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We know this because, if they did exist, at least in any remotely capable form, they would have succeeded in carrying out dozens or hundreds of attacks by now because it is simply impossible to completely stop motivated terrorists from carrying out attacks in a free and open society with endless targets and no-questions-asked access to automatic firearms.
Could an attack happen tomorrow? Of course. But once every 13 years would still be an anomalous event, not a systemic threat. Remember the talk as the rubble smoldered of hundreds, maybe thousands, of “sleeper cells” lurking out there, waiting to strike? Well, we now know there were none at the time, and apparently none were formed even after we have fought two wars and killed thousands of innocent civilians since 9/11. One would think our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etcetera would spawn at least a few motivated and effective enemies bent on revenge through domestic attacks. Apparently not.
So, ironically, if we had done absolutely nothing in response to 9/11 aside from hold funerals and shake our heads in disbelief, we would have been no less safe than we are now after two useless wars, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives lost, and a decade of taking off our shoes for domestic flights. I’m not saying this was obvious when 9/11 happened. Far from it. I was just as freaked out as anyone else at the time and I think it would have been foolish to ignore the threat. But the fact is if we had we would have been far better off, because as it turns out there were not hundreds of other Mohammed Attas out there in the wings. In fact, there were none, at least not with any meaningful capabilities (which would exclude folks like the shoe bomber and the Tsarnaev brothers). We know this to be the case because if such people did exist we would have been hit 100 times over by now. It is too damn easy to sow terror and chaos with motivation and even a below average IQ. Think Newtown or D.C. sniper.
A few sad teenagers have committed far, far more domestic terror attacks than all the Islamic militants in the world over the past decade, and that is an outcome I think very few would have predicted, myself included, in the aftermath of 9/11. I’m sure the Rudy Guiliani set would love to take credit for the lack of attacks, but I think any serious expert on stopping domestic terrorism attacks would agree that the only way to bat as close to 1000 as we have is if your enemy is fictional.
As I suggested above, there are many individual counters to this. Making it dramatically harder for men from Middle Eastern and majority-Muslim countries to enter America - whatever we think about the rights and wrongs of it, and there are plenty of wrongs - certainly has had an effect on whether there are cells here. And there's no question that we've disrupted plots. Even entrapping the doofuses has the effect of creating more suspicion among possible conspirators. At the end of the day though, the point stands. No one bats 1000 at this.