Terrorism

Can Extremer Vetting Reduce the Already Tiny Risk of Terrorism?

A new Cato Institute study finds that screening of visitors, immigrants, and refugees is about as thorough as can reasonably be expected.

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White House

Donald Trump has defended his executive orders restricting travel to the United States, the latest of which will be considered by the Supreme Court next week, as stopgaps necessary to allow development of "extreme vetting" procedures aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the country. But as a new report from the Cato Institute shows, vetting of visitors, immigrants, and refugees is about as thorough as can reasonably be expected, and making it more "extreme" is apt to impose costs that far exceed any conceivable benefits.

"The evidence indicates that the U.S. vetting system is already 'extreme' enough to handle the challenge of foreign terrorist infiltration," writes Cato immigration policy analyst David Bier in the new study (which Shikha Dalmia noted in a post about Syrian refugees this morning). "The country has maxed out its capacity to improve immigration vetting. Fortunately, vetting failures are very rare and pose a small risk to the United States."

Bier reviews how the 9/11 attacks, which revealed screening procedures that were in many ways embarrassingly lax, prompted various reforms, including more and better-trained personnel, increased collection and sharing of information, greater use of interviews and biometric data, and a new focus on terrorism prevention among immigration and State Department officials. These reforms seem to have made vetting failures much less likely. "Vetting failures are rare and have become much rarer since 9/11," Bier writes. "There were 52 vetting failures in the 15 years leading up to 9/11, four times as many as in the 15 years since the attacks." During that period, the vetting failure rate—vetting failures as a share of entry approvals—fell by 84 percent, from 1 in 4.8 million to 1 in 29.1 million.

Bier defines a vetting failure as a case in which the U.S. government grants entry to a foreigner "who had, at the time of approval, terrorist associations or sympathies and later went on to commit any kind of terrorism offense, including support for terrorist groups abroad." Unless there is evidence to the contrary, Bier assumes pre-existing terrorist inclinations whenever the crime happens within 10 years of arrival but excludes people who entered the country when they were younger than 16.

Only one of the 13 post-9/11 vetting failures identified by Bier resulted in a fatal attack within the United States, the focus of Trump's concern. That case involved Tashfeen Malik, a native of Pakistan who, together with her U.S.-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, carried out the 2015 shooting that killed 14 people in San Bernardino. Attributing all of those fatalities to her, vetting failures have been tied to an average of less than one death a year in the United States since 9/11. To put it another way, an American's risk of dying as a result of a vetting failure—the risk that Trump is supposedly trying to reduce—is 1 in 328 million per year.

It is not at all clear what can be done to make that tiny risk tinier. The San Bernardino attack, for example, has encouraged increased attention to the social media activity of would-be visitors and immigrants, because Malik had expressed support for ISIS and terrorism in Facebook messages before receiving a green card as Farook's fiancée. But as Bier points out, "social-media screening would not have identified these messages because she had strict privacy settings—and she used a pseudonym online to hide her identity."

Bier notes that added safeguards, especially ones as hamhanded as those Trump seems to prefer (such as excluding all travelers from certain countries), impose costs by preventing economically beneficial tourism and immigration. "No vetting regime will ever catch every bad actor," he writes. "The government has already responded to 9/11 and the visa vetting failures over the last 15 years in targeted ways, addressing the specific shortcoming that those failures revealed. Blindly enacting new requirements without any evidence that these standards are capable of protecting the country will only create unnecessary costs."

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  1. is about as thorough as can reasonably be expected.

    So you admit it can!

  2. Moar money needed!

  3. The fact that few people are struck by lightning doesn’t mean it isn’t smart to avoid walking on beaches during thunderstorms. The reason why so few people are struck by lightning is that people take reasonable measures to avoid the risk. The low risk of being struck by lightning is an example of how some risks can effectively be minimized. It is not an example of how a risk being low means there is no reason to avoid it, which is what is being claimed when people point to small risks as evidence of that there is no reason to worry.

