Searching Bags in Subways

The New York City police will begin randomly searching people's bags on subways, buses, commuter trains, and ferries.

"The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect is trying to bring explosives into the subway," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "However, random police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values. This is a very troubling announcement."

If the choice is between random searching and profiling, then random searching is a more effective security countermeasure. But Dunn is correct above when he says that there are some enormous trade-offs in liberty. And I don't think we're getting very much security in return.

Especially considering this:

[Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly stressed that officers posted at subway entrances would not engage in racial profiling, and that passengers are free to "turn around and leave."

"Okay guys; here are your explosives. If one of you gets singled out for a search, just turn around and leave. And then go back in via another entrance, or take a taxi to the next subway stop."

And I don't think they'll be truly random, either. I think the police doing the searching will profile, because that's what happens.

It's another "movie plot threat." It's another "public relations security system." It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer.

Final note: I often get comments along the lines of "Stop criticizing stuff; tell us what we should do." My answer is always the same. Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists' plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response -- lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it.

EDITED TO ADD: A Citizen's Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches.

Posted on July 22, 2005 at 6:27 AM • 130 Comments

Comments

KeithJuly 22, 2005 6:55 AM

"...it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer."

Ditto. I noticed last night on the news when interviewed NY'ers seemed to be okay with "giving up liberties for the sake of security." We are on a slippery slope now as a country. Not sure how you can get the liberties back.

--
-Ke

Michael AshJuly 22, 2005 7:22 AM

Even in the typical "fight the last war" sense, this makes no sense. Would random searches have stopped the London attacks? No. Will they stop much of anything? Apparently not. So what's the point?

MrAtozJuly 22, 2005 7:25 AM

There are so many weaknesses to this that it would be laughable if it weren't so depressingly unquestioned by the media, officials, and public at large.

All the NYC subway lines are interconnected -- you can get into any station from any other station if you just make the right connections. By searching people only at the entrances to subways, this will only work if every single entrance to every single station is manned. Given that this is more about "feel-safe" PR than anything else, I can guarantee you that the remote stations on obscure lines in Brooklyn will be totally unchecked.

The number I've seen is about 4 million riders per day. If you checked 20,000 bags a day, you'd have a 0.5% random sample ... For the cost of about 2000 man-hours of work (assuming 10 checks per hour), a terrorist would now have only a 99.5% chance of getting through.

I could just go on an on ... it's just so frustrating and sad to see this kind of purely emotional, reactive response.

FreemanJuly 22, 2005 7:30 AM

There are at least two entrances with half-a-block of each other for just about every station in NYC. I wonder what percentage of New Yorkers will just say "no thanks", then cross the street and enter anyway.

NedJuly 22, 2005 7:39 AM

Very intelligent post.

I do feel you can take a stronger stand, though--why not refuse search through non-violent resistance?

RampoJuly 22, 2005 8:00 AM

@Ned

"I do feel you can take a stronger stand, though--why not refuse search through non-violent resistance?"

If the police suspect you are a suicide bomber, they can justifiable shoot you dead immediately. The man shot today by police on the London Underground may not sound like a big deal in trigger-happy America, but in the UK, this is a massive change in relations between the police and the policed.

Normally almost no-one gets shotten by the police (who are normally not armed with firearms) in the UK.

KellyJuly 22, 2005 8:02 AM

Well, as much as they say you're allowed to say "No, you can't search my bag" and turn around and leave the subway, my feeling is that refusing to be searched will instantly make you suspicious, and likely get you arrested, no matter how much they deny it now.

I live on Capitol Hill (though many blocks from the Capitol itself) in Washington, DC. I work down the Hill just off the Mall in a federal office building. Since the Capitol Police have apparently begun random bag searches of people on the Capitol grounds (which usually means anywhere on the actual Capitol grounds as well as any of the public sidewalks on the streets open to the public around the Capitol or Congressional office buildings), I can now no longer walk between home and work without the risk of my 4th Amendment rights being lost.

If Metrorail (the Washington, DC subway) begins random bag searches as well (which they have said they might based on the experiences in NYC), then I effectively have no way to get between work and home without submitting to an illegal search by the police. (Well, not without walking probably 2 miles out of my way to detour around the Capitol complex.)

jayhJuly 22, 2005 8:07 AM

Mayor Bloomberg keeps repeating the mangra 'the person next to you may be an undercover officer'.

This may deter normal criminals but is probably useless for a 'terrorist' willing to die in the process.

I agree strongly though that we must have as many people as possible politely decline the search if we're going to keep any hold on our liberties

AlJuly 22, 2005 8:07 AM

So what happens with repeat requests?

In other words, what if I walked in, was asked to open my bag, politely declined, stepped outside and went right back in and was asked again, politely declined again, stepped out, back in...
After half an hour or so of this, I still wouldn't have broken any laws, right?

There's your resistance method. Take that to court if they dare arrest you.

The result would probably be either no more random searches, or a tightening of the law, making it clear that you have no more civil liberties on any public property.

Stu SavoryJuly 22, 2005 8:21 AM

Assume the bag contains a photocell triggering the xplosives, then the bomb goes off right in the entrance to the subway ....

Duh! Just what the terrorists wanted.

Or are the cops stepping far out (into the rain?) before they open a bag?

ThomasJuly 22, 2005 8:30 AM

I have to agree 100% with Bruce's post, and the comments that follow thus far. My head spins when I think of how utterly boneheaded a move this is and the zillion or so ways it could be circumvented. The terrorists in waiting must find our antics endlessly amusing. It would be laughable if it weren't so tragic.

I currently live in Manhattan and plan to not allow any searches of my bag. I'll put up with the inconvenience of walking to the next subway station or just take the bus.

Adam ShostackJuly 22, 2005 8:41 AM

I'd like to offer one addition to your "do something positive coda," and that's teach the public.

By helping people what the difference is between a crazy homeless person and a suicide bomber about to blow themselves up, you may get effective, distributed detection, and perhaps even a real "first responder" response: Get away from the bomb.

Now, admittedly, in London, that's not happening. People are picking up suspect packages and moving them. But that's a matter of education about contact fuses and such.

(Maybe we'll also spend some money to make the lives of the homeless a little better; a drop in the homeland security bucket.)

SavikJuly 22, 2005 8:41 AM

The best choice between two methods, racial profiling and random searches is NOT random searches. Like it or not racial profiling would be far more more likely to net a bomber. Bruce is right on many things but on this one he is completely illogical.So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals. It would be a super anomaly for a person of not of this disposition to be a terorist anomaly. SO finding them through random searches would be completely useless -- where as racial profiling would have a greater chance os success -- or at the very least a greater deterance.

However netting a suicide bomber may not be such a terrific feat if he blows the netter and everyone else around him to pieces.

There is an excellent account if this here. Abner was wanting to catch Asahel...not realizing how such a bad idea that would be.

"And Abner said again to Asahel, "Turn aside from following me; why should I smite you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" But he refused to turn aside; therefore Abner smote him in the belly with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back; and he fell there, and died where he was" (2 Samuel 2:22-23 RSV)

RvnPhnxJuly 22, 2005 8:44 AM

First off:
@Al Don't give them any ideas. Al-Qaeda style terrorism is the new witchcraft for the 21st century. Sure, we know it exists, but it is not what many would like to claim that it is--in fact it is not on the inside what those of us not involved see from the outside. In case you forgot: Marxism, Socialism, true Communism, and various other things--including, in many places, the early Civil Rights movement groups, have filled the interviening gap alongside various things that have claimed to be "Communism" and other fascisms which are a somewhat different matter for what I hope are obvious reasons. Please note that "they" burned witches once upon a time--what makes you think that the long arm of the government won't engage in timeframe-equivalent practices to rid us of the supposed terrorists while still ignoring the root causes of the problem (which, frankly, might even be unknown).

Secondly:
It is widely known that truely open societies where opportunity is not meerly the purview of a privileged group (no matter how large or small) to the exclusion of all others have less crime (including terrorism). What makes a truly open society function? A healthy partnership of the ideas (and ideals) of respect and responibility sounds like a good place to start to me. There will never be a true utopia, but trying not to get each other killed is a decent solution--and if we can do that while still being a just society then we are well on the way. The US of A and many other States and Republics are moving away from this ideal form of decentralized power to more centralized systems of power-grabbing and cronyism--a move which will only lead to dissent, strife, and eventually either terrorism, revolution (political, social, or--hopefully not--military), or some combination of the two.

Matti KinnunenJuly 22, 2005 8:45 AM

@Thomas
I am sure they will next post a police office in every bus and search your bag there too.

