Michael Sheehan is on a one-man mission to put terrorist threats into perspective, which is a place they’ve rarely or ever been before. Already you can see it’s going to be a hard slog. Fighting the inflated menace of Osama bin Laden has become big business, generating hundreds of billions of dollars for government agencies and contractors in what one friend of mine in the Washington policy-making stratosphere calls “the counterterrorist-industrial complex.”
Before September 11, said Sheehan, the United States was “asleep at the switch” while Al Qaeda was barreling down the track. “If you don’t pay attention to these guys,” said Sheehan, “they will kill you in big numbers.” So bin Laden’s minions hit U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, they hit the Cole in 2000, and they hit New York and Washington in 2001—three major attacks on American targets in the space of 37 months. Since then, not one. And not for want of trying on their part.
What changed? The difference is purely and simply that intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military have focused their attention on the threat, crushed the operational cells they could find—which were in fact the key ones plotting and executing major attacks—and put enormous pressure on all the rest.
See also: The Power of Nightmares