    1. The same reasoning applies to terrorism. Why are your chances of being killed by a terrorist low? Because we don’t have many terrorists. We don’t have many terrorists because we take measures to catch them and deter them or not let them in the country. But just because our efforts to do that have kept the risk low in the past doesn’t mean it will do so in the future. Things change. Maybe there are more terrorists or the terrorists are smarter and get around our efforts. We don’t know. But one indication that things have perhaps changed is the occurrence of a terror attack. That isn’t conclusive but it is certainly evidence that things have perhaps changed. Whether things have or not is the entire debate. And saying “hey what are your chances?” says nothing sensible regarding that debate. It just begs the question and assumes that a risk is small because it is small and not because we are taking measures to mitigate it and that a risk once small will remain small forever.

      It also doesn’t mean stopping those efforts and letting anyone in will not increase the chances of terrorism.

      1. Hell, what are the odds of you really having your house ransacked in a search for evidence. We don’t need to protect that, either.

        Reason’s arguments about this issue are uniformly terrible.

        1. Somehow I never hear the claim “what are the odds it happens to you” whenever reason is discussing police shootings. The odds of that happening to any single person are vanishingly small. So, I guess there is no need to worry about them or hold the police to any standard of conduct right? By the logic they apply to terrorism there isn’t.

          It is just such a stupid and sorry line of argument.

    2. The reason why so few people are struck by lightning is that people take reasonable measures to avoid the risk.

      Yes, but you’re taking preventive measures to avoid an incredibly small risk to begin with:

      0.3: Estimated death rate per 1,000,000 people per year from lightning in developed nations.
      6: Estimated death rate per 1,000,000 people per year from lightning in developing nations.
      84: Estimated death rate per 1,000,000 people per year from lightning in the Nkhata Bay District of Malawi, the highest known rate in the world.

      Source

      1. The risk is small because people easily avoid it. Go out and walk in a thunderstorm holding a large metal rod every chance you get, and that risk won’t be so small anymore. The point is that just because the risk is small doesn’t mean it has to be small. Some risks, like say a volcanic eruption, can’t be mitigated and are small because they are unlikely. Other risks are small because you have taken measures to make it that way. And lightning is an example of that.

        1. “Go out and walk in a thunderstorm holding a large metal rod every chance you get, and that risk won’t be so small anymore.”

          Benjamin Franklin tried that, his brain got so fried they had to give him a job at the Post Office.

          (joke loosely stolen from Dave Barry)

          1. Not enough people loving Dave Barry these days. Which is strange because Dad Humor is popular now.

        2. The risk is small because the risk is small. Even in developing nations, where folks often can’t take advantage of first-world solutions, the mortality rate is extremely low. Except in Malawi, where trilbal custom dictates that everyone walk around with large metal rods, apparently.

          1. The risk is small because the risk is small. Even in developing nations, where folks often can’t take advantage of first-world solutions, t

            Small is a relative term. And anyone can avoid running around in thunderstorms holding metal rods. The risk is what it is because people take steps to mitigate it. It is not what it is because it necessarily must be that way.

            1. Small is a relative term.

              That’s what she said.

              1. No dumb ass, that is what I said to her.

                Jesus, you can’t even get an insult right.

                1. She was being polite, John, out of pity. Either that, or she was insulting your food baby.

          2. Unicorn: “The risk is small because the risk is small.”

            Fair enough, but the size of risk isn’t the only factor.

            Hypothetical (one I was using BEFORE Donny Jr. brought up skittles, though I have no proof of course):
            You’re at a social function and someone comes in with a tray of 10 cookies. They tell you the cookies are healthy and will taste great… but 1 of the 10 cookies has a powerful laxative that will cause you to explosively shit your pants in front of everybody, and it would take hours of examination to determine which cookie it is. So if you eat a cookie, there’s a 10% chance of shitting yourself in front of people you want/need to like/respect you.
            Do you eat a cookie?
            Does your answer change if it’s 1/1000 or 1/1000000 or 1/2?

            What do you get out of a cookie?
            How badly do you want to eat one?

            Personally, I’d pass.

    3. No, and that’s not what was said. The proper comparison is to say that it’s dumb to worry about increasing protection from lightning deaths.

      Increasing, got it? Not continuing.

      1. No. It is changing what we are doing now by letting more people into the country. The assumption is that that doesn’t change the risk because the risk is small and will necessarily remain that way. Got it?

