The threat of terrorism to the United States is “substantially exaggerated,” argues Prof. John Mueller of Ohio State University. Mueller, holder of the university’s Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies, told a Cato Institute forum yesterday in Washington, D.C., that federal spending on antiterrorism “could be substantially reduced” if the risks were put in their proper context. As an example he noted that Los Angeles International Airport spends $100,000 extra each day that an “orange alert” remains in force after last summer’s scare in London about possible terror bombings of airplanes. Even if the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were repeated several times, Mueller said, the chance that an individual American will be a terrorism victim are the same as the chance of being killed by a comet or asteroid. Mueller said politicians “inflate the threat” in a “CYA” fear that they would be held responsible for deaths resulting from a terror strike. Mueller published a book this year: “Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.”
Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, who chaired a national advisory panel on terrorism between 1999 and 2003, agreed for the need for a “sense of perspective” about terrorism. Gilmore, who was asked by Cato to comment on Mueller’s book, called for more “transparency [by government] about what the real threat is.” He agreed with Mueller that some politicians who support strong antiterror measures “want to show the American people they’re doing the best they can, even if it is not effective.” Gilmore believes that the nation can be both “secure and free” and that it is not necessary to trade off civil liberties to protect against terrorism. He said there is a “very real possibility” of another conventional terror attack in the U.S., as distinct from one involving weapons of mass destruction.