Who Really Kept Us Safe After 9/11

The truth about homeland security


If there was any certainty in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, it was that these were just the first in a campaign of terror on American soil. "You can just about bet on it," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, "I anticipate another attack."

Gary Stubblefield, who directed the Naval Special Warfare Task Unit in the Pacific area, asserted that, as The Denver Post paraphrased, "the question is not if but when dozens of terrorist cells in the United States will unleash biological, chemical and perhaps nuclear weapons against U.S. cities." FBI Director Robert Mueller estimated the U.S. harbored "several hundred" extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Americans had seen in Israel how a homegrown terrorist movement was able to kill hundreds of people with suicide bombings and other attacks. It seemed we could expect the same. A comment often heard was, "We are all Israelis now."

But the predictions have not come true. There have been very few attacks in this country by Islamic extremists—and nothing remotely on the scale of 9/11. The "sleeper cells" proved to be mostly nonexistent.

This surprising record has been attributed to excellent work by the FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement agencies, the war in Afghanistan, and the Bush administration's aggressive treatment of suspected terrorists. But on the list of those deserving credit, the first is a group hardly anyone would have predicted: American Muslims.

Millions of Muslims live in the United States. Had even a tiny percentage been radicalized enough to commit violence, they could have done immense damage. Despite all the efforts to upgrade security at a few crucial sites, it really wouldn't be hard for any group to kill lots of people.

A car bomb in a stadium parking lot, a couple of semi-automatic rifles in a shopping mall, a Molotov cocktail in a crowded bus, a bomb on a railroad track, a runaway pickup on a city sidewalk—there's an endless list of easy pickings.

There are too many targets to secure them all. It would have been a simple task for a handful of minimally trained volunteers to keep us in a constant state of fear.

But the volunteers, with rare exceptions, didn't come forward. Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes in Foreign Policy magazine that "approximately a dozen people in the country were convicted in the five years after 9/11 for having links with al-Qaida" and "fewer than 40 Muslim Americans planned or carried out acts of domestic terrorism."

That may sound like a lot, until you remember that there are 15,000 murders a year in this country. A report from the Rand Corp., a national security think tank, noted that of 83 terrorist attacks that took place between 9/11 and the end of 2009, only three "were clearly connected with the jihadist cause." Three!

We hear a lot of allegations of radical American imams preaching jihad. If so, they are not getting through. The simple fact is that most American Muslims don't sympathize with religious extremism and almost none are willing to practice it.

And why should they be? According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, "They are overwhelmingly satisfied with the way things are going in their lives (82 percent) and continue to rate their communities very positively as places to live (79 percent excellent or good)."

Suicide bombers may proliferate in places where followers of Islam feel oppressed—as many living under Arab dictators do, as many living under Israeli control do. But worldwide, says Kurzman, global Islamic extremist organizations have been able to recruit "fewer than one out of every 100,000 Muslims since 9/11." Islam is not particularly fertile ground for growing terrorists.

That's especially true in the land of the free. Despite the suspicions they face from some of their fellow citizens, American Muslims clearly value what America offers them. They like living in a democracy that respects their rights. People with good lives are not inclined to throw them away in grisly acts of violence.

A decade ago, American Muslims were called by our enemies to rise up and slaughter their fellow citizens. Al Qaeda must be wondering why it never heard back.


NEXT: Breathe Easy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Suicide bombers may proliferate in places where followers of Islam feel oppressed?as many living under Arab dictators do, as many living under Israeli control do. But worldwide, says Kurzman, global Islamic extremist organizations have been able to recruit “fewer than one out of every 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.” Islam is not particularly fertile ground for growing terrorists.

    If we accept Pew’s estimate of 1.57 billion muslims in the world, we get 15,700 terrorists. I would not necesarily think that is an insignificant problem.

    1. “global Islamic extremist organizations have been able to recruit “fewer than one out of every 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.”

