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There is obviously no clear and agreed upon definition of the politically potent term terrorism. The phenomenon of people making violent attacks intended to serve some kind of political purpose has been going on pretty much since human societies became complex enough to have formal political institutions. However, in US political discourse since 9/11 use of the term seems to have some recurring themes. They are generally related to our perceptions of that attack and the fear that similar incidents could recur on a regular basis. Those elements include:

Organized and carried out by people who are not US citizens

Aimed at US civilians on US soil

Motivated by an anti-US ideoligical movement, most likely with an Islamic connection

The justifications that have been offered by government officials for the various activities of the NSA and CIA have focused on keeping Americans safe from threats that appear to fall within this framework.

There was one basic reason that the perpetrators of 9/11 were actually able to pull it off  - sloppy airline security. If the procedures that were supposed to be in place had been closely adhered to, there is a very good chance that they would have been stopped at the gate. One of the first responses to the incident was establishing the TSA and that I believe is why we have not had another incident of similar airline violence. Airport security is annoying and inconvenient, but it definitely appears to be worth the investment.

As far as I can tell we really haven't had anymore terrorist attacks on American soil by non-US citizens. In the 12 years since 9/11 the first incident to come along that sort of qualifies is the Boston bombing earlier this year. We have had a number of reports of various plots, but nothing has actually happened. The Boston incident was carried out by two brothers who were US citizens at the time. What is of course ironic is that the older brother had been identified as someone with possible terrorist connections, but that information was not used to make any attempt to prevent the attacks.

In the meantime during those 12 years Americans have faced many other threats of violence and a number of them have lost their lives as a result. Three incidents that come quickly to mind are the mass shootings in Tucson, AZ, Aurora, CO and Newton, CN. The perpetrators of these incidents were white American men and are being labeled as mentally ill rather than ideologically motivated. There has been a strong public outcry for an effective government response to at least reduce the risk of such tragic occurrences. Our political system is paralyzed and unable to respond. These are of course just three very well known incidents. Americans die everyday because of gun accidents and deliberate gun violence.

We are being told that foreign terrorism poses such a horrible threat that we must expect to make compromises to strike a balance between our civil liberties and privacy on one hand and the need for national security on the other. This all strikes me as essentially disingenuous propaganda. The government is spending many billions on its ever expanding surveillance system. It is not doing that to protect Americans from something that poses a very minimal threat. The purposes lie elsewhere. We don't really know where the main focus of all this surveillance really is. Perhaps some of the information that is being revealed will shed some light on it.      



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Comment Preferences

  •  who says we are controlled by fear? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, footNmouth, cfm

    No offense but you can't just blithely dismiss those terrorist plots that have been talked about. Frankly I wouldn't mind more transparency on exactly what the government has and has not been able to do with the intelligence it has gathered but this isn't binary. It's not 'you are either with us the people that think the government is out to get us or with the government'.

    The fact is privacy is an illusion and has been largely for the last 2-3 decades and I am more concerned with what corporations are doing with that then the government.

    As to your other point about violence inside the US, the rules for that have always been stricter. The fact is that the NSA isn't allowed to spy on Americans or act inside the USA. That's one of the many divisions we have that act as a check against us sliding into a police state. If you want to advocate removing that check that's up to you but I won't agree with it.

    Again speaking personally nothing that has been revealed so far actually raises to the level of actual 'spying' as I see it. Maybe that puts me in the minority (polling suggests not) but when the government is reading your actual messages without warrant or recourse but simply because they can then I will be worried.

    And that's not fear motivating me but simple pratical pragmatic sense.

    In the time that I have been given,
    I am what I am

    by duhban on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:09:32 PM PDT

    •  There is a good bit of evidence that (7+ / 0-)

      terrorism meme resonates very strongly with a lot of Americans. People obviously get upset about any kind of tragedy or disaster, but the notion of some evil secret plot really spooks them. The responses to the claims made by the NSA that they need to do this stuff because of terrorism  have entailed a lot of people offering highly emotional pledges of near blind support. All of that sounds like fear to me.

