The movie Survivor (2015) claims in the credit scene that

Since 9/11, American law enforcement has stopped 53 terrorist attacks in New York City alone

Is this true?

  • Note: I am self answering because this is the best answer I found, however I have a hard time believing such a claim would be totally and entirely incorrect... normally they can be biased or selective, but this was bad enough that I wanted to get a second opinion. Aug 29, 2015 at 14:01
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    A couple of interesting question to ask yourself when you see that kind of statistic are (a) how many of these would have been consider undistinguished criminal behavior in the pre-911 era and (b) how many of these only approached operational status with the help and support of law enforcement plants. Neither of these questions render the behaviors OK, of course, but they cast light on the way these actions are being used to justify all kind of law enforcement policies which might have been resisted in the last century. Aug 30, 2015 at 1:14
  • @dmckee Totally true, but even within the new definition of terrorist attacks the cited statistic seems... very odd. Aug 30, 2015 at 2:00

1 Answer 1


Searching around for 53 terrorist attacks led me to this article by The Heritage Foundation:

At least 53 publicly known Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11. Of these, 13 have involved New York City as a target, second only to domestic military targets, showing that terrorists continue to seek to strike at the heart of the U.S.

So for the claim to be true in 2015 it would mean that since 2012 - when the article was written - at least 40 terrorist attacks in NYC had to be foiled, which seems unlikely enough to deem the claim false.

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    Alternately, this implies that the Heritage Foundation pulled the number 53 out of a hat at some point in 2012 , then kept using it as a talking point without ever doing any fact checking, and the people behind Survivor just went with it. Aug 31, 2015 at 13:26
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    Given the exact coincidence in quantities between "53 publicly known Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11" (Heritage Foundation, 2012) and "53 TERRORIST ATTACKS IN NEW YORK CITY ALONE" (Survivor, 2015) -- as well as the mention of New York City in a subsequent statistic afterwards -- I think there's a decent probability that the filmmakers just took the number 53 directly from the 1st Heritage statistic (about the US not New York), then mashed it together with the units from the 2nd Heritage statistic (which explicitly mentions New York). Mar 11, 2022 at 16:58
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    Which is something that pretty commonly happens when people mangle statistics -- they didn't pay very close attention to what they were reading, and so transform statistics about a very broad domain into statistics about a much narrower domain, or vice versa, or just mash up two things that are next to each other in the text because they weren't reading all that closely. Mar 11, 2022 at 16:59
  • A look at the Heritage Foundation shows it promotes: patriotism and an appreciation for America’s founding principles; individual liberty; limited government; traditional American values; securing our borders. Unfortunately (and I wish they weren't) those are all dog whistles for "seriously right wing". Mar 11, 2022 at 21:38
  • @DJClayworth, It's not a "dog whistle," at least not in the usual sense of the metaphor. Dog-whistles are secret from non-dogs, or intended to be kept so. Heritage Foundation is one of the most well-known politically conservative think-tanks in the United States & overtly states its ideological alignments all over its materials (eg in their "About" webpage, etc.). That said, I don't see what any of that has to do with (1) evaluating the veracity of their figures, or (2) evaluating whether filmmakers accurately reported what their figures say. Mar 11, 2022 at 21:49

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