Homeland Security Cost-Benefit Analysis

This is an excellent paper by Ohio State political science professor John Mueller. Titled "The Quixotic Quest for Invulnerability: Assessing the Costs, Benefits, and Probabilities of Protecting the Homeland," it lays out some common send premises and policy implications.

The premises:

1. The number of potential terrorist targets is essentially infinite.

2. The probability that any individual target will be attacked is essentially zero.

3. If one potential target happens to enjoy a degree of protection, the agile terrorist usually can readily move on to another one.

4. Most targets are "vulnerable" in that it is not very difficult to damage them, but invulnerable in that they can be rebuilt in fairly short order and at tolerable expense.

5. It is essentially impossible to make a very wide variety of potential terrorist targets invulnerable except by completely closing them down.

The policy implications:

1. Any protective policy should be compared to a "null case": do nothing, and use the money saved to rebuild and to compensate any victims.

2. Abandon any effort to imagine a terrorist target list.

3. Consider negative effects of protection measures: not only direct cost, but inconvenience, enhancement of fear, negative economic impacts, reduction of liberties.

4. Consider the opportunity costs, the tradeoffs, of protection measures.

Here's the abstract:

This paper attempts to set out some general parameters for coming to grips with a central homeland security concern: the effort to make potential targets invulnerable, or at least notably less vulnerable, to terrorist attack. It argues that protection makes sense only when protection is feasible for an entire class of potential targets and when the destruction of something in that target set would have quite large physical, economic, psychological, and/or political consequences. There are a very large number of potential targets where protection is essentially a waste of resources and a much more limited one where it may be effective.

The whole paper is worth reading.

Posted on July 17, 2008 at 6:43 AM • 61 Comments

Comments

Mike BJuly 17, 2008 7:25 AM

Terrorism has what can be described as a vulnerability floor. There exists a class of attack that is effectively impossible to protect against at the time the attack is carried out. This attack is basically a suicide bombing at rush hour in a bus, train or other crowded place. This type of attack will kill about 5-100 people and will l cause massive disruption for several days and moderate to minor disruption for weeks.

When evaluating threats, if any threat will result in a lower level of damage than the rush hour crowd bombing for the same or greater amount of effort, that threat can easily be discounted because any actor bent on causing real terror will simply go with the impossible to stop crowd bombing.

ThomasJuly 17, 2008 7:37 AM

"It argues that protection makes sense only when protection is feasible for an entire class of potential targets and when the destruction of something in that target set would have quite large physical, economic, psychological, and/or political consequences."

For our politicians the most important is to protect their political reputation. They would do everything to keep it save. They spent enormous amounts of money to install "security theater" and they invent ridiculous laws only for the case that somebody would blame them for not having done enough to protect this or that.
The behaviour of our politicians is not focused on the security of the state but on the security of their political reputation.

JeroenJuly 17, 2008 7:43 AM

Expecting policy decisions based on such a large amount of rationality is just wishful thinking. In the end, the policy makers are elected by a populace driven more by intuititive than rational risk-analysis (A topic you yourself have written about in the past). Can you imagine a presidential candidate campaigning on the premise that he/she will effectively eliminate most anti-terrorism measures in place right now? It's just not going to happen.

TSJuly 17, 2008 7:53 AM

"16 New York seems to have been able to get graffiti under control on the subways. However, this was accomplished not by making the subways invulnerable, but rather by continually cleaning the graffiti up, thus reducing the vandals' incentive to decorate."

Not really. The subways use specially designed materials that do not hold spray paint well. Because they couldn't use spray paint, they turned to "scratchitti", which is using sharp objects to scratch up the windows (scratchitti doesn't show up well on the walls). The MTA then put a clear plastic liner on the windows, which could still be scratched, but can easily be replaced at a fraction of the cost of the glass.

So yes, the cars were made invulnerable. And yes, the vandals still attack the cars. I see cars every day with scratchitti on the windows, I don't know what the MTA policy is on replacing the plastic, but they certainly don't do it enough to discourage it from happening in the first place.

wumpusJuly 17, 2008 8:01 AM

This assumes logical terrorists. A more useful scenario might include a "top 10 targets" that anyone in the world might assume to be prime US targets (White House, Statue of Liberty, etc.). While these might not be the most damaging places to hit, they would produce the most favorable propaganda back home.

