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Predicted Terrorist Attacks or Predicted “Attempted” Terrorist Attacks? What’s the Difference?

February 3, 2010

While reading the latest on msnbc.com this morning, my eyes stopped at the title of an article, “al-Qaida ‘certain’ to attack U.S. within months“.   I found my mind flooded with memories of 9/11 — driving into work that day and hearing the news that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane, and then another report that the other Tower was hit …..  my passenger carpooler and I couldn’t believe what we hearing.  And after arriving at work, the pictures of horror.

According to the msnbc.com’s article, on Tuesday Obama’s Administration’s top intelligence officers (Dennis Blair, Robert Mueller,  Leon Panetta and others) testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that they are certain terrorist attack(s) will occur within the next six months.  Committee Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein asked the panel “…what is the likelihood of another terrorist attempted attack on the U.S. homeland in the next three to six months?  High or low?”  Each member of the panel answered “High.” I then watched the video accompanying the article, “Top Officials ‘Certain’ of Terror Attack,” by NBC’s Pete Williams.  What I found interesting was the emphasis which Williams placed on terrorist “attempt.”  Going again to Senator Feinstein’s question and the answers of the panel, a terrorist attempt was the focus.

Pete Williams continued by saying that because the potential “attackers” are seen as less disciplined, the attacks will most likely be the work of individuals versus an organized group.  (No — I am not say “whew!!!” and wiping my brow!)  Blair and Panetta warned of new threats from al-Qaida’s regional allies, that are moving to safe havens such as Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb and other locations.  Al-Qaida-inspired groups have successfully “deployed individuals to this Country,” drawing a similarity to the disrupted terrorist plots of Denver (Najibulah Zazi), Chicago’s David Headley or more recently, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (12/25/2009).  Williams continued by saying that our Nation is at risk of cyber attacks in the coming months, with possible future strikes aimed at businesses or intended to cause economic disruption.    

I return to the question:  What is the difference between forecasting a terrorist attack or forecasting an “attempted” terrorist attack?   How can one accurately predict the success or failure in the present, of something that is to occur in the future?  Wouldn’t an attempted terrorist attack mean the attack already happened and it was prevented?   

(Hey Dick Cheney – do you have any comments?)

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