die killing in­fi­dels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Yemen or So­ma­lia; when you look at whom they idol­ize, how they or­ga­nize, what bonds them and what dri­ves them; then you see that what in­spires the most lethal ter­ror­ists in the world to­day is not so much the Ko­ran or re­li­gious teach­ings as a thrilling cause and call to ac­tion that promises glory and es­teem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eter­nal re­spect and re­mem­brance in the wider world that they will never live to en­joy…. Ji­had is an egal­i­tar­i­an, equal-op­por­tu­nity em­ploy­er: . . . fra­ter­nal, fast-break­ing, thrilling, glo­ri­ous, and cool. Any­one is wel­come to try his hand at slic­ing off the head of Go­liath with a pa­per cut­ter.222

…The prospect of an at­tack that would kill mil­lions of peo­ple is not just the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble but con­sis­tent with the sta­tis­tics of ter­ror­ism. The com­puter sci­en­tists Aaron Clauset and Maxwell Young and the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Kris­t­ian Gled­itsch plot­ted the death tolls of eleven thou­sand ter­ror­ist at­tacks on log-log pa­per and saw them fall into a neat straight line.261 Ter­ror­ist at­tacks obey a pow­er-law dis­tri­b­u­tion, which means they are gen­er­ated by mech­a­nisms that make ex­treme events un­like­ly, but not as­tro­nom­i­cally un­like­ly.

The trio sug­gested a sim­ple model that is a bit like the one that Jean-Bap­tiste Michel and I pro­posed for wars, in­vok­ing noth­ing fancier than a com­bi­na­tion of ex­po­nen­tials. As ter­ror­ists in­vest more time into plot­ting their at­tack, the death toll can go up ex­po­nen­tial­ly: a plot that takes twice as long to plan can kill, say, four times as many peo­ple. To be con­crete, an at­tack by a sin­gle sui­cide bomber, which usu­ally kills in the sin­gle dig­its, can be planned in a few days or weeks. The 2004 Madrid train bomb­ings, which killed around two hun­dred, took six months to plan, and 9/11, which killed three thou­sand, took two years.262 But ter­ror­ists live on bor­rowed time: every day that a plot drags on brings the pos­si­bil­ity that it will be dis­rupt­ed, abort­ed, or ex­e­cuted pre­ma­ture­ly. If the prob­a­bil­ity is con­stant, the plot du­ra­tions will be dis­trib­uted ex­po­nen­tial­ly. (Cron­in, re­call, showed that ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions drop like flies over time, falling into an ex­po­nen­tial curve.) Com­bine ex­po­nen­tially grow­ing dam­age with an ex­po­nen­tially shrink­ing chance of suc­cess, and you get a power law, with its dis­con­cert­ingly thick tail. Given the pres­ence of weapons of mass de­struc­tion in the real world, and re­li­gious fa­nat­ics will­ing to wreak un­told dam­age for a higher cause, a lengthy con­spir­acy pro­duc­ing a hor­ren­dous death toll is within the realm of think­able prob­a­bil­i­ties.

…A few brave an­a­lysts, such as Mueller, John Para­chini, and Michael Levi, have taken the chance by ex­am­in­ing the dis­as­ter sce­nar­ios com­po­nent by com­po­nent.271 For starters, of the four so-called weapons of mass de­struc­tion, three are far less mas­sively de­struc­tive than good old-fash­ioned ex­plo­sives.272 Ra­di­o­log­i­cal or “dirty” bombs, which are con­ven­tional ex­plo­sives wrapped in ra­dioac­tive ma­te­r­ial (ob­tained, for ex­am­ple, from med­ical waste), would yield only mi­nor and short­-lived el­e­va­tions of ra­di­a­tion, com­pa­ra­ble to mov­ing to a city at a higher al­ti­tude. Chem­i­cal weapons, un­less they are re­leased in an en­closed space like a sub­way (where they would still not do as much dam­age as con­ven­tional ex­plo­sives), dis­si­pate quick­ly, drift in the wind, and are bro­ken down by sun­light. (Re­call that poi­son gas was re­spon­si­ble for a tiny frac­tion of the ca­su­al­ties in World War I.) Bi­o­log­i­cal weapons ca­pa­ble of caus­ing epi­demics would be pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive to de­velop and de­ploy, as well as dan­ger­ous to the typ­i­cally bungling am­a­teur labs that would de­velop them. It’s no won­der that bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal weapons, though far more ac­ces­si­ble than nu­clear ones, have been used in only three ter­ror­ist at­tacks in thirty years.273 In 1984 the Ra­jneeshee re­li­gious cult con­t­a­m­i­nated salad in the restau­rants of an Ore­gon town with sal­mo­nel­la, sick­en­ing 751 peo­ple and killing none. In 1990 the Tamil Tigers were run­ning low on am­mu­ni­tion while at­tack­ing a fort and opened up some chlo­rine cylin­ders they found in a nearby pa­per mill, in­jur­ing 60 and killing none be­fore the gas wafted back over them and con­vinced them never to try it again. The Japan­ese re­li­gious cult Aum Shin­rikyo failed in ten at­tempts to use bi­o­log­i­cal weapons be­fore re­leas­ing sarin gas in the Tokyo sub­ways, killing 12. A fourth at­tack, the 2001 an­thrax mail­ings that killed 5 Amer­i­cans in me­dia and gov­ern­ment offices, turned out to be a spree killing rather than an act of ter­ror­ism.


