Terrorism Defense: A Failure of Imagination

The 9/11 Commission report talked about a “failure of imagination” before the 9/11 attacks:

The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist danger from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.

More generally, this term has been used to describe the U.S. government’s response to the terrorist threat. We spend a lot of money defending against what they did last time, or against particular threats we imagine, but ignore the general threat or the root causes of terrorism.

With the London bombings, we’re doing it again. I was going to write a long post about this, but Richard Forno already wrote a nice essay.

The London bombs went off over 12 hours ago.

So why is CNN-TV still splashing “breaking news” on the screen?

There’s been zero new developments in the past several hours. Perhaps the “breaking news” is that CNN’s now playing spooky “terror attack” music over commercial bumpers now filled with dramatic camera-phone images from London commuters that appeared on the Web earlier this morning.

Aside from that, the only new development since about noon seems to be the incessant press conferences held by public officials in cities around the country showcasing what they’ve done since 9/11 and what they’re doing here at home to respond to the blasts in London…which pretty much comes down to lots of guys with guns running around America’s mass transit system in an effort to present the appearance of “increased security” to reassure the public. While such activities are a political necessity to show that our leaders are ‘doing something’ during a time of crisis we must remember that talk or activity is no substitute for progress or effectiveness.

Forget the fact that regular uniformed police officers and rail employees can sweep or monitor a train station just as well as a fully-decked-out SWAT team—not to mention, they know it better, too. Forget that even with an added law enforcement presence, it’s quite possible to launch a suicide attack on mass transit. Forget that a smart terrorist now knows that the DHS response to attacks is to “increase” the security of related infrastructures (e.g., train stations) and just might attack another, lesser-protected part of American society potentially with far greater success. In these and other ways today following the London bombings, the majority of security attention has been directed at mass transit. However, while we can’t protect everything against every form of attack, our American responses remain conventional and predictable—just as we did after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and today’s events in London, we continue to respond in ways designed to “prevent the last attack.”

In other words, we are demonstrating a lack of protective imagination.

Contrary to America’s infatuation with instant gratification, protective imagination is not quickly built, funded, or enacted. It takes years to inculcate such a mindset brought about by outside the box, unconventional, and daring thinking from folks with expertise and years of firsthand knowledge in areas far beyond security or law enforcement and who are encouraged to think freely and have their analyses seriously considered in the halls of Washington. Such a radical way of thinking and planning is necessary to deal with an equally radical adversary, yet we remain entrenched in conventional wisdom and responses.

Here at home, for all the money spent in the name of homeland security, we’re not acting against the terrorists, we’re reacting against them, and doing so in a very conventional, very ineffective manner. Yet nobody seems to be asking why.

While this morning’s events in London is a tragedy and Londoners deserve our full support in the coming days, it’s sad to see that regarding the need for effective domestic preparedness here in the United States, nearly 4 years after 9/11, it’s clear that despite the catchy sound-bytes and flurry of activity in the name of protecting the homeland, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

Posted on July 12, 2005 at 12:08 PM48 Comments


Common Sense July 12, 2005 12:52 PM

9/11 and London are not failures of imagination. They are failures of the governments to do anything about the SOURCE of terrorism.

Destroy the source significantly and you no longer have a problem. Every war that we have ever won has been fought this way. Germany and Japan were left in ruins. Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, etc should also be left in ruins. That and kicking out all the immigrants from those countries would pretty much stop Islamic terrorism.

Sure that is a horrible and terrible thing — but war is horrible and terrible. And that is what we are in.

The best form of protection from a threat is to eliminate the threat. We need to stop swating at mosquitos and drain the swamp.

Devan July 12, 2005 1:26 PM

I was about to answer the comment from ‘Common Sense’ but then decided to conserve my energy. Let me just say this to him/her- if you follow your ‘common sense’ to its logical conclusion, you will be the only person alive. And extremely safe from all threats, I might add.

JulianYorke July 12, 2005 1:28 PM

@ Common Sense.

your are talking about a greater evil than good, more innocent get hurt this way then if we let the terrorist go unchecked. There will be innocent immigrants and innocent Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, etc, people who will be the victims. And also…oh never mind I just realized how ignorant your comment was I am done here

Timm Murray July 12, 2005 1:31 PM

You can’t eliminate the threat with complete destruction. Every person you kill in the name of eliminating terrorisim will create three more. Kids, siblings, parents, and friends will look at who was killed and look at whoever killed them with resentment.

