Just How Dangerous Is Terrorism, Really?

You’re Much More Likely to Be Killed By Deer, Cows, Dogs, Brain-Eating Parasites, Toddlers, Lightning, Falling Out of Bed, Alcoholism, Food Poisoning, Choking On Your Meal, a Financial Crash, Obesity, Medical Errors or “Autoerotic Asphyxiation” than by Terrorists

Preface:  The terror threat is greatly exaggerated. After all, the type of counter-terror experts who frequently appear on the mainstream news are motivated to hype the terror threat, because it drums up business  for them.

The same is true for government employees.  As former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes put it earlier this year:

If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that “We won the war on terror and everything’s great,” cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half.

You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive”—it’s “Keep Fear Alive.” Keep it alive.

Fearmongering also serves political goals. For example, FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, a top constitutional and military law expert, Time magazine, the Washington Post and others have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”.  Indeed, the former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admitted that he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.  Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski – also a top foreign policy advisor to President Obama – told the Senate that the war on terror is a “a mythical historical narrative”.

The government justifies its geopolitical goals – including seizing more power at home, and overthrowing oil-rich countries – by hyping the terror menace.   So the government wants you to be scared out of your pants by the risk of terrorism.

Even though there have been a spate of terror attacks in Paris, California, London and elsewhere recently,  the levels of terrorism are still much lower than many assume. Government officials and counter-terror experts may hype the terror threat to promote their agendas. But – as shown below – your risk of being killed in a terror attack is actually much lower than being killed by virtually any other cause.

Daniel Benjamin – the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the United States Department of State from 2009 to 2012 – noted in January (at 10:22):

The total number of deaths from terrorism in recent years has been extremely small in the West. And the threat itself has been considerably reduced. Given all the headlines people don’t have that perception; but if you look at the statistics that is the case.

Time Magazine noted in 2013 that the chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States from 2007 to 2011, according to Richard Barrett – coordinator of the United Nations al Qaeda/Taliban Monitoring Team – was 1 in 20 million.

Let’s look at specific numbers …

The U.S. Department of State reports that only 17 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as a result of terrorism in 2011.* That figure includes deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other theaters of war.

In contrast, the American agency which tracks health-related issues – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – rounds up the most prevalent causes of death in the United States:

Comparing the CDC numbers to terrorism deaths means:

– You are 35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

– You are 33,842 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

– You are 4,311 times more likely to die from diabetes than from a terrorist attack

– You are 3,157 times more likely to die from flu or pneumonia than from a terrorist attack

– You are 2,091 times more likely to die from blood poisoning than from a terrorist attack

– You are 1,064 times more likely to die as your lungs swell up after your food or beverage goes down the wrong pipe

(Keep in mind when reading this entire piece that we are consistently and substantially understating the risk of other causes of death as compared to terrorism, because we are comparing deaths from various causes within the United States against deaths from terrorism worldwide.)

Wikipedia notes that obesity is a a contributing factor in 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States per year. That makes obesity 5,882 to 23,528 times more likely to kill you than a terrorist.

The annual number of deaths in the U.S. due to avoidable medical errors is as high as 100,000. Indeed, one of the world’s leading medical journals – Lancet – reported in 2011:

A November, 2010, document from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that, when in hospital, one in seven beneficiaries of Medicare (the government-sponsored health-care programme for those aged 65 years and older) have complications from medical errors, which contribute to about 180 000 deaths of patients per year.

That’s just Medicare beneficiaries, not the entire American public. Scientific American noted in 2009:

Preventable medical mistakes and infections are responsible for about 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an investigation by the Hearst media corporation.

And a new study in the Journal of Patient Safety says the numbers may be up to 440,000 each year. But let’s use the lower – 100,000 – figure. That still means that you are 5,882 times more likely to die from medical error than terrorism.

The CDC says that some 80,000 deaths each year are attributable to excessive alcohol use. So you’re 4,706 times more likely to drink yourself to death than die from terrorism.

Approximately 38,329 Americans die each year from drug overdoses. That’s 2,255 times more than from terrorists.

