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Chasing Phantoms

Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11

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  • Book Info
    Chasing Phantoms
    Book Description:

    Although a report by the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism concluded that biological or nuclear weapons were very likely to be unleashed in the years soon after 2001, what Americans actually have experienced are relatively low-tech threats. Yet even under a new administration, extraordinary domestic and international policies enacted by the U.S. government in the wake of 9/11 remain unchanged. Political scientist and former FBI consultant Michael Barkun argues that a nonrational, emotion-driven obsession with dangers that cannot be seen has played and continues to play an underrecognized role in sustaining the climate of fear that drives the U.S. "war on terror."Barkun identifies a gap between the realities of terrorism--"violence without a return address"--and the everyday discourse about it among government officials and the general public. Demonstrating that U.S. homeland security policy reflects significant nonrational thinking, Barkun offers new recommendations for effective--and rational--policymaking.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0323-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about invisible dangers. But what do we really mean by “invisibility”? Its meaning is not self-evident. I employ the word “invisible” in a broader sense than is customary, to refer not merely to what cannot be seen but to anything that cannot be detected by the unaided senses. This extension to broader forms of concealment is necessary because the English language has no single word to gracefully describe that which escapes all of the senses, not merely the eyes. The dangers with which I will be concerned are those that are not merelyinvisible, but are...

    (pp. 19-36)

    The fear of terrorist attack— particularly by invisible perpetrators employing invisible weapons— must be read against the backdrop of the larger class of human disasters. For they constitute merely one example, albeit a particularly terrifying example, of a mass-casualty event. Disasters themselves make up a broad swath of disturbances capable of destabilizing and even destroying human communities, sometimes through natural forces against which there are no adequate defenses, sometimes because human actions have set destructive forces loose. Although terrorism is commonly viewed through the lenses of politics or military tactics, we view it here under the aspect of disaster. An...

  7. THREE MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE Reverse Transparency and Privacy
    (pp. 37-54)

    For reasons of both national security and political survival, decision-makers can scarcely remain passive in the face of a landscape of fear. As the strategic theorist Colin Gray observed shortly after September 11th, they must be seen to be acting even if what they do does not constitute an intelligent response.¹ If the adversary is invisible, then a key element in the response is to bring the unseen to a condition of visibility. The enemy must be forced to reveal himself, an enterprise that requires that the means used to achieve invisibility be neutralized or penetrated. While this applies primarily...

    (pp. 55-67)

    It may seem perverse to connect the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with unseen dangers. The hurricane was all too visible, shown on millions of television sets in the garish colors of weather radar while it was well out to sea. The events in New Orleans itself seem remote from the domain of unseen dangers. The proximate cause of the devastation was less the hurricane itself than the failure of the levees that protected those portions of the city below sea level. The human suffering came to be seen as a consequence less of the levee...

    (pp. 68-81)

    The landscape of fear is an inner mental landscape, constructed of sense perceptions, memories, and the images our culture provides.¹ As a result, the interpretation we give to new data can be skewed by the imagery and predispositions we already possess. For example, on October 31, 1938,The War of the Worldsradio broadcast terrified millions. It was supremely a work of the imagination, the channeling of one Wells— the author, H. G.— by another Welles— the director and actor, Orson. The bizarre aspect of the phenomenon was that many who believed that the broadcast dealt with an actual event...

    (pp. 82-95)

    One cannot think for very long about unseen dangers without confronting ideas about pollution and defilement. In the first place, biological weapons, which occupy so large a place in current thinking about terrorism, make a direct connection between unseen dangers and pathogens, which have so significantly affected Western ideas about harm caused by invisible agents. Second, much of the thrust of homeland security policy has been on enhancing the security of borders and preventing anything harmful from crossing them. Two of the five goals DHS secretary Michael Chertoff set were “keeping bad people out of the country and keeping bad...

    (pp. 96-118)

    The preceding chapters suggest that our attitudes toward terrorism and homeland security are a mixture of rational and nonrational considerations. The appearance of nonrational considerations in terrorism and homeland security policy is not as surprising as might at first seem when one considers the prominence of unseen dangers, which invite deviations from purely rational analysis. How are we to understand the role nonrational factors play? In this chapter, we shall generate a vocabulary of concepts essential to an understanding of collective reactions to unseen dangers. These will be derived from two models constructed with other kinds of behavior in mind,...

    (pp. 119-139)

    We all tell stories about the world. When danger appears, the need for such stories grows, in order to explain why a world that once seemed safe and orderly now seems to be in jeopardy. As we saw in Chapter 4, many such stories already exist in the domain of popular culture, ready to be appropriated. But, as we shall see now, the situations in which laypersons and experts tell stories are not always the same, nor do laypersons and experts tell the same stories. We have already seen the central role occupied by experts on evil, those whose skills...

    (pp. 140-154)

    Few events as brief as the September 11th attacks have stimulated such broad changes in the national government. Some of these consequences were the result of decisions taken quickly, in a semi-improvisatory way, during the first days and weeks after the attacks, but they often resulted in patterns of behavior that were subsequently institutionalized. Some of the outcomes are obvious, such as the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The former would surely not have been undertaken otherwise, and the latter, while it might have happened eventually in the absence of the attacks, was clearly facilitated by the post-9/11 atmosphere....

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 155-166)
    (pp. 167-180)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 181-184)