The mystery of homeland security
Why have no more attacks occurred?



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Since the invasion of Iraq some four years ago, the United States and the new Iraqi government have failed to prevent terrorist attacks against civilians inside Iraq. The terrorists seem to have the ability to strike where and when they want, despite the best efforts of the two governments. In fact, the harder the United States tries to prevent terrorist attacks, the more terrorist attacks there are. Put simply, despite trying just about everything — artillery barrages, search-and-destroy missions, armor assaults, city invasions, troop increases, the use of mercenaries, home invasions, bombing raids, mass imprisonment, torture, executions, targeted assassinations, intrusive checkpoints, propaganda and psychological warfare operations, the total suspension of civil liberties, citywide curfews, and covert intelligence operations — the United States has been unable to stop terrorist violence in Iraqi. The situation, of course, is similar in Afghanistan and Israel. Finally, for roughly 20 years Washington failed to prevent al Qaeda and other terrorist outfits from pulling off successful attacks against U.S. military and civilian targets.

Interestingly, all of that stands in sharp contrast to the near-total immunity from terrorist attacks against U.S. civilians that we have enjoyed since 9/11. That is to say, despite a roughly 20-year record of failure at preventing terrorism against Americans, culminating in the attacks of September 11, 2001; a demonstrated inability to prevent terror attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a 60-year record of failure on the part of the Israelis, over the course of the past six years the U.S. government has achieved what it, at least, trumpets as success in preventing terror attacks against American civilians. And whatever the real reason may be, it is the case that virtually no attacks have occurred. If we are to believe Washington's propaganda with respect to its internal-security accomplishments, we face a truly curious asymmetry — total failure and total success at solving essentially the same problem.

To resolve the paradox, three explanations immediately spring to mind:

       1. The terrorists have decided to stop targeting American civilians;
       2. A primarily law-enforcement-based approach to preventing terror works better than a primarily military-based one;
       3. The U.S. government has struck some kind of secret deal with the terrorists, a deal that allows the terrorists to launch attacks in Iraq (and presumably in Afghanistan as well) but not in the United States or even against American civilians outside of Iraq (and presumably Afghanistan).

Of course, other possible explanations exist. I would, however, like to simply and briefly consider the possibilities above. What follows is more an exploration of them — an exercise in thinking out loud — than an attempt to favor one over the others. In point of fact, I believe the scant evidence that is publicly available prevents us from drawing any definite conclusions.

The first explanation, that American civilians have been spared while Iraqis and others have been made to suffer because of a terrorist decision not to attack American civilians, strikes me as prima facie implausible. What reason could the terrorists have for not targeting American civilians, especially when seen against the backdrop of September 11? Why would the terrorists attack with such zeal and ferocity, only to back off immediately thereafter? Do they hope to win over hearts and minds? If so, why not make that clear?

Perhaps they lack the necessary resources or want to focus their efforts in Iraq. But that, too, strains credulity, especially when considered against the backdrop of the dreadful Virginia Tech massacre. In that instance, an apparently untrained student, armed only with handguns, was able to murder 32 people in a matter of minutes. Imagine the carnage a team of, say, three trained terrorists with automatic weapons could produce in a mall on a crowded Saturday, without seriously interfering with terrorist operations in Iraq and elsewhere. Perhaps, for reasons unknown, the terrorists have decided to stop targeting American civilians. However unlikely, we cannot rule out that possibility absent more evidence.

The second possible explanation, that law enforcement has succeeded where the military has failed, should be the most exciting to friends of liberty. This counterintuitive possibility would provide empirical evidence that we need not trade freedom for security, that open societies and the rule of law can succeed where closed societies and tyranny fail. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any evidence that would allow us to test this possibility. Moreover, this explanation is complicated by the fact that the government has adopted military-style and despotic measures here at home. That tyranny is failing to curb terror violence in Mesopotamia seems clear; that what remains of American liberty is succeeding here at home remains, to the best of my knowledge, speculative.

The third and final possibility, that a deal between the terrorists and the U.S. government explains the disparity in terrorist violence, while seemingly absurd, is a viable possibility when considered against the backdrop of history. Indeed, there can be no doubt that in the past the U.S. government, or at least elements within the government, have cut deals with some of the very terrorist organizations that Washington is ostensibly fighting against at present. From Afghanistan to the Balkans and elsewhere, elements within our own government have worked with known terrorists to achieve various strategic and tactical ends. Despite that suggestive history, I am aware of no hard evidence directly implicating Washington in such a nefarious deal in the present context.


The question has been posed: Why have we seen so few successful terrorist attacks against American civilians, and in particular against the American homeland, over the past several years, yet so much terrorist violence in Iraq and Afghanistan over roughly the same period of time? Why has there been no terrorist attack on American soil since September 11 but countless such attacks on Iraqi and Afghani soil? Three possible explanations were offered and briefly analyzed in response to this query: (1) that the terrorists have decided on their own to stop attacking us; (2) that law enforcement works; or (3) that a secret deal between our government and the terrorists was reached to halt attacks against American civilians. Some combination of the three may provide the answer; alternatively, a fourth explanation that we have not considered might prove to be the correct one. Either way, an important question has been raised, however imperfectly, and three possible explanations considered. I hope that future research will shed light on the present darkness.

April 28, 2007

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