I think the right way to handle this serious threath is to ban all bags. Furthermore, since the nasty bomber may hide his bombs underneath his clothes, it is necessary to mandate spandex-overalls for all citizen.

Me AgainJuly 22, 2005 8:49 AM

@Ned: After a certain amount of thought, I have come up with a peaceful way to protest this invasion of our privacy and the erosion of our rights.

Anyone searching MY bag on the NYC mass transit system will be handed a copy of the Bill of Rights. I will be carrying multiple copies of it in my bag at all times.

They will not have a choice. I will put it into their hands. I will make a big point of doing so. They can drop it, they can crumple it up, they can throw it away. I'm just going to show them that that's exactly what they're doing - not just to me, but to themselves.

My papers are in fucking order.

Matti KinnunenJuly 22, 2005 8:55 AM

@Me again

I think your resistance is futile. The officers searching your bags are just doing their jobs. They may even agree with you, but they still must search the bags. Otherwise they would lose their jobs.

It is the same thing as checking my ID when I try to enter a bar. I am almost 40, and definitely do not look like under 21. Still they insist, and say that they would even not let G.W.B inside without seeing his IDs.

Therefore, I think trying to make the point to the moron who came up with this plan would be a more efficient idea.

GrainneJuly 22, 2005 8:58 AM

@Adam Shostack "teach the public"

I could not agree more. Instead of using security methods that don't do much else than supposidly give the public a 'feeling of security', they could teach the public ways to respond in an event or also to be more aware of other people. This method can be effective.

If you consider it in a different situation: All those years ago when I worked in a large store, we were taught how to notice a shop lifter by small clues - i.e. nervousness, large bags, wearing too much clothes etc.. From this I could usually tell if someone was a potential shop-lifter from the minute they walked into the shop. My response would be to call security and tell them to keep an eye out for the individual. 9 out of 10 times they were actual shop-lifters. This is similar to police profiling.
However, sometimes we would also get normal shoppers informing us that they saw someone shop-lift and we could respond.
So, (after that nice little story) I can see how teaching the public would help to spot suspicious behaviour that can be missed by officers etc. in whatever situation.

RampoJuly 22, 2005 9:03 AM

@Savik

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals."

Your ignorance is impressive. One of the four London bombers, Germaine Lindsay, was of Jamaican extraction, and looked nothing like a middle-easterner.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/beds/bucks/...

Richard Reid, the "Shoe Bomber" is of English and Jamaican descent.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1731568.stm

Religious profiling might be better: No-one's worried about Pakistani Christians planting bombs.

SavikJuly 22, 2005 9:06 AM

@Rampo

I have seen pictures of all of the men you mention. They all look like the type of man I would think is a bomber.. Notice I did say "type"; thus the term racial (type) profiling.

Read what I said not what you want to believe.

Matti KinnunenJuly 22, 2005 9:16 AM

@Savik

So, there is something in the genes, which makes all would-be-bombers look alike? And I assume that the would-be-bombers are stupid enough not to changes their appearance. For example, having a crew cut before doing their deed.

By the way, would you have spotted Timothy MacW as a bomber? Oh, he used a car, so maybe we have to start searching all cars in all highway toll-booths, too. That would be justifiable, as a car can carry a bigger bomb than a person. Exploding a car bomb would be much more impressive than just exploding a small backbag.

Me AgainJuly 22, 2005 9:25 AM

@ Matti: the resistance I propose is not futile. It breaks no law, it offends or accuses no person who is "just doing their job". They want to see what's in my bag, they're gonna get what they want - let them fear my deadly pieces of paper with, oh, horror, IDEAS on them!

What it MIGHT do is force people to THINK. I realize that for some that can sometimes be tantamount to assault and battery, but there's still no law against it - yet.

SavikJuly 22, 2005 9:29 AM

@Matti

Tim McVeigh was an anomaly in many aspects and he wasn't trying to get on a subway or a bus. The type of attack he carried out you can do little about. And he is dead and there isn't an entire religion or nation behind his philosophy. So they attacks of his ilk ended with his death.

TODAY we are fighting terrorism -- and if people were not so politically correct; they would say it is Islamic terrorism. Most Islamic people are of a certain race...to deny it would be very ostrich like.

Of course the terrorists can try and change their look but they can't change their race. And by in large, most Islamic people, are of a brownish race. I lived in the middle east for a year and traveled all over the region. And there was a racially defined characteristic about them that was present from Morocco to Syria to Pakistan.

That is not to say there are not white Muslims -- there are many; especially in Syria and Iran.

In any case I did not say racial profiling was the best way to stem the problem. I just said it would be FAR more effective than random searches.

Again -- read what I wrote not what you want to believe.

SavikJuly 22, 2005 9:32 AM

@Matti

"I think your resistance is futile. The officers searching your bags are just doing their jobs."

I suppose the Nazi officers in the concentration camps were also "just doing their jobs."

Like mentioned before this is a slippery slope.

TGJuly 22, 2005 9:37 AM

I agree with the fear of degrading our liberties with profiling and random searches. But - would you be willing to share the seat on the train with a middle easterner carrying a backpack looking nervous? As Bruce tells us - security is a balance game!

Fred PageJuly 22, 2005 9:42 AM

"Final note: I often get comments along the lines of..."

I'd recomend putting this kind of information on a single page, and putting a permenant link to it, along the lines of "So what should we do about terrorism?". It will probably reduce the posts and e-mails on this sort of question.

Matti KinnunenJuly 22, 2005 9:42 AM

@TG

Just as willingly as I would share the seat with a WASP carrying a backback and looking nervous. Or dragging a largish suitcase for that matter....

The terrorist may have run out of their supplies of backback by now. Beware!

Fred PageJuly 22, 2005 9:47 AM

@TG

"would you be willing to share the seat on the train with a middle easterner carrying a backpack looking nervous? "

Yes.

Frankly, if I were a middle easterner with a backpack in a train with mostly non-middle easterners, I'd be nervous that someone would attack me or harrass me.

GrainneJuly 22, 2005 9:53 AM

The article linked in the post suggests some officers will use sniffer dogs. I think this would be better than 'rummaging' through peoples bags as the majority of officers will be doing. It will be less intrusive, quicker and probably more effective. I presume they probably don't have enough dogs for each door though (they still need them at the airports!).

Andre LePlumeJuly 22, 2005 9:55 AM

@Savik:

Even if, contrary to fact, all terrorists so far have been of a certain visually/linguistically distinct type, once the environment is changed (for example by "profiling" persons of that type a great deal), an intelligent adversary will probe the system and determine which characteristics are used for such profiling, and will recruit those w/out those characteristics. This is discussed in the well-known "Carnival Booth" paper (http://swissnet.ai.mit.edu/6805/student-papers/spring02-papers/caps.htm)

BTW, Tim McVeigh was a white guy, last I heard.

StephenJuly 22, 2005 9:59 AM

@Me Again

I think I can guess what the reaction to most cops would be upon being handed a copy of the Bill of Rights. Carry a digicam on you. I'd love to see a gallery of shots of LEOs crubmling up the Bill of Rights.

Clive RobinsonJuly 22, 2005 10:00 AM

Appart from the civil liberties issue (which is very important) Bruce raised the issue of more cost effective solutions, and gives,

1) Emergency Response
2) Investigation
3) Intelligence

1 -- Emergency response does not stop terrorists or the effects of their conventional weapons, it mearly clears up the mess afterwards.

Increasing cost effectivness or efficiency here is going to save very few lives if any thing other than Chem/Bio weapons are used.

2 -- Investigation again this is post event and therefore will not directly stop a particular event. What it might do is gather associative evidence that can be fed forward into intelligence to prevent future attacks.

The problem is as UK residents know (IRA etc) often there is little or no usefull evidence left after an event if the terorists are careful about the way they do things.

In the UK (as far as I know) the investagtive forces are very proffesional about the way they conduct their enquires into these type of events.

However as evidenced recently in London, information from one event (2 weeks ago) may have no bearing on the next event (yesterday) except in a circumstantial way, or not be available in sufficient time to prevent a related event (there are events unfolding in London as I type this so we may know by the time you read this).

3 -- Intelligence, this is a very difficult area, the US spends significant amounts of money on indirect intelegence (Signals and Electronic Inteligence). Frequently the information is there (9/11) but it is only visable post event. Often however it is not (London 2 weeks ago).

Indirect intelegence is usually about investigating relationships between entities. The problem is that the number of relationships goes up by the square of the number of entities under investigation.

On the assumption that it would take a human 1 day to test a relationship and there is 1000 investigators then 250000 relationships tested each year or at best 709 new entities from contact with suspect entities. In practice the amount of information collected in one day could not be checked by the number of bodies working at the three letter agencies.

