Archives for Terrorism



The Supply Curve of Viking Raids

The new exhibition on the Vikings at the British Museum illustrates behavior along supply curves.  The local Anglo-Saxons decided that the best way to keep Viking raiders at bay was to buy them off—to pay tribute.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this extra payoff merely induced a movement up the supply curve of Viking raids, as more raiding parties realized that there was money to be made by raiding English villages. Perhaps this is a lesson for modernity: don’t negotiate with terrorists! Read More »



Running to Do Evil: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Running to Do Evil.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.) It features a prison interview I did in 1999 with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, whose younger brother, David, turned him in.

When we all learned last week that the alleged Boston Marathon bombers are brothers, it made me think of the massive leverage that an older brother can exert on a younger one. Ted and David Kaczynski were extraordinarily close for many years, and shared a view of the modern world as impure and overly industrialized. But as Ted went further down the path toward fundamentalism and violence, David not only extricated himself but ultimately made the painful decision to tell the FBI that the terrorist who had become known as the Unabomber was likely his brother. Read More »



Why Does the Likelihood of Terrorism Increase After Natural Disasters?

In a new RAND working paper, authors Claude Berrebi and Jordan Ostwald use international data to argue that countries which experience a major natural disaster are more likely to have an increase in terrorism activity afterward. In the abstract they write:

…Using a structured methodology and detailed data on terrorism, disasters, and other relevant controls for 167 countries between 1970 and 2007, we find a strong positive impact of disaster-related deaths on subsequent terrorism deaths and incidence. We find that, on average, an increase in deaths from natural disasters of 25,000 leads to an increase in the following year of approximately 33 percent in the number of deaths from terrorism, an increase of approximately 22 percent in the number of terrorist attacks, and an increase of approximately 16 percent in the number wounded in terrorist attacks, holding all other factors constant.

Read More »



FREAK-est Links

This week, why being a king is the most dangerous job in history, an etiquette group in Germany wants to ban workplace air-kissing, Jonathan Stark’s social experiment with a Starbucks card, anti-technology terrorists attack in Mexico, and why Google and Wikipedia are bad for our memory. Read More »



What to Make of the Unabomber Auction? And What Should I Do With My Own Unabomber Artifacts?

It seems so coincidental that I wonder if indeed it’s a coincidence: the FBI requests a DNA sample from Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. Unabomber, just as the government’s court-ordered auction of Kaczynski’s possessions gets underway (it closes on June 2). The FBI is still trying to solve the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, and Kaczynski is presumably a person of interest.

If nothing else, the news has brought a lot more attention to the auction. It can use it. As of this writing, most of the 58 items could be had for a few hundred dollars. Exceptions are Kaczynski’s Smith-Corona typewriter ($8,025) and his hand-written Manifesto ($16,025). Read More »



How Big Will the Osama Halo Effect Be for Obama?

Think back to high school. The quarterback on the football team had a legendary game over the weekend, and made everyone associated with the school so proud they could split their pants. On Monday, he’s treated like a hero.

But, interestingly, people find themselves thinking better of him not only for his athletic exploits. Suddenly, everything about him seems a cut above. Read More »



The Latest Terrorist Threat

The best strategy I have found for reducing the aggravation of security screening is to pretend I am a terrorist and think about where the weaknesses are in security, and how I might slip through. I think I figured out a way to get a gun or explosives into the White House during the George W. Bush administration. I only got invited to the White House once, however, so I never got a chance to test my theory for real on a return visit. Read More »



Forensic Accounting and Al Qaeda

A new RAND study of captured documents from al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) reveals some interesting facts about the organization. It found that “AQI was a hierarchical organization with decentralized decisionmaking; AQI in Anbar was profitable enough to send substantial revenues out of the province in 2006; AQI relied on extortion, theft, and black market sales to fund its operations in Anbar; AQI needed large, regular revenue sources to fund its operations, but its administrative leaders did not hold much cash on hand.” Read More »