Technology and Counterterrorism

Technology makes us safer.

Communications technologies ensure that emergency response personnel can communicate with each other in an emergency—whether police, fire or medical. Bomb-sniffing machines now routinely scan airplane baggage. Other technologies may someday detect contaminants in our water supply or our atmosphere.

Throughout law enforcement and intelligence investigation, different technologies are being harnessed for the good of defense. However, technologies designed to secure specific targets have a limited value.

By its very nature, defense against terrorism means we must be prepared for anything. This makes it expensive—if not nearly impossible—to deploy threat-specific technological advances at all the places where they’re likely needed. So while it’s good to have bomb-detection devices in airports and bioweapon detectors in crowded subways, defensive technology cannot be applied at every conceivable target for every conceivable threat. If we spent billions of dollars securing airports and the terrorists shifted their attacks to shopping malls, we wouldn’t gain any security as a society.

It’s far more effective to try and mitigate the general threat. For example, technologies that improve intelligence gathering and analysis could help federal agents quickly chase down information about suspected terrorists. The technologies could help agents more rapidly uncover terrorist plots of any type and aimed at any target, from nuclear plants to the food supply. In addition, technologies that foster communication, coordination and emergency response could reduce the effects of a terrorist attack, regardless of what form the attack takes. We get the most value for our security dollar when we can leverage technology to extend the capabilities of humans.

Just as terrorists can use technology more or less wisely, we as defenders can do the same. It is only by keeping in mind the strengths and limitations of technology that we can increase our security without wasting money, freedoms or civil liberties, and without making ourselves more vulnerable to other threats. Security is a trade-off, and it is important that we use technologies that enable us to make better trade-offs and not worse ones.

Originally published on CNet

Posted on October 20, 2004 at 4:35 PM3 Comments


Israel Torres October 20, 2004 6:18 PM

Information makes us safer, not technology. It is the information that the technology can generate, intercept, translate, for us. We (the US) may have the best technology out there, but without information for the technology to use and return useful information it is useless. For example when defending against or attacking a group of individuals using no-tech or lo-tech that strictly relies on who you know and blood-ties… technology is useless – as we have seen with our (US) War on Terror. The only time we really prevail is when someone gets paid enough to sqeal out someone, or when there is enough “chatter” for someone to actually figure out what may happen in the near future.
A good example of this “information usage” would be to up the bounty on our FBI’s most wanted for say 1 billion USD instead of 25 million USD$ as it currently stands, and surely someone deep inside would call the right number and all would be said and done… not to mention the savings it would have both with lives and monetarily verus hundreds of billions to deploy military… and the only “pertinent technology used” here was the one the US Mint uses to dole out the bills.

— Israel Torres

Rob Styles October 21, 2004 10:23 AM

I agree very much with the comment above and also with your article. I think what you’re doing is the same as good software engineers and good network designers have been doing for years – looking for the point of commonality. The single place in which you can deploy defences to address the problem. That’s the thinking behind firewalls and many other things – as you well know.

I think the suggestion of upping the bounty on individuals is sound, but for a deeper reason. a 25 million USD bounty is designed to appeal to an individual, but no individual could be safe having betrayed the leader of some of these large organisations. The figure of 1 billion USD is a figure that would appeal to countries – a leader such as Gadaffi or even Saddam before he was toppled would find that amount of money worth considering and a national effort involving the military may have the ability to hand over these high-profile targets where individuals do not.

I wonder if the government is doing this already, national aid linked to co-operation? oh, yeah, looks like they are.

Alberto Perini January 28, 2010 2:08 AM

Dear Mr Bruce Schneier

My name is Alberto Perini I am a Director of the Golan Security, we were like her would please
inform you of a very prestigious European event.

I’d like to invite you as my guest.

The 26 -02 -2010 in the beautiful Villa la Bollina ( Serravalle
Scrivia (AL) Italy, will be ‘organized a conference on Intelligence
Analysis Applied to Counter terrorism.
The speakers of the conference are the Col. Avi Shachar and Gen. Yoram Azar respectively
Israeli secret services.
Hoping to be of interest to send you the pdf of the program and the form for membership which
in If so should I return a signed copy via mail .

Best Regards
Alberto Perini

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