In his brand new Freakonomics
blog, Steven Levitt tells us
his father's idea for a nifty terror tactic:
[T]he best terrorist plan I have heard is one that my father thought up after the D.C. snipers created havoc in 2002. The basic idea is to arm 20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrange to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.
Well, it's a good thing Mr. Levitt is an economist's father and not a terror master mind. But terrorists really don't go in for this kind of thing. Pretty consistently, they opt for blowing things up - killing lots of people at once. In Iraq, with automatic weapons everywhere, Levitt's approach is not used - they opt for bombings. In the U.S., I'm guessing profiling of firearms purchasers is pretty routine. I doubt there are very many Mideastern men buying guns without the authorities finding out about it. It's just not a good plan for a terror attack.
But here's the problem with the way Levitt and his old man think: they think the terrorists are some non-descript
set of individuals. Of course they're anything but non-descript
- they are almost exclusively Muslims from the Mideast (at least those threatening the U.S.). Loners - solo or in pairs - commit acts of terror all the time, from highway snipers to school shootings. They're tragedies, but the numbers of victims are small compared to highway fatalities or drownings, and we learn to live with them. An effective act of terror must rise dramatically above the background mortality by killing huge numbers at once and inflicting monumental physical damage.
Just two weeks ago, a couple of losers armed with little more than BB-guns and gasoline broke into a home in a well-to-do Connecticut neighborhood, raped a woman and her two daughters over several hours, then murdered them while the alerted police were setting up road blocks down the street (story here
). With everyday competition like that, terrorists clearly have their work cut out for them. A couple dozen guys riding around with hunting rifles ain't gonna do it.