Let’s Stop Panicking Over Half-Assed Terrorists Already
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab couldn’t manage to blow up a plane over Detroit last Christmas, kicking off a year’s worth of high-profile terror-fails. But that hasn’t stopped the U.S. government from freaking out — putting naked scanners in airports and groping passengers. Overreactions like that compelled one of its senior-most counterterrorism officials yesterday to implore the public not to hand al-Qaeda victories from the jaws of defeat.
“We aim for perfection,” Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday, but “perfection will not be achieved.” That’s perilous for a senior counterterrorism official to say, since, like terrorism, it’s easily demagogued. Leiter repeatedly stated that there’s no excuse for terrorism; that any successful attack is a tragedy; and that he’d welcome due oversight and criticism of his efforts if a terrorist pulls something off, just in case his admission seemed self-serving.
But in order not to make terrorists seem “ten feet tall” — in other words, inadvertently support their narrative that they’re world-historical forces on par with the U.S. — it might be time to publicly de-emphasize terrorism in the public discourse. “Sometimes we ought to just talk about this a lot less,” Leiter said. “We shouldn’t always be vocal, in my view, and visible about all the things we are doing in our society about counterterrorism.”