The Nature of the Terrorist Threat

Daniel Benjamin
Daniel Benjamin
Daniel Benjamin Former Brookings Expert

February 14, 2007

More than five years after the cataclysm of September 11, 2001, the terrorist threat has become more varied, complicated and difficult to understand than perhaps at any time in memory. The United States faces an array of different kinds of terrorist threats, some of which are related, some of which are not. Some are extraordinarily dangerous; others pose a risk on a much smaller scale. Some are genuinely global; others are purely local, others still reach beyond their countries of origin but are better characterized as more or less regional.

American citizens are understandably confused by the panoply of forms this security threat takes. Moreover, confusion about forms and the irregular incidence of successful terrorist attack causes further uncertainty about the dimensions of the threat. Indeed, for Americans who are not living in Iraq, the actuarial tables do not show much of change regarding the likelihood of dying in a terrorist act—even factoring in September 11. Yet in my view, the potential for a devastating attack or series of attacks and for grave damage to American interests remains. For these reasons, it is imperative that legislators and policymakers do their utmost to clear away some of the misunderstandings that inevitably cloud this subject. Consequently, I am grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to the committee for having this hearing. I hope to do my best help you as you seek to clarify the nature of the threat today.