Wikipedia notes that there were 32,367 automobile accidents in 2011, which means that you are 1,904 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack.

The Washington Post reports:

In the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, millions of Americans elected not to fly. A significant proportion decided to drive to their destinations instead. Driving is more dangerous than flying. And so one scholar of risk, Gerd Gigerenzer, calculated that more people died from the resulting automobile accidents than the total number of individuals who were killed aboard the four hijacked planes Sept. 11.

Even President Obama agreed.

According to a 2011 CDC report, poisoning from prescription drugs is even more likely to kill you than a car crash. Indeed, the CDC stated in 2011 that – in the majority of states – your prescription meds are more likely to kill you than any other source of injury. So your meds are thousands of times more likely to kill you than Al Qaeda.

The financial crisis has also caused quite a few early deaths. The Guardian reported in 2008:

High-income countries such as the UK and US could see a 6.4% surge in deaths from heart disease, while low-income countries could experience a 26% rise in mortality rates.

Since there were 596,339 deaths from heart disease in the U.S. in 2011 (see CDC table above), that means that there are approximately 38, 165 additional deaths a year from the financial crisis … and Americans are 2,245 times more likely to die from a financial crisis that a terrorist attack.

Financial crises cause deaths in other ways, as well. For example, the poverty rate has skyrocketed in the U.S. since the 2008 crash. For example, the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest in 17 years, and more Americans numerically were in poverty as of 2011 than for more than 50 years. Poverty causes increased deaths from hunger, inability to pay for heat and shelter, and other causes. (And – as mentioned below – suicides have skyrocketed recently; many connect the increase in suicides to the downturn in the economy.)

The number of deaths by suicide has also surpassed car crashes. Around 35,000 Americans kill themselves each year (and more American soldiers die by suicide than combat; the number of veterans committing suicide is astronomical and under-reported). So you’re 2,059 times more likely to kill yourself than die at the hand of a terrorist.

The CDC notes that there were 7,638 deaths from HIV and 45 from syphilis, so you’re 452 times more likely to die from risky sexual behavior than terrorism. (That doesn’t include death by autoerotic asphyxiation … discussed below.)

Americans are some 428 times more likely to die from gun violence than terrorism.

The National Safety Council reports that more than 6,000 Americans die a year from falls … most of them involve people falling off their roof or ladder trying to clean their gutters, put up Christmas lights and the like. That means that you’re 353 times more likely to fall to your death doing something idiotic than die in a terrorist attack.

The same number – 6,000 – die annually from texting or talking on the cellphone while driving. So you’re 353 times more likely to meet your maker while lol’ing than by terrorism.

Some 5,000 Americans die each year from eating contaminated food. That’s 294 times more than from terrorism. And see this.

The agency in charge of workplace safety – the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – reports that 4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011 within the U.S. homeland. In other words, you are 271 times more likely to die from a workplace accident than terrorism.

Approximately 4,000 Americans drown each year … 235 times more than from terror attacks.

The CDC notes that 3,177 people died of “nutritional deficiencies” in 2011, which means you are 187 times more likely to starve to death in American than be killed by terrorism.

Americans’ risk of death from post-surgical complications is around 117,519 to 1.  That’s 170 times more than from terrorism.

About 2,200 Americans die each year from acute alcohol poisoning (i.e. extreme binge drinking) … 129 times more than from terror attacks.

Americans’ risk of death from falling down stairs is approximately 157,300 to 1.  That’s 127 times more than from terrorism.

Some 2,000 Americans die each year from heat or cold. That’s 118 times more than from terrorism.

Approximately 1,000 Americans die each year from autoerotic asphyxiation. So you’re 59 times more likely to kill yourself doing weird, kinky things than at the hands of a terrorist.

Americans’ risk of death from cycling accidents is 340,845 to 1.  That’s 59 times more than from terrorism.

There were an average of 928 Americans killed by police officers in the United States each year in “justifiable homicides”. That means that you were more than 55 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist. That number does not include unjustifiable homicides.

Some 411 Americans are electrocuted each year … 24 times more than die from terrorism.

