Many politicians and terrorism analysts say we're just not doing enough to keep our nation safe. Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security and the author of "Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack," says we need to increase security not just at airports but at malls, stadiums and at schools.
"We can have deterrence measures like police patrols … greater use of bomb-detecting dogs, and bomb sensors, other such technologies … random bag searches," he said. "If terrorists see that such measures are in place, they're less likely to strike."
Ohio State University professor of political science John Mueller disagrees. He's the author of the new book "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them." "Your chances of being killed, at present rates, by an international terrorist outside of a war zone is something like one in 80,000. It's about the same as being killed by an asteroid.
"Outside of war zones, the amount of destruction is maybe 200 people a year," Mueller continued. "Now that's 200 people too many, but that's hardly an existential threat. In the United States, between 300 and 400 people die every year just from drowning in bathtubs."
But what about Sept. 11, when about 3,000 people died? Mueller explained that Sept. 11 was not a typical terrorist attack. Terrorists were able to capture four planes, and two huge buildings collapsed. "It's a spectacular exception to what terrorists have been able to do," he said.
But if terrorists get nuclear weapons, the equation changes, according to Mueller. "The probabilities are extremely low that they'll be able to do it … but the consequences, of course, could be very high, so putting a certain amount of money in that area certainly makes a fair amount of sense."
Mueller said there's a terrorism industry made up of the media, the bureaucracy, business and politicians. "Politicians notice that when they sort of hype the terrorist threat, people respond favorably. I think politicians are pretty much afraid to say what I said … the chance of being killed is very, very small … and they never say it, even though that's true.
"There's also the media, which basically says anything that bleeds, leads," Mueller explained. "You've also got the bureaucracy … and if they say things like, 'well, your chances of being killed are very, very small,' people will say, 'then how come we're spending so much money on this?'"
Economist Veronique de Rugy called this "'terror porn,' because porn sells … terrorism sells even better. It's great for politicians. They can campaign on the fact that they are protecting us," she said. "They also can campaign on the fact that they're bringing more money to their states. And everyone loves it."
De Rugy has spent years combing over the Department of Homeland Security budget. She concluded that we're wasting billions of dollars on security measures that don't make us safer.
"We've been spending a huge amount of money on subsidizing … local government, and then firefighters, for them to buy hazmat suits, which they will never use," she said.
Lots of small towns do get big money for homeland security. Lake County, Tenn., a very rural county with only 8,000 people, got nearly $200,000 in homeland security money.