        1. Ignorance is bliss, usually but in your case, I think you actively cultivate ignorance to feed your outer anger.

  4. Reason seems to operate under the delusion that the American public has some moral duty to risk its safety for the good of allowing refugees into the country. No they don’t.

    1. Reason seems to operate under the delusion that the American public has some moral duty to risk its safety for the good of allowing refugees into the countryownership of assault rifles. No they don’t.

      See how that works?

      1. I have a right to own a gun. Refugees do not have a corresponding right to enter the country.

        Try again.

        1. Does a business owner have a right to hire a Syrian?

          1. No. If you think he does, good for you. But that doesn’t make your preference compelling. Moreover, even if it were true, it wouldn’t win this argument. No one is asking to hire these people. At best it would get you the ability of employers to import them, which isn’t what is going on here.

            1. No. If you think he does, good for you.

              All you are doing is assuming your position is correct because of “RIGHTS” and then begging the question.

              1. Which is the same thing you are doing. See my response to you below. We are just talking past each other. I don’t buy into your belief that there is no such thing as national sovereignty. So appealing to your belief is not convincing anymore than my appeal to its existence is convincing to you.

                1. So you’re a collectivist. Got it.

                  1. No. Sovereignty is not collectivism and you know it. Are you an anarchist? If not, then why do you believe in the ability of governments to pass any laws at all? Saying the people of the US can expect their government to pass laws that apply within their jurisdiction is no more or less collectivist than saying those laws can include who can move into that jurisdiction from the outside.

                    1. Sovereignty is not collectivism and you know it.

                      Sovereignty, in the way YOU and likeminded people define it, IS collectivism.

                      Sovereignty COULD mean “exclusive jurisdiction over a defined parcel of territory” without getting into the details on how that jurisdiction or power is exercised.

                      But the closed-border crowd defines sovereignty much more specifically as “the people (aka collective) gets to decide who enters and who leaves the territory”. And I don’t agree with that.

                      It doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with sovereignty or that you don’t agree with sovereignty. Only that you and I don’t agree on how that sovereignty should be implemented.

                    2. Sovereignty COULD mean “exclusive jurisdiction over a defined parcel of territory” without getting into the details on how that jurisdiction or power is exercised.

                      Sure it could mean that. But it doesn’t have to mean that. You would prefer it means that but have no idea why other than you like it that way. So, you just call it meaning anything else “collectivism” because that is a bad word and act like it means anything. It is no less collectivist for the society to pass a law saying you can’t jerk off on your front porch or drive too fast or murder someone than it is for them to pass a law saying someone else can’t move here. In each case, it is the collective claiming the ability to tell the individual what they can and cannot do.

                      It is not so much that I disagree with your position. It is that your complete lack of understanding of your own position and sorry ass rationalizations for it are insulting to the readers intelligence.

                    3. So, you just call it meaning anything else “collectivism” because that is a bad word and act like it means anything.

                      No, John, it is because you are literally defending collectivism in the name of “the people of the United States”. Don’t be afraid to own up to who you really are.

                      It is no less collectivist for the society to pass a law saying you can’t jerk off on your front porch or drive too fast or murder someone than it is for them to pass a law saying someone else can’t move here.

                      Well, John, we have this thing called the Non-Aggression Principle, to decide if the collective is getting out of hand or not. Since murder is clearly an aggression by one individual against another, the collective is justified in attempting to punish murderers. How about driving too fast on the highways? Who is being aggressed against in this case? No one? Then the collective can go kindly fuck off.

                      Yes the collective can assert any claim it wants in order to justify its power. But principled people will understand that there are some claims that are legitimate and some that are not. So it’s not enough to say “the collective is justified in banning murder, therefore the collective is justified in banning everything”. You have to give a legitimate reason why the collective is justified.

                      You are the one engaged in the fallacy of hasty generalization, John, not me.

            2. So are don’t believe in the right of free association?

              No one is asking to hire these people.

              Wrong.

              1. That is one guy and 200 people. What about the other ten million or so who would come here if Reason got its way?

                1. Does the right to own an assault rifle depend on how many people purchase one?

          2. One who is legally permitted to be here?

            Sure.