      This is kind of a silly standard, designed to make the problem seem as small as possible. It’s not how many people PERSONALLY join up and put on a suicide vest. It’s how many people are willing to give money to those people, are willing to hide them when they are being hunted, are willing to tell them it’s a religious duty to do what they do, are willing to make excuses for them out of one side of their mouth and accuse the Mossad or the CIA of being behind it all out of the other, are willing to make sure their families are provided for so that they are free to blow themselves up.

      The Muslim thing is a bit of a red herring in that regard–it would have been the same in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. There were only ever a tiny fraction of Irish in the IRA, but the number of Irish and Irish Americans willing to help them was far higher–and in the end that war was lost, really, with Irish terrorists given an share in the government.

  2. A decade ago, American Muslims were called by our enemies to rise up and slaughter their fellow citizens. Al Qaeda must be wondering why it never heard back.

    Except for that Nidal Hasan guy, and that Naser Jason Abdo fellow.

    Jus’ sayin’

    1. Let it go, Chapman’s on a roll.

    2. Hasan Akbar, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar,Mohamed Osman Mohamud, Faisal Shazad…

      1. John Allen Muhammed

      2. Mike Hawash

    3. actually the FBI is currently watching 1,000+ wackos that are inside our borders…
      best advice, don’t be an urbanite…

      1. Best advice, live in fear.

  3. They’ve done a better job of recruiting in Britain. Apparently those Muslims are less enamored of a democracy that respects their rights.

  4. So you can “deserve credit” for having “kept Americans safe after 9/11” simply because you didn’t commit mass murder? Sweet! I guess I did my part. Oh and you’re welcome America–although a little recognition now and then wouldn’t kill you, would it? (I’m not asking for a parade or anything extravagant but maybe like a special tax credit for non-mass murderers or a dedicated highway lane that only we can use?)

    1. Well, that and the overwhelming cooperation from the Muslim community with law enforcement officials to stop plots before they become deadly: http://politicalcorrection.org…..1103070005

  5. Homer: “Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is working like a charm!”

    Lisa: “That’s specious reasoning, dad.”

    Homer: “Thank you, Honey.”

    Lisa: “By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.”

    Homer: “Hmm; how does it work?”

    Lisa: “It doesn’t work; it’s just a stupid rock!”

    Homer: “Uh-huh.”

    Lisa: “? but I don’t see any tigers around, do you?”

    Homer, after a moment’s thought: “Lisa, I want to buy your rock?”

    1. Wish you were an owner/ publisher/editor/reporter for some mainstream media.

      Logic!!!: what a concept.

      Beyond your “Are Americans Homer or are they Lisa?” theory, here’s another possibility: Osama wanted to draw the US into a war on his turf. Once that was accomplished, no further attacks were needed.

  6. Every thing now is based on worst case,Much of it fiction from the movies and TV.Terrorest have benn imbuded with super powers,Using a ‘WOMD’ on US soil is such a streach.Even 911 was a low tech attack right out of the 1970’s playbook.A high jacking.This time they decide to die.For years people were told ,don’t resist and they used that to their advantage.With all the threats from daily life terrorism is way down on my list.You cannot run a country or live daily based on worst case and be free,or nake a living.

  7. On airplanes, it’s clearly been the average Joe Flyer. The 911 terrorists broke the unwritten pact that if you sit down, shut up and cooperate, you’ll get off the plane vertically. Now, the first guy who hints at taking over the airship is just seconds away from having a tanker truck of whoop-ass opened up on him.

    In a way, really, Mohammed Atta and his pals were the last hijackers.

    1. Bingo. There is no way in hell anyone is ever going to cooperate with hijackers anymore. The BS we have to go through at the airport is an startling abrogation of our rights and dignity that is patently unnecessary.

      Instead of taking x-ray pictures of us, and groping our crotches, hand every one a wooden club. When Ahmed declares, “this is a hijacking” — the beatings will commence in earnest.