  1. Mao’s death toll has been es­ti­mated to be any­where from 10 mil­lion to 80 mil­lion, or 120,000-960,000 deaths per year ( - ). If we use the per-year death rate from Alan Har­ris of 1000, and ap­ply it to the 20th cen­tury (a gen­er­ous ap­pli­ca­tion), then the last cen­tu­ry’s ter­ror­ism death toll was still vastly smaller than a sin­gle year of Mao.

    One re­view of US mil­i­tary pro­grams speaks for it­self (“Mil­i­tary So­cial In­flu­ence in the Global In­for­ma­tion En­vi­ron­ment: A Civil­ian Primer”, King 2010):

    Be­yond this, U.S. mil­i­tary per­cep­tion man­age­ment spe­cial­ists are con­vinced that mod­ern en­emy in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns have been so suc­cess­ful that they have tipped the bal­ance in re­cent con­flict, suc­cess­fully frus­trat­ing U.S. and al­lied forces (Collings & Ro­hozin­ski, 2008; Mur­phy, 2010; Seib, 2008). For in­stance, it has been ar­gued that op­ti­mal man­age­ment of satel­lite tele­vi­sion, In­ter­net-based me­dia, and jour­nal­ist ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion thwarted Is­raeli De­fense Force (IDF) ac­tiv­ity in Lebanon in 2006 (Cald­well et al., 2009). And Al Qaeda, many be­lieve, con­tin­ues to be a for­mi­da­ble foe, not be­cause of mil­i­tary re­sources, but as a re­sult of their highly co­or­di­nated global me­dia cam­paign (K­il­cul­len, in Pack­er, 2006; Seib, 2008).

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  2. : “In the 29 OECD coun­tries for which com­pa­ra­ble data were avail­able, the an­nual av­er­age death rate from road in­jury was ap­prox­i­mately 390 times that from in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism. The ra­tio of an­nual road to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism deaths (av­er­aged over 10 years) was low­est for the United States at 142 times. In 2001, road crash deaths in the US were equal to those from a Sep­tem­ber 11 at­tack every 26 days.”↩︎

  3. And let’s not even talk about the usual death toll; “The Most Dan­ger­ous Per­son in the World?”, :

    Deaths of Amer­i­cans due to ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the US State De­part­ment, have av­er­aged less than 15 per year since 2002. And all of those oc­curred abroad. The ma­jor­ity were in Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and the Oc­cu­pied Pales­tin­ian Ter­ri­to­ries. (Civil­ian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were not counted due to the fact those oc­curred in war zones.)

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  4. John Mueller, “Re­act­ing to Ter­ror­ism: Prob­a­bil­i­ties, Con­se­quences, and the Per­sis­tence of Fear”; Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty, Feb­ru­ary 6, 2007:

    How­ev­er, as can be seen in the fig­ure, the num­ber of peo­ple world­wide who die as a re­sult of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism by this de­fi­n­i­tion is gen­er­ally a few hun­dred a year. In fact, un­til 2001 far fewer Amer­i­cans were killed in any group­ing of years by all forms of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism than were killed by light­ning. More­over, ex­cept for 2001, vir­tu­ally none of these ter­ror­ist deaths oc­curred within the United States it­self. In­deed, out­side of 2001, fewer peo­ple have died in Amer­ica from in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism than have drowned in toi­lets. Even with the Sep­tem­ber 11 at­tacks in­cluded in the count, how­ev­er, the num­ber of Amer­i­cans killed by in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism over the pe­riod is not a great deal more than the num­ber killed by light­ning—or by ac­ci­den­t-caus­ing deer or by se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tions to peanuts over the same pe­ri­od. In al­most all years the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple world­wide who die at the hands of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists is not much more than the num­ber who drown in bath­tubs in the United States—­some 300–400.

    An­other as­sess­ment comes from as­tronomer Alan Har­ris. Us­ing State De­part­ment fig­ures, he as­sumes a world­wide death rate from in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism of 1000 per year—that is, he as­sumes in his es­ti­mate that there would be an­other 9/11 some­where in the world every sev­eral years. Over an 80 year pe­riod un­der those con­di­tions some 80,000 deaths would oc­cur which would mean that the life­time prob­a­bil­ity that a res­i­dent of the globe will die at the hands of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ists is about one in 75,000 (6 bil­lion di­vided by 80,000). This, he points out, is about the same like­li­hood that one would die over the same in­ter­val from the im­pact on the earth of an es­pe­cially il­l-di­rected as­ter­oid or comet. If there are no re­peats of 9/11, the life­time prob­a­bil­ity of be­ing killed by an in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist be­comes about one in 120,000.

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  5. Never are more rel­e­vant than in se­cu­ri­ty. From Mueller & Stew­art 2011:

    Al­though these tal­lies make for grim read­ing, the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple killed in the years after 9/11 by Mus­lim ex­trem­ists out­side of war zones comes to some 200 to 300 per year. That, of course, is 200 to 300 too many, but it hardly sug­gests that the de­struc­tive ca­pac­i­ties of the ter­ror­ists are mon­u­men­tal. For com­par­ison, dur­ing the same pe­riod more peo­ple—320 per year—drowned in bath­tubs in the United States alone. Or there is an­oth­er, rather un­pleas­ant com­par­i­son. In­creased de­lays and added costs at U.S. air­ports due to new se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures pro­vide in­cen­tive for many short­-haul pas­sen­gers to drive to their des­ti­na­tion rather than fly­ing, and, since dri­ving is far riskier than air trav­el, the ex­tra au­to­mo­bile traffic gen­er­ated has been es­ti­mated to re­sult in 500 or more ex­tra road fa­tal­i­ties per year.

