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The Boston Globe

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Perspective

How dangerous is America?

Estimating the number of hidden terror plots reveals an answer you might not expect.

It’s not breaking news that the United States began to feel like a more dangerous place after 9/11. The Gallup Poll has reported that roughly 9 in 10 Americans have worried about future terror attacks on US soil ever since. For many people, that general sense of dread got even more intense after the Boston Marathon bombings. In late April, Gallup said 51 percent of Americans surveyed believed another attack could happen soon, up from 38 percent about a year and a half earlier. Yet the reality is that we’re far safer than we often feel.

In late 2012, I published a study in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism that set out to estimate how many jihadi plots are in the works and how long it takes would-be terrorists to plan them. I knew that in the anxious weeks and months after a terrorist attack, it could feel as if we were under siege — as if there were bombs waiting to go off around every corner and under every subway seat. But the results of my analysis suggest otherwise: On average, at any one time there are fewer than three hidden terror plots being planned across the country.

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