How Many Terrorists Are There: Not As Many As You Might Think

from the and-even-if-we-count-generously dept

Terrorism is a deadly, ever-present menace from which Americans should spare no expense or effort in protecting themselves. Or so our rulers claim.

For example, Rep. Mike Rogers warns, "The threat from Al Qaeda-linked terrorists is continuously evolving as they seek new safe havens from which to recruit, train and conduct operations against Americans and our interests.... terrorists tell us they want to strike American and other Western targets." And John Pistole at the TSA excuses his agency's sexual assaults of passengers by incoherently intoning, "The reason we are doing these types of pat downs and using the advanced imagery technology is trying to take the latest intelligence and how we know al Qaeda and affiliates want to hurt us, they want to bring down whether it is passenger air craft or cargo aircraft."

It would seem that terrorism runs rampant, as the Feds remind us with each new infringement of our freedom. Which means there must be millions of terrorists out there, right?

Nope. The same government that spends trillions of our dollars and sacrifices our few remaining rights fighting terrorists also publishes a census of sorts on them – though apparently the Feds don't read it. Country Reports on Terrorism appears annually courtesy of the US Department of State. And each year, it explodes the myth that jihadists lurk on every airport's concourse. In fact, bureaucrats at just one of the agencies supposedly battling them, the Department of Homeland Security, far outnumber them.

Naturally, the enemy is too busy plotting America's destruction to fill out questionnaires, so the Reports relies on educated guesses: statements such as "membership is estimated in the low hundreds" and "core membership is believed to be fewer than 100" abound. And of the 51 "Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) ... designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)" that the Reports surveys, the "Strength" of 15 remains flatly "unknown."

Nonetheless, adding these figures together should yield a rough idea of how many foes scheme to blow us sky-high.

While crunching numbers, we'll give the Feds something they never give us: the benefit of the doubt. We'll take the higher figure each time we encounter a range ("Reports of Jundallah membership vary from 500 to 2,000" counts as 2000, for instance). And we'll interpret "several," "few" or "low" as 5, so that "several thousand" or "membership in the low thousands" becomes 5000. Finally, we'll double our tally to cover those 15 "unknowns" and their no doubt huge enrollments.

So how many participants in "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" worldwide menace America's "national security?" How many threaten us so badly that our rulers insist on suspending much of the Bill of Rights to counteract the danger?

Try 184,000.

Yep, just 184,000. Even big, bad "Al-Qa'ida (AQ)" and its three affiliates ("Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula"; "Al-Qa'ida in Iraq"; and "Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb") boast only 4000 bad guys combined. (The main Al-Qa'ida's "strength" is "impossible to estimate," but the Reports admits that its "core has been seriously degraded" following "the death or arrest of dozens of mid- and senior-level AQ operatives." "Dozens," not "hundreds." Hmmm.)

And remember, 184,000 is a ridiculously inflated figure – both because of our generous accounting and also because governments often expand a word's meaning well beyond the dictionary's. You may recall the Feds' contending with straight faces in 2004 that if "a little old lady in Switzerland gave money to a charity for an Afghan orphanage, and the money was passed to al Qaeda," she met the definition of "enemy combatant." Five years later, a federal Fusion Center decreed that "if you're an anti-abortion activist, or if you display political paraphernalia supporting a third-party candidate or [Ron Paul], if you possess subversive literature, you very well might be a member of a domestic paramilitary group." No telling how many confused Swiss grandmothers and readers of Techdirt's subversive articles cluster among those 184,000.

That number grows even more absurd when we compare it with the aforementioned Homeland Security's 240,000 Warriors on Terror. Meanwhile, something like 780,000 cops stalk us nationwide, whose duties also encompass tilting at terrorism's windmill. And that's to say nothing of the scores of other bureaucracies at the national, state, and local levels hunting these same 184,000 guerrillas as well as an additional 1,368,137 troops from the armed forces [click on "Rank/Grade - current month"].

Nor do American armies, bureaucratic or literal, battle alone. Britain, Europe and assorted allies aim at that grotesquely outnumbered 184,000, too.

It gets worse. Country Reports also lists "Location/Area of Operation" for our 51 groups. Surprisingly, most of them harbor extremely modest ambitions, especially for folks who hate our freedom (or what's left of it): they're far more interested in their own backyards than ours. For example, the Abu Sayyaf Group "operates primarily in the provinces of the Sulu Archipelago, namely Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. The group also operates on the Zamboanga Peninsula." And though American politicians suspect it of hoping to overthrow the Great Satan, it instead "claims to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago."

Ditto for the Continuity Irish Republican Army ("Location/Area of Operation: Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic"); the Haqqani Network ("...active along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and across much of southeastern Afghanistan"); Lashkar i Jhangvi ("...active primarily in Punjab, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Karachi, and Baluchistan"); and even the National Liberation Army ("Mostly in the rural and mountainous areas of northern, northeastern, and southwestern Colombia, as well as the border regions with Venezuela"). In fact, despite the State Department's insistence that "the organization's terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States" for inclusion in the Reports, it's incredibly difficult to see how most of these associations pose any peril whatever to the US.

It's even harder – some would say impossible – to understand how protecting ourselves from these distant dissidents requires forfeiting even one of our rights, let alone the wholesale evisceration of freedom the Security State demands.

Becky Akers is a free-lance writer and historian who has published two novels, Halestorm and Abducting Arnold. Both are set during the American Revolution, when terrorists overthrew the world's most powerful empire.

Filed Under: al qaeda, terrorists, threats


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  1. identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 30 May 2014 @ 1:24pm

    Bravo, and remember to fear the furniture.

    1) Great piece of research and writing. Well-done.

    2) Remember: Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism We can never be too vigilant in the War on Upholstery.

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