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Terror Alerts Are Useless

By Matthew Yglesias on October 4, 2010 at 5:29 pm

"Terror Alerts Are Useless"

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The State Department did something a bit funny Sunday morning and put out a travel alert warning people who might be thinking of going to Europe that al Qaeda might kill them if they do so. “Terrorists,” their release helpfully clarified, “may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests.” Scary stuff.

Meanwhile, I was up early Sunday morning and I like to travel so I thought I’d try an experiment and ask my Twitter followers if anyone was canceling European travel plans and wanted to hand some free tickets and/or hotel rooms over to me. But unfortunately for me, the American people (or at least the 14,000 or so who follow me on Twitter) are too sensible for that. I’m a bit sad I didn’t score my free trip, but of course it’s the alternative scenario that was really terrifying. What if tens of thousands of people really had canceled their business travel or tourism plans, disrupting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of commerce? It would have been among the greatest coups in the history of al Qaeda, and achieved without a shot. All of which raises the question: What on earth are the pointing of these alerts, and why on earth can’t the government get out of the business of self-defeating cautionary notes that are disconnected from any conceivable course of action?

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

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