Effective security and security theater


August 16, 2006, 02:02 AM

August 15, 2006

by Bruce Schneier
Founder and CTO
Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.

** *** ***** ******* *********** *************

Last Week's Terrorism Arrests

Hours-long waits in the security line. Ridiculous prohibitions on what you can carry on board. Last week's foiling of a major terrorist plot and the subsequent airport security changes graphically illustrates the difference between effective security and security theater.

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 -- no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews -- had anything to do with last week's arrests. And they wouldn't have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn't have made a difference, either.

Instead, the arrests are a victory for old-fashioned intelligence and investigation. Details are still secret, but police in at least two countries were watching the terrorists for a long time. They followed leads, figured out who was talking to whom, and slowly pieced together both the network and the plot.

The new airplane security measures focus on that plot, because authorities believe they have not captured everyone involved. It's reasonable to assume that a few lone plotters, knowing their compatriots are in jail and fearing their own arrest, would try to finish the job on their own. The authorities are not being public with the details -- much of the "explosive liquid" story doesn't hang together -- but the excessive security measures seem prudent.

But only temporarily. Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-on items won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It's easy to defend against what terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people in front of airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that attempt to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it'll catch the sloppy and the stupid -- and that's a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely -- but it won't catch a well-planned plot. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly keep them off airplanes.

The goal of a terrorist is to cause terror. Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.

And what can you do to help? Don't be terrorized. They terrorize more of us if they kill some of us, but the dead are beside the point. If we give in to fear, the terrorists achieve their goal even if they are arrested. If we refuse to be terrorized, then they lose -- even if their attacks succeed.

New airline security rules:
http://www.educatedguesswork.org/movabletype/archives/2006/08/threat_modellin_1.html or http://tinyurl.com/nxqe4

Getting inside the terrorists' heads (funny cartoon):

The DHS declares an entire state of matter a security risk:

And here's a good commentary on being scared:

A version of this article originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

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August 16, 2006, 03:37 AM
Well, if the goal of "terrorists" are to cause "fear", the gov's responses to "the threats" have unfailingly done little to inspire anything to the contrary.

The latest is no exception. I mean, collecting potentially explosive combinations of liquids and tossing them all nonchalantly into collecting bins doesn't exactly make much sense to anyone that can think for themselves.

As ususal it seems that someones are not telling the truth, or the whole truth by a long shot. But it makes a good show as priming up for something else. I wonder what that could be.



August 16, 2006, 04:14 AM
I work security at a hospital. Let me tell you if a terrorist(s) wanted to attack the area that I "secure" there would be little I could do. I'm sure its the same way for millions of locations in the US. I agree with Bruce, best thing to do is relax a little IMO, but don't confuse relaxation with complacency.

Lets keep this thing gun related. How well do guns actually defend us against terrorist acts. What can we do different? How do we utilize guns in these scenerios without terrorizing people, which, of course, is what the terrorists want?

August 16, 2006, 11:20 AM
I would like to see a national/international CCW permit for airline travelers. Allowing citizens to carry like airline marshals.

Training and extensive background checks would be necicary, but it would have the effect of multiplying tenfold the number of armed, trained, personell on airlines.

It doesn't have to be easy to get, but it should be possible.

they could specify the exact make and model of gun that you could cary.

they could specify the exact type of ammo.

but get more guns in the air. It's not a failsafe catchall.

but if you publicised it, (aiside from the anti's flipping out) I think it would be a good deterent.

and it would cost the airlines next to nothing.

One of Many
August 16, 2006, 02:29 PM
More guns on planes? They passed a law allowing PILOTS to carry guns on planes, but the government has done everything possible to delay and prevent the pilots from qualifying to carry guns on the planes they fly.

The executive branch can simply ignore any law that they don't want to implement, and refuse to enforce any penalty that might affect their agenda.

How many politicians do you think would vote for allowing a common citizen to carry a loaded firearm on a plane, when the entertainment industry has brainwashed the ignorant public into believing that a bullet hole in the plane will cause people to be sucked out through that hole, or cause the palne to blow up in mid air due to decompression?

August 16, 2006, 03:18 PM
In my opinion, 99% of people could get on a plane with a gun and that plan would land because 99% of people are not interested in blowing up a plane. I believe that this would be a deterrent because (as 9/11) will bear witness, the terrorists don't just want a plane, they want a statement. Well, it gives us an opportunity to make a statement too.

This far, no farther.

Even if they allowed people to carry pepper spray. Think of the difference that pepper spray would have made on United flight 93.

August 22, 2006, 03:54 AM
Not so sure about pepper spray...

Commercial airplanes have poor air filtration systems which recirculate the air throughout the plane. Not only would the target be affected, but everyone else on the plane aswell, including the pilots.


August 22, 2006, 05:23 AM
I would like to see a national/international CCW permit for airline travelers. Allowing citizens to carry like airline marshals.

I happen to agree with you, but the counter argument is that it would make it easier for the bad guys to bring guns on planes too. Yeah, they would get themselves killed in a hurry, but that isnt really a problem for them. A hail of bullets flying around the inside of the plane is as good a terrorist goal as any.

The perspective of these people seems to be that as long as they can take someone with them, then they are willing to spend their lives to that end. Detterence doesnt work against that mindset.

August 22, 2006, 07:34 AM
If a pilot can't be trusted to carry a gun or have it secured in the cockpit, why would I want to fly? If it is politically incorrect to profile passengers, why would I want to fly?

I have flown A LOT in my career but now that doing so is entirely discretionary I am done with it until something substantial changes. Saying that it is safe to fly and creating the illusion of control at check in is pure propaganda in an effort to protect the airlines financially, maintain a way of life, and to avoid granting a victory to terrorists. That doesn't mean it is safe to fly.

What would have been the one thing that could have prevented 9/11? I would say guns in the cockpit.

August 22, 2006, 10:10 AM
I understand the counter argument against airplane CCW, however It is my opinion that terrorists would be ineffective if they tried to do the hail of bullets thing.

If the objective is to crash the plane and kill everyone, then it doesn't matter how many people they kill before they are taken down, every person that makes it out alive is one person that would have died in the crash. And you have the added bonus of the plane not being able to be used as a weapon.

Shooting a few people is not a big enough political statement if those people gun you down before you get a chance to reload. Terrorists want a maximum body count, especially if they are giving up their lives in the process. This is why you hear about suicide bombers, and not suicide gunmen (at least not very often). If the planes had people with guns on them, the terrorists would move on to an airline which didn't have them, or they would pick one of the other soft targets in the US.

If the background checks are good enough, the chances of a terrorist getting the necicary permit, training, etc and taking a gun on a plane are minimal.

It's one of those 'If everyone's super, then no one's super' scenarios.

We have nothing to fear if we are on an even footing with those who would do us harm.

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