The document appears to be only useful in analyzing domestic terrorists who are still rational enough to think.

@Jeroen: Actually, Hillary probably should have tried it at some point. A good speech to remind people of "fearing fear itself", followed by some level-headed wonkery might have shown people she had an advantage. I can't see a front runner daring it, and McCain can't repudiate Bush's entire policy.

TSJuly 17, 2008 8:14 AM

Additionally, NYC banned cans of spray paint in the 90's specifically to cut down on graffiti, and made possession a crime.

I travel through Grand Central every day. GCT is crowded enough, but the subways get even worse. If there is a problem with the subways, people just keep coming down onto the platform. There is a real danger of getting pushed onto the tracks. At these times, there are easily a few hundred people crammed in a small area. Not to mention in the train itself when it eventually arrives.

Really, on the weekends when I'm not in the city, my chances of being a casualty in a terrorist attack are zero. On the other hand, twice a day, I'm travelling through a prime target. Of course, the subway runs all the way from Queens through Manhattan to Brooklyn and back. Because all the entry points and connections, it's simply impossible to prevent a terrorist with a bomb from getting into the system.

Nick LancasterJuly 17, 2008 9:39 AM

Critics will latch on to the 'do nothing/respond after the attack' and counter with the standard "We have to act now! We have to fight them there, so we don't have to fight them here! Rarrrrrr!"

But it makes sense - we don't have technology to prevent earthquakes, so we implement structural codes to mitigate the damage. Fire sprinklers don't prevent fires, but respond to heat (thus, the fire has already started).

Even safety gear for sports tends to treat injury as an inevitable conclusion, and works to protect/minimize the damage.

CameraManJuly 17, 2008 10:50 AM

That's insane. That's like saying "the number of potential burglars are essentially infinate, as are the amount of burglary targets, while the probability that any one home will be burglarized is null, so therefore it doesn't make any financial sense to lock your front door at night no matter what kind of neighborhood you live in". Really, what are they smoking down there at Ohio State?

So, if you protect one target, then a theoretical terrorist will just move on down the list to the next target. Sure, but I bet the people who live or work or travel via Target 1 will say "sucks for you, Target 2, but I'm glad I'm alive".

This guy's argument is, it will be too expensive to protect everything, everywhere, so lets not protect anything, anywhere. This may save us some money in the short run, but I frankly fail to see how it makes us safer in the medium or long run. I guess it depends what's more important to you, scoring political points against certain politicians, or peoples' lives.

Michael AshJuly 17, 2008 10:57 AM

@CameraMan

Your analogy is flawed in two ways.

First, it makes sense for you, the owner of an individual house, to install a lock because you own just one house. If the burglar moves on to another house and burgles it instead, that's a win for you. But if DHS does the equivalent, they still lose, because conceptually they "own" it all.

Second, it is financially feasible to install locks on *every* house, as locks are cheap. It is not financially feasible to install effective anti-terrorist security measures on every target, because the cost per installation is vastly higher than the cost of a set of locks.

GeorgeJuly 17, 2008 10:58 AM

He left out the most important "policy implication":

The Unitary Executive, along with scores of law enforcement agencies, can use the threat of terrorism to expand both their power and the authority to exercise it without limits. In particular, the threat can justify the elimination of constitutional liberties and restrictions that previously had constrained their power and impeded their expansion, and restricted their authority.

Since the people who stand to benefit from this use of the terrorist threat are the ones with the sole authority to determine policy, it becomes the most important policy concern. The key to expeditiously implementing it is to create a state of panic and fear that encourages the public to accept the elimination of impediments to expansion of government power as essential to their security and nullifies any opposition. A masterful use of fear and panic will make the public not merely willing to sacrifice their liberties for promises of protection, but eager for the Unitary Executive and law enforcement agencies do everything they possibly can to keep the Homeland safe.

The bushista junta has succeeded spectacularly in this policy consideration, though probably not as completely or rapidly as they would like. But they have created an environment where no politician who wants to get elected or re-elected can ever speak out against plainly stupid "security" measures like watchlists and the TSA's War on Shoes, Toiletries, and Water, let alone suggest that "do nothing" might sometimes be the most cost-effective and efficacious security measure. Any politician who dares to utter a peep in opposition what the junta asks for will face a Republican attack machine that spends millions of dollars to tell voters that he or she is "soft on terrorism." Thus Barak Obama casts his vote in favor of giving the Unitary Executive the power to wiretap anyone he wants whenever he wants, and also to kill any lawsuits against telephone companies that might reveal the extent to which the junta violated the law.