      I went over a list of the supposed plots that have been reported since 9/11. A few of them might have had potential for organized action. Most of them were either about a few people with some vague plans, some guy who went to the Middle East and associated with people labeled as Islamic radicals. Some of the, were lone individuals who sound like they were as much off the rails as the domestic shooters. They just happened to be muttering stuff about Allah, so they made the terrorist list.

    •  Wrong. (7+ / 0-)
      The fact is that the NSA isn't allowed to spy on Americans or act inside the USA.
      You've been paying attention, I thought, Duhban.  I must imagine that you have some special meaning for "isn't allowed to" that excludes the part that goes, "but they can do it if..." and all the exceptions that that entails.  Greenwald already published the memos.
      •  that is an increedbly small exception (0+ / 0-)

        you are essentially saying because of 0.01% of the time that is not strictly true the point is wrong.

        Seems rather thin to me

        In the time that I have been given,
        I am what I am

        by duhban on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:40:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  New Guardian article by Dan Roberts (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Richard Lyon, DeadHead

          Senators accuse government of using 'secret law' to collect Americans' data

          Bipartisan group seeks answers from intelligence chief James Clapper over scale of and justification for NSA surveillance

          A bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a "secret body of law" to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.

          The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

          In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.

          "We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law," they say.

          Let's review the allegation.  They say the NSA is using a "secret body of law" that they, the legislature, don't get to know about, in order to collect "massive amounts of data on US citizens."

          You're painting yourself into a corner on this one.

          •  that says nothing about scope which was my point (0+ / 0-)

            what that memo says is if in the process of collecting torred and encrypted data they discover it's actually an American and if that data looks like it could pertain to terrorism they can keep it.

            Thus my point.

            Now let me also make clear (as above) that I am all for greater transparency in the process and findings but let's also not lose sight of the actual argument being made.

            In the time that I have been given,
            I am what I am

            by duhban on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 07:30:49 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Note this: (0+ / 0-)
              ...they [the senator] believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.
              Believed, meaning, they don't really KNOW how much data is being collected.  They don't seem to be as sure as you are that it's as restrictive as you say.  

              So, yes, let's find out more, and stop giving them the benefit of a doubt without a full airing.  They've been lying to us, as Clapper recently admitted.  If it weren't for Snowden, we (you, me, and the senators) might never have got even that admission.

              •  um no that doesn't say that (0+ / 0-)

                it says that they (the senator) believes that government's justification is a misinterpration of existing law not that they don't know how much is being collected.

                In the time that I have been given,
                I am what I am

                by duhban on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 10:29:52 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Omigod terrorists! (9+ / 0-)

      Since you're more likely to be killed by a toddler than by a terrorist:

      The question will arise -- have we contained the toddler threat yet?

      Oh and this one's irresistible:

      The fact is that the NSA isn't allowed to spy on Americans or act inside the USA.
      Um, because... because someone's going to stop them from doing so?  Who?  You?

      "It's not my fault reality is marxist." - Che Guevara

      by Cassiodorus on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:25:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  simple pragmatic common sense says (0+ / 0-)

      that it is stupid and wasteful in the extreme to spend billions of dollars and resources with a huge surveillance program to attempt the impossible task of preventing "terrist attacks oh noez !!!" that kill less than two dozen Americans every year (out of a nation of 350 million people)--and which prevent no more of those attacks than plain ole ordinary police work by plain ole ordinary police do (the New York City municipal police department catches more pipe bombers in one month than the total number of terrorists that the NSA has caught in its fifty-plus years of existence).

      My simple pragmatic common sense says that we should end the entire "war on terror", dismantle all its useless programs, and spend the money on something else (something far more likely to happen than being killed by a terrist oh noez !!!---like bee stings or lightning strikes).  I'm entirely willing to take the one in a zillion chance that the terrists oh noez !!! will blow up the shopping mall while I'm buying socks.  (shrug)

  •  Nobody has to fear terrorism. (8+ / 0-)

    All that matters is that we acquiesce in the government funding (actual amounts to be concealed as state secrets) of vast agencies whose activities are to remain secret and who are subject to no law.  Fear is a bonus.

    "It's not my fault reality is marxist." - Che Guevara

    by Cassiodorus on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:28:09 PM PDT

  •  Because the military industrial complex needs (8+ / 0-)

    a constant stream of money.