If you want to destroy terrorism, you need to understand the Vicious Cycle. Bin Laden mentioned specifically that he turned against the US when he saw the devestation a US fleet wrecked in support of Isreali actions in Lebanon back in 1982. How many Americans even know about this action? Many of the people starting to vote now weren’t even born then.

No, what America sees is 9/11. And from that perspective, feels it is the victim. Bin Laden and his followers feel they are the victim, particularly in regards to US-supported Isreali action. Both sides are correct within their own point-of-view and available information. But in fact, each side is playing a role in the Vicious Cycle, in which they are both part and a victim of.

What I find most intresting is that Bin Laden seems to actually understand the Vicious Cycle and is useing it to his own ends. He’s stated publically that he wants to entice US action against Muslem nations, knowing that this will increase resentment in those nations, and will eventually result in a all-out Muslem-American war, which he feels the Muselms will win (due to Allah being on their side). Not only is he making use of the Vicious Cycle, but he can state his entire strategy publically in knowledge that US leaders will play their role regardless!

Want to prove him wrong? Short-circuit the Vicious Cycle.

Owen T. Cunningham July 12, 2005 1:33 PM

Common Sense, your suggestions are almost good. I agree going after the root of terrorism is the answer. The analogy with WWII Germany and Japan is specious, however, since they are actual nations whereas Al Qaeda is not. The best thing to do is to aggressively investigate the sources of terrorist funding. If individuals or corporations are implicated, prosecute to the fullest extent of international law (including treason charges if they are citizens of NATO members); if nations are implicated, declare war on them.

Maureen Hay July 12, 2005 1:44 PM

We keep getting “report suspicious activities” announcements every two minutes on the train. I have the urge to call 911 and tell them there are suspiciously large groups of police officers hanging around the stations.

ruidh July 12, 2005 2:02 PM

The problem is that you can’t fight an ideology with guns. You can’t aim at an -ism. You can’t bomb a belief. You can’t wound a worldview.

You can’t fight terrorism with an army unless you are willing to commit genocide and kill everyone who has been infected with dangerous ideas and all their relatives and everyone they know.

The only thing you can do is to try to understand what causes people to choose to die for a cause and give them another, more attractive option.

Thomas Sanderson July 12, 2005 2:08 PM

@JulianYorke: your are talking about a greater evil than good, more innocent get hurt this way then if we let the terrorist go unchecked.

I agree with what you say; however, note that public opinion is likely to become less forgiving with further attacks. I believe it’s safe to assume that what Common Sense wrote will become more popular following a nuclear/chemical/biological attack against a city (the alternative is that a disheartened public will demand a return to an isolationist foreign policy, which would be just as bad in a different way).

Clive Robinson July 12, 2005 2:17 PM

I hate to ask it folks but did any of you study history ?

I think you will find that having wreaked a great deal of distruction on Germany and Japan, the allies learnt the lesson of the Great War (WW1) and activly helped rebuild both Germany and Japan.

Both countries remaind “occupied” for a considerable period afterwards, which significantly boosted their economies (at the expense of the various allies exchecors. The occupation was Open and friendly, and specifically to protect the countries from agretion from other countries. On those terms it was readily accepted by both countries, neiter built up their standing armed forces for a considerable period of time, again benifiting their economies.

It would appear that the lesson of WW2 has actually been lost on the current Iraq War “allies”.

And the lesson is “If you destroy a nation, the faster you help it’s people rebuild their nation, the more likley they are to listen when you talk peace”.

Or to put it another way “An open had shows friendship and good will, a gun shows hate and mistrust, and needless distruction shows contempt”.

The easiest way to stop terorisum is not to give them justification for their actions that other people will give creadence to.

As the UK Politition Robin Cook so aptly observed “There where no terorists in Iraq before we invaded”.

History can teach us lessons if we are prepared to learn from them…

Take another leson from European and Midle Eastern History,

Red Neck, knee jerk “kill the B****ds” and “Eye for Eye” actions will bring nothing but death and destruction to both sides for a very very long period of time (Balkens etc).

As I said the price of war is death, the price of peace is economic prosperity. I know which I would prefer, make your own choice and live with the consiquences.

Don July 12, 2005 2:24 PM

Diverting from the “bomb them all” debate…

Following up on the “and they can do it better” comment is a perfect example: I have no doubt if a “regular” had been involved in this from the start there’d never have been a STATION CLOSING because of this: http://dc.metblogs.com/archives/2005/07/rockville_metro.phtml

Instead nobody bothers to canvas the immediate area or even talk to people who I am sure are used to seeing these things and we respond to evey unattended/unidentified package with mass panic.

ac July 12, 2005 3:03 PM

More that anything, I think the post by “Common Sense” illustrates why we’re losing this fight. Misidentification of the existing threats, provocation of new threats, and to hell with everyone but us (where “us” is a term defined by me) is an excellent summary of the “war on terrorism” to date.