Nearly 400 Americans die each year due to allergic reactions to penicillin. More than 200 deaths occur each year due to food allergies. Nearly 100 Americans die due to insect allergies. And 10 deaths each year are due to severe reactions to latex. See this. There are many other types of allergies, but that totals 710 deaths each year from just those four types of allergies alone … making it 42 times more likely that you’ll die from an allergic reaction than from a terror attack.

Some 450 Americans die each year when they fall out of bed, 26 times more than are killed by terrorists.

Scientific American notes:

You might have toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which the CDC estimates has infected about 22.5 percent of Americans older than 12 years old

Toxoplasmosis is a brain-parasite. The CDC reports that more than 375 Americans die annually due to toxoplasmosis. In addition, 3 Americans died in 2011 after being exposed to a brain-eating amoeba. So you’re about 22 times more likely to die from a brain-eating zombie parasite than a terrorist.

200 Americans are killed each year when they hit deer … 12 times more than from terrorism.

100 Americans die a year due to scalding hot tap water, 6 times more than due to terrorists.

58 Americans are killed each year by bees, wasps and hornets … 3 times more than by terrorism.

Some 34 Americans a year are killed by dogs … around twice as many as by terrorists.

20 Americans are killed each year by cows … more than by terrorists.

The Jewish Daily Forward noted in May that – even including the people killed in the Boston bombing – you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. And see these statistics from CNN.

The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counter Terrorism Center notes that Americans are just as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year” as they are to be killed by terrorists.

And the Senior Research Scientist for the Space Science Institute (Alan W. Harris) estimates that the odds of being killed by a terrorist attack is about the same as being hit by an asteroid (and see this).

The odds are that being left-handed (in a world where equipment is built for right-handers) is also a lot more likely to kill you than terrorism.

Reason notes:

[The risk of being killed by terrorism] compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000. In other words, in the last five years you were four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just published, Background Report: 9/11, Ten Years Later [PDF]. The report notes, excluding the 9/11 atrocities, that fewer than 500 people died in the U.S. from terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2010.

Scientific American reported in 2011:

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University, and Mark Stewart, a civil engineer and authority on risk assessment at University of Newcastle in Australia … contended, “a great deal of money appears to have been misspent and would have been far more productive—saved far more lives—if it had been expended in other ways.”

chart comparing annual fatality risksMueller and Stewart noted that, in general, government regulators around the world view fatality risks—say, from nuclear power, industrial toxins or commercial aviation—above one person per million per year as “acceptable.” Between 1970 and 2007 Mueller and Stewart asserted in a separate paper published last year in Foreign Affairs that a total of 3,292 Americans (not counting those in war zones) were killed by terrorists resulting in an annual risk of one in 3.5 million. Americans were more likely to die in an accident involving a bathtub (one in 950,000), a home appliance (one in 1.5 million), a deer (one in two million) or on a commercial airliner (one in 2.9 million). [Let’s throw a couple more fun facts into the mix … The risk of choking to death on food is 1 in 4,404, and the risk of dying by falling out of furniture (including couches, chairs and beds) is 1 in 4,238. So you’re almost a thousand times more likely to die from one of these rare causes of death than terrorism.]

The global mortality rate of death by terrorism is even lower. Worldwide, terrorism killed 13,971 people between 1975 and 2003, an annual rate of one in 12.5 million. Since 9/11 acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim militants outside of war zones have killed about 300 people per year worldwide. This tally includes attacks not only by al Qaeda but also by “imitators, enthusiasts, look-alikes and wannabes,” according to Mueller and Stewart.

Defenders of U.S. counterterrorism efforts might argue that they have kept casualties low by thwarting attacks. But investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies suggest that 9/11 may have been an outlier—an aberration—rather than a harbinger of future attacks. Muslim terrorists are for the most part “short on know-how, prone to make mistakes, poor at planning” and small in number, Mueller and Stewart stated. Although still potentially dangerous, terrorists hardly represent an “existential” threat on a par with those posed by Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

In fact, Mueller and Stewart suggested in Homeland Security Affairs, U.S. counterterrorism procedures may indirectly imperil more lives than they preserve: “Increased delays and added costs at U.S. airports due to new security procedures provide incentive for many short-haul passengers to drive to their destination rather than flying, and, since driving is far riskier than air travel, the extra automobile traffic generated has been estimated to result in 500 or more extra road fatalities per year.”