The terrorists have won a victory they probably never even considered.

JasonJuly 17, 2008 11:08 AM

@CameraMan

Your argument that this is the same as "an infinite number of burglars" is a little bit flawed.

This is a cost/benefit analysis.

It makes sense for you to lock your doors because the expense of purchasing locks and using them is far less than the expense of replacing all of your valuables were they to be stolen.

It isn't always "too expensive". Security measures should be taken based on the likelihood of attack, the potential loss of life and property, and the psychological fallout a successful attack would cause.

Manage the risk. It violates our emotional sense, but makes perfect common sense. It is impossible to protect everyone, everywhere, all the time, from everything; even as much as we'd like it to be possible.

Advocating intelligent decision making and prioritizing resources is a good thing.

FDHYJuly 17, 2008 11:08 AM

It's interesting. I like the option of small, tactical, offensive strikes against terrorists too. These don't necessarily need to be using deadly force either. They could be freezing finances, attacking their nut case ideologies, etc...

Ross SniderJuly 17, 2008 11:09 AM

@CameraMan

This is not what he is saying at all.

That's like saying '"the number of potential burglars are essentially infinate, as are the amount of burglary targets, while the probability that any one home will be burglarized is null, so therefore it doesn't make any financial sense to lock your front door at night no matter what kind of neighborhood you live in"'

The cost of locking your door is very minimal compared to the potential damage and the amount of risk you are enduring. However, if you spend more than your house is worth buying multiple alarm systems, bullet proof glass, a grid of solar panels in case power is removed, guards for those solar panels, etc and you are protecting a shanty it is not to your advantage. You have lost more protecting your home than you would have lost if a burglar has broken in and stole your TV and xBox.

'So, if you protect one target, then a theoretical terrorist will just move on down the list to the next target. Sure, but I bet the people who live or work or travel via Target 1 will say "sucks for you, Target 2, but I'm glad I'm alive".'

Again, he isn't saying don't protect anything. He said "Let's find the cost-benefit analysis to find the best balance". Because the money taken from taxes are being used to pay for the protection that everyone supposedly benefits from, it is analogous to a village all donating money to protect their street from burglars. Because this is a village with nearly infinite houses and the risk to each is nearly null the burglar can move from house to house until he finds one that is vulnerable (script kiddie burglar). The cost of every individual giving money to an organization that adds protective measures to house in the village (that still may be circumvented) could very well outweigh the cost of replacing 14 people's TV's and xBox's each year. This is an idea, not a fact. It has to be applied to each situation.

"This guy's argument is, it will be too expensive to protect everything, everywhere, so lets not protect anything, anywhere. This may save us some money in the short run, but I frankly fail to see how it makes us safer in the medium or long run. I guess it depends what's more important to you, scoring political points against certain politicians, or peoples' lives."

Not true in the least. Did you read his paper? he suggests finding the balance that is most acceptable. At the very end of the paper he makes a suggestion that they look at how many lives they are saving versus the money they have spend and to see if more lives can be saved by applying that money elsewhere, for example seat belts or highway control.

There are X number of people a year that die because coconuts fall on their heads. Is is reasonable to spend $Y.00 to put nets on every tree where spending $Y.00 elsewhere may save hundreds of times the number of lost lives.

He does not urge politicians to take only finances into consideration. It urges them to take everything including moral and fear into the equation to find the most acceptable balance.

L.O.U.C.July 17, 2008 11:19 AM

"Cost-Benefit Analysis"

Well, well, well. Sounds dangerously close to considering the law of unintended consequences. I wonder how quickly we, as good liberals, will dismiss any cost/benefit analysis when the project in question is a darling of our own.

"I want the government to do more!" anyone?

SteveJJuly 17, 2008 11:23 AM

@Snider:

A loss of life to terrorism is worse than loss of life to falling coconuts or road accidents, by any accurate description of the assessments made by politicians, policy-makers, or the general public.

If that were changed, then people would care less about terrorism than about road safety. But it isn't going to change.

