Research on Movie-Plot Threats

This could be interesting:

Emerging Threats and Security Planning: How Should We Decide What Hypothetical Threats to Worry About?

Brian A. Jackson, David R. Frelinger

Concerns about how terrorists might attack in the future are central to the design of security efforts to protect both individual targets and the nation overall. In thinking about emerging threats, security planners are confronted by a panoply of possible future scenarios coming from sources ranging from the terrorists themselves to red-team brainstorming efforts to explore ways adversaries might attack in the future. This paper explores an approach to assessing emerging and/or novel threats and deciding whether -- or how much -- they should concern security planners by asking two questions: (1) Are some of the novel threats "niche threats" that should be addressed within existing security efforts? (2) Which of the remaining threats are attackers most likely to execute successfully and should therefore be of greater concern for security planners? If threats can reasonably be considered niche threats, they can be prudently addressed in the context of existing security activities. If threats are unusual enough, suggest significant new vulnerabilities, or their probability or consequences means they cannot be considered lesser included cases within other threats, prioritizing them based on their ease of execution provides a guide for which threats merit the greatest concern and most security attention. This preserves the opportunity to learn from new threats yet prevents security planners from being pulled in many directions simultaneously by attempting to respond to every threat at once.

Full paper available here.

Posted on June 1, 2009 at 3:29 PM • 17 Comments

Comments

Susan WildeJune 1, 2009 3:48 PM

If only the government security folks were interested in the real tradeoffs of security rather than expanding their own security empires.

Clive RobinsonJune 1, 2009 3:52 PM

There is are a couple of underlying assumptions with regards terrorist attacks,

1, They can be prevented or minimised within the context of society.

2, That "hardening" a target makes an attack less likley.

I would argue that life in Western countries is such that the "very way of life" leaves society vulnerable as "soft targets" are part of the social norm.

Also that whilst hardening a target might lessen the threat against that target it does not actually lessen the terrorist threat.

In fact a case could be made that hardening stratigic targets forces terrorists to attack more vulnerable civilian targets such as shoping malls busses cafes etc as has been seen in Northan Ireland and Israel.

HJohnJune 1, 2009 3:59 PM

@Susan Wilde: "If only the government security folks were interested in the real tradeoffs of security rather than expanding their own security empires."
___________

I don't know if "security empire" is the intend, so much as CYA. When something captures the imaginations and fears of the populace, there is demand to know something is being done. It's not always rational, either. I hate to quote movies, but in this case I'll quote Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black: "A person is intelligent. People are stupid and panicky." Quite true.

It's an interesting paradox. When something is so rare and spectacular that it grabs the national attention, the very same people in shock and awe then expect defenses against the specific (rare) threat to be commonplace.

Car wrecks in the paper every day, and we all get in cars without hesitation. One plane wreck, and thousands opt out of flying (after all, one plane made page 1)--and into the cars (there were many, but they were all on page 20).

I guess we could call it Page 1 bias, or Headline bias. We're more worried about being the one feature story than one of the dozens of items under it.

HJohnJune 1, 2009 4:10 PM

@Me: "Car wrecks in the paper every day, and we all get in cars without hesitation. One plane wreck, and thousands opt out of flying (after all, one plane made page 1)--and into the cars (there were many, but they were all on page 20)."
__________

I no sooner type that, then I check out yahoo news and find the headline.

Missing French jet hit thunderstorms over Atlantic
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/...

As tragic as this is, it is really not that common.

Tangerine BlueJune 1, 2009 4:47 PM

@Clive Robinson,
> hardening stratigic targets forces terrorists to attack
> more vulnerable civilian targets

What you say makes sense, and has me thinking.

If we supposed that hardening one target would divert the attack to the next most tantalizing, I wonder if there's a way to funnel attacks to some ideal sort of target.

"Ideal" could mean damage is largely economic, with limited (hopefully zero) human casualties.