The funds that the U.S. spends on counterterrorism should perhaps be diverted to other more significant perils, such as industrial accidents (one in 53,000), violent crime (one in 22,000), automobile accidents (one in 8,000) and cancer (one in 540). “Overall,” Mueller and Stewart wrote, “vastly more lives could have been saved if counterterrorism funds had instead been spent on combating hazards that present unacceptable risks.” In an e-mail to me, Mueller elaborated:

“The key question, never asked of course, is what would the likelihood be if the added security measures had not been put in place? And, if the chances without the security measures might have been, say, one in 2.5 million per year, were the trillions of dollars in investment (including overseas policing which may have played a major role) worth that gain in security—to move from being unbelievably safe to being unbelievably unbelievably safe? Given that al Qaeda and al Qaeda types have managed to kill some 200 to 400 people throughout the entire world each year outside of war zones since 9/11—including in areas that are far less secure than the U.S.—there is no reason to anticipate that the measures have deterred, foiled or protected against massive casualties in the United States. If the domestic (we leave out overseas) enhanced security measures put into place after 9/11 have saved 100 lives per year in the United States, they would have done so at a cost of $1 billion per saved life. That same money, if invested in a measure that saves lives at a cost of $1 million each—like passive restraints for buses and trucks—would have saved 1,000 times more lives.”

Mueller and Stewart’s analysis is conservative, because it excludes the most lethal and expensive U.S. responses to 9/11. Al Qaeda’s attacks also provoked the U.S. into invading and occupying two countries, at an estimated cost of several trillion dollars. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in the deaths of more than 6,000 Americans so far—more than twice as many as were killed on September 11, 2001—as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans.

***

In 2007 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that people are more likely to be killed by lightning than terrorism. “You can’t sit there and worry about everything,” Bloomberg exclaimed. “Get a life.”

Terrorism pushes our emotional buttons. And politicians and the media tend to blow the risk of terrorism out of proportion. But as the figures above show, terrorism is a very unlikely cause of death.

Our spending on anti-terrorism measures is way out of whack … especially because most of the money has been wasted. And see this article, and this 3-minute video by professor Mueller:

Indeed, mission creep in the name of countering terrorism actually makes us more vulnerable to actual terrorist attacks. And corrupt government policy is arguably more dangerous than terrorism.

Sadly, the terrorism deaths Americans have suffered were unnecessary … and were largely due to corruption in our security agencies. And see this.

Even so – and even counting the recent Islamic terror attacks – there are far fewer terror attacks than there used to be. As the Washington Post noted in 2013 that the number of terror attacks in the U.S. has plummeted since the 1970s:

terrorist attacks since 1970

 

* Note: Subsequent official reports – published in 2012 and 2013 – show that even fewer Americans were killed by terrorists than in the previous year.

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  • mark g.

    This is a fascinating article but the graph (fig. 1) left out one important statistic: the nearly 3000 deaths caused by terrorism on Sept 11th, 2001. Otherwise, this article puts the actual risk of terrorism into a very realistic perspective.

    • diogenes

      Whose terrorism, one wonders.

    • The U.S. Department of State reports that only 17 U.S. citizens were killed worldwide as a result of terrorism in 2011.

    • Yes, but terorism by the government was the 3,000 on 911. And did 3,000 die on 911? Who knows. Did anyone ever check? It’s restricted.We know they do false flags and “say” x amount of people died, and we know no one died. Who can really check this? Again, it’s blind faith in that media/government tells us, like blind faith in a religion.

  • diogenes

    The graph shows about 475 deaths from terrorism in 1971. What am I forgetting?

  • Projecting fear is the Straussians bread and butter.

    Making people scared of some imaginary enemy, perhaps even provide one like Gladio or Isis — then provide a solution which requires that civil rights be reduced back to nothing.

    The initial problem is never solved, instead this only grows larger every year, so do the lies and the budget needed to fund military extravaganza.

