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Mumbai Attacks Don’t Suggest Similar US Attacks

The top story in this morning’s USA Today starts with the headline Mumbai Attacks Refocus U.S. Cities – Police fear assault is new terror model. The text of the article confirms the headline: “The deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai are prompting new efforts to bolster security in the U.S. by law enforcement officials who fear the assault on India’s financial capital represents an unforeseen model for future attacks on U.S. soil.”

Why? Why would law enforcement officials conclude that an attack in a city halfway around the world will be a model for future attacks here?

There isn’t a strong correlation of dramatic terrorist attacks in one place leading to similar dramatic attacks someplace else. After the sarin gas attack in a Japanese subway, there were no chemical weapon attacks anywhere else. The attack on the USS Cole was not followed by a series of attacks against large warships by small boats filled with explosives. The Oklahoma City bombing was not followed by more truck bombings of federal buildings. There have been no further incidents of terrorists flying airplanes into large buildings since 2001.

If there is a serious lesson to be learned from the history of terrorist attacks, it’s that we probably will not experience here in the United States an attack similar to the one in Mumbai. Yet, law enforcement leaders seem determined to see their own jurisdictions as intimately connected to far away events. That tendency seems to have more to do with what people want to believe about themselves than with the way that the world actually works.

A reasonable amount of preparation is a good idea. Let law enforcement leaders consider the structure of the attack as a way of reflecting upon the way that they do their own work.

Let’s not make the Homeland knee jerk assumption, however, that what happened in Mumbai will inevitably happen here. It’s not only a matter of time.

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