The point to be made here in connection with major terrorist attacks is that the group divisions in the country constitute fault lines that can become more unstable in periods of attack and recovery. Later the committee will comment on the opposite tendency—to pull together and show solidarity in the event of external attack—but if attacks are widespread or catastrophic they may generate scarcity, feelings of unjust treatment, and social disorder. If this is the case, existing group cleavages, as well as new ones that may arise as a result of attacks, can worsen internal conflict in the society. This is all the more likely if the agencies responsible for maintaining law and order are damaged and disrupted.
The last observation in this section points to one of the most vulnerable institutions—the political apparatus. The committee is aware that top national leaders are being protected: In times of crisis it is imperative for the government, as the centralized body responsible for maintaining the society and coordinating domestic operations and military activities, to be kept intact. The idea of disrupting our system of government is attractive, as the mailings of anthrax to various political leaders illustrated. While these incidents did not actually harm any political leaders, or even disrupt the government process for any significant period of time, they did illuminate the nature and possible consequences of future incidents. The disablement of multiple government operations by whatever means could trigger military, economic, and law enforcement failures.
While the protection of our top leaders and the continuity of our present federal structure is a priority, we must not overlook the importance of regional, state, and local government entities and their preservation. Local responses to attack must be coordinated by multiple levels of government and private sector organizations, and the efforts must all be integrated.
Despite variations in directness of attack—whether on humans or on human institutions—and despite overlap among types of attack, all attacks generate behavioral, attitudinal, and emotional responses in the populations affected. The committee therefore concludes there is a human dimension to every type of terrorist attack, with each type evoking its own associated responses.
The human response to crisis situations can be influenced by factors such as adequacy of preparedness, effectiveness of warnings, and confidence in agencies designated to deal with crises. However, because it involves attitudes and feelings, it cannot be fully controlled by the state, planning authorities, or other agencies. Nor should it be. In a democratic society, we would not want such total control, for the reason that attempting to apply it would involve unacceptable intrusions on citizens’ freedoms.