To improve on this requires some kind of filtering or profilling system, all filtering systems have a failier rate (false negatives). They also only filter on current predudices which are based on past events.

Also filters are predictable in the way they work and if the charecteristics are known by an adversery they can usually make sure they will always be a false negative.

To make this sort of process more effective requires a significant input of resources and often requires the use of AI or predictive systems. Unfortunatly these systems are often little more than filters on steroids. Frequently they are rule based and will only give a probability on a known class of theat not a new class of threat (ie they fight the last battle).

So spending money on these three areas is going to show minimum returns at best.

Truly random intelligence / investogatory activities might actually show a better rate of return. The reason for this is that the adversery does not get the chance to learn and avoid the activites. However this type of activity would not be acceptable in a modern society (civil liberties etc).

You may well get a beter return on investment if you invested the same money in developing the economies of other countries in an even handed way, without expecting an immediate return. This has been tried before (Marshall Plane) and it was found to work...

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 10:09 AM

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals."

Actually, that's not true at all. You have to choose your definition of "so far" -- that is, select your dates carefully -- and "the terrorists" -- ignore all terrorism that isn't Middle Eastern -- in order for this to be true. Such short-sightedness isn't going to make us any more secure.

I know it's easy to say that the Middle Eastern males are out to get us, but once you do that you're just making it easier for the non-Middle-Eastern-males to get us. Remember the Chechnyan terrorists who downed the Russian planes. Remember Timothy McVeigh. Remember the Unibomber. Remember the Irish terrorists. Remember Richard Reid.

Some American White GuyJuly 22, 2005 10:10 AM

@TG:

Would I be willing to share a seat on a train with a middle easterner who's carrying a backpack and looking nervous? Almost certainly - especially if they've just been 'randomly' searched in public and everyone on the train is staring at them, wondering "is he the terrorist?"

I work with a quite a few people who are from the middle east, and while I haven't spoken with them about it specifically, it wouldn't surprise me if many of them get moderately nervous just going out in public right now. So, frankly, your scenario (nervous middle-eastern gentleman riding mass transit) wouldn't be surprising to me in the least, any more than I would have expected Japanese Americans in Hawaii to be a bit jumpy during World War II

I decided a long time ago not to let fear rule my life - if I spent all my time being scared (and believe me, there's lots of scary stuff out there, if you're looking for it), there'd be no time to enjoy life.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 10:10 AM

"Assume the bag contains a photocell triggering the xplosives, then the bomb goes off right in the entrance to the subway ....

"Duh! Just what the terrorists wanted."

This is a problem with a lot of anti-terrorism measures that involve chokepoints. Since the terrorists are just looking for masses of people in a single place, it's just as effective to blow yourself up before the security checkpoint as after.

I remember thinking about this a lot while snaking through those long lines at airport security.

Tim VailJuly 22, 2005 10:13 AM

@Savik

Bruce has talked about how if you start profiling, then terrorists would just start recruiting people who do not fit the profile to get around it. Then you wind up with more dangerous terrorists.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 10:13 AM

"I'd recomend putting this kind of information on a single page, and putting a permenant link to it, along the lines of "So what should we do about terrorism?". It will probably reduce the posts and e-mails on this sort of question."

That's a good point. I should do a single "what should we do" post, and then link to it repeatedly.

I wrote a bunch about that in Beyond Fear. Maybe I should just post the chapter. Or maybe parts of the chapter and some new stuff.

SavikJuly 22, 2005 10:13 AM

@Clive

The Marshall plan did not stop Nazi aggression -- total destruction did (did you forget about WWII)?

It only helped to save a few from starving. It did not REBUILD the economies of those nations either. That is an uniformed assumption many elementary schoolers have. Capitalism rebuilt the economies of those nations.

Plus -- it is not poverty that makes these people blow themselves up. It is religious fanaticism.

Steven FisherJuly 22, 2005 10:22 AM

I have to admit, my first reaction to this story on the news was "What a stupid idea! I can't wait to see Schneier pull this one apart."

TomJuly 22, 2005 10:22 AM

I wish people would stop reffering to the process as 'racial profiling', the proper term should be 'offender profiling'.

If I was a police chief, I wouldn't want my officers wasting their time searching bags of little old ladies.

JarrodJuly 22, 2005 10:26 AM

Heard on MSNBC this morning from a New York resident asked about the new security measures on the subways:

"I'd rather have my civil liberties violated than be blown up."

RampoJuly 22, 2005 10:30 AM

Those suspects, with their "baseball" caps, look more like Americans than anything else...

chuckJuly 22, 2005 10:42 AM

My comment is about Bruce's final note.
1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are,
>> Ok Bruce, but what about the interim period in which people are getting blown up or killed innocently. What is your solution for that? For Christ's sake, they check your freaking bags when you go into Disney, why not the Subway (after all we do have justification that it may happen -i.e, London). Plus, we know for a fact that mass transit is a target.

and 2) emergency response -- lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it.
>> Bruce, I don't think that the gov't is thinking that simply searching bags at the subway is an end all solution, its simply covering what we can right now as we gather intelligence to find where these people are hiding and pull them out. If you will, finding the Queen Ant of the colony.

I think that doing nothing would be the worst thing to do. Ok, so we might be wasting our time - but it sure beats doing nothing. I'd love to sit back and just criticize the heck out of what is being done. Why don't you tell us what they (our security agencies) are doing right (is that possible) ?

Thanks,
Chuck

SavikJuly 22, 2005 10:44 AM

@Rampo

"baseball cap" = Americans?? Hmm.

Well I think this tells us who is doing all this. It is an American plot!

SteveJuly 22, 2005 10:45 AM

The best anti-terror measure of all is to act in such a manner that people don't want to blow us up. That is, stop invading other peoples countries, establishing military bases where we're not wanted, and generally stop acting like we own the world, because we don't.

If getting out of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, etc. is giving in to the terrorists, then so be it. We don't belong there in the first place and if our stupid macho pride keeps us there, then we will reap what we sow in continual lost lives and increasing lost liberties.

Ian EiloartJuly 22, 2005 10:59 AM

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals. "

Not true. Richard Reid , the shoe bomber was white British. Germaine Lindsay - one of the 7/7 London Bombers was Afro-Carribean.

"It is religious fanaticism." - No, it isn't. Tamil Tiger suicide bombers are a Marxist/Atheists. All suicide bombers, apparently, have removal of occupying forces from their lands as their objective. In this case the lands in question are Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Oh, and there's an alternative to walking away. Just detonate the bomb, and take out the security forces. It's happened in Israel.

Mike SherwoodJuly 22, 2005 10:59 AM

Another thing I think we should do is get citizens more involved. Our current approach of "leave it to the professionals" doesn't work. There will never be enough enough professionals on patrol to spot things that are out of the ordinary.

Professionals are no more than citizens with some additional training. Does anyone seriously believe that making the TSA a federal agency made anyone any safer? Does a paycheck really define the contribution that a person can make?

The minuteman project emphasizes the impact that a group of citizens can have if they want to DO something. Just as store owners are taught how to spot combinations of purchases that suggest the person is making meth, would it really be so bad to do the same thing regarding explosive components? Everyone who wants to contribute can do something, we just have to be willing to trust our fellow citizens with some information that could potentially be used to do something bad. It can also help people do something good.

Ian EiloartJuly 22, 2005 11:01 AM

My bet is that the guy who was shot dead was NOT a bomber. More likely running for some other reason - maybe he was carrying drugs, or wanted for some other crime.

Most people shot dead in the UK by police are actually unarmed, innocent people. Hardly anyone carries a gun in the UK.

ZwackJuly 22, 2005 11:07 AM

The most shocking news that I heard this morning was that the police had shot someone in London. I mean, the British Bobby, with a big tit shaped helmet on his head carrying a GUN!!!

Things must be much worse over there than they used to be.

Personally I'm looking for a T-shirt that states "America -- Land of the Free" With a big red line through the word Free. I'm not sure whether I should add the words Patriot Act in though.

Z.

oliverJuly 22, 2005 11:09 AM

This is really insanity

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly need to be reminded of the Fourth Ammendment:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Let Mayor Bloomberg know what you think of this: http://www.nyc.gov/html/mail/html/mayor.html

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 11:15 AM

"Heard on MSNBC this morning from a New York resident asked about the new security measures on the subways: 'I'd rather have my civil liberties violated than be blown up.'"

That's an excellent illustration of the problem: people believe that they have to choose between security and liberty.