      1. Exactly. Hell, hand everyone a Taser as they get on the plane. Why shouldn’t grandma be able to get in on the action, just because she may not be as good a clubber as a big dude?

        I’d say let everyone carry a gun, but I can see that we don’t want too many holes in the plane or in innocent passengers. I shoot pistol matches, so a lot of people I know wouldn’t miss. But that’s a rather selective sample.

        Also, I would not oppose a specific legal right to taser airline staff who don’t allow one to use the restroom after the plane has been sitting on the tarmac for more than an hour. Just sayin’.

        1. Holes in the cabin walls at 35K feet could be embarrassing.

          The Taser for Grandma idea ….

          As for the staff – NO Taser. Use pepper spray, Grizzly bear strength. Give canister to grandma so she can stand guard over writhing staff while you taking a piss. Upon exit from lavatory – reapply to staff member for good measure.

          1. I’ll stick with my plastic spoon shiv. If I can’t kill the attempted terrorist with a perforated artery than that sucker is gonna have to deal with a bacterial infection.

    2. For the Jeffersonian, Jacob the B, Barry D, and the millions of others like us, here’s an idea: corporate jets don’t have to suffer the TSA “grope a dope” bullsh*t. Why? Well, beyond the obvious corporate exceptionalism, there’s the stated rationale: “The pilots know the passengers and can vouch for them.” Riiiiight!

      Okay, let’s take that and run with it. Let’s start an air travel co-op. A private club whose private members are the owners of their fleet of private planes. All club members are pre-screened to make sure they aren’t terrorists, thus eliminating any further government imposed foolishness. Then, established club members can thoroughly interview new, prospective members and in that manner “clear” them for membership. Plus, any club member deemed qualified can participate in the security protocol, and be issued a taser, or other appropriate defensive equipment.

      And, of course, Muslims — the vast reasonable majority — would be welcome, as they more than anyone would be motivated to get the hell out from under the TSA boot.

      Call it the FUTSA Air Travel Club.

      Now not everyone is an over-the-top wise-ass like me, but don’t you think even regular people are sufficiently pissed off at the “security” crap they not only have to endure, but pay for, that they would ***flock*** to join the club? I certainly do.

  8. Yep. That’s also the reason it only worked three times that day.

  9. I’ll tell you what – under your reasoning, it’s a damn good thing I declined to go on a bank-robbing spree last month. And America should breath a great sigh of relief that I’ve decided serial killing just isn’t for me. Of course, we don’t want to forget that I’ve always been a fervent opponent of seat-belt laws – though, thankfully, I’ve declined to launch a Ted Kaczynski campaign over the issue. So when’s DHS gonna cut me a check? After all, by your thinking, I’m the reason Americans are safe today.

    Obviously, most Muslims are not terrorists. This is not news. Pretty much everyone paying attention has known this. As a matter of fact, much of the motivation of those Muslims who do become terrorists has more to do with personality disorders than religion. However, al Qaida, Abu Sayyaf, Hamas, and Hezbollah strongly identify themselves as Islamic in composition and purpose. So, reference is made to Islamic terrorism because of, well, Islamic terrorism. Somebody attacked us on 9/11. In the words of the character Del Gue in Jeremiah Johnson, “T’weren’t Mormons.”

    So, since we have this pattern of attacks and attempted attacks, observed over decades, by persons and groups with a common ideological narrative, then it is reasonable to direct one’s attention to that ideology’s fanatics. We have seen terrorist attacks and mass murders by non-Muslims, yes, but no ideological narrative has been so clearly popular among nonstate rogue actors as Islamism.

    The number of technically-skilled and operationally-experienced personnel in the al Qaida organization and affiliated groups was reduced by operations around the world, over the past decade, in which these key personnel were captured or killed. The effects of these losses on al Qaida’s ability to conduct operations is difficult to measure (because you must consider what WOULD have happened). However, what do you think happens when an organization loses most of the members who know how to “make the trains run on time”?

