The danger of generalizing, this is what David Corn tries to emphasize in his article “Are Terrorists Dumb” on MotherJones.com. Following a number of failed terrorist attacks in the US, most recently in New York’s time square, attitudes towards terrorists have changed from criminal masterminds to bumbling fools with fizzling bombs. Corn lists several attacks, stemming from Richard Reid’s failed shoe-bombing and their ultimate failure and tries to dissect exactly why they fail and why organizations like Al-Qaeda have been more competent.
Corn interviews a Georgetown University professor and the CEO of Executive Action, self-described as a “Private-CIA”, his sources aren’t experts, but their quotes support Corn’s assertion that assuming all terrorists are stupid is dangerous. Bruce Hoffman, the professor, argues that failed attacks are rushed, Abdulmuttalab (the underwear bomber), rushed his attacks to correspond with Christmas. Neil Livingstone, the CEO, argues that training and time are crucial to planning, training, particularly for the detonation devices. The suspected bomber in the Times Square attempt had no such training and used the wrong fertilizer as explosive.
Though Corn tries to interject humor and opinion into his story, the advice is solid, underestimating the enemy can result in catastrophe. Understanding is most important, as Corn argues, “Terrorist outfits organize two types of operations: those they meticulously plan and to which they devote their best resources, and those they take a flyer on. The recent miscues have been the latter. And those are likely to continue—with the possibility of success.”
Reid, Abdulmuttalab, and Shahzad may have been failures, but the warning in this article is to ignore the failures and focus on what may be coming. Corn uses an analogy contrasting university acceptance practices to those of terrorist organizations. Colleges accept based on performance, terrorist organizations accept from all spectrums, aiming towards opportunity and potential for success. If the opportunity arises, the results could be catastrophic. So Corn’s assertion is true, don’t draw from recent failures, instead work towards stopping attempts all together.