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description: More effective ways to kill = terrorists are stupid, or killing not most important thing to them
One of the least commonly noted pieces of evidence for the theory that [Terrorism is not about Terror](Terrorism is not about Terror#the-problem) 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 centuries[^mao]. [9/11](!Wikipedia "September 11 attacks"), the crowning incident of terrorism in those centuries, was equaled by just 29 days^[<>] of car accidents in the USA[^state] - and 9/11 was only *accidentally* that successful![^bojinka] Remarkably, it seems that it is *unusual* for terrorist attacks to so much as injure a single person; one database puts the number of such attacks at only 35% of all attacks.[^mipt] And statistically, it seems that for established terrorist groups, assassinating their leader does them a *favor* - they survive longer, presumably because they had ossified.[^ossify] Stories about terrorist incompetence are legion[^incompetence] and the topic is now played for laughs (eg. the 2010 movie _[Four Lions](!Wikipedia)_), prompting columnists [to tell us]( to ignore all the incompetence and continue to be afraid.
[^incompetence]: Consider how [Timothy McVeigh](!Wikipedia) was arrested for driving without license plates or the [DC snipers](!Wikipedia "Beltway sniper attacks") for sleeping in their car, or a Muslim Russian who [blew herself up]( when an unexpected text message was sent by her carrier, or the [British Muslim]( who eschewed [AES](!Wikipedia "Advanced Encryption Standard") in favor of a [Caesar cipher](!Wikipedia) "because 'kaffirs', or non-believers, [know about it](!Wikipedia "Kerckhoffs's Principle") so it must be [less secure](!Wikipedia "Security through obscurity")". [Mohammed Taheri-Azar](!Wikipedia) 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?"
[^bojinka]: 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 [Bojinka plot](!Wikipedia) (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.)
[^mipt]: ["Global terrorism follows a power law"](, _Physics World_, discussing te [ArXiv](!Wikipedia) paper ["Title: Scale Invariance in Global Terrorism"](
> "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."
[^ossify]: 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 [death by death](!Wikipedia "Paradigm shift")).
["Academics Debate Whether Osama bin Laden's Death Will Have Imapct on al-Qaeda Leaders"](
> "...Fifty-three percent of the terrorist organizations that suffered such a violent leadership loss fell apart - which sounds impressive until you discover that 70 percent 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."
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-art[^bruce]; history teaches us quite enough.
Cases like the [2008 Mumbai attacks](!Wikipedia) (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. But we can point to others:
1. The [Chicago Tylenol murders](!Wikipedia) (7 deaths, national panic, culprit unknown) seem to have involved nothing more complicated than some shoplifting, dumping in some cyanide, and putting the bottles back on the shelves.
2. Some pesticide in the wrong place can cost a nation $150 million^[Ireland's estimated loss in dollars from the [Irish pork crisis of 2008](!Wikipedia).],
3. a company >$250 million[^feed],
4. or a continent $1.5 billion.[^fat]
5. And an [*anonymous* phone call](!Wikipedia "1989 Chilean grape scare")^[Wikipedia fails to mention that the 2 infamous grapes were probably [not even poisoned](] cost the Chilean economy $300 million.^[["Poisoned Grapes, Mad Cow, and Protectionism"](, Engel 1999.]
[^feed]: ["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."
[^fat]: Kosal & Anderson 2004, describing the [Dioxin Affair](!Wikipedia):
> "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). [Dioxin](!Wikipedia)-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."
# Competent murders
The natural comparison, of course, is to private citizens without government backing who set out to kill a lot of people. 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: "[List of mass murderers and spree killers by number of victims](!Wikipedia)".
As of 2010, the all-time record was held by one [Woo Bum-kon](!Wikipedia), who killed 56-62^[You would think that by this point we would know exactly how many!] people in 1982, with an honorable mention to [William Unek](!Wikipedia) (57 confirmed kills as of 1957). The US record goes to [Seung-Hui Cho](!Wikipedia) with 32 kills in 2007. Bum-kon lost the record in 2011 to the Norwegian [Anders Behring Breivik](!Wikipedia) who killed 7 with a bomb and then killed 69 campers with firearms[^firearms], totaling 77 kills.
[^firearms]: Bruce Schneier [remarks](, 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."