In that sense, maybe it makes sense to leave much of our public infrastructure somewhat soft. Better to let them spectacularly blow up cables than crowds.

RobboJune 1, 2009 4:50 PM

@HJohn ... indeed.

From the article: "In Washington, a Pentagon official said he'd seen no indication that terrorism or foul play was involved. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject."

Don't you just love how someone can make a completely nothing statement and it makes the news? I personally saw no indication either that terrorism or foul play was involved - but who am I? Who was he? would he know? do we care what he thinks at this early stage? The plane flew into to top of a (potentially) 50k foot tall extremely turbulent tropical thunderstorm, and although modern aircraft are fairly resilient, this would qualify as a likely candidate for the cause in my humble (and definitely non-expert) opinion ...

So often we see perfect examples of "shit happens" and every knucklehead close to a microphone has to give an opinion on the likelihood of terrorist involvement, regardless of the fact that in most cases the chances of terrorism are so minuscule it is ludicrous to even suggest it.

Don't get me wrong - its very sad, but also the comment about the car accidents above. Perspective.

Clive RobinsonJune 1, 2009 4:50 PM

@ HJohn,

"As tragic as this is, it is really not that common."

It would appear that the circumstances involved are very rare indeed.

From what I have seen the AirBus was on i'ts way to Paris and about 180miles of shore it was hit by significant turbulance, a short while later an automatic transponder on the aircraft reported a major electrical short. This appears to have been the last contact from the plane.

All souls on board (just under 300) are assumed lost at sea with no hope now of rescue.

The current theory is it was a lightning strike causing major electrical disruption. It is not known how quickly the plane went down therfore it's position is not known.

Clive RobinsonJune 1, 2009 5:03 PM

@ Tangerine Blue,

"In that sense, maybe it makes sense to leave much of our public infrastructure somewhat soft. Better to let them spectacularly blow up cables than crowds."

There is a rumour that Margret Thatcher came up / used this idea in the 1980's.

The Provo IRA were attacking the UK mainland (specificaly England and mainly London).

What has been said is that Maggi encoraged the newspapers to downplay incidents were people had been hurt and throw lots of publicity at infrestructure only attacks.

What is known that for a while the IRA targetted railway signaling and other equipment in the Balahm (south London) area causing much disruption.

Unfortunatly the situation did not last.

However it is depatable as to the amount of damage done.

Not meaning to be cold or clinical the loss to the Nation of a few economicly productive people is usually considerably less than the loss due to wide spread disruption to the major public transport network in one of the worlds largest capitals.

So although the idea has merit it needs a bit of extra work on the cost/benifit equation, both from cold hard cash to the warm squishy political opinion.

Rich WilsonJune 1, 2009 5:15 PM

@Clive

Honeypot Targets? :-)

Maybe instead of fuzzing things in google earth, we should be putting in fake juicy targets.

Valdis KletnieksJune 1, 2009 5:46 PM

"we should be putting in fake juicy targets".

Yeah, but how stupid a terrorist do you have to be to *not* drive by the target at least once? They do that, and say to themselves "Wow, there's an empty field here rather than the football stadium we were expecting."

OK, maybe the "terrorists" we've convicted of recent plots that needed the government informant to do everything including purchasing a (fake) Stinger missile would be that dumb. But *real* ones wouldn't be that stupid.

OldFishJune 1, 2009 10:22 PM

The three-part South Park about "Imagination Land" is priceless. I think the Simpsons writers played with that same theme. How do so many goofballs find their way into positions of power?

Tangerine BlueJune 2, 2009 12:21 AM

> the loss to the Nation of a few economicly productive
> people is usually considerably less than the loss due to
> wide spread disruption to the major public transport
> network in one of the worlds largest capitals.

Perhaps that depends on how one measures loss.

Clive RobinsonJune 2, 2009 5:20 AM

@ Tangerine Blue,

"Perhaps that depends on how one measures loss."

