Keep calm and carry on

I have just returned from spending three wonderful days in New York City.  Broadway.  Central Park.  American Museum of Natural History.  Bryant Park.  The city that never sleeps.  And the city that is never far from the attention and aspiration of terrorists.

When I used to work in security intelligence it always struck me that if I had served in an analogous position in New York I’m not sure how I would handle the pace.  Don’t get me wrong – I was busy enough at CSIS keeping track of who was interested in doing what from a national security threat perspective.  But we were involved in six major cases in fifteen years – or about one every 2.5 years (they were not evenly spread out unfortunately, but you get the point).

I’m pretty sure that my counterparts in the Big Apple were busier than I ever was (and in all likelihood still are).  There have been a number of foiled attempts to cause mayhem in Gotham since 9/11, which of course “changed everything”.  Thanks to the amazing efforts of the NYPD, FBI and other agencies, the bad guys were caught and no one got hurt.

And yet New York still comes to the top of the list of great places to do terrorism, judging solely by the plots that have been made public (I can only imagine the higher number of those that the general population does not hear about).  So, if the threat of attacks dictated my choice of vacation destination, I sure as hell wouldn’t choose New York!

And I did.  And I will again.  And again.

I am bringing this up in light of a decision by an Edmonton school board to cancel all upcoming trips for fear of terrorism (see story here).  I do not want to come out as overly critical of this board as I do not have all the facts at hand (did the insurance costs get too high?  Did parents ask for the cancellation?), but on the other hand it is important to discuss this issue in light of the recent past.

Yes, there have been disturbing attacks in Paris and California over the past month.  Not to mention the hundreds of attacks in other countries that don’t make the front page every day (Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Egypt…).  So I can understand why people are afraid – everything seems so uncertain and dangerous.  My friend, who accompanied me on the New York trip, said a friend of his was asking him to ask me, given my background, if it is ok to travel.

My answer: yes it is.  Book your vacation packages and have a good time.

We will never get the threat level to zero.  It never was in the “pre-terrorism” era and never will be in the “post-terrorism” era if that ever happens.  If you subjected your decision to undertake any major action to the terrorism test, you would not move from your basement.  Ever.  Not that your basement is really that safe either (just kidding!).

So take that trip – but maybe not to Raqqa or Peshawar or Tripoli (Libya that is) right now.  But go to the City of Light and the Eternal City and the City of Angels – any city you want.  Enjoy yourselves, take lots of pictures and help the local economy.  You’ve earned it!

Oh, and one more thing.  Screw the terrorists!  They’ve earned it!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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