Responding to this piece in the New York Times about concerns in the Administration that al Qaeda will be ramping up “domestic” terror in Pakistan and the danger posed to America by territorial gains, Matt Yglesias says this:
I’m not sure I understand the relationship between “territorial gains” and “freedom to plot attacks.” You need a lot of territory to raise cattle or build a parking lot. But plotting doesn’t strike me as a particularly space-intensive activity. When the ThinkProgress team gets together to plot, we usually do it in a small confined space. More generally, the entire safe haven concept strikes me as overrated. The 9/11 attacks were primarily plotted in Hamburg. A terrorist in the Swat Valley is, by definition, not in a position to blow something up in a western city.
This makes some obvious sense, but I think it’s also probably true that the more space in which groups like al Qaeda can safely operate, the more difficult it will be to gather intelligence, which on some level, probably makes the world less safe for Americans. To use Matt’s example, it might be true that ThinkProgress plots in a small, confined space — and I imagine al Qaeda’s similarly nefarious ends are met the same way — but if you were looking to restrict ThinkProgress’ ability to plan, you’d be well served by limiting the number of spaces in which ThinkProgress can meet safely. It’s a lot easier to monitor a group’s activity when you have a very good sense of where the group is based. The more specific, the better.