            One in Syria?

            No. Because they won’t foot the bill for their desires. They demand others do so.

            Me owning a gun costs you no money.

      2. That is a sorry effort. All you are doing is assuming your position is correct because of “RIGHTS” and then begging the question.

        1. Where do your rights come from, John?

          The Constitution?

          1. I have rights as a human being. What those rights are is the question now isn’t it? Do those rights include going places where I am not wanted? Do my rights to move trump your ability to form a sovereign government that has borders?

            There are no obvious answers to those questions. It just depends on how you look at things. The people with people like you is not your answers to those questions so much as that you are too stupid to understand those questions exist. You just have a position you like, label it a “Right” and act like that is all there is to it. You think you have a right to go to any country you like. Yeah well, the people who are already there think they have a right to stop you. If you had any brains you would understand neither of you is necessarily correct.

            1. Do those rights include going places where I am not wanted?

              If you’re not trespassing, why not?

              Do my rights to move trump your ability to form a sovereign government that has borders?

              A government which does not respect the individual rights of its residents is not a legitimate government, just a bunch of thugs with guns.

              So if your claim of sovereignty means it must restrict my rights to travel, then it is not a legitimate claim of sovereignty.

              1. A government which does not respect the individual rights of its residents is not a legitimate government, just a bunch of thugs with guns.

                I am not a resident. Why does a government that I pay no taxes and had no part in forming owe me anything? Again, you are just begging the question. Yes, governments owe a duty to respect their citizens’ rights. That does not necessarily mean they owe any duty to someone who is not a citizen. You are just assuming they do.

                So if your claim of sovereignty means it must restrict my rights to travel, then it is not a legitimate claim of sovereignty.

                No. My claim of sovereignty means that it doesn’t owe you anything unless you are one of its citizens.

                1. I am not a resident. Why does a government that I pay no taxes and had no part in forming owe me anything?

                  Because your inherent rights are not based on your tax bill or your citizenship papers. They are yours by virtue of your birth. A government that does not respect these natural rights is not a just government.

                  In your view, do non-citizens have free speech rights in this country?

                  No. My claim of sovereignty means that it doesn’t owe you anything unless you are one of its citizens.

                  So do non-citizens have natural rights, or not?

                  For example, in your view, would a just government have the legitimate power to torture non-citizens?

    2. Does one have a moral duty to allow people to move freely across geographical areas that he doesn’t own?

      1. The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control their borders. You disagree and think there is no such thing as a nation state. There really is nothing else to say about it. You operate from an assumption I don’t share. That doesn’t make you right or me wrong. But it also does not make your appeals to that value like it is self evident any more convincing.

        1. The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control their borders

          You and I have no borders beyond those of the property we own.

          You disagree and think there is no such thing as a nation state.

          Oh, there’s a state, but it’s not made of “The American People.”

          1. Oh, there’s a state, but it’s not made of “The American People.”

            Then what is it? And whatever it is, why doesn’t it have the right to control borders? And if it doesn’t, how does it have the right to do anything? Are you an anarchist?

          2. if the borders of a nation have no legitimacy, then neither does your front door. The idea that American has not right to control immigration, but your private property is sacred is just self-serving hypocrisy. In other words, “let them in so I can make money, but protect me from them at all costs”. Sorry, if refugees have a “right” to enter America, they have just as much right to take over your house.

        2. The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control their borders.

          The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control who owns guns.
          The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control what wages they work for.
          The people of the United States have a sovereign right to control to whom bakeries must sell wedding cakes.

          See how this works John?

          Be careful the powers that you want to give to the collective. They will bite you in the ass.

          1. Can you do anything but beg the question? My God you are stupid. Yes, the issue is do people have the natural right to cross borders over the objection of the people whose governments control those borders. You can’t seem to grasp that is debatable and that just appealing to other rights by analogy doesn’t respond to the point. It is just fucking embarrassing at this point. Are you ten?

            1. You can’t seem to grasp that is debatable

              It’s only debatable among collectivists who grant the collective far more power than it deserves.

              What is your limiting principle on how the collective should be able to assert its power? Are all claims of collective authority legitimate?