    For those involved, careers are made business is booming, what’s an oath of office when you can claim state secret privilege.

    The audacity to suggest that they’re doing this to keep us safe, is astounding.

    The gap between the rich and the poor…..you know.

  • diogenes

    Apropos of San Bernardino, listen to the live testimony of an eye-witness in the video at this link:

    http://libertyfight.com/2015/witness_to_san_bernardino_massacre_describes_three_WHITE_MEN_shooters.html

    I find her absolutely convincing, and the implications of her testimony are unmistakable. Listen — and think — for yourself. There’s nothing like eyewitness testimony. It’s fundamental. A corollary is that you can’t interview, subpoena or depone corpses.

    • How often does this occur? Dec 4, 2015 Unbelievable: Media Allowed to Ransack Crime Scene at San Bernardino Suspects’ Apartment

      Just in case you weren’t sure, the dog is definitely being wagged in San Bernardino.

      https://youtu.be/UxtXkoepqb4

  • Here is some real good reporting on Paris.

    Nov 16, 2015 What Happened Just Before the Paris Attacks

    If there would have been a meeting to devise a strategy for a false flag terror attack in Paris as part of a grand plan to keep the Western countries in line fighting a proxy war against Russia in Syria, it would’ve looked something like.

    https://youtu.be/HM3A_-PRJ5o

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf

  • Dec 2, 2015 Ever Wonder Why the Most Mass Shootings Ever Have Happened Under Obama?

    When compiling the data for mass shootings (where four or more people have died as per FBI definition of mass murder) under the last five presidents, clearly there’s a startling outlier under the Obama administration. Largest push for gun control in American history just so happens to coincide at a time when there are more mass shootings than ever before in American history. What are the odds?

    https://youtu.be/Az2neZzL6UA

  • truefreedom

    The government of the U.S. is thoroughly corrupt. There are no good people left in it.

  • ProNewerDeal

    Great article

    I’d add that per Harvard Public Health Profs’ estimate, 0bama & the Republicans blocking of CAN-style MedicareForAll, killed 60K USians/yr pre-ACA, & post-ACA will “reduce” to “only” 30K yrly deaths by 2022. 0bama, H Clinton, & the Repubs are in agreement in killing multiples of USians per yr more than the Foreign Terist Boogeymen Du Jour TM could ever dream of, in order to preserve health insurer, pharma, hospitals, & physician cartels’ world-unique/~2X of CAN, profit margin.

    I did not realize that Preventable Medical Errors at 100K+ is even worse than 0bama/Repubs killing Medicare For All. Do you know if the US is uniquely horrible/”exceptional” in Preventable Medical Errors as well, relative to Civilized nations like Canada/other OECD nations?

  • clayusmcret

    Flatulating cows cannot take down a country. Too many car wrecks cannot take down a country. Alcohol poisoning most likely will not take down a country; well, unless it’s a sign of mass alcoholism in a country’s leadership. Terrorism, on the other hand, is committed specifically to take down a country or a form of government and replace it with another. Then again, many Americans (51% if recent elections are any indication), do in fact want this once great country to transform into something the Founders would not recognize as America. So what the hell. Put all that money fighting terrorism into global warming….not that a single volcanic eruption won’t undo trillions of dollars worth of wasted expenditure.

    • Paul E. Merrell, J.D.

      @ “Terrorism, on the other hand, is committed specifically to take down a country or a form of government and replace it with another. ”

      The jury is still out on that issue but an incredible number of terrorist attacks have turned out to be false flag attacks intended to provoke or to cause fear that will aid governments in acquiring new tyrannical powers. For example, the U.S. had a near monopoly on terrorist attacks in Europe post-World War II via the NATO Gladio Network, attacks aimed at inducing repression of those with leftist tendencies.. If it was in fact Islamic terrorists who did Charlie Hedbo and the Paris attacks, the U.S. has new terrorist competition in Europe. U.S. direction and support of ISIL, al Nusrah, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria are another example. This country will make no progress in the War on Terror until the public realizes, to paraphrase Pogo, that “we have met the enemy and he is U.S.”