    Much of al Qaida’s effort (and the effort of affiliated groups) was refocused to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. Resources used there by al Qaida have NOT been available to these groups for use in the West. But even with those diversions, al Qaida and its affiliates conducted the 7-7-2005 attacks and attempted a second set of attacks in 2007, both in the UK, and attempted 2006 airliner bomb plot, also intended to be launched from the UK. What kinds of attacks would we have seen had these groups not been losing key members to counterterrorism operations?

    BTW, the CIA is not a law enforcement organization. It is an an intelligence agency. That’s why they call it the Central Intelligence Agency. Read all about it… (Activities with NYPD being another story)

    Your reference to numbers of convictions machts nichts. In counterterrorism, convictions are often foregone in favor of preventive action – a choice to prioritize the disruption of operations over convictions.

    The people who “really kept us safe after 9/11” are the people who work in national security. The Soldier, the Marine, the Airman, the Sailor, and the intelligence professional. Some are Muslim, most aren’t, but in any case, they are the ones who actively engage in providing the public good you refer to.

    As a whole, Libertarians have a better understanding of government by consent of the governed, of individualism, of economics, and of rule of law than most other people. But when it comes to national security and foreign policy, you honestly don’t know that the fuck you’re talking about.

    1. Yeah, I suppose it is silly to think that people might be incited into violence against this country because our military has bases around the world, drops bombs on people, shoots people, initiates preemptive strikes, topples some governments while propping up others, and generally takes pleasure in sticking itself in places where it doesn’t belong like a sodomite and his penis.

      Yeah. Libertarians are so clueless.

      1. Exactly how many bombs did the United States drop on Osama bin Laden prior to the African Embassy bombings? How many?

        You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about…except for your discussion of sodomites – I’m sure you’re quite the expert there.

        1. You’re saying our military had had no overt or covert operations going on in Osama’s stomping grounds before he became a terrorist?

          I’m not justifying his actions. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

          However, if our military was used for defense instead of being World Police Team USA, there would be fewer people intent on killing Americans.

          Though maybe not in your case. You seem like a good old fashioned asshole who invites violence.

    2. The war casualties surpassed the 9/11 casualties long ago. How many more of us are you willing to see killed in some third-world cesspool for the sake of making you feel better?

      1. “How many of us are you willing to see killed…”

        Us? What us? You died in service in to United States? Seem to be holding up pretty well after the fact…

        Anyway, to get your view correct here, you think that war should be conducted under an accounting system in which we only fight until our casualties reach the amount suffered in the last attack on our country?


        Okay. Stupid, but that’s not illegal or anything.

        We should use force as required to protect the United States against attack. That doesn’t require nation-building in Afghanistan, but it does require more narrow efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

        As far as the danger of serving in the military – it’s an all-volunteer force and there is no mystery about the nature of the job, and it’s a necessary job.

        You can either go to where the enemy is and fight them there, or you can receive the next attack and the one after that and the one after that. And with each one of these attacks, you will see the government use that event as an opportunity to further extend its police powers.

        I choose to send troops over there, across the sea, to fight them. I would not use the same numbers of troops and I would dispense with some of the nation-building and counterinsurgency. But were I commander in chief (Mwahahahaha…), I would certainly continue to use the military and the intelligence community to actively counter terrorism – even though Americans and allied troops get killed sometimes when doing that.

        But don’t take it from me, take from the “global village” (koom-bye-yah, my Lord, koom-bye-yah….)

        1. You can either go to where the enemy is and fight them there, or you can receive the next attack and the one after that and the one after that.

          That makes for a nice soundbite, but it’s a load of bullshit.

          By the by, in case you didn’t notice, the 9/11 hijackers are dead.

          The people attacking our troops are attacking them for the same reason you or I would attack an occupying force here in the USA.
          You know? Red Dawn, Wolverines and all that shit?

