Following up on this item, it’s worth noting that, while an aggressive counter-terrorism policy may be publicly popular, there are indications that it’s completely unnecessary. Kevin Drum has this chart showing that indictments for homegrown support for terrorist attacks have declined significantly. In addition, violent attacks carried out by Muslim-Americans in 2011 were almost non-existent. Drum quotes a recent report: “Of the 20 Muslim-Americans accused of violent terrorist plots in 2011 only one, Yonathan Melaku, was charged with carrying out an attack, firing shots at military buildings in northern Virginia. Nobody was injured.” The report shows that, “in the ten years since 9/11, Muslim American terrorist plots have killed 33 people in the U.S. but there have been more than 150,000 murders.”

What’s more, a Defense Department official acknowledged that the US over-estimated the threat from Al Qaeda over the past several years:

Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, told an audience Tuesday, “Quite frankly, we, the American people, were asleep at the switch, the U.S. government, prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn’t that good looked really great on 9/11.”

Sheehan, speaking at a Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Planning conference, questioned Al Qaeda’s capabilities:

Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, ‘When is the next attack?’ And it didn’t come, partly because al-Qaida wasn’t that capable. They didn’t have other units here in the U.S. … Really, they didn’t have the capability to conduct a second attack.

We completely overdid the response to 9/11. That was always going to happen at first – 9/11 was a catalyzing event, and the response would of course be vast. But at this point, it’s just total overkill. Terrorism is a law enforcement issue and will be in the same manner that it has been for decades. But it is not a world-historical issue that threatens the safety and sanctity of every American. In relative terms, freeway driving carries more peril.

Of course, the transition of the United States to a national security and surveillance state has other side effects. Most of the Patriot Act provisions allegedly directed toward fighting terrorism have been used in drug busts. We have seen over the past several years counter-terrorism resources used to monitor non-violent protesters, animal rights activists, even peace advocates. And the drone industry is one of the fastest-growing in America. So the bipartisan consensus that has formed around these overblown terrorist and security issues serves many purposes.

David Dayen

David Dayen