As I said I did not want to be cold or clinical, but somebody has to make a choice in a world of finite resources.

It's one of the reasons I'm glad it's not me.

However that being said the law views a human life in terms of lost "potential" productivity/earnings when assesing monies to be paid to families etc.

They apear to base their figures on historical data with a fudge factor for inflation/interest etc when making a lump sum payment.

If you look at the amounts paid out by transportation organisations (air / sea / rail / road) where "lives in their care" have been lost the sums are not large.

So from a pragmatic point "infrastructure / productivity costs" are probably more important to the National Security than "people costs".

However emotionaly we usually feel considerably less for others we do not know who die in accidents than we do when the deaths are caused by deliberate acts of negligence or malice.

The news organisations are aware ot this, thus usually an attack by terrorists gets considerably more column inches than just about any other news worthy story about untimley deaths.

And thankfully the views of the public (supposadly) expressed via those column inches do under some circumstances actually impinge on our political "leaders".

However it can be a double edged sword, as we have seen politicians can do little or nothing to stop terrorist attacks in anything like a cost effective manner.

Defence is almost always sunk costs with no measurable return (except when it fails) which is why "effective" offense is usually considered to be more effective.

However from the terrorists point of view selecting a target is a bit like "sliding down a slippery pole" in that they drop down till they reach a point at which they can gain sufficient traction to effect a result. Like the news organisations terrorists are usually quite aware of which targets will be considered more or less news worthy, and will take it into account.

As most home owners are aware targets are expensive to defend even minimaly, and at some point it is not cost effective to do so irrespective of how you measure the cost.

However all viable terroist targest targets will fall above that point, which gives rise to the notion of "if only we'd spent more".

From this it can be seen that with a defense only stratagie, the terrorists are always going to have targets to select from, usually with a high social cost.

Which is possibly why Bruce and others think that the large resources currently being made available could be better spent on offensive activities.

The problem of course is offensive activities usually are intelegance led. For a considerable period of time the US has built up electronic intel against "previous enamies" and has not put a foot on the ground. This lack of spending in Humint has cost the US and other Western Nations in terms of civilian casualties.

But again the resources for offense are limited and you have to weigh the costs up.

Sometimes it is actuall better to do nothing as the cost to society as a whole is less, however due to emotional issues etc politicians cannot aford to publicaly "ignore Attacks on the Nation".

Therefor the politicos have to "be seen to act" and usually they are impotent to do anything in the short term (and have little interest in the long term) except spend tax money.

The question is on what do they spend it to get the best visable short term gain?

Not how to spend it long term and in what ratio to the percived problems.

Few people if any have a clue as to where best spend the money either short or long term. And those that do will probably be the first to admit that each and every spend just moves the targets around for the terrorists.

Unfortunatly each and every time a Nations political leader anounces that there is money on the table there will always be hands ready to grab for it to protect their "home interest"...

Aside from short term "pork", the real solutions are without a doubt both longterm and political in nature as nations have to accept that what they do effects every other nation to a lesser or greater extent.

Sometimes these choices are for better sometimes for the worse, but choices have to be made. In the short term world of politics it is actually amazing that we actually get things right occasionaly...

bobJune 2, 2009 7:01 AM

@Robbo: I always love this quote "a subject at the (you name it: pentagon, whitehouse, GM, some remote terrorist HQ) speaking from anonymity because they are not authorised to talk to the press..." What? Then why are they talking to the press? And why would the press publish it since its reliability is called into question by the fact that they wont be held responsible for what they say?

HJohnJune 2, 2009 7:13 AM

@bob: "And why would the press publish it since its reliability is called into question by the fact that they wont be held responsible for what they say?"
____________

True that anonymous comments have less credibility, true, but they are also much harder to refute. The anonymous person, if he/she even exists, would not come forward. Naming someone gives them the option of saying "that ain't what I said." May not be as credible, but useful non the less.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..