An “Attempted Act of Terrorism”

Along with learning the factual details, it remains to be seen whether the effort by a Nigerian traveler to ignite some type of explosive on a U.S.-bound flight was an “attempted act of terrorism”—as it has been characterized by the White House—or a successful act of terrorism. 

Though it certainly helps, terrorism doesn’t require explosions and fatalities to work its will. If public fear produced by this incident drives the U.S. toward self-injurious overreactions—abandonment of plane travel, overwrought and poorly directed security measures, and so on—then it will be a successful act of terrorism.

The behavior of the Obama administration, political leaders in Congress, and the media will determine whether this is a successful act of terrorism. One early commentator has framed this event as a “desperate bid for relevance” on the part of al Qaeda, chastising the “permanently hysterical” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) for promoting overreaction.

We will be reviewing the first year of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies at a Cato Institute policy forum on Wednesday, January 13, 2010—a follow-on to our hugely successful counterterrorism conference in January 2009, the week before President Obama’s inauguration. Along with an impressive line-up of commentators, the event will feature a keynote address by Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department.

This most recent event will surely be a focus as we review the Obama administration’s first year in counterterrorism. Register here.