By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
HARRISBURG – During his live interview with The Guardian newspaper Monday, NSA leaker Edward Snowden had several fascinating things to say about his experience with the clandestine American spy machine (you can read the entire transcript here), but one of the most interesting was a comment about the absurdity of the security state that has been built up, ostensibly to protect Americans from terrorism.
“Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we’ve been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it,” Snowden said.
It turns out he’s right.
If the goal was simply saving American lives, it would make more sense to have a TSA agent stationed in every bathroom in the nation. And regardless of whether we’re fighting a War on Terror, it would seem to be a good idea to find a way to cut down on the unnecessary violence perpetrated by America’s police forces.
But that’s not all. Here’s a list of 10 things that are (statistically) more likely to kill you than terrorism.
1. Drunk Drivers
As Conor Friedersdorf points out here, terrorists have killed roughly 3,000 people in the United States since 1999. During the same interval, more than 13,000 Americans were killed by drunk drivers. Logically, then, the massive surveillance and security state that has been built up during the War on Terror would be more productive if it was directed at bar patrons instead of Americans who want to fly/use the phone/Google things. But a TSA agent at the exit of every bar? An NSA program looking for drunken text messages to ex-girlfriends? That’s absurd. But it would absolutely save more lives.
2. Your sofa (and other furniture)
Turns out, the sofa that eats all your lose change and remote controls might have a taste for blood, too. You are as likely to be killed while moving heavy furniture as by a terrorist. If you’re helping a terrorist move to a new cave, all bets are off.
Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to stay inside playing video games all summer, but your mom told you to go play outside. “You won’t melt,” she said. Well, maybe not, but it would have been safer if she told you to go play video games in a cave in Afghanistan, because hot weather is six times more likely to kill you than a terrorist.
Maybe terrorist cells should start recruiting 3-year-olds to do their dirty work, because toddlers have killed more Americans in 2013 than terrorists. And the NSA is completely oblivious to the threat – they aren’t tapping any calls to Sesame Street dial-a-monster phones.
5. Bed pillows
Yes, you’re 12 times more likely to accidentally suffocate in bed than to be killed by a terrorist. No, this is not my way of asking a TSA agent to sleep with me.
This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering obesity is a contributing factor in as many as 100,000 deaths each year in the United States. I bet a TSA checkpoint at the entrance to all fast-food joints would cut down on that figure a bit.
7. Drinking too much
An estimated 80,000 Americans literally drink themselves to death each year, according to the CDC. That means you are several thousand times more likely to die from drinking too much than to be killed by a terrorist. Maybe terrorists should start hosting keggers and inviting as many people as they can?
You are eight times more likely to accidentally electrocute yourself than to be killed by a terrorist. So, maybe we need the TSA to replace all our light bulbs for us, too. But only after a full body pat-down, of course.
9. Being struck by lightning
We literally use this as a metaphor for a thing that rarely happens, so it’s worth pointing out that you are four times more likely to be killed by a blast from the heavens than to be killed in a terrorist’s plot.
10. Brain-sucking parasites
These little buggers were responsible for more than 300 deaths in the United States in 2011. It’s a nasty parasite primarily carried by cats but can be transferred to humans. So we should definitely add “clean out the litter box” to the list of the TSA’s responsibilities.
If those numbers all seem high – here’s why. Despite all the fear and loathing, only 17 Americans were killed worldwide by acts of terror in 2011. Another 14 were injured. That includes figures from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that are definitely not the United States.
By comparison, more than 32,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2011.
Defenders of the NSA program will continue to use this information to claim that the number of terror attacks inside the United States is so low because of programs like the NSA’s massive domestic spying regime. Of course, the information to back up those claims is still considered classified, so I guess we’ll just have to trust them.
Boehm is a civil liberties reporter for Watchdog.org and bureau chief for PA Independent. He can be reached at [email protected]