A cautionary tale on studies supposedly showing a declining terror threat

The establishment media is buzzing today about a new study out by Charles Kurzman of Duke University claiming there is no real terror threat from the Muslim community (see the New York Times coverage here).


But as a caution to those who would trumpet this study, I would remind them of one former State Department counterterrorism official, Larry Johnson, who opined on the pages of the New York Times similar dismissals of the terror threat to Americans:

Nor are the United States and its policies the primary target. Terrorist activity in 2000 was heavily concentrated in just two countries — Colombia, which had 186 incidents, and India, with 63. The cause was these countries’ own political conflicts.

While 82 percent of the attacks in Colombia were on oil pipelines managed by American and British companies, these attacks were less about terrorism than about guerrillas’ goal of disrupting oil production to undermine the Colombian economy. Generally, the guerrillas shy away from causing casualties in these attacks. No American oil workers in Colombia were killed or injured last year.

Other terrorism against American interests is rare. There were three attacks on American diplomatic buildings in 2000, compared with 42 in 1988. No Americans were killed in these incidents, nor have there been any deaths in this sort of attack this year.

Of the 423 international terrorist incidents documented in the State Department’s report ”Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000,” released in April, only 153 were judged by the department and the C.I.A. to be ”significant.” And only 17 of these involved American citizens or businesses.

Eleven incidents involved kidnappings of one or more American citizens, all of whom were eventually released. Seven of those kidnapped worked for American companies in the energy business or providing services to it — Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, Mobil, Noble Drilling and Erickson Air-Crane.

Five bombings were on the list. The best known killed 17 American sailors on the destroyer Cole, as it was anchored in a Yemeni port, and wounded 39. A bomb at a McDonald’s in France killed a local citizen there. The other explosions — outside the United States embassy in the Philippines, at a Citibank office in Greece, and in the offices of Newmont Mining in Indonesia — caused mostly property damage and no loss of life. In the 17th incident, vandals trashed a McDonald’s in South Africa.

The greatest risk is clear: if you are drilling for oil in Colombia — or in nations like Ecuador, Nigeria or Indonesia — you should take appropriate precautions; otherwise Americans have little to fear. (emphasis added)


The date of that editorial was July 10, 2001. Sixty one days later Islamic terrorists would kill 2,751 Americans within sight of the New York Times’ offices.

One might think that this episode would show the folly of trying to use past data to predict present and future trends when it comes to terrorism. But some people will never learn.


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