Where are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia on that list if the enemy is Al Qaeda? And if the enemy is Al Qaeda, why on Earth are Syria and Iran on the list (or pre-invasion Iraq for that matter)?

Ultimately, though, it’s not a matter of compiling a “hit list” of countries, even if it were done more rationally than “Common Sense” did. The larger goal is to kill Al Qaeda by attrition, preventing it from recruiting new members–in other words, to do the exact opposite of what we’re accomplishing in Iraq.

It’s a shame, really. We have too little imagination when thinking about the specifics of attacks, but we let the wildest and most imaginative conspiracy theories drive our foreign policy. The most frightening thing is that people like “Common Sense” are not the aluminum-clad street ramblers you’d think they would be, but have cabinet positions.

phoenix July 12, 2005 3:03 PM

Bruce and Richard both said it well.

When I read (in the 9/11 Commission report) about how one of the al Qaida operatives was momentarily stopped at Logan airport because the guard sensed something suspicious, but had to let him go because he didn’t have anything solid… I think of this past weekend, when my girlfriend had her prescription medication confiscated by the TSA. Was there a real fear on the guard’s part that she was going to kick in the door to the cockpit and… what, offer a migraine pill to the pilot?

Some months back, I saw a TSA spokeswoman on the news here in DC, talking about how “we’re getting better at looking at a turkey sandwich and realizing it’s a turkey sandwich.” I say, with all the turkeys on the job here, with the minimal training they get, we’re really no safer than we’ve been at any point in history.

This is not the way out. Blowing up other parts of the world is simply not going to convince anybody that they shouldn’t blow us up in turn. There are reasons why others around the world hate us, some legitimate, some outlandish. Bombing them into the stone age won’t change this, at least not for the better.

Common Sense July 12, 2005 3:09 PM

ruidh — you certainly can aim and bomb an -ism, because all of those -isms are contained in the minds of PEOPLE. But you go ahead an try and understand them. While you are doing that they will be sharpening their knives….and we all know what they do with those.

owen — prosecute the terrorists?

JulianYork — innocents die now, innocents die in all wars. That is why war is hell. But it is what it is — you either go to war or they will bring the war to us, as they have shown repeatedly that they are willing to do.

Lee July 12, 2005 3:47 PM

Knee-jerk reactions are part-and-parcel of why we are dealing with this nightmare. Imagine if we didn’t react foolishly to the supposed “Domino theory” and act out in Afganastan against the Russians we perhaps would not have al Queada and bin Laden. Imagine if we used smarter diplomacy than smarter bombs. (The same can be said of our support of Saddam Husein against Iran…) It is fear that got us there and it is fear that is how we are reacting now.

A bullet doesn’t change a belief. It hardens a belief. The more you kill the more you will have hardened that belief. It is the ultimate failure on the part of the killer. Also keep in mind, it is the killers we are trying to stop, not become.

Clive Robinbson July 12, 2005 3:48 PM

@Common Sense

I would advise you to study European History over the last three hundred years. Unlike the US they have repeatedly had to fight wars of terorisum and atrocity.

The US is new to the game like a nieve “Texsas Gambler” they belive only they now how to do it.

For a number of years now the US and other countries who should have known better have deserted HumInt, for TechInt (Elint / SigInt / spy sats etc).

TechInt is actually very unreliable (The UK found this out after it dug a tunnel and tapped the Russian phone system back in the early days of the cold war) it becomes increasingly so the more uncoroberated Intel it gathers.

You need assets on the ground to verify your suppositions, other wise you start to belive silly things. Who remembers “45 Minutes to deploy WMD against UK troups” and other Intel certainties. The Assets on the ground (wepons inspectors) where publicly stating it was nonsense, which is exactly what it turned out to be. Do you remember the “Iraq Mobile WMD Factories” news headline, that turned out to be gas generators sold to Iraq by the UK for obsoleate observation ballons.

Remember each time a law is passed that reduces your freedom then the Terorists have won a significant gain. On that alone I would say that the US and it’s alies are lossing badly to the terorists.

Also ask yourself who else is winning, it has been pointed out that “The republicans” are making a lot of pork out of this war on terror. In many ways this is true the question is is it cause or effect?

When you can answer these questions in an objective fasion then you might be in a position to act accordingly.