  •  FBI's Definition Is Violence to Achieve Societal (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, ukit, DeadHead

    objective unreachable through politics or normal societal channels.

    Terrorism is absolutely no threat at all to the nation; terrorists are millions of times too weak to take down the nation or even a county. They are an economic security risk of course, and they could at times threaten limited specific military assets like the USS Cole or the Pentagon. Mostly they attack individuals, buildings and vehicles.

    And we do need to guard against any of them obtaining especially bio or nuke weapons.

    The fact that they will attack innocent individuals gives the military complex the ability to gin up enough fear among voters to support a military machine against terrorism that's sized and empowered for a lethal global enemy empire.

    Mainly we're using them as a placeholder for the old USSR till we can build up China as a commensurate threat. At the same time as China continues to be a top player in our supply chain.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:39:23 PM PDT

    •  They're weak, and we can make them weaker (0+ / 0-)

      We can defeat them completely by not being terrorized.

      Courage destroys their ability to achieve their actual aims, and leaves them nothing but the ability to kill people at a rate no more significant than pig attacks.

      Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

      by Dogs are fuzzy on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 11:37:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I take it as the most obvious thing in the world.. (0+ / 0-)

    ...that there are people who would like to cause incredible levels of death and destruction in our country, and that the only thing holding them back is that it's relatively difficult to do.  This starting point is compatible with almost any point along the dial of liberty vs. security, so I'm a little mystified by attempts to move the needle on that dial by denying something I consider obvious, starting with the fact that the would-be perps talk about it all the time, and demonstrate with numbing regularity (in countries where it's easier to do it) that they're not just talking.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 05:54:44 PM PDT

    •  I don't think it would be all that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      hard to pull off an attack in the US. The average shopping mall has very little security. Such places are frequent targets of opportunity in places with a large supply of terrorists. That hasn't happen in the US. I don't think that the threat is very strong.

      You are a prime example of the people who are determined to create a threat that barely exist.

    •  terrists kill fewer people in the US than bee (0+ / 0-)

      stings do.  (shrug)

      By any rational measure, it's a minor problem. In the list of "things that effect our daily lives", "terrorist attacks" rank somewhere below "train accidents" and "falling in the bathtub".

      Americans sure do scare easily.

  •  I think the threat of terrorism is almost... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, DeadHead, Simplify, PhilJD

    completely illusory.
    It's the product of a fear-mongering campaign to justify an industry that needs a fearful public to profit. And a government to expand its reach.

    You're probably more likely to die in a swimming accident than you are of terrorism in the USA.

    •  In the US, that's true, in mid-East/SW Asia, not (0+ / 0-)

      so much. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel (not so much recently) have very real threats from terrorism.

      The relative paucity of terror attacks in the US could be because its not a problem, or it could be because of an aggressive approach to preventing them. Kind of like the VRA, it works so well that the Supremes can say it isn't needed anymore...

      •  not true (0+ / 0-)

        According to the US State Department, about 12,000 people worldwide are killed by terrorist attacks.  Out of 7 BILLION people on the planet. (See PDF here:

        In a typical year, about 12,000 people are killed, worldwide, by bee stings.

        By any rational measure, terrists oh noez !!!! are at best a minor problem.  In the list of "things that effect people's daily lives", terrorism doesn't even make the top 1000. But then, our reaction to terrism oh noez!!! is anything but rational.We are peeing our pants over nothing.

        Fear is the mind-killer.

      •  ps--- (0+ / 0-)
        The relative paucity of terror attacks in the US could be because its not a problem, or it could be because of an aggressive approach to preventing them. Kind of like the VRA, it works so well that the Supremes can say it isn't needed anymore...
        If that were true, we would expect to see a larger number of terrorist attacks in the US before all these national-security programs appeared, and a lower number afterwards.

        The actual figures:

        Year    Killed   

        2003    625   
        2002    725   
        2001    3547   
        2000    405   
        1999    233   
        1998    741   
        1997    221   
        1996    311


        Your hypothesis fails. With the sole exception of the 9-11 attack in 2001, there is no statistical difference between the number of attacks before the National Security State and after. Indeed, if anything, there have been MORE attacks afterwards.  