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  6. Given the rar­ity and low costs of at­tacks, it’s very hard to jus­tify ex­pen­sive se­cu­rity mea­sures like s; a con­ser­v­a­tive analy­sis nev­er­the­less writes in its ab­stract:

    The cost of this tech­nol­ogy will reach $1.2 bil­lion per year by 2014. The pa­per de­vel­ops a cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis of AITs for pas­sen­ger screen­ing at U.S. air­ports. The analy­sis con­sid­ered threat prob­a­bil­i­ty, risk re­duc­tion, loss­es, and costs of se­cu­rity mea­sures in the es­ti­ma­tion of costs and ben­e­fits. Since there is un­cer­tainty and vari­abil­ity of these pa­ra­me­ters, three al­ter­nate prob­a­bil­ity (uncer­tain­ty) mod­els were used to char­ac­terise risk re­duc­tion and loss­es. Eco­nomic losses were as­sumed to vary from $2-50 bil­lion, and risk re­duc­tion from 5-10%. Mon­te-Carlo sim­u­la­tion meth­ods were used to prop­a­gate these un­cer­tain­ties in the cal­cu­la­tion of ben­e­fits, and the min­i­mum at­tack prob­a­bil­ity nec­es­sary for AITs to be cost-effec­tive was cal­cu­lat­ed. It was found that, based on mean re­sults, more than one at­tack every two years would need to orig­i­nate from U.S. air­ports for AITs to pass a cost-ben­e­fit analy­sis. In other words, to be cost-effec­tive, AITs every two years would have to dis­rupt more than one at­tack effort with body-borne ex­plo­sives that oth­er­wise would have been suc­cess­ful de­spite other se­cu­rity mea­sures, ter­ror­ist in­com­pe­tence and am­a­teur­ish­ness, and the tech­ni­cal diffi­cul­ties in set­ting off a bomb suffi­ciently de­struc­tive to down an air­lin­er. The at­tack prob­a­bil­ity needs to ex­ceed 160-330% per year to be 90% cer­tain that AITs are cost-effec­tive.

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  7. Or con­sider the broader pic­ture; “Ter­ror, Se­cu­ri­ty, and Mon­ey: Bal­anc­ing the Risks, Ben­e­fits, and Costs of Home­land Se­cu­rity” (2011), by John Mueller and Mark Stew­art:

    The cu­mu­la­tive in­crease in ex­pen­di­tures on US do­mes­tic home­land se­cu­rity over the decade since 9/11 ex­ceeds one tril­lion dol­lars…Thus far, offi­cials do not seem to have done so and have en­gaged in var­i­ous forms of prob­a­bil­ity ne­glect by fo­cus­ing on worst case sce­nar­ios; adding, rather than mul­ti­ply­ing, the prob­a­bil­i­ties; as­sess­ing rel­a­tive, rather than ab­solute, risk; and in­flat­ing ter­ror­ist ca­pac­i­ties and the im­por­tance of po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist tar­gets. We find that en­hanced ex­pen­di­tures have been ex­ces­sive: to be deemed cost-effec­tive in analy­ses that sub­stan­tially bias the con­sid­er­a­tion to­ward the op­po­site con­clu­sion, they would have to de­ter, pre­vent, foil, or pro­tect against 1,667 oth­er­wise suc­cess­ful Times-Square type at­tacks per year, or more than four per day.

    …As we ap­proach the tenth an­niver­sary of 9/11, fed­eral ex­pen­di­tures on do­mes­tic home­land se­cu­rity have in­creased by some $360 bil­lion over those in place in 2001. More­over, fed­eral na­tional in­tel­li­gence ex­pen­di­tures aimed at de­feat­ing ter­ror­ists at home and abroad have gone up by $110 bil­lion, while state, lo­cal, and pri­vate sec­tor ex­pen­di­tures have in­creased by a hun­dred bil­lion more. And the vast ma­jor­ity of this in­crease, of course, has been dri­ven by much height­ened fears of ter­ror­ism, not by grow­ing con­cerns about other haz­ard­s-as Veronique de Rugy has not­ed, by 2008 fed­eral spend­ing on coun­tert­er­ror­ism had in­creased enor­mously while pro­tec­tion for such com­pa­ra­ble risks as fraud and vi­o­lent crime had not, to the point where home­land se­cu­rity ex­pen­di­tures had out­paced spend­ing on all crime by $15 bil­lion.[3] Tal­ly­ing all these ex­pen­di­tures and adding in op­por­tu­nity cost­s-but leav­ing out the costs of the ter­ror­is­m-re­lated (or ter­ror­is­m-de­ter­mined) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and quite a few other items that might be in­clud­ed-the in­crease in ex­pen­di­tures on do­mes­tic home­land se­cu­rity over the decade ex­ceeds one tril­lion dol­lars.

