Sunday, August 02, 2015

214.4 - FBI and DHS batting .000 on "terror alerts"

FBI and DHS batting .000 on "terror alerts"

Next up, we might call this the statistic of the week if I did a regular segment called the statistic of the week, which I don't, but no matter, here is the statistic of the week.

So here it is, the statistic of the week: The FBI and DHS are 0 for 40.

What does that mean? Since 9/11, the FBI and the DHS have issued more than 40 "terror warnings" about serious threats of potential terrorist attacks in the US.

Some mentioned certain targets in vague terms such as "landmarks" or "airports" or sometimes narrower but still vague terms, like "New York and Baltimore subways" or "a Mississippi River bridge." Some had vague geographic locations, such as "the US/Mexico border" or "parts of California." Some mentioned a non-specific means of attack, such as "chemical or radiological weapons" or "dirty bomb." And some mentioned a - you guessed it - vague time frame, like "around the 4th of July," "around Thanksgiving," or "around the anniversary of 9/11."

The two things all these warnings had in common beyond their vagueness were one, they were released with breathless invocations of threatening foreigners and urgings to "be vigilant."

And two, none of them happened. Not one of these predictions was borne out. More than 40 times over the past not-yet 14 years, we have been told to "be afraid, be very afraid" because "the boogeyman - er, the terrorists - are gonna getcha!" And more than 40 times it has proven bogus, a record that should get FBI and DHS sent back to the minors but of course won't.

What brought this up now is that CNN was challenged on its hyperventilating warning about a "heightened terror alert" on "ISIS-inspired attacks" "leading up to the July 4th weekend," attacks which of course did not happen.

In response, the lead reporter sniped on Twitter
Question is, would you prefer no warnings? Warnings only when attacks imminent?
Now, the "no warnings" part of that, suggesting that the only alternative to repeated stoking of fears is no warning of any sort is pure bull; it's old-fashioned arguing by extremes, which in fact is no argument at all.

But the second part, warnings "only when attacks imminent?" Yeah, that is what I'd prefer. Warn me, warn all of us, when there is actually something to warn us against.

Now, some folks say that all these terror alerts are a way to keep us in line, to keep us constantly afraid, because a frightened populace is a docile populace, or that they are used to distract from news that might be politically damaging to the White House. And there certainly is more than enough reason in our history and in the shorter history of terror alerts to regard that as, at minimum, a reasonable proposition.

But even if, as is also plausible, the FBI and DHS are just being bureaucratic hacks trying to cover their butts because they are less afraid of a terrorist attack than they are of the effect on their careers and departmental budgets of one happening which they didn't predict, the result is the same: We are a nation being conditioned to be always afraid.

And even if there is no other impact, that constant fear of terrorism, which psychologists call "terror salience," is corrosive to society. It makes us harsher, colder, quicker to be suspicious of anything or anyone "different," quicker to punish, slower to understand or forgive. A people can't live in constant fear and expect to retain a sense of decency.

And I think it safe to say is that a sense of decency is what we have been losing. Not because of terrorism, but because of the irrational and promoted fear of it. The next time you hear about a "terror alert," remember: zero for forty.

Sources cited in links:

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