The Cato Institute’s Factually Flawed Attitude Toward Terrorism is Disturbing



On December 9, a Saudi national opened fire at a naval air station in Pensacola, Florida, killing three people and injuring eight others. The shooter, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was in the United States as part of a military program that allows some foreign military members to train inside the United States.

Just prior to the attacks, Alshamrani wrote on Twitter that he hated Americans for “committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.” He also blasted Washington for supporting the State of Israel.

While the case is currently being treated as an act of terrorism, the FBI has yet to officially label it as such. “We are looking very hard at uncovering his motive and I would ask for patience so we can get this right,” said Rachel Rojas, who is the special agent in charge of the case.

While the FBI is exercising caution, mass-immigration proponent and self-proclaimed “elitist,” Alex Nowrasteh, director of Immigration Studies at the Cato Institute, wants Americans to believe that this horrific attack is no reason for even mild concern.

On the day of the shooting, Nowrasteh wrote a blog suggesting that this incident doesn’t make a case for stricter immigration measures. In the blog, he promotes a recent study of his that called acts of terrorism in the United States committed by foreign-born individuals “a manageable threat given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the relatively smaller costs of terrorism.”

That’s right, when three Americans are murdered and eight others wounded, Nowrasteh wants us to remember that it’s simply a “relatively small cost” that should not factor into discussions regarding immigration reform.

Besides the tone-deaf timing and appalling insensitivity, his blog and study are fatally flawed as well. In the report, Nowrasteh does several things to make the threat of terrorism look smaller than it actually is:

  1. He only lists the annual likelihood of a person being killed by a terrorist instead of the lifetime likelihood (which is a far higher and much more relevant statistic).
  2. The total number of people who have died in the United States as a result of terrorism is understated.
  3. He fails to consider those survivors who were seriously and/or permanently harmed by acts of terrorism (a much higher total).

The “about 1 in 4 million per year” number that Nowrasteh pushes is the purported likelihood that a person is killed in the U.S. by a foreign-born terrorist in a particular year. This is problematic because it only considers a very limited period of time, not a person’s entire life. The lifetime probability that a person might be killed, based on Nowrasteh’s figures, is actually closer to about 1 in 50,000. That number is considerably more alarming.

Furthermore, Nowrasteh’s figures don’t include those who die from conditions developed later in life as a result of a foreign-born terrorist attack, such as cancer and chronic respiratory conditions stemming from exposure to toxic rubble and ash produced on 9/11.

According to Dr. Michael Caine, Medical Director of the World Trade Center Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, since the attacks, “more than 2,000 deaths have been attributed to 9/11 illnesses.” These people should be considered victims of terrorism. Nowrasteh also excludes the thousands who suffer non-fatal injuries during attacks committed by foreign-born terrorists on American soil, as well as those who develop non-fatal health conditions later on like asthma or post-traumatic stress.

Trying to predict the exact likelihood of a person dying in a terrorist attack of any kind is ultimately an impossible art since the threat of terrorism constantly changes due to a large number of factors. But what we can conclude empirically is that the statistics loosely tossed around by the Cato Institute are designed to make the threat of foreign-born terrorism in the U.S. appear much lower than it actually is.

We owe it to those brave police, firefighters, first responders, and other everyday Americans who have suffered and/or died due to terrorist attacks to craft immigration policies that prevent known, suspected or potential foreign-born terrorists from entering the United States. Nothing about the price they have paid is “small.”

NOTE: This isn’t the first time that the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has called out the Cato Institute for publishing false or misleading statistics regarding immigration. In March of 2019, FAIR noted that Nowrasteh and the Cato Institute vastly underestimated the rate at which illegal aliens commit crimes. As in this case, the incorrect statistics were used to promote irresponsible mass-immigration policies.

About Author

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Spencer joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2015. He conducts research, and writes content for FAIR’s publications and website. He brings previous experience in state politics, gubernatorial and district campaigns, and D.C. political non-profits. Spencer holds a B.A. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

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