Joe July 12, 2005 4:52 PM

Mass panic good. Bush win election. Hmmm remember a chap called Hitler? Jews are bad, Jews still your jobs, Jews rape women. Wan’t me to stop this, certainly just sign this law making me president for life, just ignore the policeman taking away the jew beside you, I know it’s a pain having to carry ID papers with you but it’s for the greater good.
Ever thought that the media sensationalise this to get better ratings, the police and politicians ‘scare things up’ to get what they want – time to sit down and think whether knee-jerk reactions are the best ones.

A F(r)iend July 12, 2005 6:06 PM

I agreed with Common Sense’s first post, well, the first paragraph anyway. There are a lot of people around the world with serious grievances against out government and corporations. Those types of grievances are preventable by not letting greed run around the world unchecked like it’s still the 17th century. Extreme poverty and hopelessness contribute more to acts of terrorism than any religious or ethnic or philosophical disagreement.

Some grievances we can’t do anything about but maybe can mitigate. Israel isn’t going away (and I wouldn’t suggest they do) but maybe we could get them to stop treating their arabized residents like we did the Cherokee.

That won’t eliminate terrorism. There are always demagogues who will use whatever religion or ideology to stir up hatreds and increase their own authority. The way to counter this is to cure poverty and raise the literacy level. Teach people how to think critically and these jokers will go the way of the dinosaur.

Darrel July 12, 2005 6:24 PM

This problem is fairly complicated, there is no simple answer. But some things that would be a step in the right direction is:
1. America needs a public relations makeover. People in Muslim or third world countries are just like Americans, they believe what they read in the paper or see on tv. We need to get our perspective out there. We also need to do more for other countries based soley on doing what is right, not on where it economically/politically benefits us.
2. Americans need to understand that the threat of terrorism is very real, but very unlikely to happen to them or anyone they know. Keeping that in mind, when it does, we need to hunt down and decimate those responsible. This needs to happen not only in reaction to an event, but on a proactive basis. Terrorists need to know in their heart that we will not tolerate attacks on us and that the repurcussions are greater than any benefit they may derive from hurting us.

Couple honest and sincere diplomacy with a “Big Stick” as Teddy would say and we will go along way to making the world safer for everyone. The threat will never be gone, but we can greatly reduce it.

directorblue July 12, 2005 7:50 PM

It’s easy enough to slam the administration, the supposed “failures of imagination”, gaps in homeland security, et. al, ad infinitum.

Instead, we seem to be missing several key facets to this story:

1) There have been no attacks on the US since 9/11. How many of you would have predicted a complete, nearly four year hiatus on 9/12/01?

2) The folks who really know what’s going on – those with high-level security clearances – ain’t on this blog posting comments about what’s happening behind the scenes

C’mon, put two and two together. Cheez.

averros July 12, 2005 8:56 PM

Let’s assume that the targets of terrorists is Western democracies. I strongly doubt that Al Qaeda has any beef with Mr. and Ms. Joe “Civilian” Smith.

The catch is that Mr. Smith is a citizen and a taxpayer – someone who contributes materially to the might of the hated Western State. This makes killing Mr. Smith not only permissible (for he is an accomplice of whatever evils his State perpetrated) but also militarily sensible. As wars of attrituion go (and they weren’t invented by Al Qaeda – the western democracies and democratic constitutional monarchies invented them long time ago), 9/11 was a stunningly successful operation for Al Qaeda – for few dozens thousand dollars and two dozen lives expended they caused billions in real damage (and ten times that in self-inflicted damage) to the US.

Now, the mighty army and the nukes aren’t good against Al Qaeda & Co – because terrorists are not easily distinguishable from the general population. So any military intervention short of genocide is bound to damage far more innocents than the actual terrorists – thus strengthening their popular following (until it escalates into just another total war).

So the only reasonable defense is to become like them – a non-target. If there’s no central democratic state, but just a mixture of people, there is nobody for Al Qaeda to attack – they’ll be harming not the enemy state but innocents who truly have nothing to do with whatever old griefs they want to avenge. And killing innocents (truly innocents, not the electorate, taxpayers, servicemen and supporters of the warlike states) is not going to win them any friends at home. Their enemies who wish to hunt and destroy them are dispersed among neutrals, and blowing things up doesn’t do the real enemies much damage, while creating more enemies with justifable casus belli against the bombers. This is essentially the same kind of quagmire as the anti-terrorist campaighn in Iraq – only in reverse, and the West is much stronger.