So it's futile to do a cost-benefit analysis which fails to take account of the fact that all stakeholders (including the general public) count 3000 office workers in the WTC as a greater loss than 3000 small children killed by cars. That's weird, since about as many people have kids as work in offices. But there you go - the voting public would rather be run over than blown up, and we can't change that.

So even if it turns out to be true, there's no point telling people they could save more lives by driving slower to the airport than they save by standing in line at security checkpoints. They'd rather drive fast, and they're prepared to pay the cost in lives.

Michael AshJuly 17, 2008 12:56 PM

@SteveJ

I know that people in general care more about death by terrorism than death by just about any other cause, but my question is, why should we just accept this? It's an irrational and dangerous attitude. Instead of simply saying that's how it is, we should be working to change the public's perception and understanding of these risks, and to make it acceptable for policymakers to act rationally. Publicizing papers like this is a great way to do it.

mooJuly 17, 2008 12:57 PM

There are certainly some juicy targets (key pieces of infrastructure such as electrical stations, nuclear plants etc) that deserve a higher-than-zero degree of protection. Or at least enough to make the terrorists pick something decorative and unimportant (like the World Trade Center, in the grand scheme of things). Beyond that, it doesn't make much sense trying to prevent the unpreventable. It makes more sense putting humint assets on the ground to track down and kill the perpetrators (either before or after they carry out their attack). No comporomise is possible or necessary, with people who are willing to use terrorist tactics to achieve their political goals. The only sensible way to deal with them is to kill them whenever you get the chance. Israel understands this, but the U.S.A. (or at least its public face) does not.

Nomen PublicusJuly 17, 2008 1:05 PM

As I keep saying, doing nothing IS an option.

There is the curious question as to why various very high profile targets have not been attacked. Even a failed attack on The White House would be
huge news. I used such an attack for the Movie Plot competition a couple of years ago. It seemed to me that such an attack was inevitable. But all attacks since 2001 have been against "soft" targets and often have been pathetic failures. The attack on Glasgow Airport was ended by a passing man beating up the terrorists.

It worries me that when (not if) another plane is highjacked (perhaps a cargo plane) and flown into a building, states will not be able to explain why all the "security" failed to protect the population and will attempt to divert attention with even more Big Brother laws whose only effect will be further suppression of free speech and movement.

AndrewJuly 17, 2008 1:06 PM

>> 4. Most targets are "vulnerable" in that it is not very difficult to damage them, but invulnerable in that they can be rebuilt in fairly short order and at tolerable expense.

There are a plethora of targets which are vulnerable to the second criterion (cheap and quick to rebuild).

Examples include dams, bridges, vulnerable parts of mass transit systems, highway interchanges, power grid components etc. No one is rebuilding the BART tube in 60 to 90 days regardless of how many billions you throw at the problem, to pick one of many. These are engineering limits, such as how long concrete takes to set underwater and the limited stock of highly specialized equipment and parts. Also limiting factors include experienced and qualified private firms and public works engineers.

Some targets (not all symbolic) are unique in that they are the only one of its kind. I suppose in theory that the Constitution is merely a historic artifact, but there is only one and its symbolic loss would be a blow that dollars cannot measure.

Its actual loss -- the erosion of Constitutional liberties and freedoms courtesy of DHS, the new American KGB -- is a very high cost, arguably much higher than several office buildings and several thousand lives.

That said, it seems more reasonable to construct a real target list and leave the malls, office buildings, rail sidings etc off of it.

mooJuly 17, 2008 1:16 PM

@SteveJ

I agree with Michael Ash... treating death by terrorism as "worse" than death by drowning or death by car accident or death by a knife wound during a home invasion is illogical and is leading to damaging, wasteful policy decisions at all levels of government.

Frankly, I am much more worried about being killed by a drunk driver, or even falling asleep at the wheel late at night, than I am about being killed (or having my loved ones killed) in a terrorist attack. It doesn't make sense to worry about things that are extremely improbable. Especially when they cause less damage, and wreck fewer lives, than the tens of thousands of preventable deaths from ordinary, mundane causes like car accidents.

I'd like to see the U.S. take some of that DHS money and put better guard rails along all its major highways. Rather than hounding photographers, lets see you pay cops and security guards to hound the local hugger-muggers and gang kids. Try spending your money on *real* problems instead of trumped-up ones like terrorism. Dismantle the TSA, put DHS under the wing of the millitary and downsize it by about 80%. Get rid of all the pork-truckload security projects that your tax dollars are being pissed away on, and get back to living free and without fear.

