The reactions of U.S. officials to the leaks from former National Security Administration (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden point to the political resonance that terrorism holds for the American public. The repeated justification for all NSA surveillance programs is their alleged role in gathering information needed to avert terrorist plots. Preventing terrorism is only one of many NSA collection and analysis missions. Nevertheless, it is the only one championed by U.S. officials because the impacts of rare terrorist attacks such as 9/11 have instilled a understandable fear in American society. This is despite the fact that in 2012 only ten citizens died from terrorism, all of whom were located in Afghanistan. As I’ve pointed out, this is fewer people than those that die annually from being crushed to death by their televisions and furniture.
The first step to understanding the realities of terrorism domestically and abroad is to take an evidentiary-based approach to the phenomenon. In an effort to improve public understanding of this threat, we have produced a short video featuring Dr. Gary LaFree, Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which is the source of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD)–the best and most user-friendly tool for studying terrorism from 1970 to the present.
Gary debunks five myths of terrorism that many policymakers and citizens believe to be true. These myths were identified by members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Terrorism, which include long-time experts in the field, such as Brian M. Jenkins, Rohan Gunaratna, Magnus Ranstorp, and they include: 1) terrorism involves dissatisfied individuals from one country attacking innocent civilians from another; 2) terrorism entails irrational attacks; 3) most terrorist attacks are lethal; 4) terrorists depend on sophisticated weaponry; 5) terrorist groups are infallible.
To understand how each myth is commonly-misconceived, read Gary’s blog post on the World Economic Forum blog and watch the video to see how Gary uses GTD data to describe reality. The next time an official in Washington tries to inflate or misrepresent the threat of terrorism, be sure to send them this video.