The Futility of Defending the Targets

This is just silly:

Beaver Stadium is a terrorist target. It is most likely the No. 1 target in the region. As such, it deserves security measures commensurate with such a designation, but is the stadium getting such security?

[..]

When the stadium is not in use it does not mean it is not a target. It must be watched constantly. An easy solution is to assign police officers there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is how a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge was thwarted -- police presence. Although there are significant costs to this, the costs pale in comparison if the stadium is destroyed or damaged.

The idea is to create omnipresence, which is a belief in everyone's minds (terrorists and pranksters included) that the stadium is constantly being watched so that any attempt would be futile.

Actually, the Brooklyn Bridge plot failed because the plotters were idiots and the plot -- cutting through cables with blowtorches -- was dumb. That, and the all-too-common police informant who egged the plotters on.

But never mind that. Beaver Stadium is Pennsylvania State University's football stadium, and this article argues that it's a potential terrorist target that needs 24/7 police protection.

The problem with that kind of reasoning is that it makes no sense. As I said in an article that will appear in New Internationalist:

To be sure, reasonable arguments can be made that some terrorist targets are more attractive than others: aeroplanes because a small bomb can result in the death of everyone aboard, monuments because of their national significance, national events because of television coverage, and transportation because of the numbers of people who commute daily. But there are literally millions of potential targets in any large country (there are five million commercial buildings alone in the US), and hundreds of potential terrorist tactics; it's impossible to defend every place against everything, and it's impossible to predict which tactic and target terrorists will try next.

Defending individual targets only makes sense if the number of potential targets is few. If there are seven terrorist targets and you defend five of them, you seriously reduce the terrorists' ability to do damage. But if there are a million terrorist targets and you defend five of them, the terrorists won't even notice. I tend to dislike security measures that merely cause the bad guys to make a minor change in their plans.

And the expense would be enormous. Add up these secondary terrorist targets -- stadiums, theaters, churches, schools, malls, office buildings, anyplace where a lot of people are packed together -- and the number is probably around 200,000, including Beaver Stadium. Full-time police protection requires people, so that's 1,000,000 policemen. At an encumbered cost of $100,000 per policeman per year, probably a low estimate, that's a total annual cost of $100B. (That's about what we're spending each year in Iraq.) On the other hand, hiring one out of every 300 Americans to guard our nation's infrastructure would solve our unemployment problem. And since policemen get health care, our health care problem as well. Just make sure you don't accidentally hire a terrorist to guard against terrorists -- that would be embarrassing.

The whole idea is nonsense. As I've been saying for years, what works is investigation, intelligence, and emergency response:

We need to defend against the broad threat of terrorism, not against specific movie plots. Security is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the next terrorist act. We need to spend more money on intelligence and investigation: identifying the terrorists themselves, cutting off their funding, and stopping them regardless of what their plans are. We need to spend more money on emergency response: lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what it is. And we need to face the geopolitical consequences of our foreign policy and how it helps or hinders terrorism.

Posted on October 9, 2009 at 6:37 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

Patrick G.October 9, 2009 6:52 AM

“The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view.”
(Albert Einstein)

In this case, Beaver Stadium is the center point...

GordonOctober 9, 2009 7:17 AM

These issues where micro and macro economic security are in conflict are the big political issues of the day. In health care, sound economic policy about expending resources at the macro level become death panels at the micro level when a father is trying to find the last best hope for a child.

Trying to slow down global warming with a limit on carbon becomes a regressive tax on productivity at the mnicro level.

And a local community trying to protect its key asset from attack, is a mis-allocation of resources from a macro perspective.

Is there a coherent way to bridge the macro-micro boundary layer when they are in conflict? I think it is by keeping the decision aligned with the financial penalty, thus avoiding tragedy-of-the-commons type issues. If the community has the money and wants to protect a key asset, they should do so, but we shouldn't pay for it at national level.

dbrOctober 9, 2009 8:12 AM

This is so ridiculous that it is hard to believe its anything other than a rent seeking gambit. The University just wants the local police department to provide free on-site anti-vandalism protection, so they don't have to pay for a rent-a-cop from their budget.

MongoOctober 9, 2009 8:18 AM

Having an officially designated terrorist target has become a twisted form of validation for some cities. "Look at us! We're special and important enough to warrant special security measures!"