Count0July 17, 2008 1:53 PM

Hey Bruce,
It wasn't until I read the conclusion that I understood why this qualifies for an "excellent paper" ;-)

mastmakerJuly 17, 2008 1:56 PM

@SteveJ,

The most damning lines I have ever seen written. Hats off to you, sir!

The CameraManJuly 17, 2008 2:33 PM

I see that the paper took into account the total cost of hardening targets against terrorism; "not only direct cost, but inconvenience, enhancement of fear, negative economic impacts, reduction of liberties."

I notice, too, that the paper takes in account the direct cost of terrorism, ie multiple deaths + the cost of rebuilding whatever has been damaged, but not the indirect costs, ie inconvenience, negative economic impacts, enhancement of fear, etc. Anyone remember the economic impact of 911? My ATM card didn't work for a week, the stock market was closed, and half the people I know who worked in Manhattan at the time lost thier jobs.

Is it rational to be as afraid or more afraid of terrorism as of car accidents? No. More people die of car accidents than have died of terrorism in the US over the past decade. But imagine someone blows up (for example) the Liberty Bell. The economy of Philidelphia will be hosed for six months as people freak the hell out. Businesses will close, people will lose thier jobs, the stock market will be depressed.

Is that rational? No. Is that exactly what will happen? You better believe it. Will snarky comments on a blog change that fact? Probably not, though I suppose it's worth a shot.

So what do we do? We cannot afford to make each and every single potential target in this country completely terrorist proof, after all. So what do we do? Make the price of terrorism to high to be reasonable.

Harden all targets using physical security measures. Cameras, walls, alarms, locks, guards, fences. And, of course, we are too a large extent doing all that stuff. But the most effective terrorism prevention method we could be utilizing in this country is involving the public. Start self defence classes in every jurisdiction in this country and encourage people to join. Make it legal for citizens who have passed a training course to receive a federal concealed carry liscense, and allow these citizens to carry concealed in all public spaces. Encourage all citizens to keep emergency supplies at home and in their cars, and tell idiot late night comedians exactly what the duct tape and plastic sheeting is for. Put this country on a war footing, for Pete's sakes, because there is a legitimate threat out there, and making fun of it will not make it go away.

Mark J.July 17, 2008 2:59 PM

"Consider negative effects of protection measures: not only direct cost, but inconvenience, enhancement of fear, negative economic impacts, reduction of liberties."

The problem is that DHS doesn't not view these as "negative effects." Quite the opposite, in fact.

bobJuly 17, 2008 3:04 PM

Preaching to the choir, though. How do we get the people who DONT already agree with this to read it?

@George: What, are you only 8 years old or something? Bush didn't invent this - damned near every president to hold the office since Washington has tried to increase their power. Some notable examples: Lincoln, Roosevelt(your choice), Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton. And the judicial branch has practically become a second legislative branch. And dont forget the legislative branch has been stretching their authority beyond all recognition ever since they "realized" that even individual ant larvae dying of starvation in the frozen tundra of Seward's Folly impact interstate commerce.

Carl ClarkJuly 17, 2008 4:16 PM

@everyone talking about politicians, etc:
It seems like if you sum up what we have here, there are some basic facts of human nature and democracy that are showing their ugly side. First, as pointed out, people foolishly fear terrorists more than cars. Unfortunately, because this is a democracy (+/-; no nitpickiness about representative this-and-that, please), politicians will take advantage of this and make a big deal about how they're protecting what the public wants protected. Then, too, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Nobody in government (okay, almost nobody) is averse to increasing their personal or corporate power -- why else would they be in office? Blaming this administration, or that administration, or the other, for expanding their scope of power is redundant. Of course they'll do that.

The real issue is what we should do about it, and, so far, education has been the only solution mentioned. Any others?

The CameraManJuly 17, 2008 4:24 PM

We could try blowing up entire countries, I suppose. It hasn't worked so far, but maybe that's because we aren't using enough dynamite.

Worth a shot, right?

