Monday, August 21, 2006

United Kingdom/United States: Differences of Differences

Attempted bombing and conspiracy charges filed by the British government against 11 suspects, most of them British subjects whose families immigrated from Pakistan raises a set of intriguing comparative questions about the security situation in the United States. If the British charges hold up, we would have both a completed act of terrorism, the London subway bombings of July 2005, and a well calculated and in progress plan for mass terrorism comparable to 9/11 or worse. In contrast, there have been no reported terrorist attacks or serious attempts since Richard Reid's bizarre but potentially deadly shoe bombing attempt on a flight from Paris to Miami. Several alleged terrorist cells have been prosecuted, but the general consensus seems to be that none represented an imminent threat of credible violence. Even Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged this when he said of the British plot that it was much more than a thought or idea, apparently referring to the recent Miami conspiracy charges. So here is the comparative research question. Both countries have lots of immigrants from Muslim countries (and even Pakistan specifically). Both countries have engaged in the war in Iraq, support for Israel's bombing of Lebanon, and other arguably provocative acts.

Does the lack of discovered credible terror plots in the US since 9/11 suggest:

A. That the US is a "melting pot" society that does a better job not alienating Muslim immigrants? Thats the apparent view of the New York Times today.

B. Selection bias, i.e., different people (with a different relationship to the origins of Jihadi violence) immigrate from the same Islamic countries to the UK and the US.

C. That the British M15 is a more effective agency for discovering terror plots than the US FBI, Homeland Security, and domestic law enforcement agencies. Either because (1) they (UK) are less bound by constitutional and statutory restrictions (the Bush administration view) or (2) they (UK) rely more on traditional policing of suspicious individuals and less on both high technology data mining and low tech coercive interrogation methods (legal and illegal) than the US does?

D. Both results are arbitrary fictions of security agencies obsessively focused on Muslim immigrants and ignoring the real threat posed by others who do not fit the profiles but may have ideological or other reasons to produce acts of violence.

E. Make up your own theory


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