Dilemma, Catch-22, Hobson's Choice, Morton's Fork, double bind...all of these terms apply to the latest warnings from DHS and the White House about an al-Qaeda threat to New York City or Washington D.C. on eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The fact there is a threat should come as no surprise to anyone. People are fascinated by anniversaries that are a factor of 5, so the 10th is much poignant than say the 9th or 12th. All any would-be terrorist needs to do is come up with some detailed plan and leak it to the authorities. Bam! You know put the authorities into the classic dilemma of damned if you do or damned if you don't.
The authorities know that there is little real chance of an another 9/11 scale attack against NYC or DC. There are just too many resources focused on there now to make any attack successful. However, they can't afford to become lax and thus allow an otherwise ineffective effort to become successful. A threat to one of those cities could also be a feint and the real attack could happen elsewhere. There are many targets that do not have New York or Washington zip codes.
A number of events earlier this year have come together to make the 10th anniversary of 9/11 an especially intriguing date. Osama bin Laden was killed, Gaddafi was ousted and Libya bombed, the Arab Spring, Syria/Turkey/Israel/Egypt all shooting at each other, and the falling of the US bond rating are all rallying points for a terrorist cell to attack.
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 69 people, identified himself as a Christian and slaughtered his fellow Norwegians because his country had become too liberal towards Muslims. The attack should have served as a reminder to analysts that it doesn't take a radicalized Muslim to become a terrorist.
Eric Robert Rudolph committed a series of bombings throughout the South from 1996-1998 ending in the Olympic Park bombing that killed two and injured 150. His motivations for such crimes? Abortion.
The real target of any terrorist attack is not the victim but the survivor. More people die each year in the United States from the flu then did in the WTC bombings. But which group gets a memorial? That's the point of a terrorist attack.
The other part is to cause the government to spend money and resources in reaction. New York City is spending huge amounts of its budget to add additional patrols (including air and maritime) to prevent an attack. Imagine what a fraction of that money could do for public works or social services! The terrorists are driving our priorities.
As the 10th anniversary draws near, we need to keep things in balance. While NYC and the Pentagon were in a state of chaos, the sun still rose and many people went to work on Sep 12th just like any other day. Be careful out there but don't let the potential threat cause you to make drastic changes. After all, you are at a far greater risk of being killed by a drunk driver than being a victim of a terrorist attack yet you are still driving. Keep it in perspective.