The DarknessJuly 17, 2008 4:53 PM

@ moo:
"There are certainly some juicy targets (key pieces of infrastructure such as electrical stations, nuclear plants etc) that deserve a higher-than-zero degree of protection. Or at least enough to make the terrorists pick something decorative and unimportant (like the World Trade Center, in the grand scheme of things)."

I think that calling a world center of commerce as well as a transit hub in the center of the financial universe "decorative and unimportant" is not only in bad taste but also incorrect.

InfospongeJuly 17, 2008 4:57 PM

But, but, but spending billions harassing photographers, guarding small town landmarks in red states and torturing brown people makes us safer!

Why does reality hate America?

Tracy WJuly 17, 2008 5:09 PM

There are a plethora of targets which are vulnerable to the second criterion (cheap and quick to rebuild).

Examples include dams, bridges, vulnerable parts of mass transit systems, highway interchanges, power grid components

I can't speak to the other areas, but power grid components are reasonably fixable. They're forever getting destroyed by storms or equipment failure or human mistakes without any terrorist action. You build the system with redundancy, and scramble contractors when necessary. At one point in NZ a D-shackle failed in high winds, causing a transmission line to fall and due to geographic constraints and bad luck in falling it took out two other transmission lines, cutting off power to all of Auckland and Northland. Power was back on within a day.

Plus the people who really really need reliable power buy backup generators.

Kirk ParkerJuly 17, 2008 6:49 PM

@Michael Ash,

"why should we just accept this? It's an irrational and dangerous attitude."

Call it what you like, but our Anglospheric common-law tradition has treated intentional homicide more seriously than accidental death for quite a few centuries now. I don't think a quick assertion of irrationality by you is going to affect things very much.

AnonymousJuly 17, 2008 7:58 PM

@Kirk Parker

"Call it what you like, but our Anglospheric common-law tradition has treated intentional homicide more seriously than accidental death for quite a few centuries now..."

True, but the cost associated with preventive measures for the kind of intentional homicide common law is equipped to deal with is on par
with those of preventive measures associated with accidental death, if not lower. Contrast that with the, orders of magnitude, higher costs of preventing a terrorist attack being discussed here.

Michael AshJuly 17, 2008 8:20 PM

@Kirk Parker

Even if you accept that intentional homicide is more serious than accidental or medical death (a stance which in and of itself is at least somewhat rational, as murderers can be deterred to some extent), there's no reason death by terrorism should be such an enormous priority compared to all of the other ways in which to be murdered.

If you consider the 9/11 attacks to be homicides, they would have made up less than 1/6th of the total homicides in the US. If you consider long-term terrorism deaths compared to long-term murders the figure is even lower, substantially so. Why then do we spend so much to protect against terrorist murders compared to the regular kind?

TheDoctorJuly 18, 2008 2:27 AM

Most posters here confuse the means of terrorists with their goal.

Typically the goal of islamistic terrorists (which are currently en vogue) is NOT to lay waste on all of america and kill all the infidel, it's (maybe) a way to reach their goal. This goal is typically gaining leadership in their own homecountrys.

The most successful terrorists of the last 50 years, the IRA, caused MASSIVE infrastrutural damage with a minimum of homicide.

So from a strategic point of view even for the islamistic terrorists killing massive amounts of rich, well armed american people is nonsense.

And it happens to be that this killing does not take place.

Something different is randomly killing poor, unarmed village people in Dafour (Sudan). If you want to drive a population out of a countryside that you want to own, this is how to do.

FutilityJuly 18, 2008 2:59 AM

@Michael Ash, @SteveJ,

"... count 3000 office workers in the WTC as a greater loss than 3000 small children killed by cars."

"why should we just accept this? It's an irrational and dangerous attitude."

That's exactly right. The overblown reaction towards terrorism is completely irrational. The reason is hurt pride and a strong feeling of humiliation. Apparently, something that is worth more than 3000 dead children or >100k dead Iraqis.

MisconceptionJuly 18, 2008 8:04 AM

You guys are actually missing a very important fact:

On 9/11 the attacks occured BEFORE business really opened up because (I'm thoroughly convinced) the terrorists DIDN'T plan correctly.