          Our military has no fucking business in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, S.Korea, Germany…

          That’s not national defense.
          That’s imperialism.

          Maybe if we kept our dick out of the world’s ass people might not hate us so much.

          1. I forgot Afghanistan. And the bases in former Soviet republics.
            Bring them home. Save some lives and money.

            1. Being fair to Mr. Mark he never stated a desire to maintain tropps in places like Japan, S. Korea, and Japan. If you take time to read his statement it sounds like he would be more in favor of using spec ops, drones, and covert means to target would be attackers. Look I totally get the concept of blowback, a lot of crap we do has long term consequences that aren’t good. But this idea that if we were completely uninvolved with the world, save for trade, would prevent violence being foisted upon us is a fallacy. There were reports not too long ago of libyans burning the flags of Russia and China, two nations not involved in the undeclared war in Libya. They were unhappy with the fact that China nd Russia were willing to deal with the Gadafi regime but not assist them with the overthrow of said regime. When looked at that light you realize that the United States is very much dammed if we do and dammed if we don’t. We have tremendous econonmic and military sway, we cannot help but affect other nations, even by supposedly doing nothing we affect them. There will always be someone gunning for us because of our size, wealth, power, and prestige. You can’t be the big boy in the room and not have haters. That being said I totally agree that we need to rethink many of our commitments around the world and pull back from regions and conflicts that do nothing to serve our interests. It makes no sense spending money defending nations that won’t defend themselves, or trying to democratize nations that are little more than fuedal relics of a forgotten era. Our first and only priority should be to look out for ourselves.

          2. I find it very unsettling to completely agree with something you’ve said in the comments section…

    3. 9/11 was a inside job. The people that were supposed to protect the citizens let it happen. How could 19 men excite such a complex attack against the most sophisticated nation in the world without inside help? Unless they had helping hands at the highest levels. Just think about it.

    4. As a whole, you think you know how your world works. I call BS. I drive a motorcycle and i swear i am a better driver than anyone i’ve ever met or been in a car with. I practice architecture, construction, and real estate so i know essentially of what the modern world is made, as a whole. Libertarians understand their view of the world, which, is such a small piece you don’t even need silverware to enjoy it and is pointless to put whipcream on it.

  10. US bad. Everything they do bad.

    1. maybe they’d like us better if we used a wrapper…

  11. Congratulating muslims for not being terrorists is a little like congratulating white Southerners for not lynchching black folk.

    1. Did you know that the Klan claimed to get their inspiration from the Bible?

      That means all Christians are racist haters, right?

      1. On the one hand, if a Muslim leaves me alone, I’ll leave him alone, unless I see him killing his daughter for kissing a boy in high school or something. I’d probably be morally obligated to intervene in such a case. Note that this situation is not exactly unheard-of where I grew up, in the US.

        At the same time, I understand that a lot of Muslims are like a lot of Catholics, with beliefs but no urge to do all that much about them. The semi-religious of all faiths tend to be non-threatening.

        But on the other hand, I don’t see how we owe someone’s beliefs special deference when they claim the belief in some god or other. If we agree with a belief or moral tenet, great. If not, we don’t.

        There can be a fine line between avoiding bigotry, and letting someone else’s belief in some god override one’s convictions about right and wrong.

      2. From the Bible? Really! In which book is it written …
        “And it is righteous that the darkie shall sway in the breeze …”
        “He who comes carrying a rope is blessed, and ye …”
        “Honor those in white hoods for they …”

        Just curious sarcasmic. From whence do you get your ‘knowledge’.

        1. How should I know? I’m not a Klansman.

          This might help though – http://tinyurl.com/3cblou6

          1. Hey, its your claim. You just admitted you were talking out you ass. I cool with that.

            1. “You just admitted you were talking out you ass.”

              Uh, no?

              I admitted to not knowing what specific passages the Klan claims to get their justification from.