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  8. There are a num­ber of es­ti­mates of how much :

    1. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mated Iraq at $50-60 bil­lion.
    2. in 2005 es­ti­mated a to­tal cost of >$2 tril­lion.
    3. In 2008 Stiglitz upped it to >$3 tril­lion (see The Three Tril­lion Dol­lar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Con­flict).
    4. In 2011, Pres­i­dent Obama pub­licly es­ti­mated the cost of Afghanistan & Iraq at >$1 tril­lion.
    5. Also in 2011, the es­ti­mated Pen­ta­gon ex­pen­di­tures at >$1.3 tril­lion from 2001 to 2011.
    6. The 2011 re­port “The Costs of War” puts it at >$3.2 tril­lion (omit­ting in­ter­est, non-fed­eral med­ical & so­cial ser­vice ex­pens­es, aid to Iraq or Afghanistan or Pak­istan, or dam­age done to non-Amer­i­can in­ter­est­s).
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  9. From the trans­la­tion of a 2001 record­ing of Bin Laden re­leased by the Pen­tagon:

    …we cal­cu­lated in ad­vance the num­ber of ca­su­al­ties from the en­e­my, who would be killed based on the po­si­tion of the tow­er. We cal­cu­lated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most op­ti­mistic of them all…

    No­tice that Bin Laden clearly does not ex­pect any tow­ers to col­lapse, much less 2 or 3, and that only the peo­ple on a few floors would be killed; con­trast this to the re­li­able & eas­ily cal­cu­lated fig­ures of >4000 ca­su­al­ties if Al Qaeda had in­stead car­ried out the (which suc­cess­fully tested a bomb on board an in­ter­na­tional air­lin­er). While the re­sults of 9/11 were ul­ti­mately more im­pres­sive, this was un­fore­see­able by AQ; it was the wrong choice to make if they cared about re­sults. (Play­ing the lot­tery is a bad de­ci­sion, even if you hap­pen to win one time.)

    For more con­text, see a com­pi­la­tion of 1994–2004 state­ments by Bin Laden (which does not in­clude the above).↩︎

  10. “Global ter­ror­ism fol­lows a power law”, Physics World, dis­cussing te pa­per :

    Clauset and Young analysed a data­base that con­tains de­tails of more than 19,900 ter­ror­ist events that oc­curred in 187 coun­tries be­tween 1968 and 2004. Ac­cord­ing to the data­base, which is main­tained by the Na­tional Memo­r­ial In­sti­tute for the Pre­ven­tion of Ter­ror­ism (MIPT), at least one per­son was killed or in­jured in some 7,088 of these events.

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  11. “Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Ir­re­versible De­cline or Im­mi­nent Vic­to­ry?”, Brian Michael Jenk­ins, RAND 2012:

    Ar­rests of home­grown ter­ror­ists show an uptick in 2009 and 2010, but this is pri­mar­ily the re­sult of in­creased re­cruit­ing in the So­mali di­as­pora and the FBI’s in­creased use of sting op­er­a­tions. Ethiopi­a’s in­va­sion of So­ma­lia pro­voked strong sen­ti­ments among Amer­i­ca’s So­ma­l­is, who re­gard Ethiopi­ans as their his­tor­i­cal en­e­mies. Fund-rais­ing and re­cruit­ing be­gan soon after, which U.S. au­thor­i­ties be­came aware of when Amer­i­can So­ma­lis turned up in So­ma­lia. This dis­cov­ery led to a na­tion­wide effort in­volv­ing fed­eral agents and lo­cal po­lice work­ing with co­op­er­a­tive So­mali com­mu­ni­ties to pre­vent fur­ther re­cruit­ing.

    For­tu­nate­ly, few of Amer­i­ca’s ji­hadists have proved to be very ded­i­cated or com­pe­tent. They are not de­ter­mined, cun­ning “lone wolves”; they are skit­tish stray dogs. Most of the 32 ji­hadist ter­ror­ist plots un­cov­ered since 9/11 were im­ma­ture ex­pres­sions of in­ten­tions. Only ten had what could be de­scribed as an op­er­a­tional plan, and of the­se, six were FBI stings. Per­haps the most se­ri­ous in­ter­rupted plot was Na­jibul­lah Zaz­i’s plan to carry out sui­cide bomb­ings in New York’s sub­ways. Out­side of the stings, only three plots led to at­tempted at­tacks. One was Faisal Shaz­ad’s failed bomb­ing in Times Square. Only two re­sulted in fa­tal­i­ties: Car­los Bled­soe’s shoot­ing at an Army Re­cruit­ing Cen­ter in Arkansas and Nidal Hasan’s at­tack at Fort Hood. “Ac­tive shoot­ers” like Hasan are cur­rently con­sid­ered the most wor­ri­some threat.

    By com­par­ison, the United States saw an av­er­age of 50 to 60 ter­ror­ist bomb­ings per year in the 1970s and a greater num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties. The pas­sage of ten years since 9/11 with­out a ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack on an Amer­i­can tar­get abroad or at home is un­prece­dented since the 1960s.

    And think, these num­bers are all true de­spite how much the FBI stings smell like en­trap­ment and trumped-up mal­con­tents; AQ in­deed has lit­tle op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity un­der any se­ri­ous pres­sure—un­less one wishes to ar­gue that the US gov­ern­ment is ac­tu­ally com­pe­tent when it comes to fight­ing ter­ror­ism, though nowhere else?↩︎

  12. Of course, ter­ror­ism is not about ter­ror, so it’s not a sur­prise that ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish­ing ter­ror­ist groups could ex­pe­ri­ence ‘mis­sion drift’ or ‘lost pur­poses’ where mem­bers pre­fer the sta­tus quo and in­ac­tiv­ity and pur­su­ing more con­ge­nial goals that used to be cor­re­lated with the or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­com­plish­ing its goal (much like Max Planck’s quote that sci­ence ad­vances ).

    “Aca­d­e­mics De­bate Whether Osama bin Laden’s Death Will Have Imapct on al-Qaeda Lead­ers”:

    …53% of the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions that suffered such a vi­o­lent lead­er­ship loss fell apart—which sounds im­pres­sive un­til you dis­cover that 70% of groups who did not deal with an as­sas­si­na­tion no longer ex­ist. Fur­ther crunch­ing of the num­bers re­vealed that lead­er­ship de­cap­i­ta­tion be­comes more coun­ter­pro­duc­tive the older the group is. The differ­ence in col­lapse rates (be­tween groups that did and did not have a leader as­sas­si­nat­ed) is fairly small among or­ga­ni­za­tions less than 20 years old but quite large for those more than 20 years in age, and even larger for those that have been around more than 30 years.

