Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security

By John Mueller; Mark G. Stewart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Terrorism as a Hazard to Human Life

In its perfunctory two paragraphs assessing “the nature of the terrorist adversary,” the major 2009 Department of Homeland Security report discussed in the previous chapter projects an image of that enemy that is threatening and diabolical: one that is “relentless, patient, opportunistic, and flexible”; plots “carefully planned attacks on economic, transportation, and symbolic targets”; seriously threatens “national security”; and could inflict “mass casualties, weaken the economy, and damage public morale and confidence.”1

That description may fit some terrorists—some of the 9/11 hijackers and planners among them—but not, it seems likely, the vast majority. This chapter and the next are devoted to evaluating the nature and capacities of the terrorist “adversary,” to tallying the damage it may be able to inflict, and to assessing whether these are likely to change much in the future.

However underconsidered in such reports, this issue is absolutely key to assessing homeland security policy and expenditure, relating centrally as it does to the likelihood and potential consequences of terrorist acts in the United States and in other Western countries. That is, as set out in the previous chapter, two of the central variables that must be considered in any sensible cost-benefit analysis of counterterrorism are the likelihood of a terrorist attack and the costs such an attack might inflict.

In these two chapters, we attempt to supply a reasonably comprehensive basis for thinking about these crucial issues in order to undergird some of the more systematic analysis in later chapters. This chapter deals with the nature of the challenge presented by terrorism, particularly the international or transnational terrorism that is of most concern to people in the

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