        Which means the whole big national security state has accomplished nothing.  Nothing at all whatsoever.

  •  I'm not (0+ / 0-)

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 06:17:04 PM PDT

  •  Technicality: (0+ / 0-)

    only one brother (the survivor) in the Marathon Bombings was a US citizen.

    As for the rest of it, you're setting up a false dichotomy and maybe a straw man as well. (a) if the efforts and compromises made fighting terrorism are outsized, it doesn't mean there are no real threats. (b) the lack of attention to other real threats doesn't make the terrorism threat less real -- it's not a teeter-totter. (c) it would be easy to imagine that if the same level of effort placed into combating terrorism were placed into violent acts by US citizens the same tradeoffs between liberty and security would be in play, and the same people would be making the same criticisms of such.

    Yeah, in the end you have kind of a point: we live in a country where we spend (billions?) trying to stave off terrorist threats, but can't get assault weapons out of lunatics hands. That's warped and ironic, but it doesn't make the threat of terrorism illusory. Those two towers really did come down, and there's a scores of maimed people in Boston who can testify to the reality of it.

    Non futuis apud Boston

    by kenlac on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 06:17:36 PM PDT

    •  I have not said that there is no (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      psnyder, Dogs are fuzzy

      threat of terrorism at all. I am saying that relative to the many other things that pose threats to Americans, it is a minor risk and does not deserve its place of great prominence in the justification for government security programs.  

      •  I think reasonable people can have disagreements (0+ / 0-)

        about how big the threat is, and what compromises might need to be made to address it, yes. We might be allocating resources based more on psychology than rational threat analysis.

        But lots of different people can do similar things with other tragedies: after the Newtown shootings some people made the observation that just as many kids can get killed in inner city violence all over the country on a given day. The difference is that Newtown happened in great number in one place. Some people went as far as to try to put it into a kind of competitive perspective -- "Why will you be outraged over Newtown and not over these cumulative deaths of individual children?" Psychologically it's a very easy question to answer. Rationally, it's a bit harder.

        So perhaps this is all about framework. Here's an example: would we be willing to turn this gigantic surveillance operation towards stopping a future Oklahoma City? Should citizenship afford another Eric Rudolph shielding from investigative measures that would prevent another bomb of that type? What would happen if all that money were put into mental health programs that would have kept Jared Loughner from going over the edge? And if an NSA program would keep all of those things from happening, would we think it was worth it?

        These are questions. I don't think there are individual "correct" answers to them. We live in a democracy, and we will continue to hash out our differences about them, and that process will be messy.

        Non futuis apud Boston

        by kenlac on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 06:36:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would agree that those many (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          problems require balancing and setting of priorities. I am a strong advocate of gun control, but I would be unwilling to see all civil liberties sacrificed in the cause. My issue with terrorism is that I think it is seriously out of balance with the many other problems that require attention. I think that has come about in large part because it has provided a convenient vehicle for powerful political and financial interests.

  •  We shouldn't be (0+ / 0-)

    "controlled by fear". That's what we have Homeland Security for. If they are fearful and vigilant, we don't have to be. We can go about our lives and not think of terrorism. If we didn't have them though, we'd think of little else, because if we had no defenses whatsoever they'd be slaughtering us.

    •  Cue the drum roll n/t (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DeadHead, BigAlinWashSt, ukit
    •  Yeah, we can even run in marathons. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Richard Lyon, BigAlinWashSt, ukit

      Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
      ~ Jerry Garcia

      by DeadHead on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 07:00:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You can't cut terrorism to (0+ / 0-)

        zero no matter what you do. But its quite manageable now. They do an excellent job. As much as some here don't like drone strikes, their cumulative effect has been a completely broken terrorist infrastructure. The fact that it is now independent messed-up kids that are committing the terrorism is actually a sign that our efforts are working. If al Qaeda was stronger, they'd put out the word to leave terrorism to the professionals.

        •  Wow. Did you just commend these agencies (0+ / 0-)

          on what a great job they've done deterring terrorism BECAUSE only inexperienced teenie-boppers are trying to terrorize these days?