And if the Al Qaeda & Co keeps blowing things up because they have a grievance not with US and UK Goverments (which many people, even in the West, think at least partially justified) but because they simply like to kill infidels, then there will be no shortage of people willing to go out and hunt them – with the help of majority of locals, too. And if locals keep supporting them then, westerners will be morally justified in ending the conflict by nuking all of them.

So, one cheap way to defeat terrorism is to abolish the states. I wonder why this remedy is never discussed by the government experts.

Oh, sure, we will rather wait until terrorist acquire real WMDs, and demonstrate convincingly that our State is not a protector at all, but merely a nuke magnet (and subsequently, a genocidal mass-murderer, because the only politically possible response to terrorist nuking of a major Western city will be turning the entire Middle East into a glassy plain).

Smallish primates recently learned to use spears, so it is a bad time to be a mammoth. Neither primates nor mammoths can do anything about ants – their stomping and throwing notwithstanding.

Thomas Sprinkmeier July 12, 2005 9:30 PM


“There have been no attacks on the US since 9/11″

I certainly feel attacked by some of the post 9/11 laws.

Why do something yourself when you can get someone else to do it for you?

Bruce Schneier July 12, 2005 9:48 PM

“How would you fix it, Mr. Schneier?”

I’ve written about this a lot. Spend money on intelligence and investigation: deal with terrorists and terrorist funding regardless of what they’re planning. And spend money on emergency response: deal with terrorism regardless of what they’ve planned.

It’s the stuff in the middle — defending particular targets, broad surviellance of the population — that is ineffective and a waste of resources.

Mark Wilcox July 13, 2005 12:31 AM

I would say that the primary reason why we haven’t had more attacks in the US since 9/11 is more a result of luck and the fact there just aren’t that many terrorists.

I think it’s also important to keep perspective – it’s only been 7 months since the Tsunami hit Indonesia, Thailand and India. That killed 200,000+ – way more than 9/11, Moscow, Bali, Madrid and London combined.

The world is a dangerous place and the only gurantee the entire population has when we’re born is that we will eventually die. The good news is that if you’re reading this post – you’re more likely to die from causes of your own vices (ie smoking, drinking, driving too fast or eating cheeseburgers) than from terrorism or communicable disease.

Beyond what Mr. Schneier has posted, I would also advocate what Dr. Barnett of Pentagon’s New Map fame has said – we need to improve upon the connectivity of the nation’s “in the Gap”. Basically these people in the Mid-East and Africa are essentially cut-off from the rest of the world economically & socially. Economics is what really hurts – because it deprives people of opportunity to improve themselves. And it doesn’t take much for a society to get to the point where it has more to lose from hiding/feeding recuits to terrorists than it gains from supporting terrorists.

China is an obvious example of this (200 million moving up from extreme poverty in a 5 year period) but other Asian countries (Thailand, Singapore even Indonesia). Even the IRA hasn’t even been able to really rise back up even though there’s been setbacks in the post-peace era with GB. The reason is there’s just too much to lose for most people in N. Ireland.

Axel July 13, 2005 2:21 AM

Bruce: while I agree with your statement that widespread surveillance of the populace isn’t useful the London law enforcement will have a different view if really they managed to identify the suicide attackers from footage of the surveillance cameras in King’s Cross station.

I don’t really buy into it when you say that defending particular targets is useless, though. There should be a cost-benefit calculation, however, and I don’t see that done. Like the reenforcement of cockpit doors in planes: a simple, comparatively cheap measure but useful like nothing else. Sky Marshals, however, are just a visible technological twist to the problem. Their effectiveness is probably really limited.

So, the case for protecting specific targets could be made with high profile targets and highly efficient measures. If it’s not a high profile target or if it can’t be secured with efficient measures, cope with the residual risk.

directorblue July 13, 2005 4:24 AM

@Mark Wilcox –

Bringing up the Pentagon’s New Map is a good build to this conversation (see http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/published/pentagonsnewmap.htm for an overview).

“Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.”

Barnett (AFAIK) is no fan of Bush, but the Iraq war — for Gap and many other reasons — was strategically necessary to excise a cancerous growth in the region. It was ostensibly the second step (I consider Afghanistan the first) in a long-term strategy to start tearing down the Gaps that endanger Western civilization.

Sometimes I think Bush can’t win. He gets no credit for the dearth of post-9/11 attacks. He gets pilloried by the Left for the Iraq war. And he gets attacked by many because he has “no long term approach” to solving the GWOT problem.

Somehow, this just isn’t adding up for me.

Henning Makholm July 13, 2005 5:09 AM

The government’s response to terrorism needs to have at least three elements.