    As­sas­si­na­tion of a leader does seem to neg­a­tively im­pact smaller ter­ror­ist groups: The data shows or­ga­ni­za­tions with fewer than 500 mem­bers are more likely to col­lapse if they suffer such a lead­er­ship loss. But or­ga­ni­za­tions with more than 500 mem­bers are ac­tu­ally more likely to sur­vive after an as­sas­si­na­tion, mak­ing this strat­egy “highly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for larger groups,” Jor­dan writes.

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  13. Con­sider how was ar­rested for dri­ving with­out li­cense plates, or was ar­rested after the try­ing to get his de­posit back for the truck used in the bomb­ing, or the for sleep­ing in their car, or John Au­so­nius rob­bing banks on a bi­cy­cle, or a Mus­lim Russ­ian who blew her­self up when an un­ex­pected text mes­sage was sent by her cell­phone car­rier (or So­ma­lis just blow­ing them­selves up, not that they beat the Iraqi in­struc­tor who killed him­self & 21 re­cruits), or the British Mus­lim who es­chewed in fa­vor of a “be­cause ‘kaffirs’, or non-be­liev­ers, so it must be ”!

    , after clev­erly ar­rang­ing con­tact with his as­sas­si­na­tion tar­get (a Saudi deputy Min­is­ter), de­cided to ex­e­cute him with a bomb hid­den up his anus; the bomb was not big enough to do more than slightly in­jure the min­is­ter (but did kill him). Ibrahim Ab­deslam did like­wise, per­haps be­cause he smoked too much weed to bother with plan­ning.

    The Boston bombers were un­done when they de­cided it would be a great idea to kill a po­lice offi­cer, then do some car­jack­ing and rob­bery.

    The bomber failed to do his home­work and be­lieved he had cre­ated a fer­til­izer bomb, but he had­n’t, and in any case, his wiring meant that all he ac­com­plished was set­ting his car on fire. Still, that was bet­ter than the , where they tried to use a car bomb made out of propane, but drove the car into a bol­lard rather than any­where im­por­tant, set it on fire, and one of the ter­ror­ists him­self caught on fire and was the only fa­tal­i­ty. (Propane is a re­cur­ring theme and does not seem to work very well, eg an­other French at­tack sim­i­larly failed: “Inès Madani, 19, and her three friends were al­leged to have fol­lowed to the let­ter his in­struc­tions to ‘fill a car with gas cylin­ders, sprin­kle petrol in it and park in a busy street … BOOM.’ The women ran off leav­ing the warn­ing lights flash­ing after fail­ing to det­o­nate the gas by set­ting fire to a rag.”)

    ran over 9 peo­ple—killing none—and turned him­self in peace­ably; re­port­edly, he man­aged to choose a nar­row area where he could­n’t ac­cel­er­ate, was too lazy to get a gun per­mit so he could buy a gun, de­cided not to en­list in the US mil­i­tary be­cause he had bad eye­sight, and in gen­eral was feck­less, prompt­ing the re­porter to write:

    Taher­i-Azar’s in­com­pe­tence as a ter­ror­ist is be­wil­der­ing. Surely some­one who was will­ing to kill and die for his cause, spend­ing months con­tem­plat­ing an at­tack, could have found a more effec­tive way to kill peo­ple. Why was­n’t he able to ob­tain a firearm or im­pro­vise an ex­plo­sive de­vice or try any of the hun­dreds of mur­der­ous schemes that we all know from movies, tele­vi­sion shows, and the In­ter­net, not to men­tion the news? And once Taher­i-Azar de­cided to run peo­ple over with a car, why did he pick a site with so lit­tle room to ac­cel­er­ate?

    A would-be ji­hadist tried to but had to beg for his hand­gun back after two Amer­i­can sol­diers wres­tled it away and in any event, all his guns had jammed and he knew nei­ther how to un­jam a gun nor how to load a mag­a­zine into his hand­gun.

    In the , Mo­hamed La­houaiej Bouh­lel tried the Taher­i-Azar strat­egy but this time chose a open street filled with crowds and used a truck (as pre­vi­ously rec­om­mended by Al-Qaeda & later by ISIS, and also em­ployed in the with >11 fa­tal­i­ties); this sim­ple strat­egy re­sulted in an as­ton­ish­ing 84+ deaths. Still, there were some pe­cu­liar as­pects: po­lice “found a fake au­to­matic pis­tol; two fake as­sault ri­fles, a Kalash­nikov and an M-16; a non­func­tion­ing grenade; and a mo­bile phone and doc­u­ments.”, leav­ing one to won­der why a ter­ror­ist would bring along a bro­ken grenade and 3 use­less gun­s—the grenade un­der­stand­ably could­n’t be tested in ad­vance, but surely he at least test-fired the as­sault ri­fles? Which makes the lazi­ness of (0 fa­tal­i­ties) all the more re­mark­able in telling his ISIS re­cruiter (whose frus­tra­tion can only be imag­ined) that he was­n’t go­ing to bother to learn how to drive a car:

    The tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion be­gins with the ter­ror chief ask­ing: “What weapons do you in­tend to kill with?” Riaz replied: “Knife and axe are at the ready.” It goes on: “Broth­er, would it not be bet­ter to do it with a car?” He re­sponds: “I can not dri­ve.” The ter­ror chief in­structs: “You should learn.” Khan an­swers: “Learn­ing takes time.” The ISIS com­man­der then re­spond­ed: “The dam­age would be much greater.” Khan says: “I want to go to par­adise tonight.”