They don't. It's a false dichotomy. The best airline security countermeasures -- reinforcing the cockpit door and convincing passengers that they need to fighe back -- have no effects on liberties. Most of the airline security measures that are gross invasions of liberty result in minimal, if any, additional security.

The correct dichotomy is liberty versus control. And there is security inherent in liberty.

TomJuly 22, 2005 11:17 AM

@Zwack

You'll likely be arrested for treason with that T-Shirt.

Looking at the details of the shooting in London, it's unlikely these were regular armed police, it's more likely they were special forces.

To whoever said this:

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals. "

Many Arabs are considered to be white in Europe. I believe Iranians are of Aryan descent.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 11:19 AM

"Ok Bruce, but what about the interim period in which people are getting blown up or killed innocently. What is your solution for that? For Christ's sake, they check your freaking bags when you go into Disney, why not the Subway (after all we do have justification that it may happen -i.e, London). Plus, we know for a fact that mass transit is a target."

How do we know for a fact that mass transit is a target? Because it has happened in the past? We simply have to be a little smarter than that.

If we spend money doing this, and the terrorists bomb shopping malls, or schools, or churches, or bus stops, or movie theaters, or restaurants, or stadiums, or any other place more than a few dozen people get together in close proximity, we have done nothing. Unless we believe that the terrorists, who are targeting subways, will simply go home and get real jobs instead of choosing a different target, then we have done nothing.

Ineffective security measures like this will make people feel better. It will serve to show that we are DOING SOMETHING, and not just waiting for the next attack. But it won't make the next attack less likely or less severe.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 11:21 AM

"I think that doing nothing would be the worst thing to do. Ok, so we might be wasting our time - but it sure beats doing nothing. I'd love to sit back and just criticize the heck out of what is being done. Why don't you tell us what they (our security agencies) are doing right (is that possible)?"

See my note in the original posting. What we're doing right: spending money on intelligence and investigation, and spending money on emergency response.

I believe that the FBI and the intelligence community are doing a way better job than we see in the press. I believe that's why we haven't seen any other terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, and why we saw so little of it before 9/11. I believe we are wasting enormous amounts of money on feel-good ineffective security, but that we're also spending money on actually effective security. But we can't see the details of the effective stuff.

blankmeyerJuly 22, 2005 11:21 AM

@ Steven Fisher
I thought the exact same thing.

This random searching is as bad an idea as was turning off the cell service in the tunnels. I think we'll see this last for a week or two and public outcry and funding will be taken into account and the program will slowly go away. One can only hope, anyway.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 11:23 AM

"There was a followup article today stating that the police will arrest people found with other contraband during these searches."

This is a major part of my worry. Security countermeasures implemented out of fear of terrorism are used for more conventional crimes. And so our liberties erode even more....

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 11:24 AM

"You'll likely be arrested for treason with that T-Shirt."

Remember the t-shirt with the Bill of Rights, with various Rights being crossed off and marked "VOID"?

blankmeyerJuly 22, 2005 11:25 AM

@ Bruce Schneier
"I believe that the FBI and the intelligence community are doing a way better job than we see in the press. I believe that's why we haven't seen any other terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, and why we saw so little of it before 9/11. I believe we are wasting enormous amounts of money on feel-good ineffective security, but that we're also spending money on actually effective security. But we can't see the details of the effective stuff."

I agree. I think in 10-15 years time, we'll start seeing declassified documents detailing successful anti-terrorism activity here in the U.S. and abroad. I do not believe the terrorists would strike us and then just hang out for four years without trying again and since, as you pointed, there have been no more attacks, we are led to assume that the intelligence community is doing its job.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 11:26 AM

London police have had the right to stop and search belongings for years, or at least since the last major IRA bombings in the financial district.

I actually witnessed a cyclist who was stopped and searched by police many years ago. I think it mainly was due to timing -- the cyclist was riding through one of the checkpoints around the "iron curtain" just as a white van squeezed between him and the police, as if he was trying to avoid being seen.

They ran after him, took his bike aside and searched his backpack. It had books and a change of clothes. They looked like they were going to go further, but the officer in charge came over and told his men to let the cyclist go. The cyclist then had to put his bag back together before continuing his journey.

DavidJuly 22, 2005 11:39 AM

@MrAtoz

Or the bomber could just carry out his mission and when the police are close and a crowd has formed because of the lines created by searches, he could detonate. It might not be as effective as on the train, but it would still kill the police and civilians and shut down that part of the train. And this "downgrade attack" would only occur a very small percentage of the time as you said.

What happened to presumed innocent?

What happened to our protection from unreasonable searches, searches in which there is no basis for suspicion?

@Bruce

As for better security, it's a shame that you cannot see that pulling U.S. troops out of foreign lands would also help. As would opening a dialog to bring their cause to light in the West, showing the terrorists as either freedom fighters without a country, or truly nuts. By removing the main rationale for these current terrorist attacks (foreign military occupation), the cause will shrink and terrorism would be reduced.

Sure, if their rationale didn't make sense to us, such as they demanded the U.S. become an Islamic nation, we wouldn't give in to terrorists. But when the complaint is you are spending a thousand million dollars each week to attack a country that wasn't attacking anybody (it was under full no-fly control with severe U.N. sanctions), it may be easier to see that such a complaint may be justified.

Recall, the abortion clinic bomber was a White Christian Fundamentalist. It isn't the religion that's at fault, but a root cause that the terrorists do not agree with. Should we outlaw abortion? This is already a big issue in this country, and if there were terrorists throughout the world attacking because of abortion, I'd hope that we'd consider a dialog over abortion rather than say, bombing and occupying Christian lands, freezing the assets of Christian churches, racial profiling Christians, saying their religion is evil and that they are just monsters, etc.

ProbitasJuly 22, 2005 11:42 AM

@ Savik

I read what you are saying, and you refer to people as being either "brown" or of a "brownish race". My obversation about those statements is that you cover the vast majority of the earth's population with those adjectives. Perhaps, though you cannot see the inadequacy of your proposed solution, you can see the sheer inefficiency of profiling persons fitting your description. Even if you only concentrate on males ages 15-35 of the "brownish" persuasion, the sheer number of Africans, Aisans, Native Americans and those of mixed race who meet the "brownish" standard makes your propsal as laughable as it is pathetic.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 11:44 AM

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals."

This sort of uninformed prejudice is actually a big weakness that makes reasonable and effective security much harder to practice.

Profiling is not meant to be about prejudice, it is about intuition based on truly thorough empirical research. It is no more exact than any empirical treatment of philosophy, however, such as Hume's example of the doorknob:

We never know how the next doorknob will turn, but we can use our basis of knowledge from prior experience to assume that we will figure it out and be able to function normally (enter/leave the room). That process is what makes profiling, even with its inherent dangers, a common practice for trained professionals trying to figure out how to open doors during surveillance or an investigation.

Glauber RibeiroJuly 22, 2005 12:02 PM

Do you know what i think most remarkable about the second London attacks? That in a country supposedly less encumbered by civil rights tradition than the US, after taking all of the conventional security measures (the same ones they've been mimicking in New York the past few days), after all that, someone managed to repeat the exact same attack. The conventional security measures don't work.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 12:05 PM

@David

Interesting comments.

"I'd hope that we'd consider a dialog over abortion rather than say, bombing and occupying Christian lands, freezing the assets of Christian churches, racial profiling Christians, saying their religion is evil and that they are just monsters, etc."

Dialog is not usually the most effective first option with fundamentalists and extremists. They see the world one way, and one way only, for everyone. This is in stark contrast to those who practice tolerance of many ways of living.

The response in London was admirable in many ways, not least because the government and religious leaders called for moderates to actively preach tolerance and thereby marginalize forms of extremism and fundamentalism. The irony of the situation is that moderates are by definition already able to tolerate many forms of fundamentalism. It is similar to the old saying "your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose", and yet extreme fundamentalists feel they are under attack from the mere presence of moderates/secularists.

This is what makes the prospects for dialogue truly challenging, to say the least. In your example, what could have happened after the abortion bombing is for the white fundamentalist Christian leaders to publically condemn terrorist acts by their followers and to strongly emphasize moderation. Did that happen?

I feel I have to point out again that we should be careful not to fall into the fundamentalist trap where you belive that being anti-extremist makes you anti-religion. That is simply the opposite of the truth -- to be anti-extremist is to favor the apple in spite of the worm. Some say the worm has to be there for progress (i.e. bad cop, good cop, or a Malcom X for every MLK), but we will be very sorry indeed to confuse the two.

SavikJuly 22, 2005 12:07 PM

@Probitas

Sure...but most of the people in London are not brown.They are white. Been to London lately?

