photo by Reuters/Keith Bedford
Passengers line up in LaGuardia Airport as it was reopened after being evacuated due to a suspicious package found by a baggage handler, Feb. 4, 2014
This commentary appeared on Inside Science on January 27, 2014.
The United States spends $200 billion a year on homeland security. This includes physical barriers, guards, closed-circuit TV, explosives detection, body scanners, security software and other technology and services intended to keep the nation safe from terrorists and other non-military adversaries. Does it work? And how do we measure the results?
At a glance, those seem to be easy questions. The country has invested heavily in homeland security and is safer now. In terms of terrorist activity in the United States, the years since the September 11 attacks have been the most tranquil since the 1960s, when terrorism in its contemporary form first emerged as a threat.
People tend not to recall that during the 1970s, the United States experienced an average of 50–60 terrorist bombings a year. In the 12 years since the September 11 attacks, terrorists inspired by al Qaeda's ideology—the ones we worry most about—have been able to pull off just four attacks in the United States, two by lone gunmen, a failed bombing in New York's Times Square, and the 2013 bombing in Boston. In all, 18 people were killed.