We 'Overreacted' to 9/11
America wildly exaggerated al-Qaeda's strength, writes Fareed Zakaria
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2010 4:59 PM CDT
394886 12: An Aerial View Shows Ground Zero Of The World Trade Center Disaster Area September 21, 2001 In New York City Following The Suicide Terrorist Attacks On The Twin Towers.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – As we approach the 9th anniversary of 9/11, Fareed Zakaria just, well, says it: al-Qaeda isn't that big a threat, and our reaction to it has been a gross overreaction. Unable to launch a major follow-up attack, al-Qaeda's best hope these days "is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives." But we continue to react to these terrorists as we reacted to the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein: We're right about their evil intentions, but wildly exaggerate their strength.

What this has led to is the rise of a "national-security state": The amount we spend on intelligence has jumped 250%; we've built 33 new complexes to house intelligence bureaucracies (with square footage equivalent to that of three Pentagons); and we pay 30,000 to listen in on phone conversations. And yet when "the father of the Nigerian 'Christmas bomber' reported his son’s radicalism to the US Embassy ... that message never made its way to the right people in this vast security apparatus," he writes for Newsweek. "In the past, the US government has built up for wars, assumed emergency authority, and sometimes abused that power, yet always demobilized after the war. But this is a war without end. When do we declare victory? When do the emergency powers cease?"