Had the attack happened a mere 30-45 min. later, the number lost would have been at least double. This is an act of war and not the same as a car accident or even a homicide. Not even close.

markg8July 18, 2008 8:35 AM

Enhancement of fear is a feature not a bug. In fact since 9/11it's one of the core drivers of the Republican marketing plan. it's also one of the core drivers of Al Qaeda's marketing plan. While random searches at airports and arbitrary visa restrictions might make it look like Homeland Security is doing the job they in fact are about as effective at winning the War on Terror for our side as car bombings in Pakistan or Iraq are for Al Qaeda.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2008/...

Check out the the polling in the above article. It's not just Al Qaeda sympathizers who think we're at war with Islam and changing that perception even a little goes a long way toward draining the swamp. Blowing up innocents unsurprisingly is very damaging PR whether you do it with the USAF or a suicide bomber.

RoachJuly 18, 2008 8:51 AM

This is undoubtedly true. No reason to turn the Des Moines Community Theater into something out of the Matrix. The better place to put the fence is on the border. The "false freedom" of open borders means we must make our real freedoms, such as going to the theater without being sent through metal detectors, go away. Keep out and deport the Muslims and most of our security concerns go away. This is why profiling is efficient: it limits the impact of security measures on folks highly unlikely to create problems. It helps the whole community and gives bigger "bang to the buck" for security measures.

There is an added benefit for internal security with regard to the immigration angel. Al Qaeda suspects already have a biometric ID of sorts: they are nearly all Arabs or Pakistanis, with darker skins and often enough funny accents, which makes them stand out in American society. Until we're willing to triage not just structures but people, our freedoms will be endangered by this homeland security hysteria.

Dan HillJuly 18, 2008 9:20 AM

Even if we accept as immutable the values of the typical voter - that being killed by a terrorist IS worse than being killed by a car - it doesn't mean that we need to accept the current basis of policy which is that it is somehow INFINITELY worse and therefore no measure in response is too much.

Nor do we have to ignore the efficacy of the proposed measures. "Yes we understand that the prospect of being killed by terrorists is beyond the pale, but this measure won't prevent it" doesn't seem beyond the capability of the average American to grasp. I see a shift in attitudes to security screening at airports along these lines. As soon as enough people who think this way realise they are now the majority the madness will end with barely a whimper...

Michael AshJuly 18, 2008 9:48 AM

@ Misconception

Why would the quantity of people killed make it an act of war instead of an act of murder? The difference between the two has nothing to do with quantity. You can easily have an act of war from killing a single person, or for that matter from an event which kills nobody.

When a loosely organized group of thugs not associated or under the orders of a government carry out a fairly conventional hijacking with an unconventional ending which end up killing people, it's an act of murder, whether the number of people killed is three or three thousand.

AwesomeRobotJuly 18, 2008 10:44 AM

@Cameraman

You don't install lock to prevent burglars. If a burglar wants to steal from your house, they will just break a window. Locks are there to make you feel safe, and provide a minor deterrent to theft from opportunists. They are cheap, so you could argue the cost is worth it. But if you are worried about burglary, then you should just get your stuff insured.

BrianJuly 18, 2008 10:47 AM

Looks like the Bush administration ends in about 6 months, and the R's are going to lose a number of seats in the House and Senate.

I look forward to the rapid restoration of our civil liberties and common sense, that will be the 1st priority of our new masters.

MisconceptionJuly 18, 2008 10:54 AM

@Michael Ash:
Did not mean to imply numbers meant it was an act of war (I didn't think I did).

Like I said, less than an hour later, those buildings would have been filled and the numbers would have been signficantly greater so the cost-benefit analysis of preventing that type of attack should be based on the maximum loss in that situation, not the loss that did occur based on passed experience.

L.O.U.C.July 18, 2008 11:04 AM

@ "Moderator"

"L.O.U.C., please pick one alias and stick to it."

First, please don't pose as the "moderator". Bruce uses his own name to post.

Second, which other alias do you think I'm using? This is my second of only two posts in this thread.


[You've been here long enough to see other moderator posts, but since you want authentication, here it is. For the rest, see below. --Moderator]

Michael AshJuly 18, 2008 11:49 AM

@ Misconception

Apologies if I misunderstood you. However, you compared it to a car accident or a homicide. The only difference between the 9/11 attacks and a "normal" homicide that I can see is the scale, thus I concluded that you thought the former was an act of war because of the scale.

