Paranoia: How Much Is Too Much?

Copyright 2001 Steven L. Van Dyke, all rights reserved


In light of recent events, the paranoia level of the United States has racheted up to unprecedented levels. While most people would say it's too high, it's difficult to say just where it should be. As one example, if I'm capable of taking over an airplane with a ball-point pen and a safety pin, then I can probably do it just as well without them. The ban on pocket knives will probably always be with us though.

Many people are making major changes in their lifestyle, which is a major part of what the terrorists were trying to accomplish. Rather than a blanket retreat to some imaginary safe place, the thing to do is to make a reasonable assessment of the situation.

As I see it, there are three sorts of targets for future attacks:

1) 'Strategic' targets: These are the sorts of things the leaders of the terrorists have chosen. They'll generally be large, crowded, and symbolic in some way. The terrorists know what it is, where it is, and (if relevant) when it is long in advance. One possible future target of this type is the SuperBowl, so if you're going count on some serious security. The only real danger in being at one of these targets is the terrorists thinking of something the good guys don't. After the events of September 11th, 2001, those good guys are looking at everything they can think of. I see the primary danger in this sort of target in the terrorists seeing a symbolism in something we don't, thus making a target out of something we don't think of. If you"re thinking about going to something that could be a Strategic target, I think your biggest concern will be the security measures in place. If they'll bother you too much, then don't go.

2) Targets of Opportunity: These are things that weren't planned for because they couldn't be known in advance - events like the memorial service in the National Cathedral for example. The short lead time to these events will generally make them safer than they would otherwise be, but at least for now it's something to think about when making your plans.

3) Targets of Desperation: With the full forces of the U.S.A. now stirred up and taking action, some terrorists may panic and decide that, if they won't be able to get to their originally planned Strategic target, they're going to do something. This is the only threat I see to most sporting events and, let's face it, relatively obscure government buildings. Why would someone attack a football game? Not because it's some big, symbolic event, but because it's the 'best' thing they can find in the time available. The rather extreme seeming measures being taken during these first few weeks are actually reasonable when you take this into account. Once things have settled a bit and those terrorists already in this country have either been captured or gained the confidence that they've slipped the net there should be very few attempts on 'random' targets.

So pick yourself up, hug your loved ones and wipe away the tears for the lost and get on with life. Just take a moment before you go to make sure you're not being too paranoid about things, but that you are being paranoid enough.


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