Kevin McCullough and Mike Gallagher have been decrying the article by Steven Levitt discussing hypothetical ways a terrorist could attack America. Calling him a freak, a maniac and treasonous, the two columnists explain that Levitt has turned over a blueprint to anyone who would be interested in attacking America. The dilemma is this: are these hawkish columnists attempting to produce comedic pieces, or have they gone insane?

Levitt’s “best” scenario for the terrorist consists of random sniper attacks, like the incident in DC, but on a national scale. Ok, it’s a thought. Not a very original one, but a thought. In fact, it’s a less detailed version of the first half of Teeth of the Tiger, a best selling novel by Tom Clancy, in which terrorists sneak across the border and open fire at a number of shopping malls. McCullough and Gallagher don’t seem to regard Clancy’s work as treason, despite it being more detailed and more widely distributed than Levitt’s. Then again, Clancy doesn’t publish in ‘liberal’ media outlets…

Levitt also discusses five cornerstones of a successful attack.

  1. Make everyone feel like a potential target. Like hijacking multiple passenger airliners that anyone could have bought a ticket on? I think the terrorists have learned this lesson already.
  2. Conduct multiple simultaneous attacks. Four airplanes. The lesson is out there.
  3. Try to get away alive. Terrorists seem to be behind the eight ball on this one, but then again, maybe somewhere at some point a terrorist considered preserving his own life. Either way, Levitt fails to provide a reason as to why this boosts the successfulness of an attack.
  4. Try to stop commerce. Two of the 9/11 targets were major centers in commerce in America’s commerce center. Terrorists have this one in the playbook already.
  5. Get America to pass hampering laws. It is believed that Osama bin-Laden wanted America to respond brashly militarily and domestically to 9/11, in a manner that would do further damage. Ok, so this one is no secret either.

As far as I can tell, Levitt gave no new information to potential terrorists, and the only actual plan of attack he advances omits planning for the hardest parts like training and getting across the border. Multiple readers commented that they too had considered this mode of attack after the sniper shootings. And yet we are to believe terrorists didn’t and/or couldn’t?

Maybe I’m wrong, and terrorists are unable to think up attacks without help. Did Levitt and the NYT commit a crime any different than hundreds of other authors and media outlets? If terrorists were so inventive as to type “terrorism scenario America” into, the first hit they would see discusses the devastating potential of a dirty bomb. The fourth hit reports on a plan of attack that jihadists came up with on their own. Scenarios for devastating attacks are near infinite, in fiction thrillers, the media, think tank publications and even government documents like the 9/11 commission report. So why is Levitt so treasonous?

Gallagher proclaims to be aghast at the glee with which Levitt requests more scenarios from readers. I’ll admit, it seems wildly improbable that the powers that be in charge of homeland security are reading this blog in an attempt to plan for American security. But imagining and discussing hypothetical attacks are necessary to promote general security, drive security planning, to reduce the shock factor were an attack to succeed. So even if this one instance of discussion is unlikely to boost American defenses, the mindset of dreaming up and discussing attacks is likely to help in the long run.

Even if unlikely to do much, Levitt hopes his article will help in the fight against terror. So who is more gleeful, Levitt in the face of terrorism, or McCullough and Gallagher in the face of the chance to badmouth what they perceive as liberal media organizations?

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