And you say that we're missing the fact that casualties would have been much worse, and that it's a very important fact. I see no evidence for either. We're just advocating that anti-terror measures be looked at from a rational cost-benefit point of view. Looking at potential losses if attacks take place at the peak of business hours rather than right around opening time is just one of those rational things you do. Why do you say that we're missing this fact?

CameraManJuly 18, 2008 12:36 PM

@AwesomeRobot

"But if you are worried about burglary, then you should just get your stuff insured."

That's the kind of passive agressive thinking that has screwed this society and prevented us from prosecuting the GWOT effectively. Oh, woah is us, we can't prevent the big bad tewwists from hurting us, so we shouldn't even try, we should just shrug our shoulders and write off the insurance premiums as the cost of doing business. We can't prevent every single conceivable bad thing from happening, ever, so any attempt to prioritize threats and prevent or protect against these threats is a waste of time and money and just there to distract you from the erosion of civil liberties, and heaven forbid someone actually take the fight to the terrorists!

And, for your information, I agree that JUST installing locks is not enough. But where you shrug and passively accept your fate, be it having your TV boosted or someone crashing an airliner through your office window, I advocate- depending on the threat level- locks, bars on the windows, a guard dog, a gun and some basic weapons training, cameras, an alarm, and so on.

There is nothing INEVITABLE about terrorism, just like there is nothing inevitable about robbery. Sure, eliminating terrorists or burglars may be difficult or impossible, but by making it difficult for the bad guys you can keep incidents down to a minimum.

MisconceptionJuly 18, 2008 1:48 PM

@Michael Ash:
Maybe I was a little strong in the words. It just came off that people were paying attention to the 3000 in one event and comparing it to 3000 single events and determining that a cost-benefit done on that. Which is missing a key point that it would have been a lot worse if it happened later on.

Michael AshJuly 18, 2008 2:14 PM

@CameraMan

The probability of having my stuff ripped off multiplied by the cost of my stuff far exceeds the cost of installing bars on the windows, getting and maintaining a guard dog, purchasing a gun, obtaining weapons training, and installing cameras and an alarm.

To me, this says that the rational course of action is not to get any of that stuff, and instead buy some cheap insurance to cover me in the extremely unlikely event that I am burgled.

You seem to think that this is wrong, but why?

Michael AshJuly 18, 2008 2:31 PM

I just realized that my first sentence is completely backwards. What I meant to say, of course, that the expected cost of a burglary is far lower than the cost of getting all that anti-burglary stuff.

ModeratorJuly 18, 2008 2:50 PM

L.O.U.C., don't be disingenuous -- you know what I'm referring to. You've been posting to different threads with different names for a long time. Do you want me to list them for you?

It's true that you've limited yourself to one alias per thread. If you'd been manipulating the converation by showing up under different names on the same thread, you'd already be banned for sockpuppetry. But whatever your reasons for using multiple names, the *effect* is to give the impression of a horde of people with your point of view, when there is, in fact, only one tireless commenter.

Again, pick one name and stick to it.

birdyJuly 19, 2008 1:31 PM

Terrorism is about psychology.

If you're goal is to kill millions of people, invest in the tobacco industry

nym shifterJuly 19, 2008 2:29 PM

"Again, pick one name and stick to it."

@Moderator

That might have been a reasonable policy last year.

But this year we're getting more and more news like yesterday's news from Baltimore. Here's an extract:

"Undercover Maryland State Police officers repeatedly spied on peace activists and anti-death penalty groups in recent years and entered the names of some in a law-enforcement database of people thought to be terrorists or drug traffickers, newly released documents show."

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/...

As I said, that's just the latest example of a trend we've been seeing lately.

Given the current circumstances, I think standards of courtesy and politeness in on-line discourse have changed. Anymore, I just can't fault people for resisting profiling.

Additionally, this isn't usenet. People don't have killfile capability on their browsers: A morpher isn't escaping killfiles. And historically, killfile escapes were a large part of why morphing used to be looked on with such disdain.

So please reconsider your policy against morphing nyms across threads. This is a security blog, after all.

ModeratorJuly 21, 2008 2:06 PM

The ban on sockpuppets isn't some quaint holdover from Usenet, but one of the most widely agreed-on standards of online behavior. And if you constantly shift names so that it seems there are many people promoting your point of view instead of one, that crosses the line into sockpuppetry. People concerned about privacy can anonymize their connections and use a pseudonym -- one unique to this blog, if you like.

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