Just take a look at Chicago. Mayor Dick Daley seems to have been personally insulted that the 9/11 terrorists didn't attack the Sears Tower.

theprez98October 9, 2009 8:25 AM

The biggest act of violence I've seen at Beaver Stadium was Tim Biakabutuka being hit by a snowball thrown by the fans after a big snowstorm.

shadowfirebirdOctober 9, 2009 8:31 AM

I went to a local function (Manchester, UK) which happened to be attended by the Mayor of Trafford. He had two bodyguards.

(US readers should note that this man is not a political bigwig. Basically he's someone that opens supermarkets.)

Now, for all I know the guy had been getting death threats. But, sans any of that knowledge, it did look pretty ridiculous to my eyes.

Matt from CTOctober 9, 2009 8:49 AM

>The University just wants the local
>police department to provide free on-
>site anti-vandalism protection, so they
>don't have to pay for a rent-a-cop
>from their budget.

No, the author is a retired cop who now teaches new cops.

It's just a piece of trade unionism balderdash trying to create more union jobs.

jamieOctober 9, 2009 8:52 AM

"If there are seven terrorist targets and you defend five of them, you seriously reduce the terrorists' ability to do damage."

They would have free reign to damage the other 2 targets though.

Rob JeanmenneOctober 9, 2009 9:01 AM

Well, in this case...Beaver Stadium could be easily managed by the police department.
First off...there is nothing but parking lots around it so only 2 police officers on the corners of the stadium in cars could easily see people coming in. In fact..they could even be parked down the street thus watching many other buildings simultaneously.

Secondly...the stadium is on university property...thus...the university has its own police force! There are police cars positioned all over the 2 x 3 mile campus.

Thirdly: The University has an ARMY of student security that they pay close to minimum wage to watch traffic, escort women on campus any time of the night..and even watch the University president's house during private parties. These people direct traffic all day long during football games. Now considering the football season is only 4 months x 4 student officers x minimum wage....that would equal out to less than 1 hour of the electrical bill for Beaver stadium.

Lastly: the University has ridiculous amounts of money....I can't tell you how many class A super luxurious office buildings have gone up on campus in the last 3 years alone that would cost millions.

gregOctober 9, 2009 9:35 AM

Excuse me, but isn't this JUST a stadium? Why protect is at all when there are no people there?

What is a terrorist going to do to it? Take down a wall? Damage some supports?

So what. The stadium is closed for a while, repairs are made, and life goes on. Big hairy deal.

Oh right. football brings in a lot of money for the university. Uh-huh.

So it's an economic target. Let the investors manage the risk just like any enterprise would.

If the cost exceeds the benefits, don't mitigate.

JSOctober 9, 2009 9:47 AM

As an alumnus of this institution, the point is that funding from tuition and the like shouldn't be going to pay for the bloody football program. Yes, it brings in oogles of money - put some of that into guarding the stadium. Or you know, just install a couple of cameras - the area is deserted when there isn't a game. You could see anyone coming for miles.

The most dangerous thing I experienced during my one or two times in the stadium were the jerks in the upper decks who threw bottles whenever someone scored. I think that stopped after they had to take someone out on a stretcher.

And as for Beaver Stadium being the #1 target in the region, I don't buy that. Personally when I was a student I hoped that more security would be placed around NUCLEAR REACTOR which is on campus.

paulOctober 9, 2009 9:55 AM

Greg's point can be made even stronger. From the point of view of overall GDP, blowing up the stadium during the time it's not in use creates jobs in debris-removal, construction, manufacturing of construction materials, transportation, news distribution and so forth. I'm surprised someone hasn't suggested it be done with stimulus funds.

BenOctober 9, 2009 10:12 AM

"hiring one out of every 300 Americans to guard our nation's infrastructure would solve our unemployment problem."

Common practice in other countries. Some call it "military state".

Rick AuricchioOctober 9, 2009 10:14 AM

How about the large crowds at major airports (e.g. LAX) waiting to clear the security checkpoint?

A terrorist doesn't have to get past the checkpoint: his target is the huge crowd waiting to get through.

Since the checkpoint is always a choke-point causing crowds, there is no way to defend it.

THOctober 9, 2009 10:38 AM

Would that be an option for underfunded national and state parks:
We have a lot of trees, every tree could go up in flames --> therefore we need for every tree its own park ranger...!

VincentOctober 9, 2009 10:44 AM

I have a much better idea, just tear the damn thing down if it's such an infernal deathtrap. Even 24 hour surveillance won't be comprehensive enough to thwart our evil terrorist enemies' plans for the ultimate destruction of college football.