            2. “Yes, the issue is do people have the natural right to cross borders over the objection of the people whose governments control those borders.”

              John, you’ve forgotten that there are people within those borders who own property who may choose to allow immigrants use of their property (business owners who wish to engage in commerce with the immigrant). It seems that you would have the collective tell the business owner whom he can and can’t engage in business with.

              Do the rights of “people whose governments control those borders” trump the rights of the individuals who own physical property within those borders? Libertarians have long advocated for individual liberty, and the so-called open borders position is consistent with individual liberty. Your position is a slippery slope towards populism, or the rights of the collective outweighing the rights of the individual. That’s the point Jeff is trying to make.

              1. John’s position is extremely muddled. He wants to grant the collective power over the individual, but just in the case of immigration and borders, not with guns, and when challenged on this discrepancy, he starts yelling about how his views are just as legitimate as anyone else’s so shut up already! Yes, John is entitled to have arbitrary inconsistent views but don’t expect to change anyone’s opinion based on that.

                1. No position is very clear. You just think it is muddled because you are too stupdi to even grasp the issues let alone explain them. Your position Jeff is “I Want”. That is the extent of your reasoning. Everything beyond that is just question begging and baseless assertions of why you should get what you want.

                  1. Shorter John:
                    “Everything is gray, there is no right and wrong, so my arbitrary preferences are just as legitimate as your well-reasoned ones!”

              2. Libertarians live in a fantasy world where somehow public services don’t exist and there are never any spill over effects to one person’s freedom. Your freedom to hire slaves from Syria impacts someone else’ quality of life and ability to use government services that they pay for. You just dismiss their interests by either pretending they don’t exist or that they are somehow morally illegitimate because of RIGHTS!!

                It is a sorry ass simplistic ideology.

                1. Your freedom to hire slaves from Syria impacts someone else’ quality of life

                  Do you not see how the logic behind this argument applies to literally everything else that a person might do?

                  What do you do that DOESN’T “impact someone else’s quality of life”, even if in just an infinitessimal way? Answer: nothing. So because everything that you might do might impact someone else in some Butterfly Effect sort of way, why SHOULDN’T the collective have the power to regulate *every single thing* that you do?

                  That is why we call you a collectivist John

                  1. It applies to all kinds of things Jeff. It is why I can’t blast music at four in the morning or drive drunk or turn my back yard into a pig farm. The point of government is to balance people’s rights and interests. You apparently didn’t get that message and think it is to give you your fucking pony no matter what it costs everyone else.

                    1. The point of government is to balance people’s rights and interests.

                      The thing you keep sidestepping is that if someone you don’t know does business with another person you don’t know on property you don’t own, none of those people are imposing on your rights in any way whatsoever.

                      And someone appropriating your money against your will and redistributing it to other people is unjust no matter what country those people were born in.

                    2. ^^^ this guy gets it

                    3. The point of government is to balance people’s rights and interests.

                      No it isn’t. The point of government is to preserve individual liberty. It is the job of we free citizens to balance our own interests thankyouverymuch.

                      BUT, even if I agreed with your prescription that “the point of government is to balance people’s rights and interests” – what guideline or principle should government use in order to set the correct balance? Whatever the majority decides?

              3. The problem really isn’t the one or two viciously poisonous grains in each bag of rice. The problem is that the entire bag is bad (inevitably with a few exceptions). Europe has decades of experience with large scale immigration from MENA (Middle-East, North-Africa). The result are poor. Even after several generations, the “immigrants” (and their children) are poor, welfare-dependent, violent, socially isolated, unemployed, uneducated, crime-prone, etc. Note that I not referring to a few “bad grains”. The “bad grains” are the overt terrorists. My comments apply to the median MENA immigrant.

                Of course, they do bring a certain type of “vitality” to Europe. Look up the word “tournantes” for the fun these folks bring with them.

                However, a word of warning is needed here. Don’t for moment think that the editors of the Reason (and the folks at Cato) don’t know all of this. They do. You can be sure that they keep their families as far from these people as possible.

