The “credible but unconfirmed” terrorism plot announced late Thursday is a perfect example of two destructive, mutually reinforcing trends that have defined the 9/11 Era. To prove their relevance, terrorists keep trying to attack the United States at home. And the media and politicians react to it with hysteria, running in fear of getting blamed for a successful attack and perpetuating the gigantic, expensive, counterproductive National Security State. The second trend is more dangerous than the first.

In case you haven’t noticed, hysteria is what the terrorists want. And it’s the only win they can get. The only hope that the eschatological conspiracy theorists known as al-Qaida possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. All of a sudden, Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure — not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.