Pat CahalanJuly 22, 2005 12:10 PM

@ Tom, Savik

> If I was a police chief, I wouldn't want my officers wasting their time searching bags of little old ladies.

Actually, that's not a waste of time, and people that keep insisting that it is don't understand the flexibility of the attacker. Even if it's more difficult to recruit white middle class people, or Asians, or even Native American to be willing participants... they don't need to be willing to be bomb carrying conduits.

Let's say you're a long term Al-Qaeda member. You've been living in the US for the last 6 years, establishing an identity as a harmless guy next door (ie, you're just like the 9-11 hijackers). You live in NY, and you get orders to go blow up a subway train.

"But wait," you think, "I can't just waltz into the subway, I'm brown and they profile. If I'm carrying a bomb in a grocery bag, I may attract attention."

But you're clever, and you know your neighbors (you've been here for 6 years and all), so you wait for old Mrs. Walsh, the retiree that lives two doors down, to take her weekly trip to go visit her daughter who lives in Central Park West. Mrs. Walsh doesn't like taxis, so it's pretty likely that she'll take the subway (you can verify this easily if you're on good terms with your neighbors without raising any suspicion).

You go buy a couple dozen oranges, which you know her daughter likes, and you put them on top of the bomb in the grocery bag. You stop by Mrs. Walsh's when you know she's going to leave, chat her up some, and offer her the oranges to take to her daugher. She's known you for 6 years, "That nice man next door, he couldn't be a terrorist! Those terrorists give men like him a bad name!" so she takes the bag along, and waltzes straight through security, because little old white ladies aren't terrorists. Boom.

For what it's worth, I'm dumbfounded that this hasn't already been tried.

By profiling, you've actually made the overall security WORSE. Now our terrorist has to outsource the bomb carrying (which used to get him killed) in order to accomplish his objective. This has an added big benefit in that now he is also alive to bomb again.

Stian OvrevageJuly 22, 2005 12:12 PM

Maybe instead of figuring out smarter ways of spending money on physically stopping the dog biting you, you should stop kicking the damn dog in the first place. ( Causes of terrorism )

"Why would anyone want to make resistance to our attempts to make the world a place of freedom?"
( What I believe is one of the justifications for invading Iraq and Afghanistan )

I, for one, think this "freedom" and new "American way of life" is soon going to make you all prisoners in your own homes. This is freedom I would gladly live without. I therefore have some empathy(not sympathy) for those who pay the highest price resisting the "freedom" they are beeing "given".

Permission to substitute "you" with "they" is granted where appropriate.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 12:14 PM

@Glauber Ribeiro

"The conventional security measures don't work."

Yes, precisely. Security alone does not have the tools necessary. It is a larger issue of how to achieve tolerance and fair opportunities in society:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/07/...

"When considering the situation in terms of security measures and deterrence, don't forget that "suicide" is the operative word here and the bomber is often led to believe that they are actually better off dead. It is not clear to me that security has the right approach or tools to deter these people from fanatacism."

DonJuly 22, 2005 12:21 PM

The problem with the "we have to check bags - look what's happened!" theory is the previously mentioned chokepoints created by these searches. The goal of the bombings in the tube was death & fear. Why wouldn't that happen just as readily if they now start blowing themselves up in the crowd outside the checkpoint rather than in the tube car?

If airline security is any indication their number of targets will be even larger in those lines than they would be in the cars. The only payoff here (and I guess some of the more cynical will think this is a good enough one) is that it won't disrupt the mass transit travel, only the poor souls trying to enter that one station.

mjkJuly 22, 2005 12:22 PM

I love how every chance Bruce gets to put down any effort at anti-terrorism stuff in the US as a waste of money and say that there are better ways he does, but his solution is random search. Now that the NYPD is doing random search he says that the security/liberty trade off is not worth it.

Also, he says that profiling is not as effective as random search. How is that possible when so many suicide bombers are muslim men between 20 and 40 years of age? I can understand that profiling might not be fair or legal or sensitive, but not effective? I am sure somebody could run a computer sim or something that shows that unless your mean for random search is very high you cannot beat profiling based on sociodemographic characteristics.

Its okay to say that profiling is bad based on civil liberty reasons, but to claim that random search is more effective is ridiculous.

david tweedJuly 22, 2005 12:25 PM

@Savik,

Leaving the issues of whether racial profiling is (a) ethical right and (b) counterproductive in terms of stirring up resentment in the target community, it seems to me there's a bigger problem with having `stop & search' based on racial profiling, namely that `race' doesn't translate into visual appearance with high reliability. I've seen on TV that in the first half of the last century Americans who would have been classed by society as `black' but had very moderate skin colour sometimes engaged in `passing' (ie, maintaining they were `white') to avoid prejudice, etc, and apparently this worked a significant proportion of the time. Likewise, I suspect that, with a suitably western haircut, no beards, sharp suit, etc, there are many `brownish' (to use your term) men who I'd have to really scrutinise to come up with a decision about their ethnicity. Even if after that effort I was right all the time, I doubt that a rushed-off-his-feet officer doing searches has time to do this.

So, I think if racial profiling is going to be used it'd be much more effective on things like `visitors to Islamic bookshops', 'worryingly frequent visitors to the Mosque', etc. (Two items reported by the media in connection with one of Britain's bombers.) Even then I'd want to see some stats that suggested the effectiveness.

ProbitasJuly 22, 2005 12:49 PM

@ Savik

No, I haven't. Have you been to any of the major metropolitan cities of the world lateley? The bulk of them have statistically large enough populations of "brownish" people to render a strategy of "let's check all the brownish people" completely useless.

I argue these points with you not because I hope to sway your opinion; I understand you will not be moved. I do recognize, however that the simple platitudes you spout are attractive to others, and perhaps they will not be taken in with the deceptive simplicity of your "solutions" if presented with proof of their inadequacy.

elmtreeJuly 22, 2005 12:51 PM

@Zwack

I've got a NOFX t-shirt that has a parody of the pledge of allegiance on it, I can't recall it all, but the end is "with liberty for just us, not all"

RSaundersJuly 22, 2005 12:52 PM

The question I ask officers who wish to examine my bag is "What are you looking for?". They always say "bombs" or "explosives". Then I say "I doubt you'd be able to recognize a bomb by looking at it, you're a police officer, not a police dog."

Contrary to the movies, bombs don't look like alarm clocks with curly wires. Especially once enemies know you are looking for bombs. Are they going to say you can't carry coffee cans on the subway? I have a can crimper at home, I can put whatever I like in a coffee can.

Concealing explosives has a long legacy, and experiences in WWII and Vietnam indicate that they can be made to look like anything, period.

No bomb detecting technology has ever provided the accuracy and cost effectiveness of a trained dog. Don't search people unless the air around them contains chemicals the dog can detect. Frankly, I expect you get almost the same deterrent effect with 5% trained bomb dogs and 95% ordinary German Shepards (which are much cheaper and quicker to obtain).

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 1:17 PM

@Probitas

Nice response to Savik.

I thought the historic US Supreme Court case regarding WWII Japanese internment might also be of interest on this topic of what constitutes acceptable institutional prejudice:

http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/...

KOREMATSU v. UNITED STATES

The original ruling (ironically by Justice Black) stated "[A]all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspected. That is not to say that such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions: racial antagonism never can."

The US Congress eventually revisited that ruling in the 1980s and issued a formal report called "Personal Justice Denied". It not only condemned the decision as unjustified by military necessity but also clearly stated that the Supreme Court decisions had been "overruled in the court of history."

In fact, other Justices did not agree with Black at the time of the ruling. Justice Murphy, offered a dissenting opinion:

"Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."

Note that the source I provided is a US government site called "Basic Readings in US Democracy". This site also suggests in its review of the case that "In wartime, the old saying goes, law is silent, and the Supreme Court, which had only recently begun to play a stronger role in protecting minority rights, was loath to interfere with what the administration considered a necessary war measure."

Hopefully that puts Savik's foolish rantings in perspective and brings to mind that quote about "those who forget the past..."

SavikJuly 22, 2005 1:48 PM

@Davi and @Probitas

You both are ignorant.

Davi, I never argued right or wrong. I am arguing wether or not it is effective. Right or wrong I think, and mathematically you could show, it is more effective than random searches.

Pat CahalanJuly 22, 2005 1:50 PM

@ mjk

> Its okay to say that profiling is bad based on civil liberty reasons,
> but to claim that random search is more effective is ridiculous.

No, it's not, see my example above. Using a static profile as a basis for your search criteria means that those who are trying to circumvent your search can easily modify their delivery method to bypass your search entirely.