First, we must act to minimize the terrorists’ ability and opportunity to hurt us. That is the job of police and intelligence agencies. It is not a glamourous and visible task. I hope it is being done well, though it is by nature hard to ascertain from the outside.

Second, we must act to minimize the terrorists’ wish to hurt us. That is the territory of political leaders and is filled with difficult dilemmas, such as whether acting against the conditions that inspire people to turn terrorist would give other people with a cause the idea that terrorism is an effective way of reaching political goals. I wish the people doing that part of the battle the best of luck. They need it.

Third, when an attack actually succeeds, we need damage control. People have died, but we can still try to control the extent to which the attacks reaches its eventual goal: terror in the minds of the surviving population. And that does call for security theatre, however much Bruce may despise it. People in general do fear the last attack, and educating them to make a more cool-headed appraisal of threats is not a viable short-term strategy. This is why authorities need to be seen guarding against the last attack, even if it does not make sense in terms of the first of the three main points.

Moreover, an attack against mass transport is a more effective generator of fear than other attacks against “lots of people in one place”. Again, what the general populance fears is the last attack. If they bomb a theatre I will rent a movie or buy a book instead of going to a play, and feel safer (never mind whether statistics say I ought to). If they bomb a stadium I will just watch the game on television. If they bomb a shopping mall I can avoid shopping malls. But if they bomb the train I use to go to work, I cannot just stop going to work. Therefore, bombing a train makes more people more afraid for some time. This means: (1) more security theatre is needed, (2) since trains are objectively more valuable terrorist goals than theatres, it may actually make sense to concentrate (within reason) prevention effort on mass transit systems on expense of other places where many people gather.

Clive Robinson July 13, 2005 5:17 AM

@ Axel

Without putting words into Bruce’s mouth, I suspect that he has a split view about CCTV camera usage.

If you track any event be it a hard disk failier or a terorist attack it has a time line,

1, Planing
2, Preperation
3, Implementation
4, Event
5, Event Response
6, Learning response

And participants. The participants can be a single entity or multiple, and they may carry out different steps.

In the case of the hard disk it’s effectivly a single entity (the owner) who has (or not) a disaster recovery plan that covers the probable event.

In the case of a terorist attack there are three entities, Terorists, targets, law enforcment agencies (LEAs).

The only time general coverage CCTV is of any use to LEAs is in step 5.

Prior to this the event has not happened and there is little or nothing to respond to, that is distinquishable from a thousand pluss similar activities.

You have to then ask the question,

If CCTV is only usefull “after the event”, what is the ROI or value for all events in a given time period,

Value = Events loss / CCTV costs

The second problem is who bares the losses and the costs. The Law enforcment agencies and the Governement bare the continual and increasing cost of general coverage CCTV, (which in the UK appears to be running close to 1 Billion USD equivalent, it is very difficult to get actual figures so they are usually estimated in reports with the usual roundings etc).

The larger part of the very very infrequent losses are usuall covered by private organisations or individuals so for the government the equation is starting to look like

value = Vsmall / Vlarge

Which is looking close to zero or a very very poor value on general coverage CCTV.

If however you look at specific examples of localized CCTV on high value targets the value looks a lot different

Bruce mentioned WMD repositories, so what is the cost of the loss of a nucular bomb, when balenced against a very localized CCTV system

value = Extreamly Large / Very small

Which is looking closer to infinity than zero, so is probably good value in the long term.

Which is the point Bruce is makeing, general coverage CCTV is a waste of resources and achives little. Localized CCTV on high value targets is good value.

I take it one stage further, if CCTV costs are escalating, and the real value of general coverage CCTV is very very small or zero, why do the Governmnets carry on with general coverage CCTV….

My belife is that they will be used as a new method of gathering money from fines / tolls / congestion charging etc. Ie the Justification for installing them is “protection of the citizens” the reality of paying for them is “Back door taxation”.

If other people can come up with a sensible ROI on general coverage CCTV then I would like to here it.

Grainne, Ireland July 13, 2005 5:51 AM

@A F(r)iend: “Extreme poverty and hopelessness contribute more to acts of terrorism than any religious or ethnic or philosophical disagreement.”

I do not agree with this statement. I do recognise that certain situations can contribute to hostility, for example, when western countries are making large profits from third world resources that were sold to them at low cost. But poverty is all relative. They don’t see themselves as ‘poor’ as you do. And as for your perception that they are less educated than other countries, you might want to research that a bit more. Places like Iran have a very good education system. There is a lot of poverty and illiteracy in the USA, but this doesn’t cause terrorists. The main reason they are retaliating is because they feel they are being attacked.