            3. The problem really isn’t the one or two viciously poisonous grains in each bag of rice. The problem is that the entire bag is bad (inevitably with a few exceptions). Europe has decades of experience with large scale immigration from MENA (Middle-East, North-Africa). The result are poor. Even after several generations, the “immigrants” (and their children) are poor, welfare-dependent, violent, socially isolated, unemployed, uneducated, crime-prone, etc. Note that I not referring to a few “bad grains”. The “bad grains” are the overt terrorists. My comments apply to the median MENA immigrant.

              Of course, they do bring a certain type of “vitality” to Europe. Look up the word “tournantes” for the fun these folks bring with them.

              However, a word of warning is needed here. Don’t for moment think that the editors of the Reason (and the folks at Cato) don’t know all of this. They do. You can be sure that they keep their families as far from these people as possible.

    3. The problem really isn’t the one or two viciously poisonous grains in each bag of rice. The problem is that the entire bag is bad (inevitably with a few exceptions). Europe has decades of experience with large scale immigration from MENA (Middle-East, North-Africa). The result are poor. Even after several generations, the “immigrants” (and their children) are poor, welfare-dependent, violent, socially isolated, unemployed, uneducated, crime-prone, etc. Note that I not referring to a few “bad grains”. The “bad grains” are the overt terrorists. My comments apply to the median MENA immigrant.

      Of course, they do bring a certain type of “vitality” to Europe. Look up the word “tournantes” for the fun these folks bring with them.

      However, a word of warning is needed here. Don’t for moment think that the editors of the Reason (and the folks at Cato) don’t know all of this. They do. You can be sure that they keep their families as far from these people as possible.

  5. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, Bier assumes pre-existing terrorist inclinations whenever the crime happens within 10 years of arrival but excludes people who entered the country when they were younger than 16.

    What happens to the “vetting failures” if those parameters are changed?

    1. I do not see why the age someone enters the country would necessarily have any correlation with their propensity to become a terrorist. And even if it did, 16 seems like a very arbitrary cutoff.

      1. Something “self-radicalized” something.

        1. “Young man, are you radicalizing yourself in there?”

          “No, mama, I am doing my homework.”

      2. 2-year-olds can be the worst terrorists.

        1. That’s why the TSA never goes easy on them.

  6. Then, you know, don’t let them in at all.

    We don’t OWE anybody entry into our country.

  7. Well then, the solution is to shut down the border, restricting ALL immigration.

  8. The problem really isn’t the one or two viciously poisonous grains in each bag of rice. The problem is that the entire bag is bad (inevitably with a few exceptions). Europe has decades of experience with large scale immigration from MENA (Middle-East, North-Africa). The result are poor. Even after several generations, the “immigrants” (and their children) are poor, welfare-dependent, violent, socially isolated, unemployed, uneducated, crime-prone, etc. Note that I not referring to a few “bad grains”. The “bad grains” are the overt terrorists. My comments apply to the median MENA immigrant.

    Of course, they do bring a certain type of “vitality” to Europe. Look up the word “tournantes” for the fun these folks bring with them.

    However, a word of warning is needed here. Don’t for moment think that the editors of the Reason (and the folks at Cato) don’t know all of this. They do. You can be sure that they keep their families as far from these people as possible.

  9. Rakyat Amerika Serikat memiliki hak berdaulat untuk mengendalikan perbatasan mereka. Anda tidak setuju dan berpikir tidak ada yang namanya negara bangsa. Tidak ada yang bisa dikatakan tentang hal itu. Anda beroperasi dari asumsi yang tidak saya bagikan. Itu tidak membuat Anda benar atau salah. Tetapi itu juga tidak membuat daya tarik Anda untuk nilai seperti itu terbukti dengan sendirinya lebih meyakinkan.

  10. Rakyat Amerika Serikat memiliki hak berdaulat untuk mengendalikan perbatasan mereka. Anda tidak setuju dan berpikir tidak ada yang namanya negara bangsa. Tidak ada yang bisa dikatakan tentang hal itu. Anda beroperasi dari asumsi yang tidak saya bagikan. Itu tidak membuat Anda benar atau salah. Tetapi itu juga tidak membuat daya tarik Anda untuk nilai seperti itu terbukti dengan sendirinya lebih meyakinkan.

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