              If you did the tiniest bit of research, like one single solitary google search, you would find that the Klan does claim to get justification from the Bible.

              But you’re too retarded, lazy, ignorant and stupid to do something that simple on your own.

  12. Gee. A whole lot of tough talk by a bunch of posters who don’t even have enough guts to use their real names. Just keep scrolling until you spot one and skip the rest.

    1. And, of course, Steve Baker is your real name, and we should take your word for it. John Williams and Mike Smith are probably also good to claim. People with more distinctive names like to preserve their online privacy a bit. I know, that’s showing a yellow streak. Perhaps you’d like to back up your testosterone poisoning with your home address?

      1. This IS my full name!

  13. Nowadays, more and more sports lovers would like to wear a pair of sport sunglasses when they are doing sports activities. It is well-known that wearing sport sunglasses is the new trend of fashion in recent days, so most of them would like to choose sport sunglasses. This is because that sports sunglasses can offer clear eye vision and eye protection as well as UV protection. That is to say, wearing a pair of sport sunglasses for sale online not only can protect the eyes, but also help you follow the trend of fashion. You can know the whole functions of sport sunglasses in the following passage.

  14. The cause of all this is not the Muslims, it’s the western worlds greed for resources and global domination, it’s the arrogance and disrespect of anything that’s not like us that’s the root of the problem. Our more than a century meddling in Islamic countries and the unconditional support of Israel are not insignificant factors that the situation now is as it is. We can pretend that we are right and they wrong but the wars that we started after 9/11, have killed and injured millions and it’s still going on. So who is wrong?

  15. Stupid Americans–no muslims did Sept 11 20001 attacks. Re-do Physics 101 on freefall gravity. Why WTC all three towers exploded and dropped in their foot prints in less than 8 seconds?
    Seems internet has dummies–too stupid to when had by the government lies :^/

  16. A recent Pew poll revealed that Muslims are more peaceful and tolerant (but a decisive margin) than Christians (but no religious group is as enlightened as atheists). The writer is correct in his assessment, and American Muslims are to be commended for their actions post-9/11, notwithstanding the frenetic demonizations by FOX, other MSM, much of the GOP, and right wing Christians,

    1. Mormons and Jews are pretty good too, don’t know about Hindus but I have certain suspicions.

  17. Neocons that pretend to be libertarians!
    Lord what the world has come to?

    Years from now we will either consider neocons to be mentally defunct or we will all be extinct.

    1. Aren’t Libertarians just Republicans who smoke pot???

  18. We muslims are being treated as second class citizens by some ignorant Americans. I hope those who have this mentality can also see the contribution of Muslims in the American society. Muslims are the best doctors in the medical field, they are excelling in the teaching career in American Universities and the engineering field. It is about time the common American comes out of his or her narrow minded thinking and respects Muslims as good human beings and not be taken in by the news media’s portraying a minority of Muslims who have hijacked Islam.

  19. 9/11 was a horrific tragedy, but as the speaker at an event I went to on Friday said, the terrorists didn’t win. Osama bin Laden is gone, America is still here. Their goal was to bring us to our knees; all they accomplished was pissing us off.

    But one thing they did accomplish is that many Americans do look at any and all Muslims crosseyed, and treat perfectly innocent followers of Islam as second class citizens for the actions of a few whackjobs that prescribe to follow a distorted version of that faith.

    What too few realize is that there are whackos in every demographic. And just like Fred Phelps and the “God hates fags” Westboro Baptists don’t speak for all of Christianity or even all Baptists, al-Qaeda and the terrorists don’t speak for all of Islam.

    Jesus taught the Golden Rule of the Bible – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s such a simple rule, but it seems there’s way too many folks out there who have trouble adhering to it.

  20. Shitloads of americans die everyday. Fuck 9/11 just mindless nationalism pushed by the media for a ratings bump. If you want to save lives, tell people to run a few laps and eat healthier.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.