Clive Robinson July 13, 2005 6:42 AM


One flaw in your argument, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living per head of population of just about any country in that regeion. Also it’s influence both political and militarily was percived by many outside the regeion as being a stabalising force in the regeion.

What went wrong for Iraq (and the rest of us) was,

1, They invaded a neighbouring country.
2, A US led coalitionthen prosecuted a war against the Iraq invasion force.
3, The US effectivly stopped when the Iraq force withdrew behind their boarders.
4, The US and others then prosecuted economic warefare against Iraq via the use of sanctions.
5, After several years most people concluded that sanctions where not working, and where only hurting the Iraq population in general not the Iraq government.

After this point it all becomes messy the result was that the US and UK against the advise of other countries invaded Iraq. This process has done more to destabalise the regeion than any other action since the end of WWII.

At the end of WW2 the US and UK effectivly split the regeion into the Arab Kingdoms and Principalities, slightly later after significant terorist activity Israel was formed within Palistine. Effectivly the US and UK had inflicted Royal dictatorships and hostile invasion forces on a regeion that was not able to defend it’s self.

One of Osama Bin Ladin’s stated objectives is to get rid of the House of Saudi and the other Royal familes in the regeion that he sees as being kept in power by the Wests need for oil.

History shows that in living memory every time the West has dictated terms into that regeion the result has been harm for the majority. It is very very easy for most people in the regeon to see this, which is why some of Bin Ladin’s views appear to be popular.

It was once stated that “Democracy has to be earned and not given” and that “Every country needs it’s middle ages to learn the value of democracy”.

If you try to enforce any political doctorine on to the people of a nation it is bound to fail. It only works when the people of that nation can see the merits of it, and the leaders can no longer viably enforce their view point contary to that of the people.

This is the reason why Japan and Germany accepted democracy after WW2, they where show democracy and given aid to rebuild their economies (Marshall Plan 1948) and willingly made a choice.

The Russians however tried to enforce their view point on Eastern Europe after WW2 and eventially it failed. Luckily for most their political leaders realised that the game was up and effectivly left with minimum fuss (George Bush senior can take credit for publicly predicting the fall).

If you want peace and stability in the world you have to let it’s people decide for themselves how that peace is going to happen. To be able to make a judgment they have to be in a position where they have the time and ability to think George C. Marshall realised this and sold it to the American People.

He knew that US security was tied intematly to that of the rest of the world and that people had to chose their path, and that you should not force something on them “for their own good” or they will throw it back in you face.

Winston Churchill once said in Parliament that “democracy is the worst form of government except all others.???, in time we may find a better form of government that democracy.

One thing that both Marshall and Churchill understood is that whatever form of goverment we do end up with in years to come it will be by the “will of the people” if it is to have any stability.

Jim Duncan July 13, 2005 1:01 PM

Bruce said, “It’s the stuff in the middle — defending particular targets, broad surviellance of the population — that is ineffective and a waste of resources.”

Agree completely, and that would be true even if the defense were being handled competently (we all know how that stands).

So, given that defense is futile against fanatical killers who are willing to blow themselves up in order to slaughter infidels, how do we account for the lack of attacks in the US since 9/11?

a) They decided we’re all nice people after all and they no longer wish to murder us? or…

b) For the first time, after years of repeated failure to respond, the US went after them where they come from and hit them where it hurts?

Conclusion: Against this kind of threat, the only defense is preemptive offense.

Jim Duncan July 13, 2005 1:38 PM

“People in Muslim or third world countries are just like Americans, they believe what they read in the paper or see on tv.”

And that’s a big part of Americans’ problem too!

Ari Heikkinen July 13, 2005 2:12 PM

“Destroy the source significantly and you no longer have a problem. Every war that we have ever won has been fought this way.”

With terrorism, anyone’s a potential terrorist, that’s why it works. You can’t destroy something that don’t exist.

What terrorist attacks effectively cause is fear and paranoia where people start seeing terrorists everywhere. And when people are in paranoia and in fear that’s where stupid responses come in, such as pre-emptive attacks against innocent people you think are terrorists (the only thing that will cause is create more potential attackers).

And guess what, that’s exactly what terrorists want.

The best tool terrorist have are suicide bombers, because that’s a tactic the defender can’t adapt to. Pre-emptive attacks as response do nothing but kill innocent people. Instead, give people education, hope and a reason to live and you’ll be well on the way taking away the best tool those terrorists have.

As for that war analogy, you can’t be at war unless you face an army.

