Is There a Better Way to Fight Terrorism? | WBEZ
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Freakonomics

Is There a Better Way to Fight Terrorism?

Next week, the White House is hosting a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (known to most laypeople as “terrorism”). It was originally scheduled for last year but got delayed – and then put back on the calendar after the Paris attacks in January. What should we expect from a summit like this? “Alas, I’m expecting very little of a positive nature,” Col. (Ret.) Jack Jacobs tells us. “I view this principally as a media event. I hope I’m wrong.”

Just in case the summit does turn out to be primarily a media event, we thought we’d take our podcast – which technically, is a media event – and turn it into a terrorism summit. This week’s episode is called “Is There a Better Way to Fight Terrorism?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

We talk about what’s known and what’s not known about terrorism; we talk about what’s working and what’s not to prevent it; we talk about whether we overvalue the threat of tactical terrorism and undervalue the threat of strategic terrorism, including cyber- and bioterrorism.

Here’s who you’ll hear from on our terrorism UnSummit:

+ Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security & Terrorism; Pape has written widely on the “strategic logic” of suicide terrorism and how to best fight it.

+ Mia Bloom, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror. Bloom — who was invited to attend the White House summit after we interviewed her — thinks a lot about terrorism before it happens:

BLOOM: So one of my main approaches … is to look at how terrorist groups change and innovate, how they learn from each other. And looking at, for example, changing operatives from males who were suicide bombers to looking at women terrorists and to increasingly moving to the future, looking at children who engage in political violence. For example, we see children in Boko Haram and ISIS Cubs and we’re seeing more and more children who are militarized across the world.

+ Nathan Myhrvold, the CEO of Intellectual Ventures (and a familiar name in these parts), who in 2013 published a monograph called “Strategic Terrorism: A Call to Action.” While Myhrvold is way outside the typical national-security circles, his essay caught a lot of eyes andears in those circles. He argues that the U.S. is fighting the last war on terror at the expense of preparing for a much more dangerous possibility:

MYHRVOLD: A bioterror attack on the United States could easily kill, in all simulations in the studies done so far, it could kill 100,000 to a million Americans.

+ Jack Jacobs, who received a Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Vietnam War, went into business after the Army, wrote a book about his amazing life

, and is now a national-security analyst for NBC and MSNBC. Like Myrhvold, Jacobs thinks that too much focus is put on terrorist acts that aren’t that costly; but he’s not optimistic about a change:

JACOBS: We really don’t have any national strategy — but to be fair, trying to develop a national strategy in this kind of national-security environment, where we’re just getting started, is probably too much to ask.

You’ll also hear Steve Levitt‘s contribution to the terrorism debate, which might surprise you a bit — unless you know how Levitt thinks.

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