Searching algorithms benefit from profiling only when you're looking for subjects that won't attempt to circumvent the profile -> terrorists aren't robots, they won't continue to fit a static profile.

If you only search arabic-looking men between 20 and 40, they'll recruit 8 year olds, or sneak bombs into packages carried by little old ladies, or bomb the chokepoints, or dress themselves up as women, or any one of a thousand possible methods to disguise their bomb delivery.

"Security measures" that simply cause a minor inconvenience to a motivated attacker produce no solid results except perhaps in a very limited amount of time from their implementation, and are generally useless.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 22, 2005 1:56 PM

I'd be horrified if in my country there would be police everywhere ready to search my belongings. I'd be even more horrified if I had to be aware of some scared police officer possibly shooting at me because perhaps I missed him shouting "stop" while I was bicycling. Seeing all the security nonsense in US and UK I'm really happy I'm not living in either country at the moment.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 2:14 PM

@Savik

I give you credit for engaging in dialogue, but that goes out the window with your ad hominem. When I say your rantings are foolish, you respond with "you are ignorant"? The moderator must be sleeping...

What you stated above is right there for all to see in "black and white" (pun intended):

"So far 100 percent of the terrorists are of the brown middle eastern/pakistani type individuals."

You are just painfully wrong about the simple facts as well as wrong about how profiling is meant to work. And you demonstrate in spades the kind of thinking that shows why "random" searches can be an elusive, if not totally impossible concept, to implement properly. I would shudder to think about you being asked to "randomly" search anyone...

Chung LeongJuly 22, 2005 2:27 PM

@Bruce,

"Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are"

Spending more money will hardly help in that regard. My place of employment for example is awashed with money. We just can't find enough people with the right education and cultural background to do the work.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 22, 2005 2:27 PM

Oh, and surely terrorists might be hiding explosives in their homes. So why not start conducting searches at people's homes too, while at it? It surely is starting to go beyond stupidity..

LucysDadJuly 22, 2005 2:28 PM

I think Bruce is right to focus the scrutiny of this policy on whether or not it provides a reasonably positive tradeoff between privacy and security, NOT on issues having to do with civil liberties. I think the pragmatic approach is a lot more likely to be listened to by John Q. Public than a philosophical discourse on personal liberties, even if that discourse is warranted.

For those who think the answer to terrorism is to stop provoking terrorists, please look at John Howard's remarks in a news conference from yesterday:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/...

There is no change in behavior on our part that is going to stop these people, and isn't it clear that giving into any kind of behavior only encourages it?

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 2:33 PM

"As for better security, it's a shame that you cannot see that pulling U.S. troops out of foreign lands would also help. As would opening a dialog to bring their cause to light in the West, showing the terrorists as either freedom fighters without a country, or truly nuts. By removing the main rationale for these current terrorist attacks (foreign military occupation), the cause will shrink and terrorism would be reduced."

What in the world makes you think that I cannot see that? I think those are excellent suggestions.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 2:34 PM

@LucyDad

"I think Bruce is right to focus the scrutiny of this policy on whether or not it provides a reasonably positive tradeoff between privacy and security, NOT on issues having to do with civil liberties."

And how exactly do you achieve that separation when the trade-offs to discuss, such as privacy, are all rooted in civil liberties?

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 2:35 PM

@ mjk

Profiling is complicated, and I spend a lot of time on it in Beyond Fear. Racial profiling is a bad idea, but trained security personnel looking for "suspecious" people works.

I guess I should do a post on it here, but if you have a copy of Beyond Fear read the pages I wrote on the topic there.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 2:37 PM

"Davi, I never argued right or wrong. I am arguing wether or not it is effective. Right or wrong I think, and mathematically you could show, it is more effective than random searches."

Actually, mathematically you can show exactly the opposite. Unless you know definitely who the bad guys are -- rabbits profile when they see foxes, for example -- then random profiling results in more security than profiling.

I'll look up the paper and post the link if I can find it. It's an excellent analysis.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 2:39 PM

"No, it's not, see my example above. Using a static profile as a basis for your search criteria means that those who are trying to circumvent your search can easily modify their delivery method to bypass your search entirely."

In general, when you create two paths through security -- an easy path and a hard path -- you invite the bad guys to try and take the easy path. This is a good security move if it is difficult for the bad guys to do so, and a bad security move if it is easy for them to do so.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 22, 2005 3:03 PM

"This is a good security move if it is difficult for the bad guys to do so, and a bad security move if it is easy for them to do so."

Setting up easy paths thru security can be dangerous. There's always the possibility the bad guys come up with an attack you didn't anticipate.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 22, 2005 3:04 PM

Here's an insightful speech from the US Dept of Transportation on searches and profiling:

http://www.dot.gov/affairs/042002sp.htm

NORMAN Y. MINETA
U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
APRIL 20, 2002

"It is very tempting to take false comfort in the belief that we can spot the bad guy based on appearance alone. Some are yielding to that temptation in their arguments for racial profiling, but false comfort is a luxury we cannot afford.

It is true that each of the hijackers involved in the September 11th hijackings had some characteristics in common -- they were all young men of Arab ancestry.

But we cannot, we must not, and we will not assume that all future terrorists will fit that particular profile. Without more information, we simply cannot tell -- and it certainly has not been true in the past.

Let me give you some examples:

In 1986, a 32-year-old Irish woman, pregnant at the time
[...]
In 1987, a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman – neither of whom were Middle Eastern
[...]
In 1999, men dressed as businessmen (and one dressed as a Catholic priest)
[...]
Time permits me to cite only these few examples; there are many more. So, how do we stop the terrorist – say one recruited from Chechnya – who is disguised as a priest if we are wasting our time on an unworkable profile of thousands of travelers who look a certain way?"

Ed T.July 22, 2005 3:06 PM

Well, I don't know about NYC, DC, or any of the other big urban areas, but here in Houston they are doing something intelligent -- Metro is going to have bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling some of the larger bus stops and light rail stations. Admittedly, this isn't going to catch 100% of the people who might be carrying explosives, but it will allow the police to profile intelligently -- if the dog alerts on the person/bag, they should have probably cause. If it turns out the bag is clean, but simply had residue from the weekends' shoot-em-up fest on it, no harm is done.

Strange... for once, I actually think our local police are doing the *right* thing ;-)

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 3:18 PM

"I posted an URL to the Carnival Booth paper about 75 comments ago ;^)"

Indeed. Thank you.

(And I just posted it in the subsequent blog entry.)

NickJuly 22, 2005 3:38 PM


@ Saavik

I happen to be Chinese, and I tan nicely.

Consequently, people have asked whether I am Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Samoan ... anything but Chinese, because, to them, I don't particularly LOOK Chinese.

On top of it all, I wear dark, wrap-around sunglasses, have been known to wear a trailduster, and I have long, wavy hair (most Chinese have straight hair).

Predicating a profile on a perceived majority is simply flawed thinking. You'd be better off profiling a kind of bag or container than the person who carries it (as in the guidelines for 'suspicious packages' that were promoted during the Unabomber's forays).

To presume that a profile directed against 'brown/dark skinned males' will successfully deter subway bombings is to conclude that the terrorists are ALL dark-skinned Islamics, and that personal delivery is their ONLY methodology. Neither one is true, so the profile fails.

=====

In response to those who think spending money on first responders is a waste ... bear in mind those first responders are not just paramedics/rescue personnel, but the bomb squad, SWAT teams, and other highly-mobile response groups.

Making sure they have the right equipment and training is NOT a waste of money in any sense. It's the basis of a fail-safe system, an intelligent response to a threat.

When it comes to biological agents, like sarin gas or cyanide, first responders will be the people we count on to minimize harm and secure the area after the incursion. Sure, it'd be best if the attack didn't happen in the first place, but if the attack does happen, the next goal is to minimize damage and its potential spread.

Don't sell first responders short.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 3:51 PM

"Don't sell first responders short."

Agreed. And unlike a lot of security, first responders can adapt to the situation. They're most effective when their smart and well-trained, so they can deal with whatever the situation is.

Bruce SchneierJuly 22, 2005 3:52 PM

I like bomb-sniffing dogs. It's a quick, egalatarian search -- and no records are kept afterwards.

I also like the food-sniffing beagles at United States Customs.

ModeratorJuly 22, 2005 4:14 PM

@Davi Ottenheimer:
"The moderator must be sleeping..."

Actually, the moderator thinks the best way to discredit certain people is to let them talk, and is engaging in a malicious refusal to censor.

t3knomanserJuly 22, 2005 4:20 PM

I was thinking about this recently. First, in terms of security, there really is no good answer to keeping a public place safe. You either surrender public rights or don't get any protection.