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 toll[^bum].
- William Unek killed his first 21 people with just an axe.
- In the [Akihabara massacre](!Wikipedia), 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.
- 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.)
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 Schneier[^bruceeasy]; 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 [AQAP](!Wikipedia "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula") 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 [Nidal Hassan](!Wikipedia) 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."
[^bruceeasy]: ["Where Are All The Terrorist Attacks?"](, 4 May 2010:
> "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."
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 available^[According to the _[9/11 Commission Report](!Wikipedia)_, the resources actually expended by al-Qaeda on 9/11 were roughly >$500,000 and 5 years.] do?
Well, I can't answer that. But I can point to an interesting example.
[Simo Häyhä](!Wikipedia) was a Finnish [sniper](!Wikipedia) in the [Winter War](!Wikipedia), when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. He ultimately killed over 542^[This is just his confirmed kill count.] 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 serial killers teach us this 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. How much more so could a sniper picking random targets!
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 [Philip Bobbitt](!Wikipedia)'s _Terror and Consent_ -- the [propaganda of the deed](!Wikipedia) 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 area[^madbomber]. 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?
[^madbomber]: Impossible, you say, that they could remain at liberty for so long? Then consider the example of [George Metesky](!Wikipedia) 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 [highly specific](!Wikipedia "George Metesky#Journal-American letters") details as working for Con Edison & then developing pneumonia & tuberculosis.
Consider the [2001 anthrax attacks](!Wikipedia) 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 (0.002%^[$\frac{5}{2974} \times 100$]). 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 plot[^dc].
## Social factors
If I may, the social explanation (see my "[Terrorism is not about Terror]()") 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?[^sageman] (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?)
[^sageman]: 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."
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.
[^bruce]: Although such speculation can be *very* fun and quite educational. I refer the interested reader to the thousands of plots suggested in [Bruce Schneier](!Wikipedia)'s [first](, [second](, [third](, and [fourth]( "Movie-Plot Threat Contests"
[^bum]: 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."
[^dc]: 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 [Beltway sniper attacks](!Wikipedia) 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.
[^state]: And let's not even talk about the usual death toll:
> "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.)" --["The Most Dangerous Person in the World?"](, _[CounterPunch](!Wikipedia)_
> "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." --John Mueller, ["Reacting to Terrorism: Probabilities, Consequences, and the Persistence of Fear"](; Ohio State University, February 6, 2007
Never are [opportunity costs](!Wikipedia) 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."
Given the rarity and low costs of attacks, it's *very* hard to justify expensive security measures like [full body scanner](!Wikipedia)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."
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."
There are a number of estimates of how much [Iraq has cost](!Wikipedia "Financial cost of the Iraq War"):
1. The Bush administration estimated Iraq at $50-60 billion.
2. [Joseph Stiglitz](!Wikipedia) 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 [CRS](!Wikipedia "Congressional Research Service") estimated Pentagon expenditures at [>$1.3 trillion]( from 2001 to 2011.
6. The [Watson Institute for International Studies](!Wikipedia)'s 2011 report ["The Costs of War"]( puts it at >$3.2 trillion (omitting interest, non-federal medical & social service expenses, aid to Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, or damage done to non-American interests).
[^mao]: Mao's death toll has been estimated to be anywhere from 10 million to 80 million, or 120,000-960,000 deaths per year ($\frac{10000000}{1976 - 1893}$ - $\frac{80000000}{1976 - 1893}$). 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 significantly smaller than a single year of Mao.
One review of US military [psyops](!Wikipedia) 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)."
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 twenty-eight 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 percent) 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 percent. 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 percent 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 percent of Palestinian suicide terrorists are male, that 86 percent are unmarried, and that 81 percent 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.
A survey of cultures by the anthropologist Laila Williamson reveals that infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by every kind of society, from non-state bands and villages (77 percent of which have an accepted custom of infanticide) to advanced civilizations.102 Until recently, between 10 and 15 percent of all babies were killed shortly after they were born, and in some societies the rate has been as high as 50 percent.103 In the words of the historian Lloyd deMause, "All families once practiced infanticide. All states trace their origin to child sacrifice. All religions began with the mutilation and murder of children."104
Martin Daly and Margo Wilson tested the triage theory by examining a sample of sixty unrelated societies from a database of ethnographies.111 Infanticide was documented in a majority of them, and in 112 cases the anthropologists recorded a reason. Eighty-seven percent of the reasons fit the triage theory: the infant was not sired by the woman’s husband, the infant was deformed or ill, or the infant had strikes against its chances of surviving to maturity, such as being a twin, having an older sibling close in age, having no father around, or being born into a family that had fallen on hard economic times.
