With a decade passed since the September 11th attacks – are we any safer than we were on September 10, 2001? The answer is complex.
Yes we are safer from a larger scale terrorist attack because the Al Qaeda infrastructure that threatened us pre-9-11 is gone. Ongoing risks remain from the likes of ‘lone wolves,’ or loosely organized groups of jihadist attackers (i.e. July 7th bombings in London) and clumsy conspiracies (i.e. the Richard Reid shoe bomb attempt and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the “underwear bomber” and the more recent Times Square car bombing attempt). These types of threats are still around but attacks are poorly organized and not well supplied.
I believe we are beyond the point of large scale attacks and there is a limitation on the amount of harm that perpetrators can inflict on their victims, due to lack of organization and access to materials. Poisoning the water source and biological factors are far less likely because we have a network of people preventing the “wrong” people getting equipment to facilitate a successful attack.
Take for example the case of Faisal Shahzad, the man behind the Times Square car bomb attempt – the best thing he could get his hands on was barbeque propane and fireworks. If that’s the best lone wolf attackers can do, it’s an indication we are safer.
We also need to remember that our safety has come at a tremendous cost in terms of individuals’ time / privacy and expenses for organizations like the TSA. The cost of the inconvenience and time spent by the vast majority of non criminals who have to wait in long security lines and be subject to random searches is a huge waste and this lost time has a financial effect.