Got a chance while sick this weekend to pick up and plow through more of Furedi's "Invitation To Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown" which has been a breath of perspective on the whole Global War On Terror thing. His work cuts through much of the terrorism hype of the last several decades and the myth of a "new terrorist" which threatens global catastrophe. The threat of terror is real and must be understood, but it is not fundamentally any different than the threat of terror which has existed for decades--- even a century--- before 9/11.
One of the things Furedi gets into is the sheer terror of biological/chemical attacks during the Clinton Administration following his reading of a Richard Preston docudrama (some of Preston's books are quite good--- if taken with a grain of salt) and how this likely lead to bad foreign policy decisions across the board. Biological or chemical terror, along with nuclear terror, has been predicted for decades and is an actual potential, *but* the examples we have to date are mostly proof that it is an extremely difficult tool for a non-state actor (or even a state actor) to use effectively. The Tokyo subway attacks using Sarin gas were alarming, but ineffective delivery of the toxin lead to only twelve deaths instead of the hundreds which were possible. The 9/11 terrorists did not even attempt high-tech Weapons of Mass Destruction but resorted to fairly crude means which were available to terrorists 60+ years before. Even that required sending their operatives to the United States for advance training before they could pull it off.
Overselling the threat and turning it into a Global War on Terror goes bad places. It justifies jettisoning our principles of liberty and civil rights to the curb, but that is just where it starts. Having worked in the Pentagon, I have heard the "this is War" meme before--- only rarely from the military but almost always actually from the civilians, the contractors, mercenaries, and bureaucrats who have the most to gain from war and the least to lose. It dehumanizes the enemy in order to justify depravity. Then comes the "If you are not with us, you are against us," meme to expand that list of enemies beyond what can be supported by fact or reason. Finally is "sacrifices must be made" to visit that 'war' on people who have no conceivable relationship to 'the enemy' and never did. In so doing, we sometimes do the terrorists' jobs better than they could ever hope to do. Some of those mistakes and near-mistakes are the stuff of nightmares.
Somewhere we need to have balance in our approach to the real threats we face. We need to keep our eyes open and prepare for danger without issuing an invitation to be terrorized, without doing the terrorists work for them.
Furedi's book is well worth the read, covering not just the twisted US politics of the War on Terror, but also that of the UK and offering insights on a more rational approach. [Frank Furedi. Invitation To Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown. Continuum Books. UK. 2007]