Shaping the Obama Administration's Counterterrorism Strategy

I'm at a two-day conference: Shaping the Obama Adminstration's Counterterrorism Strategy, sponsored by the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. It's sold out, but you can watch or listen to the event live on the Internet. I'll be on a panel tomorrow at 9:00 AM.

I've been told that there's a lively conversation about the conference on Twitter, but -- as I have previously said -- I don't Twitter.

Posted on January 12, 2009 at 12:44 PM • 25 Comments

Comments

Carlo GrazianiJanuary 12, 2009 2:02 PM

The panel abstracts look fascinating. And I see that the term "Counterterrorism" is used in preference to "War On Terror" everywhere in the conference program, which is very encouraging -- it suggests that the analysis-to-bombast ratio will be high.

SpiderJanuary 12, 2009 2:05 PM

What ever you do Bruce, Don't start tweeter-ing. It will turn your mind to mush, inflate your ego, and collapse any souffles in your oven.

Your band of insight, is best unfiltered and unabridged.

JoeJanuary 12, 2009 2:09 PM

How much hope do you guys have that an Obama administration will be able to get them to quit doing the useless crap and focus on real security?

Right now, I hate to fly. But not because of the terrorists. I don't like the ridiculous security theater I have to go through.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 12, 2009 3:14 PM

"How much hope do you guys have that an Obama administration will be able to get them to quit doing the useless crap and focus on real security?"

I'm writing about that right now. Politically, it will be hard for him to do a lot.

Reality CheckJanuary 12, 2009 3:43 PM

There is this idea that lots of common people are demanding the security circus that we are currently suffering with and that, therefore, it is politically difficult to do anything better.

Is there any hard proof of that? Or is it all based on sound bites taken out of context (or with no context at all) and surveys that are skewed to support a particular point of view? I've yet to see an interview or a survey on the topic that wasn't loaded from the start.

Personally I don't know any of these mythical people that support the current nonsense. I know nobody who thinks it does any good, who "feels" safer because of it or who thinks that we need still more.

The only people that I *ever* see saying supportive things about Homeland Security either have a vested interest (they work there or in some closely allied position) or are "journalists" who are parroting something from somewhere.

Maybe I live in a dream world but I suspect that this isn't as politically poisonous as some say.

Carlo GrazianiJanuary 12, 2009 4:02 PM

@Reality Check:

I don't think it's accurate to attribute our silly security politics to a perceived popular demand for silly security.

I believe the real driver is the unwillingness of any public official to be blamed for an attack after having deprecated the silly security. That is to say, it's not that TSA et al. are viewed as popular: it's that there's not much of a penalty for tolerating their theatrical incompetence now, while any official proposing sensible reform would be vulnerable to career-ending criticism in the hysteria that would follow a hypothetical future attack. It's CYA politics.

Fed TechJanuary 12, 2009 4:20 PM

@Joe

I agree. I don't care to fly due to the simple fact I don't want to subject myself or my family to the annoyance and stress of taking shoes off, measuring liquids and placing things in a clear, plastic Ziploc (TM) bag.

Last time I flew, I left all my toiletries at home and just bought stuff at the drugstore across from the hotel where I was staying.

Brandioch ConnerJanuary 12, 2009 4:24 PM

100% agreement with Carlo.

Any politicians career would be instantly over if they recommended ANY reduction and there was ANY attack. Whether or not the attack was in any way related to the reduction.

Meanwhile, they can recommend any ADDITIONAL stupidity and then claim that they are "tough on terrorism" and that they have "protected America".

Essentially, we end up paying a group of people to be a hindrance to other people. There's no net benefit.

mooJanuary 12, 2009 5:07 PM

@Brandioch: Not only is that true, but the current state of affairs was entirely predictable after 9/11. Especially with their knee-jerk reaction to any kind of knives (even the dinky ones they would give you with any meal). It didn't take a rocket scientist to see the direction things would go. Sigh.

RoyJanuary 13, 2009 4:27 AM

With all the money tied up in DHS theatrics, would anybody be surprised if they played really dirty in order to keep the money coming in? I wouldn't put it past them to run a false-flag operation attacking us.

DamnedDirtyDefenseContractorJanuary 13, 2009 6:55 AM

A retired General Officer from the Army recently told us in regard to a DHS contract we were pursuing:
"The future is about prevention. If you’re not doing that, you’re solving news."

Doug BedellJanuary 13, 2009 7:48 AM

You really need to take the Twitter plunge. It's where communication is heading, to social media in general with Twitter in the lead. Yes, it takes some learning, but that's in the nature of value.

mcbJanuary 13, 2009 9:22 AM

I like the first sentence from the summary for Bruce's session...

"The cost of terrorism comes largely from the government’s response to it."

It's my signature line quote of the week.

What's Twitter?

Edward H. CraneJanuary 13, 2009 9:24 AM

I tend to agree with what some of the others implied: Conferences like this and the resultant rhetoric are pretty much ignored by government leaders. You are a few annoying gnats at their picnic.

Furthermore, the current United States Congress and the incoming Administration are on the other side of the planet with respect to the mission of the Cato Institute.

But I hope you get to do a little sight seeing and visit some nice restaurants. That would be a couple of benefits of attending.

Pat CahalanJanuary 13, 2009 10:16 AM

@ Carlo, Brandioch

> Any politicians career would be instantly
> over if they recommended ANY reduction and
> there was ANY attack

I'll grant you this is a huge setback to overcome in a politico's career and may well be insurmountable.

And yet, we've talked over and over on posts throughout this blog about how terrorist attacks are vanishingly unlikely, so it doesn't seem unreasonable to propose that a [redacted] rational politician could still follow the course of non-insanity.

Sure, it's difficult to do so, because you have other politicians to deal with and nearly every step in the right direction is going to require you to sell it as a political compromise with politicos who are irrational, but if you have a large enough public personae you can at least get the ball rolling by using camera time. It's a "hearts and minds" war, and the public are the battleground.

Stan SlonkoskyJanuary 13, 2009 1:23 PM

I normally put liquids in a plastic bag so that they don't mess up my backpack or suitcase if they leak out. I think at first you were supposed to take that back out and put it in a bin, but I haven't bothered doing that for the last few flights I've taken (SJC-LAX, LAX-DAL, DAL-LAX). The main hassle for me is taking my shoes off and taking the laptops (I took two on my last trip and kept a close watch on them to make certain they didn't get stolen.)

PhilippeJanuary 13, 2009 2:43 PM

Part of the problem, I think, is that we have had for a number of years, «professionnal politicians» meaning people that make politics their career and don't go into politics for public service. These people don't want to risk their «career» for a decision so it's CYA. If they would be politicians on a temporary (say 4 or 8 years max) basis to serve their country, and then go back to their regular day jobs, their reasonning and actions would be different.

David HarmonJanuary 13, 2009 6:24 PM

And what happens to the CYA crowd if the baddies bombs a security line? Or, say, sabotage the X-ray machines?

Brandioch ConnerJanuary 13, 2009 8:18 PM

@Pat Cahalan
"Sure, it's difficult to do so, because you have other politicians to deal with and nearly every step in the right direction is going to require you to sell it as a political compromise with politicos who are irrational, but if you have a large enough public personae you can at least get the ball rolling by using camera time."

The problem is that there is nothing in it for the politician if he wins ... and everything to lose if there is another attack.

Or even another "planned" attack that would have no chance of succeeding being "planned" by people with no chance carrying it out. It's all about the sensationalism and the fear. And that's what the public hears. That's what the media sells. And fear reactions are strongest.

And since the airlines have no interest in getting involved in policing their own flights (it is more CYA to have the government do it so the responsibility is the government's) you'll never have the situation change.

At least until there is a significant increase in the amount of pain the general public feels when trying to fly. It's fine to talk about "at any price" when the price is abstracted and spread amongst the general population ... but the lives being "protected" are you and your family's.

Jonathan WilsonJanuary 14, 2009 12:29 AM

The president has a 2-term/8 year maximum. Perhaps its time to introduce term limits for congressmen and senators. That would get rid of "career politicians" as well as weaken the influence of lobbyists since they cant keep pumping money over a long period of time to "buy" influence, they would need to give all the influencing money at once.

HJohnJanuary 14, 2009 2:07 PM

@Jonathan Wilson: "The president has a 2-term/8 year maximum. Perhaps its time to introduce term limits for congressmen and senators. That would get rid of "career politicians" as well as weaken the influence of lobbyists since they cant keep pumping money over a long period of time to "buy" influence, they would need to give all the influencing money at once."
___

I think that may help a bit, but I think a bigger problem is just the nature of politics. Whoever one is, and whatever they do, their political enemies will be waiting for an opportunity to pounce, saying they should have done something different (but had they done that in the first place, they would have pounced on that to). There is no simple way to fix this dynamic.

AnonymousJanuary 14, 2009 6:04 PM

@ HJohn, Jonathan Wilson,

JW - "The president has a 2-term/8 year maximum. Perhaps its time to introduce term limits for congressmen and senators. That would get rid of "career politicians" as well as weaken the influence of lobbyists"

HJ - "I think that may help a bit, but I think a bigger problem is just the nature of politics."

Yes and no, "pork" is a natural consiquence of "representational democracy" and other forms of government of the masses by the few. But not of politics as a whole.

In a true democracy where the masses vote on issues, not on which "monkey in a suit" will represent their views, "pork" and "lobbying" as we currently know it would not happen.

However those with sufficient assets will always find methods of "undue influence" be it by buying politicians, their advisors, newspaper/media owners or advertising space.

One of the reasons there are few true democracies is that the ordinary person does not have the ability or time to understand even one or two of the issues sufficiently to make an informed choice let alone the myriad of issues that arise every year.

The supposed strength of representational democracy is that your representative is supposed to not only have the time and ability to understand the issues but be immune to undue influance.

And there are the flaws in the system, like us politicians do not have the time or ability to truly understand even a fraction of the issues, therfore they need advisors (over whom we the voters have no control).

And to get re-elected they have to be amenable to influance by the electorate.

But how do they understand what we the people want they cannot talk to everybody, so they are reliant on other advisors...

Therefore the politician is reliant for their information on advisors who can inject their own agenda be it intentional or not...

In this light shortening the term a politician can serve can be seen as detrimental.

For instance children have difficulty understanding danger and it is not untill they reach a degree of maturaty (adulthood) that they have sufficient experiance to recognise danger before it occurs.

Likewise it takes time for a politician to gain the depth of experiance required to sense when they are being influenced unduly or being fed biased or incorect information by advisors or others.

Which brings us back to the point, representatives have to do our (the voters) bidding but not that of others.

Therefore we are effectivly asking that they be influanced by us and not by others that we disaprove of.

But in any populous the views will be varied and biased by self interest therefore even in an entirly honest system it devolves down to a shouting match or credability issue, and fair judgment only comes with sufficient maturity with the process.

Cutting the time served by a politition effectivly stops them maturing and may actually (as we have seen in the UK) make things a whole lot worse.

The apparent solution, true democracy where everybody votes on issues and only the true facts are presented for the voters to consider...

Is some kind of utopian dream that is impractical in the society we currently have, and infact impractical in any reasonably sized population.

So we come back to the age old question of how do we keep politicians sufficiently honest and working for us?

I have ideas but they all have flaws in one way or another.

As Churchill once noted (IIRC),

"Democracy is the worst form of politics except for all the rest."

What I do know is that unless we discuss things freely then we are not going to arive at a working solution. Unfortunatly the current political climate does not encorage free discussion.

MarinaNovember 1, 2009 12:38 AM

I would like to download "shaping the Obama administration's counter terrorism strategy" conference on to MP3 but the link on cato.org does not work, I can download video but not MP3. Any suggestions?

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