    con­ducted >3 bomb­ings in NY/NJ in 2016, killing no one, and was quickly iden­ti­fied be­cause of fin­ger­prints & the cell­phones he used as det­o­na­tors were reg­is­tered in his name; de­spite his head start, he only made it a few miles into NJ where he was found sleep­ing, home­less-style, in front of a bar↩︎

  14. From “The Ter­ror­ism Delu­sion: Amer­i­ca’s Over­wrought Re­sponse to Sep­tem­ber 11”:

    In sharp con­trast, the au­thors of the [50] case stud­ies, with re­mark­ably few ex­cep­tions, de­scribe their sub­jects with such words as in­com­pe­tent, in­effec­tive, un­in­tel­li­gent, id­i­otic, ig­no­rant, in­ad­e­quate, un­or­ga­nized, mis­guid­ed, mud­dled, am­a­teur­ish, dopey, un­re­al­is­tic, mo­ron­ic, ir­ra­tional, and fool­ish.9 And in nearly all of the cases where an op­er­a­tive from the po­lice or from the Fed­eral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion was at work (al­most half of the to­tal), the most ap­pro­pri­ate de­scrip­tor would be “gullible”. In all, as Shikha Dalmia has put it, would-be ter­ror­ists need to be “rad­i­cal­ized enough to die for their cause; West­ern­ized enough to move around with­out rais­ing red flags; in­ge­nious enough to ex­ploit loop­holes in the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus; metic­u­lous enough to at­tend to the myr­iad lo­gis­ti­cal de­tails that could tor­pedo the op­er­a­tion; self­-suffi­cient enough to make all the prepa­ra­tions with­out en­list­ing out­siders who might give them away; dis­ci­plined enough to main­tain com­plete se­cre­cy; and-above al­l-psy­cho­log­i­cally tough enough to keep func­tion­ing at a high level with­out crack­ing in the face of their own im­pend­ing death.”10 The case stud­ies ex­am­ined in this ar­ti­cle cer­tainly do not abound with peo­ple with such char­ac­ter­is­tics. In the eleven years since the Sep­tem­ber 11 at­tacks, no ter­ror­ist has been able to det­o­nate even a prim­i­tive bomb in the United States, and ex­cept for the four ex­plo­sions in the Lon­don trans­porta­tion sys­tem in 2005, nei­ther has any in the United King­dom. In­deed, the only method by which Is­lamist ter­ror­ists have man­aged to kill any­one in the United States since Sep­tem­ber 11 has been with gun­fire—in­flict­ing a to­tal of per­haps six­teen deaths over the pe­riod (cases 4, 26, 32).11

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  15. Di­rec­tor Chris Mor­ris on the re­al-life in­spi­ra­tions:

    I was, out of cu­rios­i­ty, just read­ing about the sub­ject. I was read­ing a book by Ja­son Burke on Al-Qaeda, and I came across an ex­am­ple of a bunch of peo­ple from Yemen who wanted to blow up a U.S. war­ship on Mil­len­nium Eve. They went down in the mid­dle of the night, 3 a.m., they filled up a boat with ex­plo­sives, and it sank. I thought, “Ah.” I laughed out loud when I read that. I was­n’t ex­pect­ing to laugh when I was read­ing that book. Then I came across a cou­ple more ex­am­ples—a guy who set out to blow up an offi­cer at a com­pound, I think it was a Kur­dish com­pound. He went off on a job, he was called back, so he built up over an­other week and a half, ba­si­cally got him­self psy­ched up to do it, went up to the com­pound. As he was go­ing through the gate the guard said, “Who are you here to see?” He said, “I’m here to see the chief offi­cer.” He said, “All right. By the way, what’s un­der your shirt?” The guy said, “Oh, yeah, it’s a bomb.” And again I thought, this is just ridicu­lous. How he got to that point. And then I started pur­su­ing that line. I read a few other books, and sim­i­lar lit­tle silly things hap­pened, things that were sort of stu­pid­-level, or­di­nary hu­man be­hav­ior fun­ny. Then I went to a high court case. There were a bunch of guys in the docks for buy­ing fer­til­izer mak­ing very loose plans what to do with it, and there was about three months of sur­veil­lance from MI-5. Page after page of ab­solutely lu­di­crous, pretty much stoner dri­v­el. Drug-free, but it was hard to be­lieve when you read it. I thought, wait, we’re on to some­thing here. The ide­ol­ogy is ter­ri­fy­ing, but it’s some­what mod­i­fied when it’s jux­ta­posed with con­ver­sa­tions about what a great ac­tor Johnny Depp is, how cool he’d look with a big beard. Just silly things, which seem sur­pris­ing, un­til you think, “Why would these guys be any differ­ent to any other bunch of guys?”… I was struck that Khalid Sheikh Mo­hammed took an hour to get him­self ready for the cam­era, be­cause he kept want­ing to choose a cos­tume that did­n’t make him look fat. You have this, I think, right the way through the top.