          IOW, are you saying they've done such a great job that they've already gotten/deterred the professionals, and only n00bs are left?

          If your ARE saying that, and if these spy agencies ARE doing such a great job, you'd think those remaining n00bs would've been easier to get than the "pros" they discouraged.

          So you're position basically boils down to: ya can't win 'em all, but the surveillance state ensures we win some. Or so they say.

          Go run and tell that to the victims of Boston.

          The ends to which you contort your logic for the purpose of rationalizing surveillance and apologizing for this administration are truly mind-numbing.  

          Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
          ~ Jerry Garcia

          by DeadHead on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:19:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  There was no Homeland Security Department, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JDsg, DeadHead, Richard Lyon

      no Patriot Act, no PRISM before 9/11. And yet somehow Americans were not being slaughtered by hordes of angry Middle Easterners streaming across the border.

      In fact, aside from isolated events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, the rate of terrorist attacks was pretty similar to what it's been since then, mostly targeting American embassies and military overseas.

      •  There were incidents (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        such as the skyjackings and the Achille Loro (sp?) but we managed to function using the tools of good old police work.  We used our established court system. We didn't have to subject our population to violations of privacy and the government wasn't hiding everything.  The thing Cheney and his pals Addington, Yoo and the like, created after the attacks in 2001 were just plain over the top.  Setting up GITMO, I just don't believe prisoners could not have been managed here and had trials here.  It's time to retire the word terrorist and GWOT.  If we want to stabilize life in the middle east, that would be a place to start.  Then focus on the problem they have, which is sectarian violence.  These are religious wars and resource wars.  

        Shine like the humblest star.

        by ljm on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 12:14:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The War OF Terror is a fabrication purposely (5+ / 0-)

    created to enable those who control this country to take the next steps in expanding the military empire and securing and maintaining sole superpower status, in effect wanting to control the world, as well as the interests of Israel and others in the Middle East.   The fear has been manufactured to support the war and the actions the oligarchy wanted to take and are taking.  It's the same as all wars, an enemy has to be created and fear has to be instilled in order to get the citizens support.  The spying clearly isn't about catching terrorists, it's about monitoring anyone and everything for the security of the oligarchy or plutocracy so they can carry out their plans and agendas. As long as people accept the War OF Terror, all the war impacts on our civil liberties will remain and get worse.  

    "America is the Terror State. The Global War OF Terror is a diabolical instrument of Worldwide conquest."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 06:45:16 PM PDT

  •  It's not that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, Simplify, Dogs are fuzzy

    we must be controlled by the fear of terrorism.

    It's that we must be controlled.

    The GOP can't win on ideas. They can only win by lying, cheating, and stealing. So they do.

    by psnyder on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 07:24:47 PM PDT

  •  a delegitimation crisis - terror needs its addicts (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    In political science a legitimation crisis occurs when a governing structure still retains the legal authority by which to govern, but is not able to demonstrate that its practical functioning fulfills the end for which it was instituted.
    Three characteristics may be linked with a legitimation crisis.
    1.Policy incoherence: Government employees are so busy, they don't necessarily know what they are looking at.
    2.Institutional will is lost: Employees are not careful about tainting a government institution with decisions which may be seen as mistaken or unpopular.
    3.Loss of public confidence. The public begins to lose faith in the government to act efficiently and effectively.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 08:21:49 PM PDT

  •  The short answer is no (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DeadHead, Richard Lyon

    The long answer is no

    The unfortunate answer is people will be affected by it any how because emotions and story telling determine what they think

    DC is good at building scary narratives

  •  I don't fear death. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We're all going out sooner or later it's natural to be mortal. So no, I don't have a fear of terrorism.  If I get blown up, I get blown up. C'est la vie.

    Warren/Davis in 2016!

    by dov12348 on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 01:13:45 AM PDT

  •  Americans are not very good at risk analysis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    More people are killed worldwide by lightning strikes every year than by terrorist attacks.

    By any rational measure, terrorism is a minor problem, with minimal effects.

    Alas, fear is the mind-killer, and the US's reaction to "terrism oh noez !!!!!!" is anything but rational.

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