They hate us for our freedom, and that's why we should give it up.

HJohnOctober 9, 2009 10:50 AM

@greg: "Excuse me, but isn't this JUST a stadium? Why protect is at all when there are no people there? What is a terrorist going to do to it? Take down a wall? Damage some supports?"
___________

More than likely, they would take advantage of the time no one is there (and no one watching them) to set up explosives or something destructive for detonation or use when the stadium is full. This would be much easier to do with no one around, so arguing there is no point in guarding it if no one is there is false (that's with the assumption that it is a target, which I don't think it is)

I doubt terrorists would care to target this. Even if they did, there are plenty of less specific, less expensive measures to deploy to lessen the risk or plan a response that may also be useful for more common threats or scenarios.

MiramonOctober 9, 2009 10:51 AM

When you say "all too common police informants", are you suggesting that informing on terrorist plots is a bad thing?

Seeing as the idiot terrorists do after all succeed from time to time, as far as I'm concerned we could use more police informants, not less....

Of course "informing" has a bad rap when one is betraying a loyalty, but when one is defending one's own society from attack, I think it's laudable.

Henning MakholmOctober 9, 2009 11:08 AM

He said "all-too-common police informant WHO EDGED THE PLOTTERS ON". Informing, in and of itself, is good. Actively driving a plot forward such that you can have something to inform on is not.

kog999October 9, 2009 11:09 AM

[Quote]"How about the large crowds at major airports (e.g. LAX) waiting to clear the security checkpoint?

A terrorist doesn't have to get past the checkpoint: his target is the huge crowd waiting to get through.

Since the checkpoint is always a choke-point causing crowds, there is no way to defend it."[/Quote]

[Sarcasm] I know we'll just create a pre-check point check point to search everyone for bombs. Then they would not be able to get to the checkpoint and well foil their plans! [/Sarcasm]

JohnOctober 9, 2009 11:17 AM

Okay people seriously, stop babbling about the possible impacts of blowing up an empty stadium.

Look, it's empty. Line it with bombs (globs of C4 putty), wire everything to a cell phone, and make a phone call next game day. Simple.

Why don't you quit asking wtf anyone would want to attack a useless target for, and start coming up with tactical justifications and scenarios for attacking a useless target? Haven't any of you staged civilian-level network attacks against large, important financial and infrastructural corporations before? Seriously use the same experience to figure on an attack plan for shit like this.

UthorOctober 9, 2009 11:53 AM

"On the other hand, hiring one out of every 300 Americans to guard our nation's infrastructure would solve our unemployment problem."

A job involving standing watch against an almost non-existent threat? I'd take that a position.

theprez98October 9, 2009 12:27 PM

By the way, the Penn State football program doesn't use your precious taxpayer money. In fact, the football program is one of the only programs in the entire athletics department that makes money, and helps pay for the other sports!

Jilles van GurpOctober 9, 2009 12:34 PM

It has occurred many times to me while I was standing in a queue for security at the airport that the average suicide bomber would maximize disruption to society by targeting that very queue. High concentration of people carrying bags, backpacks, etc. and organized such to fit as many individuals per square meter. What more could you ask for (as a prospective suicide bomber)? I'm sure a few simple calls would cause some major delays and hence lots of congestion at the checkpoint, thus maximizing damage.

Basically the point of security checkpoints is to secure the area beyond it whereas the goal of a suicide bomber is to maximize damage. Targeting a single security checkpoint at a major international airport would, even if it failed, completely cripple operations of airports all over the world since over-night they would have to switch to securing the area in front of them instead of behind them. Also, there would be no obvious solution since more security checkpoint would just move the problem.

gregOctober 9, 2009 1:23 PM

@john:

ook, it's empty. Line it with bombs (globs of C4 putty), wire everything to a cell phone, and make a phone call next game day. Simple.
**************

Ooooh. A movie plot threat! I love those!

Because that would be pretty friggin obvious, wouldn't it?

I'm not saying leave it unsecured, merely unmanned. Surveilance, patrols, and searches would and do handle that.

An intrusion would be detected, and a bomb found. You aren't trying to keep the bomb away from a crowded location. It's empty. If they detonate the bomb, so what.

How do we guard stadiums in cities today?

Physical security. It's not that mysterious. If it's worth protecting, do a risk analysis and just pay for it out of business revenues.