The technological efficiency of daughter-proofing a pregnancy may make it seem as if the girl shortage is a problem of modernity, but female infanticide has been documented in China and India for more than two thousand years.119 In China, midwives kept a bucket of water at the bedside to drown the baby if it was a girl. In India there were many methods: "giving a pill of tobacco and bhang to swallow, drowning in milk, smearing the mother’s breast with opium or the juice of the poisonous Datura, or covering the child’s mouth with a plaster of cow-dung before it drew breath." Then and now, even when daughters are suffered to live, they may not last long. Parents allocate most of the available food to their sons, and as a Chinese doctor explains, "if a boy gets sick, the parents may send him to the hospital at once, but if a girl gets sick, the parents may say to themselves, ‘Well, we’ll see how she is tomorrow.’ "120
Female infanticide, also called gendercide and gynecide, is not unique to Asia.121 The Yanomamö are one of many foraging peoples that kill more newborn daughters than sons. In ancient Greece and Rome, babies were "discarded in rivers, dunghills, or cesspools, placed in jars to starve, or exposed to the elements and beasts in the wild."122 Infanticide was also common in medieval and Renaissance Europe.123 In all these places, more girls perished than boys. Often families would kill every daughter born to them until they had a son; subsequent daughters were allowed to live.
The evolutionary anthropologists Sarah Hrdy and Kristen Hawkes have each shown that the Trivers-Willard theory gets only half of the story right. In India, it’s true that the higher castes tend to kill their daughters. Unfortunately, it’s not true that the lower castes tend to kill their sons. In fact, it’s hard to find a society anywhere that kills its sons.128 The infanticidal cultures of the world are either equal-opportunity baby-killers or they prefer to kill the girls-and with them, the Trivers-Willard explanation for female infanticide in humans.
Whether they are new mothers in desperate straits, putative fathers doubting their paternity, or parents preferring a son over a daughter, people in the West can no longer kill their newborns with impunity.135 In 2007 in the United States, 221 infants were murdered out of 4.3 million births. That works out to a rate of 0.00005, or a reduction from the historical average by a factor of two to three thousand. About a quarter of them were killed on their first day of life by their mothers, like the "trash-can moms" who made headlines in the late 1990s by concealing their pregnancies, giving birth in secret (in one case during a high school prom), smothering their newborns, and discarding their bodies in the trash.136 These women find themselves in similar conditions to those who set the stage for infanticide in human prehistory: they are young, single, give birth alone, and feel they cannot count on the support of their kin. Other infants were killed by fatal abuse, often by a stepfather. Still others perished at the hands of a depressed mother who committed suicide and took her children with her because she could not imagine them living without her. Rarely, a mother with postpartum depression will cross the line into postpartum psychosis and kill her children under the spell of a delusion, like the infamous Andrea Yates, who in 2001 drowned her five children in a bathtub.
What drove down the Western rate of infanticide by more than three orders of magnitude? The first step was to criminalize it. Biblical Judaism prohibited filicide, though it didn’t go the whole hog: killing an infant younger than a month did not count as murder, and loopholes were claimed by Abraham, King Solomon, and Yahweh himself for Plague #10.137 The prohibition became clearer in Talmudic Judaism and in Christianity, from which it was absorbed into the late Roman Empire. The prohibition came from an ideology that held that lives are owned by God, to be given and taken at his pleasure, so the lives of children no longer belonged to their parents. The upshot was a taboo in Western moral codes and legal systems on taking an identifiable human life: one could not deliberate on the value of the life of an individual in one’s midst. (Exceptions were exuberantly made, of course, for heretics, infidels, uncivilized tribes, enemy peoples, and transgressors of any of several hundred laws. And we continue to deliberate on the value of statistical lives, as opposed to identifiable lives, every time we send soldiers or police into harm’s way, or scrimp on expensive health and safety measures.)