Ari Heikkinen July 13, 2005 3:00 PM

“Conclusion: Against this kind of threat, the only defense is preemptive offense.”

That’s exactly what Israel did. They responded to attacks with attacks. And what good did it do? Nothing. The attackers simply responded with even deadlier attacks. The only thing I’ve seen that actually helped to reduce the attacks was to negotiate with the attackers.

Ricardo Barreira July 13, 2005 4:18 PM

A nice google news search for people to pay attention during the next weeks/months:


Many people are fearing that these attacks will eventually be purposedly linked to Iran/Syria. Not that I imagine an US/UK coalition going there now, since Iraq is enough of an asskicking for now… :/

A nice article about the london bombings revealed by that search:


Ari Heikkinen July 13, 2005 5:11 PM

I find it extremely ironic that the attackers who carried out the bombings in London were actually home grown law abiding ordinary British folks.

I really hope this makes people think and ask some questions. Like how would a pre-emptive attack somewhere or a new universal ID card have prevented it?

I also hope this will make using “terrorism” as an excuse for silly things a little bit harder than it used to be.

Clive Robinson July 14, 2005 11:55 AM

@Ari Heikkinen

A national ID card actually does not do any of the things the proponents claim, they never realy have.

The latest excuse for Bio-ID cards, is “it is possible with just a photo to obtain a legitimate pasport illeagaly”

What on earth makes them think, turning up and giving your finger print / DNA / retina scan / whatever is going to be any different.

The simple fact is you cannot prove who you are it’s impossible… You can prove that the photo is of you, the bank pin number is known by you and all sorts of otherthings, but at the end of the day none of them is proof positive, or impossible to forge. So at the end of the day National ID must be for something else and in the UK Charles Clark let slip it would be needed for opening a bang account, even thogh the scheam was not (yet) compulsary….

Jim Duncan July 14, 2005 12:04 PM

“Pre-emptive attacks as response do nothing but kill innocent people.”

Come on, no one is talking about bombing cities here. Pre-emptive offense means that instead of trying to rely on guards and random public surveillance to keep attackers away from targets, track them down where they hide and plot and take them out of circulation before they strap on the bomb.

“The only thing I’ve seen that actually helped to reduce the attacks was to negotiate with the attackers.”

If it ever happened, it was nothing more than a softening-up tactic. What is it that you think can be negotiated with people who will settle for nothing less than your destruction?

“I find it extremely ironic that the attackers who carried out the bombings in London were actually home grown law abiding ordinary British folks.”

Eh?? That’s the kind of thing you think law abiding ordinary British folks do??

Jim Duncan July 14, 2005 12:13 PM

“….take them out of circulation before they strap on the bomb.”

And yes, that means without due process of law. When the enemy is at war with you, you have no choices other than surrender or wage war back.

Ari Heikkinen July 14, 2005 12:29 PM

“Eh?? That’s the kind of thing you think law abiding ordinary British folks do??”

No one’s born as criminal. It’s when they pick that briefcase full of explosives and detonate it at some crowded place they become murderers.

Bruce Schneier July 14, 2005 7:44 PM

“No one’s born as criminal. It’s when they pick that briefcase full of explosives and detonate it at some crowded place they become murderers.”

True, but there are crimes — conspiracy — that are committed before the detonation step. The goal is to catch them then.

Ari Heikkinen July 14, 2005 9:00 PM

“True, but there are crimes — conspiracy — that are committed before the detonation step. The goal is to catch them then.”

Ofcourse that would be ideal, but it only works if they leak their plot (or even have a plot).

Bruce Schneier July 14, 2005 10:27 PM

“Ofcourse that would be ideal, but it only works if they leak their plot (or even have a plot).”

If they don’t have a plot, we’re not going to catch them beforehand. We’re just not.

A lone lunitic acting on an immediate whim is not preventable.

Ari Heikkinen July 15, 2005 6:36 AM

I’d go as far as saying anyone acting alone (planned or not) is not preventable, because there’s no communication and no one else involved (they can plan as much as they want alone without anyone knowing). The more people and communication involved the more likely they’ll leave traces and leak (and thus increase their chances of getting noticed and caught). Small cells limited to a few people seem to work surpricingly well..

Ari Heikkinen July 15, 2005 6:57 AM

Actually, have a mastermind (who plans alone) and a bunch of separate lone lunatics (who know nothing about eachothers) that only get to know their part of the plot last minute (but nothing else) and you’ll have a killer combo. That way even if one of them gets noticed and caught you’ll still have N-1 attackers out there executing their part of the plot and not enough time (or information) for the defenders to respond.

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