Think Like the Enemy

If you were a terrorist, how would you attack?” asks Steven Levitt at the newly relocated Freakonomics blog.

The best terrorist plan I have heard is one that my father thought up after the D.C. snipers created havoc in 2002. The basic idea is to arm 20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrange to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

It’s an interesting question to approach from a sociological direction. If you’re really out to scare people, grand gestures aren’t the way to go. It’s the little things that matter, so to speak.

Which makes me wonder, was it the best move to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center towers? This realization is coming about five years too late, but I’m just a lay person so I don’t have to be on the ball all the time. (Not to mention I was just starting secondary school in 2001.)

Maybe Al Qaeda wasn’t aiming to terrorize people so much as demonstrate it’s power to the world audience. Naturally, people would be freaked out, but I suspect the continued American preoccupation with terrorism is more a function of domestic politics. After all, red-staters are the ones living in fear but it’s blue New Yorkers who went through the real thing.

I’m not saying Al Qaeda didn’t expect to terrorize Americans, but things wouldn’t be so bad today if that fear hadn’t been appropriated by politicians for their own gain – and the world’s loss. Instead of a rational reaction against the forces that nourish Al Qaeda, bombs and rhetoric where thrown around in panic.

If I’m right, the last five years have seen billions of dollars and thousands of lives spent on a political farce.

Terrorism is a serious threat to all western nations, but not as much as millions of people in Missouri and South Carolina have been led to believe. And it’s certainly not the kind of threat we can combat with tanks and jets.


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