For almost a millennium and a half the Judeo-Christian prohibition against infanticide coexisted with massive infanticide in practice. According to one historian, exposure of infants during the Middle Ages "was practiced on a gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference."145 Milner cites birth records showing an average of 5.1 births among wealthy families, 2.9 among the middle class, and 1.8 among the poor, adding, "There was no evidence that the number of pregnancies followed similar lines."146 In 1527 a French priest wrote that "the latrines resound with the cries of children who have been plunged into them."147
At various points in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, systems of criminal justice tried to do something about infanticide....Various fig leaves were procured. The phenomenon of "overlying," in which a mother would accidentally smother an infant by rolling over it in her sleep, at times became an epidemic. Women were invited to drop off their unwanted babies at foundling homes, some of them equipped with turntables and trapdoors to ensure anonymity. The mortality rates for the inhabitants of these homes ranged from 50 percent to more than 99 percent. 149 Women handed over their infants to wet nurses or "baby farmers" who were known to have similar rates of success. Elixirs of opium, alcohol, and treacle were readily obtainable by mothers and wet nurses to becalm a cranky infant, and at the right dosage it could becalm them very effectively indeed. Many a child who survived infancy was sent to a workhouse, "without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing," as Dickens described them in Oliver Twist, and where "it did perversely happen in eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident; in any one of which cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world, and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this." Even with these contrivances, tiny corpses were a frequent sight in parks, under bridges, and in ditches. According to a British coroner in 1862, "The police seemed to think no more of finding a dead child than they did of finding a dead cat or a dead dog."150
It is true that in much of the world today, a similar proportion of pregnancies end in abortion as the fraction that in centuries past ended in infanticide. 151 Women in the developed West abort between 12 and 25 percent of their pregnancies; in some of the former communist countries the proportion is greater than half. In 2003 a million fetuses were aborted in the United States, and about 5 million were aborted throughout Europe and the West, with at least another 11 million aborted elsewhere in the world. If abortion counts as a form of violence, the West has made no progress in its treatment of children. Indeed, because effective abortion has become widely available only since the 1970s (especially, in the United States, with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision), the moral state of the West hasn’t improved; it has collapsed.
STEVEN PINKER: This speaks to the original question of why a lot of these beliefs persist. And I'm always puzzled how, if you take all of this literally as some profess to do, that it really does lead to some - and speaking anachronistically as a post-enlightenment secular humanist - it leads to all kinds of pernicious consequences. Like if the only thing that keeps you from an eternity of torment is accepting Jesus as your savior, well, if you torture someone until they embrace Jesus, you're doing them the biggest favor of their lives. It's better a few hours now than all eternity. And if someone is leading people away from this kind of salvation, well, they're the most evil Typhoid Mary that you can imagine, and exterminating them would be a public health measure because they are luring people into an eternity of torment, and there could be nothing more evil. Again, it's totally anachronistic. The idea of damnation and hell is, by modern standards, a morally pernicious concept. If you take it literally, though, then of course torturing Jews and atheists and heretics and so on, is actually a very responsible public health measure. Nowadays, people both profess to believe in The Book of Revelation, and they also don't think it's a good idea to torture Jews and heretics and atheists.
_The Better Angels of Our Nature_
...STEVEN PINKER: Even the televangelists who are thundering from their pulpits, probably don't think it's a good idea to torture Jews. And in fact, in public opinion polls, there's a remarkable change through the 20th century, in statements like, all religions are equally valid, and ought to be respected. which today, the majority of Americans agree with. And in the 1930s, needless to say, the majority disagreed with. What I find fascinating is, what kind of compartmentalization allows, on the one hand, people to believe in a literal truth of judgment day, eternal torment, but they no longer, as they once did, follow through the implication, well, we'd better execute heretics and torture nonbelievers. On one hand they've got admirably, a kind of post-enlightenment ecumenical tolerant humanism, torturing people is bad. On the other hand, they claim to hold beliefs that logically imply that torturing heretics would be an excellent thing. It's interesting that the human mind can embrace these contradictions and that fortunately for all of us, the humanistic sentiments trump the, at least, claimed belief in the literal truth of all of this.