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  16. Al­though such spec­u­la­tion can be very fun and quite ed­u­ca­tion­al. I re­fer the in­ter­ested reader to the thou­sands of plots sug­gested in first, sec­ond, third, and fourth “Movie-Plot Threat Con­tests”↩︎

  17. Ire­land’s es­ti­mated loss in dol­lars from the .↩︎

  18. “An un­ad­dressed is­sue of agri­cul­tural ter­ror­ism: A case study on feed se­cu­rity”, Kosal & An­der­son 2004:

    Fifteen years lat­er, also in rural Wis­con­sin, chlor­dane, an organochlo­rine pes­ti­cide, was in­ten­tion­ally added to ren­der­ing plant ma­te­r­ial that was then dis­trib­uted to ma­jor an­i­mal feed pro­duc­ers (Ne­her, 1999; Schuldt, 1999). Tainted feed was iden­ti­fied as hav­ing been dis­trib­uted to over 4,000 farms, prin­ci­pally dairies, and led to re­calls in four Mid­west­ern states of prod­ucts in­clud­ing cheese, but­ter, and ice cream that were sus­pected of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. The ac­tion level for chlor­dane is parts per bil­lion. The charged sus­pect [caught through let­ters] was a com­peti­tor of the tar­geted fa­cil­i­ty. The cost to the feed pro­ducer alone was es­ti­mated at over $250 mil­lion.

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  19. Kosal & An­der­son 2004, de­scrib­ing the :

    In late win­ter 1999, poul­try farm­ers in Bel­gium be­gan re­port­ing sharp de­creases in egg pro­duc­tion, chicks ex­hibit­ing ab­nor­mal de­vel­op­men­tal be­hav­ior, and in­stances of un­ex­pected death, pre­dom­i­nantly due to eggs fail­ing to hatch (Bernard et al., 1999; Craw­ford, 1999; Lok and Pow­ell, 2000). -con­t­a­m­i­nated feed orig­i­nat­ing from a sin­gle pro­ducer of fat for an­i­mal feed was found to be the cause. Ap­par­ent­ly, one sin­gle stor­age tank had been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. The in­ci­dent prompted a U.S. ban on all chicken and pork from the Eu­ro­pean Union; trade sus­pen­sions and warn­ings with re­spect to other Eu­ro­pean food­stuffs were is­sued by over 30 gov­ern­ments around the world. The es­ti­mated fi­nan­cial im­pact ex­ceeded $1.5 bil­lion (Reuters, 1999; Lok and Pow­ell, 2000). Three cab­i­net-level min­is­ters from Hol­land and Bel­gium re­signed, and the Bel­gium Pre­mier lost his June 1999 re­elec­tion bid. The offi­cial source of the dioxin has not been con­clu­sively de­ter­mined.

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  20. Wikipedia fails to men­tion that the 2 in­fa­mous grapes were prob­a­bly not even poi­soned.↩︎

  21. “Poi­soned Grapes, Mad Cow, and Pro­tec­tion­ism”, En­gel 1999.↩︎

  22. You would think that by this point we would know ex­actly how many!↩︎

  23. Bruce Schneier re­marks in 2011, of a survey/book of known Amer­i­can ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents which found that most in­volved law en­force­ment and its in­form­ers, that none suc­cess­fully em­ployed a bomb:

    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.

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  24. Inas­much as Bum-kon could’ve killed his vic­tims as effec­tively with his firearms. His at­tacks were un­op­posed by the po­lice and were stopped by his sui­cide, so Bum-kon could have just shot the <10 peo­ple killed by grenades; Wikipedia de­scribes his leisurely mas­sacre:

    Ini­tial­ly, he killed three op­er­a­tors at the lo­cal tele­phone ex­change to pre­vent oth­ers call­ing from emer­gency ser­vices. He then walked from house to house and used his po­si­tion as a po­lice offi­cer to make peo­ple feel safe and gain en­try into their homes. He shot most of his vic­tims, but in one case he killed an en­tire fam­ily with a grenade. He con­tin­ued this pat­tern for a full eight hours. After Woo had shot a num­ber of peo­ple in one vil­lage, he would re­sume the spree killing in a nearby vil­lage. In the early hours of April 27, after ram­pag­ing through five vil­lages in Uiryeong coun­ty, Woo took his fi­nal two grenades and strapped them to his body. He then held three peo­ple cap­tive and then set the grenades’ fus­es, killing both him­self and his fi­nal vic­tims.

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  25. “Where Are All The Ter­ror­ist At­tacks?”, 2010-05-04:

    As the de­tails of the Times Square car bomb at­tempt emerge in the wake of Faisal Shahzad’s ar­rest Mon­day night, one thing has al­ready been made clear: Ter­ror­ism is fairly easy. All you need is a gun or a bomb, and a crowded tar­get. Guns are easy to buy. Bombs are easy to make. Crowded tar­gets – not only in New York, but all over the coun­try – are easy to come by. If you’re will­ing to die in the after­math of your at­tack, you could launch a pretty effec­tive ter­ror­ist at­tack with a few days of plan­ning, maybe less.

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  26. Ac­cord­ing to the , the re­sources ac­tu­ally ex­pended by al-Qaeda on 9/11 were roughly >$500,000 and 5 years.↩︎

  27. This is just his con­firmed kill count.↩︎

  28. Im­pos­si­ble, you say, that they could re­main at lib­erty for so long? Then con­sider the ex­am­ple of the “Mad Bomber”, who placed 47 bombs in New York City over 20 years, in­jur­ing 15 peo­ple. He was only ap­pre­hended when his let­ters to the news­pa­pers be­gan in­clud­ing such de­tails as work­ing for Con Edi­son & then de­vel­op­ing pneu­mo­nia & tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.↩︎

  29. ↩︎

  30. One pos­si­ble ob­jec­tion to my sniper plot is that by se­lect­ing Simo Häyhä as my ex­em­plar, and sug­gest­ing that an in­defi­nite kil­l-rate of 1 per­son per mon­th, I am cher­ry-pick­ing my data; most ter­ror­ist-s­nipers, the sug­ges­tion goes, would be more akin to the by John Allen Muham­mad and Lee Boyd Malvo: re­sult­ing in few deaths (11) and rel­a­tively quick ap­pre­hen­sion (3 week­s).

