Monday, May 21, 2007

Assessing Risk

Daniel Bonevac at Right Reason asks a question about how likely a terrorist network is to detonate or even try to detonate a nuclear device in a US city in the next five to ten years.

Overall I believe that there is some risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack by terrorists on the United States, but to try to go much behind that and to assign say a low, moderate, or high risk so such an attack is beyond the scope of my ability to obtain and process information about the threat. In fact it is probably not possible for any member of the general public. Nonetheless I think that it is reasonable for me to take a shot at discussing some of the risk factors that I have to consider when assessing the risk. Listed below, in roughly descending order of importance are some of the factors that contribute to the threat.

My assessed risk of a nuclear or other spectacular attack on the United States:

is higher now than before 9/11, the Bali bombing, the Madrid bombing, and the London bombing due to the terrorists' demonstrated ability and will to execute these attacks.

is higher to the extent that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan encourage more individuals to engage in terrorist activities, but is lower to the extent that terrorists focus their efforts and resources on attacking US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I view the net result of these to effects as lowering the threat of an attack on the US, but that assessment is open to interpretation.

is higher due to the presence of both terrorist networks and nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

is lower to the extent that incidents like the Virginia Tech shooting illustrate the ease with which individuals could carry out this sort of small scale attack. Why do we not see more of this type of attack?

is lower due to the extent that the predominant terrorist network,Al Queda is Sunni Muslim and that Sunni versus Shitite conflict in Iraq illustrates lack of cooperation between the two groups - assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon.

is higher to due to the demonstrated terrorist abilities of Shiite organizations like Hezbolla - again assuming Iran as a source for a nuclear weapon and that Hezbolla would gain the ability to target states other than Israel and Lebanon.

is higher to the extent that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina illustrate ineffectiveness at various levels of government.

No comments: