Will Phony Terror Threats Desensitize Americans?


When should government officials alert the public to terrorism threats supported by flimsy evidence? That is the question being asked after a phony tip last week that a terror attack was planned in Boston. “Every day there comes to the various agencies within the U.S. government hundreds – thousands – of reports of everything from Martians having landed in Nevada to someone who just had a conversation with Elvis to terrorists coming with a nuclear bomb to Boston,” Graham Allison of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant defense secretary, told the Associated Press. “It’s one of those situations where you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Last week’s tip, phoned to the California Highway Patrol, claimed that four Chinese nationals and two Iraqi nationals entered the U.S. from Mexico and were awaiting a shipment of nuclear material that would follow them to Boston. Matthew Evangelista, a professor of international relations at Cornell University, said warning the public about a threat before it is thoroughly investigated can cause undue panic and may even cause people to be desensitized about the threat of terrorism. “I think it breeds a kind of cynicism on the part of the public,” he said. “People become maybe less willing to believe the threats when they are actually real.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37496-2005Jan26.html?ABTest=blurb_A

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