You know what? That's tough. No where does it say you have a right to be safe. In fact, I'll go a step farther, you will not be safe, unless you personally, do something to ensure your own safety. In other words, an educated, aware, and alert populace is the first defense against any attack, of any nature.

Further, the most talked-about form of terrorism is waged by extremists- extremisism is a idealogical plague, and one that we would do well to stamp out. Unfortunately, the "vector" for this plague is violence- which means we're going to see very limited returns on waging war against extremists- it simply spreads the contagion.

Instead, we must inoculate people against this dangerous idea. People don't just wake up one day and decide they want to blow themselves up in a subway. We need to win the hearts and minds of people before they become extremists. Eventually, the lunatics will burn themselves out.

Unfortunately, this requires cooperation, open and fair-handed dealings, and mutual sacrifice for mutual gain.

In otherwords, it'll never happen because we're all trapped in a zero-sum game of a scarcity based economy.

mud and flameJuly 22, 2005 4:50 PM

Dogs have had an impressive run as a security countermeasure. I mean, I somehow doubt that Twofish is still going to be good 12,000 years from now.

Ian MasonJuly 22, 2005 4:58 PM

@Savik

"Sure...but most of the people in London are not brown.They are white. Been to London lately?"

Erm, sitting in my living room in Newham, East London I can look out of the window and see neighbours who are brown, black, sino-asian and the very occasional white person. On this side of London white faces are the minority (say 10-15%), mine included.

On any London street you will see a mix of races. The ratio will vary according to where you are in London, but in the city centre area you'll count one brown or black face for every 2-3 white ones. And I might add that the white faces won't be all British either. Probably less than 50% of the people on the streets are white of British decent. London is (probably) the most ethnically diverse city in the world.

Don't forget that Britons have been a mongrel race since before time immemorial. We've been invaded by Vikings, Saxons, Romans, French etc. etc. Then we had a brief period where we did the invading - France, Ireland, India, Africa etc. etc. - and finally we brought them all back to blighty with us. Mongrel bastards the lot of us (and proud of it)!

Ian (1/2 English, 1/4 Irish, 1/4 Scots)

Ian MasonJuly 22, 2005 5:35 PM

@David Tweed

"Likewise, I suspect that, with a suitably western haircut, no beards, sharp suit, etc, there are many `brownish' (to use your term) men who I'd have to really scrutinise to come up with a decision about their ethnicity."

I used have an Anglo-Italian boss who I thought was Indian on first sight of him ("Big belly, bad suit" as "Goodness Gracious Me" had it). I've a number of Iraqi/Iranian friends, acquaintances and former colleagues who'd pass for Italian in the right sharp suit.

"So, I think if racial profiling is going to be used it'd be much more effective on things like `visitors to Islamic bookshops', 'worryingly frequent visitors to the Mosque', etc. (Two items reported by the media in connection with one of Britain's bombers.) Even then I'd want to see some stats that suggested the effectiveness."

Substitute "christian"/"church" where appropriate and see how that flies - particularly on Capitol Hill. More importantly it picks out how dangerous a profile based on the wrong characteristics is to our hard won liberty.

Today here in London an "asian looking" man was held down by two police officers while another fired five rounds into him at point blank range. [based on direct eye witness testimony] On the evidence available so far (11:15 pm BST) he did nothing more wrong than being Asian and running from the Police. [If he'd had a suspicious package or was a known target they'd have publicised this by now to avoid a public backlash.]

I think the terrorists have won. They have our authorities making stupid moves that significantly infringe the rights of innocent individuals while making them no safer and we have Police that are on such a hair trigger that they gun down apparently innocent individuals.

Expect knee jerk legislation from the British Government within the week. They've already tabled new laws after two weeks ago (most of them unnecessary as they existed in law already) and they won't be able to resist the opportunity to use the latest events for a legislative land-grab while parliamentary opposition is impossible as it will look like "support for terrorism". As a minimum expect data retention for 7 years for all internet and phone records (including mobile phone positioning) and all to be available to a long list of Government Agencies without warrant. Also expect acceleration of the national UK ID card scheme with a plan to make them mandatory in no more than three years.

I'm certainly terrified but of my own Government, not of a bomb. Perhaps this was the object of these terrorists. It'd be much more effective to make me hate my Goverment than to make me just hate the terrorists.

Ian MasonJuly 22, 2005 5:51 PM

@LucysDad

"For those who think the answer to terrorism is to stop provoking terrorists, [...]
There is no change in behavior on our part that is going to stop these people, and isn't it clear that giving into any kind of behavior only encourages it?"

History shows different. Once the British Government moved from "We will never negotiate with terrorists" [Thatcher] to "Let's talk" [Mo Molam] years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland and England started to come to an end. Terrorists often have legitimate demands - the Irish certainly did. To ignore these as part of a "no negotiation ever" policy is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I've no sympathy with terrorism. I was involved (as a civilian) in UK police anti-IRA activities. Yet I am sympathetic to the Irish republican political cause.

Ian MasonJuly 22, 2005 5:58 PM

@Davi Ottenheimer

"Let me give you some examples:
In 1986, a 32-year-old Irish woman, pregnant at the time
[...]
In 1987, a 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman – neither of whom were Middle Eastern"

It's worse than that. In the past the different terrorist groups have acted for each other under the pernicious "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" doctrine. So it's entirely plausable that when you're looking for middle eastern bomber it might turn out to be a Spanish member of Eta, or an Irish loyalist or Real IRA member. If however you're just looking for a bomber...

Ian MasonJuly 22, 2005 6:22 PM

@t3knomanser

We are, in fact, back to trade-offs and difficult ones to make.

If people of my father's generation hadn't been prepared to trade their lives for my freedom I would not be living in the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" but in "Greater Germania". The freedoms I enjoy cost lives.

This sort of moral calculus with lives is unpleasant to discuss and even more unpleasant to do but may be the only way to preserve a free society. Since the bombings two weeks ago 132 people will have been killed, 1384 will have been seriously injured and 11639 people will have been otherwise injured on average on the roads in the UK. All those figures are higher than the corresponding figures for the bombings. We aren't about to ban cars, buses, trucks, roads etc. We accept that if we are to have motorised transport we will kill some people. We may have to accept that if we want a free western style society that it will cost some innocent lives. In both cases we will try to minimise death by proportionate restrictions on what we can do. The question is that of what is proportionate, or if you prefer, what's an acceptable trade-off.

I for one will accept a finite (and probably small) risk that I or my loved ones will be killed by a terrorist bomb if it means that I don't live in a police state.

MichaelJuly 22, 2005 6:27 PM

@Ian
"Expect knee jerk legislation from the British Government within the week. ... they won't be able to resist the opportunity to use the latest events for a legislative land-grab while parliamentary opposition is impossible as it will look like "support for terrorism". '

Speaking of land grabbing legislation. The PATRIOT Renewal Act passed in the US House yesterday. The attacks in London have our Senators and Representatives scared. I just hope they'll realize before it's too late how much power they've given the Executive branch.


JoshJuly 22, 2005 6:46 PM

At first I wanted to refuse to cooperate, then I came up with a different act of protest.

I've printed up some copies of the fourth amendment for people to keep in their bags. They also ask people to discuss its meaning and purpose. You can find it tincansandstring.net/

For people who feel afraid to carry such a piece of paper, I just point out that they now know the meaning of the phrase "chilling effect."

MJuly 22, 2005 8:22 PM

I think profiling (based on race, etc.) actually makes terrorism worse in the long run.

The terrorists grow stronger when good people fear each other. Fearing, misunderstanding, and even hating other cultures is the fuel this fire feeds on.

If you search "brown people" based on the color of their skin or their religion, you might get lucky and win a battle--maybe.

But if you use your profiling skills to find someone who is not like you and get to know them. That's how, in the long run, we'll win the war.

KEHJuly 23, 2005 2:06 AM

I was also stunned to see that the PATRIOT act was renewed. I think we will never learn. There are no easy solutions to terrorism or any other global problems. There are hard solutions, but no one wants to hear about those.

NickJuly 23, 2005 2:52 AM


@KEH

It's not surprising in the least. USA PATRIOT was a hastily drafted shopping list of heavy-handed tactics that were ushered in under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The sunset provisions, designed to allow reflection and re-evaluation, were steamrollered by the coincidence of a bombing in London.

You don't need to believe in conspiracy theories, but perhaps credit the terrorists with enough foresight to know which way we'd jump if given a proper reminder of their ability to strike. And we promptly demonstrated our unwavering PATRIOTism.