    The DC sniper at­tacks, how­ev­er, were not con­ducted at sniper ranges, were mul­ti­ple killings by the same per­son in the same time and lo­ca­tion, and were con­ducted poor­ly—the two were ar­rested and dis­cov­ered be­cause they were sleep­ing in their car.↩︎

  31. Mueller & Stew­art 2011:

    Be­yond the tiny band that con­sti­tutes al-Qaeda cen­tral, there are, con­tin­ues Sage­man, thou­sands of sym­pa­thiz­ers and would-be ji­hadists spread around the globe who mainly con­nect in In­ter­net chat rooms, en­gage in rad­i­cal­iz­ing con­ver­sa­tions, and var­i­ously dare each other to ac­tu­ally do some­thing. [Hoff­man, Bruce. 2006. In­side Ter­ror­ism. Re­vised and ex­pand­ed. New York: Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­sity Press.] All of these rather hap­less-per­haps even pa­thet­ic-peo­ple should of course be con­sid­ered to be po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. From time to time they may be able to co­a­lesce enough to carry out acts of ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence, and polic­ing efforts to stop them be­fore they can do so are cer­tainly jus­ti­fied. But the no­tion that they present an ex­is­ten­tial threat to just about any­body seems at least as fan­ci­ful as some of their schemes.

    By 2005, after years of well-funded sleuthing, the FBI and other in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies noted in a re­port that they had been un­able to un­cover a sin­gle true al-Qaeda sleeper cel­l…It fol­lows that any ter­ror­ism prob­lem in the United States and the West prin­ci­pally de­rives from rather small num­bers of home­grown peo­ple, often iso­lated from each oth­er, who fan­ta­size about per­form­ing dire deeds and some­times re­ceive a bit of train­ing and in­spi­ra­tion over­seas.

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  32. Steve Moore, “The Moun­tain of Miss­ing Ev­i­dence” while writ­ing on the case:

    When I was on an FBI SWAT Team, we had an ex­er­cise de­signed to teach us the dan­gers of try­ing to fight off a knife at­tack. A red mag­ic-marker played the part of a knife, and an “as­sailant” would at­tempt to at­tack an­other mem­ber of the SWAT Team with it. We did this in white t-shirts and open sleeves so we could see the wounds. Within sec­onds, the as­sailant had usu­ally dis­patched the vic­tim with stabs and slash­ing at­tacks to the neck and tor­so, as the vic­tim fought back des­per­ate­ly. With­out ex­cep­tion though, the at­tacker was “cut”. Al­ways. And al­most every time on the hands or fin­gers. This is be­cause the vic­tim, in at­tempt­ing to fight off a knife, reaches for the hands, which de­flects the knife into fin­gers or other parts of the hands. In ad­di­tion to the “cuts”, there were bruises and lac­er­a­tions sim­ply from el­bows and arms fly­ing. Al­so, fold­ing knives have no ‘hilt’, a per­pen­dic­u­lar piece be­tween the knife han­dle and blade to keep your hand from slid­ing for­ward when us­ing the knife for stab­bing. When this hap­pens, the at­tacker usu­ally re­ceives slash in­juries to his fin­ger just be­low (or in the vicin­ity of) the sec­ond knuck­le. Amanda could not have known that. She had no such cuts. Rudy Guede, when ar­rested had such cuts across three of his fin­gers. One piece of ev­i­dence used against O.J. Simp­son in his stabbing/slashing mur­der trial was that he had a se­vere cut on his fin­ger, likely in­flicted dur­ing a stab­bing mo­tion when his hand slid over the blade. In the FBI, I have been in­volved in sev­eral phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tions, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of at­tempts to take a knife away from a per­son. Each of those events ended in all par­ties hav­ing bruises and/or cuts. And these peo­ple weren’t fight­ing for their life; they were just fight­ing to keep from be­ing ar­rest­ed. Mered­ith had 46 wounds con­sis­tent with a fight for her life. Rudy had just such cuts on his hand. If Mered­ith had been at­tacked by three peo­ple, is it plau­si­ble that in all of Mered­ith’s fight­ing that she was un­able to in­flict a sin­gle scratch or a bruise on ei­ther of her other two at­tack­ers? Not re­al­ly.

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  33. All anec­dotes like Lin­coln or Kennedy or Arch­duke Fer­di­nand aside, sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis seems to bear out that, as one might ex­pect, as­sas­si­na­tions do change things. See , Jones & Olken 2009.↩︎

  34. This may or may not be a use­ful strat­e­gy. was re­port­edly sav­aged by its fel­lows, who smelled its fi­nan­cial weak­ness­es; but Can­tor Fitzger­ald was re­port­edly at­tacked after 9/11, yet has sur­vived:

    Such was Mr. Lut­nick’s rep­u­ta­tion that in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, some of his ri­vals ac­tu­ally gloated over Can­tor’s dev­as­ta­tion. They jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to put an end to his firm, which pock­eted many mil­lions in com­mis­sions while en­abling the great in­vest­ment houses to trade bonds in rel­a­tive anonymi­ty.

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  35. See for ex­am­ple Rob­b’s 2007 The Dis­cov­ery of France, and more gen­er­ally fas­ci­nat­ing See­ing Like A State.↩︎

  36. eg. in or Larry Niven’s Known Space↩︎