I started a post on this but got sidetracked with the Fred/Klan story so the boss beat me to it. Like any good capitalist, I dig the open source/”wisdom of crowds” approach to counterterrorism. I think Levitt’s right too, hypothetically, about the nightmare scenario. Nuts with guns are the most efficient means of terror, a point lost on the left while they were busy laughing about the Fort Dix Six plot. What Levitt doesn’t account for is the fact that AQ seems more interested in potency than efficiency. Big explosions, ostentatious acts of fanatic commitment — all much more viscerally impressive than guys firing into crowds and geared at projecting the vaunted “strong horse” image. If you define terrorism literally, as Levitt does, then you start from a different premise than AQ and so end up with a different result. Levitt’s thinking up ways to inflict maximum terror; Osama’s thinking up ways to maximize his own prestige. The former is aimed at Americans, the latter is aimed at Arabs.
All that said, MM is right that Levitt’s “do it for the public interest” afterthought at the end rings false. You’re conducting a thought experiment, dude, mostly for sh*ts and giggles; it’s not a crime, but if you’re going to do it, own it. If he was that concerned about the public interest, he’d have asked readers to e-mail him their suggestions and forwarded the lot of them to DHS.
Since we’re on the subject of building a better miscreant, here’s what’s creeping up the charts on the viral video sites. Anyone here got enough bread rolling in that they can afford to harvest parts from spare DVD burners? If so, you can probably afford to buy a laser weapon right off the shelf.