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Wesley Wark Professor Wark is a specialist in the history of intelligence services and national security policy. His interests include the popular culture of espionage and the study of terrorism and counter-terrorism. He is the author, most recently, of an edited volume, Twenty-First Century Intelligence, and served as guest editor and contributor to a recent special issue of the International Journal devoted to “Security in an Age of Terrorism.” His major publications date back to his first book, The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany (1985) and include four edited volumes. Professor Wark is currently working on a book on Canada and the War on Terror. He completed a second term as President of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies in October 2006 and is currently directing a major research project for the Institute for Research on Public Policy on “Security and Democracy”. Professor Wark is a frequent contributor in the national media on contemporary security issues. Other scholarly interests include popular culture in the Cold War and modern and contemporary international relations.

Just How Threatening is the Terrorist Threat?

Wesley Wark | May 7, 2012
Just How Threatening is the Terrorist Threat?

The most remarkable thing about the terrorism threat to Canada is how rapidly it has evolved in the years since the 9/11 attacks. We have moved from a concern about al-Qaeda sleeper cells nested in our society and imminent “second wave” strikes targeting North America, manifest in the crisis months following the 9/11 attacks, to a contemporary fear of self-radicalized individuals who embrace terrorist violence and operate as “lone actors.”

There are two things to note about this trajectory of fear. One is that the challenge for our security intelligence and law-enforcement agencies remains high because of the assumed invisibility of the threats that concern us. The other is that the actual direct threat has diminished considerably. An al-Qaeda organized terror strike on Canada, however unlikely, could have done us grave harm. Terrorist violence from a lone actor cannot. Not only will a lone actor be less proficient, but the very fact that he or she is acting alone will also reduce the psychological quotient of terror. A lone actor spends himself in one attack – no systematic or enduring campaign of violence is likely to ensue. More …