Movie plot based security…

Wired has a great article from Bruce Schneier today about the futility of trying to defend our nation from dangers borrowed from movie and TV plotlines.

Bruce gets to the heart of what has been wrong with America’s response to the 9/11/01 attacks since 9/12/01. This sums it up in a nutshell:

One problem is that our nation’s leaders are giving us what we want. Party affiliation notwithstanding, appearing tough on terrorism is important. Voting for missile defense makes for better campaigning than increasing intelligence funding. Elected officials want to do something visible, even if it turns out to be ineffective.

It’s like the famous sentiment from the early days of the US Space Program – it made no scientific sense and there was no necessity to send men into space in the 1960s. None. But in order to get funding for the program NASA had to send men into space. The people wanted Buck Rogers, so we wasted billions on stuff that gave the people Buck Rogers and taught us very little about outer space, other than that it is a very dangerous place to send people.

Terrorism is nothing more than organized crime. The way it should be fought was the way that the big organized crime rings of the 1920s and 1930s were fought, with police. Making people take off their shoes before they board planes thwarts one potential risk. But because the criminals who want to blow up our airplanes know that we’re checking shoes they’re not going to bother with that angle, so ultimately it’s a waste of energy.

Another good pull quote from Schneier’s article:

We need to defend against the broad threat of terrorism, not against specific movie plots. Security is most effective when it doesn’t make arbitrary assumptions about the next terrorist act. We need to spend more money on intelligence and investigation: identifying the terrorists themselves, cutting off their funding, and stopping them regardless of what their plans are. We need to spend more money on emergency response: lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what it is. And we need to face the geopolitical consequences of our foreign policy and how it helps or hinders terrorism.

Translation: We need to do police work. We also need to take seriously the blowback implications of our foreign policy.

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