Unfortunately, taking a stand against USA PATRIOT is like proving a negative. If PATRIOT is enforced, and there are no more attacks, it must work, right? But then, so does whistling to keep elephants off street corners. (Seen an elephant on a street corner lately? See? It works! Keep whistling!)

It's like guessing where the red card is in a game of three-card monte. You're banking on it being a fair choice, where your data (games where a shill wins) is accurate.

It's not, and you're confronted by an attack from multiple vectors - the dealer's sleight of hand, the shill's acting, and your own flawed perceptions.

So before you put money down, it's important to determine whether it's a game you want to play ... or not.

JTJuly 23, 2005 10:54 PM

Profiling is just another way of protecting a given target: it gives "evildoers" merely 9 good targets instead of 10. If profiling Pakistanis were effective, terrorists would simply select different foot soldiers for their attacks, just the same as perfectly protected airports would invite attacks on trains or buses or security checkpoints at NFL games.

As others have pointed out, Shoe-bomber Reid and Germaine Lindsay already fit this mold. The Lackawanna 5 fit this mold. Three-card monte dealers who select the lighter-skinned members of the gang as shills also exploit profiling to take in tourists every single day.

And as the surprise regarding the bombers in the London bombings shows, Al Qaeda may already have hit on a good method for convincing those not born into fundamentalist Islam to serve their cause. How, for example, do you profile a blackmail victim?

Jason TJuly 23, 2005 11:02 PM

Given that the Brazilian man shot and killed was mistaken as Asian (i.e. South Asian) by British, its doubtful profiling would even be accurate, never mind effective. Saddam Hussein, for example, might easily pass as a Mexican policeman in the eyes of many.

But beyond that, profiling is no different than protecting one target at the expense of others: profiling Pakistanis merely protects against people who look Pakistani. Richard Reid, Germaine Lindsay, the Lackawanna 5 - none fit the "profile".

In this case, how did Al Qaeda get those raised outside of a fundamentalist mileu to turn coat against their country? Suppose they were gay and blackmailed and brainwashed? "You will be despised by your own family and by God. Do this and you can redeem yourself and your family will never know your shame." How, exactly, do you profile a blackmail victim?


Captain AhabJuly 23, 2005 11:04 PM

Given that the Brazilian man shot and killed was mistaken as Asian (i.e. South Asian) by British, its doubtful profiling would even be accurate, never mind effective. Saddam Hussein, for example, might easily pass as a Mexican policeman in the eyes of many.

But beyond that, profiling is no different than protecting one target at the expense of others: profiling Pakistanis merely protects against people who look Pakistani. Richard Reid, Germaine Lindsay, the Lackawanna 5 - none fit the "profile".

In this case, how did Al Qaeda get those raised outside of a fundamentalist mileu to turn coat against their country? Suppose they were gay and blackmailed and brainwashed? "You will be despised by your own family and by God. Do this and you can redeem yourself and your family will never know your shame." How, exactly, do you profile a blackmail victim?


BrandonJuly 24, 2005 12:43 AM

@Ian Mason
"History shows different. Once the British Government moved from "We will never negotiate with terrorists" [Thatcher] to "Let's talk" [Mo Molam] years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland and England started to come to an end. Terrorists often have legitimate demands - the Irish certainly did. To ignore these as part of a "no negotiation ever" policy is to throw the baby out with the bathwater."

You fail to distinguish between political and "utopian" (for lack of a better term) terrorism. Political terrorists (IRA, Hamas, etc.) have relatively concrete goals/demands in mind (UK out of Northern Ireland, Israel out of Palestine, etc.). The goals of a utopian organization such as Al Qaeda are nothing short of the establishment of said utopia (a global ummah, or community of believers). Pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, or resolving the Israeli/Palestinian situation will not satisfy Al Qaeda (all should note that these hostilities began before 9/11 AND the 2nd Intifada in 2000).

Presuming that a change in foreign policy will end the "war on terrorism" is wishful thinking. A "solution" (if it is possible to end a war on a concept) will probably involve a great many unsavory actions on the part of the West. That said, I think we should err on the side of civil liberties, with an eye to dealing with the "troublemakers". For instance, if someone is unwilling to participate in a free, open, and tolerant society (perhaps by gathering followers in a attempt to overthrow the society), send him home, if we can. This is more of a concern in Europe than the United States, as Europe has more of a refugee/2nd-generation militant problem with respect to Muslims. [Tangent: either European countries will have to find a way for 2nd-generation Muslims to feel at home in their societies, or the London bombings are just the start of things.]

The alternative is the destruction of civic life of the West, all in the name of accommodating those who would rather destroy the West than become a part of it.

DavidJuly 24, 2005 1:18 PM

Why search when you can just chase down innocents and then shoot them at point blank range in public? Zero tolerance never means you have to say your are sorry.

Ian EiloartJuly 25, 2005 4:09 AM

@ Ian

> Ian (1/2 English, 1/4 Irish, 1/4 Scots)

Hey - me too!

> Expect knee jerk legislation from the British Government within the week

Well, they suspended habeus corpus in January.

@ someone else:
> The most shocking news that I heard this morning was that the police had shot someone in London. I mean, the British Bobby, with a big tit shaped helmet on his head carrying a GUN!!!

No, these policemen were in plain clothes. The guy was running from an armed mob, as far as he was concerned, not from the police.

@ myself
> More likely running for some other reason - maybe he was carrying drugs, or wanted for some other crime.

I spoke too soon, and I owe the guy an apology. Seems like he was just scared.

Dimitris AndrakakisJuly 25, 2005 6:46 AM

@Brandon
> The goals of a utopian organization such
> as Al Qaeda are nothing short of the
> establishment of said utopia (a global
> ummah, or community of believers).
> Pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, or
> resolving the Israeli/Palestinian
> situation will not satisfy Al Qaeda

Maybe, maybe not, but it will make them ineffective, according to the study of Robert Pape --see earlier blog entry "Causes of Suicide Terrorism".

ProbitasJuly 25, 2005 9:59 AM

@ Savik

Well I guess it happened sooner rather than later. The "brownish" man shot last week by London police was a Brasilian, not at all involved in terrorism. So what we now have is white people tracking and killing people because they fit a profile and don't respond to commands.

Despite your earlier claim to the contrary Savik, THIS is ignorance. Our desire for one size fits all solutions and immediate reactions designed to solve the last crime induce the sort of hysteria which views this sort of racism as a regrettable but necessary side effect of the war on terrorism. Your proposed response creates more of the hostility that leads entire religions and races to vow to bring the US to it's knees. Their actions, however reprehensible, (and they are VERY reprehensible) are nonetheless entirely predictable responses to our own actions. The predictable response to police killing an individual based solely on the results of racial profiling and nothing else will be more people feeling justified in violent actions. Their violent actions will then justify our violent response. See a pattern yet?

CFJuly 25, 2005 10:05 AM

Out of curiosity on the bomb-sniffing dogs solution: how long does it take to train one? How much does it cost? I would imagine that it would take 1 or 2 years of one-on-one training which would make each new dog expensive with long lead times. That would make them possible long term solutions, but impossible in the near term.

Mike LiemanJuly 25, 2005 6:52 PM

Matti Kinnunen wrote:

"It is the same thing as checking my ID when I try to enter a bar. I am almost 40, and definitely do not look like under 21. Still they insist, and say that they would even not let G.W.B inside without seeing his IDs."

It's NOTHING like a bar. The bar agreed to not sell booze to anyone under 21 when they applied for their liqour license. That requirement was established by the Legislature, and is supposedly the Will of The People.

A subway is Public Transportation. There is no LAW established by the legislature providing for this.

Free men don't obey rules and regulations, only the Law...

RogerJuly 25, 2005 10:57 PM

Readers may be interested to note that something similar has been mooted in Sydney:
http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/...
However Mr. Carr seems to be suggesting that searches will be skipped during peak hour. Erm....

(BTW, the CCTV cameras to which they refer are, I believe, primarily intended to catch pickpockets in high tourism areas.)

BigLarryJuly 25, 2005 11:55 PM

All the bag searches are doing is making the police look like they are doing something! Part of me wants to print out a sheet of the pictures of the 9-11 hijackers with the caption - "You should be searching guys who look like this!" and place it in my bag. Either that or a box of Krispy Kremes, since that is what the NYPD is really looking for!

You need to deploy officers better - and that means roving sniffer dogs on trains, officers on every train, and token booth clerks in every station who can be on the lookout for these nutjobs. One can safely bet that the only stations the cops are in are the ones that have heavy traffic and not at some outerboro station.

Major Variola (ret)November 3, 2010 4:34 PM

I'm afraid you ignore the root causes.

Folks in glass empires shouldn't fly drones.

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