Don't drag the taxpayers into it.

mcbOctober 9, 2009 1:37 PM

From the comments section after Lombardi's opinion piece:

"This campus has a NUCLEAR REACTOR. And you're going to tell me that the empty erector set stadium is the prime target?"

It's true. Penn State "Home of Terror Targeted Beaver Stadium" has its very own nuke-u-ler research reactor.

Erin WOctober 9, 2009 2:27 PM

@Greg: I've seen that movie. Late night cable when I couldn't sleep once. I think it was called 'Thrillseekers' and the target was... *drumroll* Copps Colosseum in Hamilton, Ontario during a minor league hockey game! Truly one of the great targets of our day.

Doubting ThomasOctober 9, 2009 2:34 PM

@Bruce: "And we need to face the geopolitical consequences of our foreign policy and how it helps or hinders terrorism."

Good luck with that.

FedosOctober 9, 2009 2:47 PM

[/Quote theprez98] By the way, the Penn State football program doesn't use your precious taxpayer money... [/Quote]

Police surveilance -would- be at tax payer expense.

JimmyOctober 9, 2009 3:27 PM

"On the other hand, hiring one out of every 300 Americans to guard our nation's infrastructure would solve our unemployment problem."

Ten percent unemployment means one out of every 10, not one out of every 300, numbnuts.

StewieOctober 9, 2009 4:34 PM

Why do terrorists even bother with explosives and high profile targets? Every time there is a school shooting it there is plenty of publicity. Defending every "soft target" is virtually impossible. Why do they go to all that trouble of dreaming up elaborate and stupid plans that always fail? I don't get it.

PaulOctober 9, 2009 5:49 PM

[quote]Why do terrorists even bother with explosives and high profile targets? Every time there is a school shooting it there is plenty of publicity. Defending every "soft target" is virtually impossible. Why do they go to all that trouble of dreaming up elaborate and stupid plans that always fail? I don't get it.[/quote]

For the most part, they don't go through all the trouble. Try to find more than one or two "high profile target" plots since 2001 that weren't dreamed up and instigated by informants in the employ of the government. Hence Bruce's jab about the ever-present police informant when terrorism cases break.

ETGOctober 9, 2009 6:10 PM

Well then why not do away with police altogether? After all, they only prevent a small fraction of crime - most crime still happens. They're just giving us a false sense of security, so why waste the tax money, right?

But now that Obama and Holder are tying the hands of the FBI and CIA, just how do you expect us to believe that investigation and intelligence will save us all? All that will be left to handle the terrorism issue is the coroner.

Peter E RetepOctober 9, 2009 6:49 PM

But I'm a target.
[I worked in aerospace, research, entertainment.]
I used to work as a bodyguard of persons who are targets.
That makes me a target. I want 24/7 police protection.
In fact the police ARE definitely targets. They need 24/7 protection, too.
OMG! EVERYONE NEEDS PROTECTION 24/7 - - - or - - -
we just use intel to find when a threat is credible, advancing, and underway.

StewieOctober 9, 2009 7:14 PM

[Quote]"Okay people seriously, stop babbling about the possible impacts of blowing up an empty stadium. Look, it's empty. Line it with bombs (globs of C4 putty), wire everything to a cell phone, and make a phone call next game day. Simple." [/Quote]

Protecting the stadium 24/7 could stop that, and that's great. The problem here is that you can attack virtually any inhabited building and get the same effect (maybe not the same body count, but the media attention and a terrorized population).

Just look at the Russian apartment bombings where someone (possibly the FSB) blew up regular apartment buildings:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings

Or take the horrible attack on a School in Beslan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_hostage_crisis

With so many schools, how can you possibly defend them all? Not to mention if someone goes low tech like the guy in Jerusalem who just stole a Bulldozer and went on a rampage.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_bulldozer_attack

Billy OblivionOctober 10, 2009 1:31 AM

"""
Why do terrorists even bother with explosives and high profile targets? Every time there is a school shooting it there is plenty of publicity.
"""

Part of it is ego--they want to make a bigger splash than those other guys. Which given the WTC bombing is kinda tough w/out nuclear weapons.

Part of it is, as I understand it, a theological belief--that by committing an act of sufficient magnitude they can cause a great islamic awakening.

If the goal were merely manipulation of markets, or to paralyze/damage the US one could create a LOT more terror with VERY minimal deaths and injuries. After all, dead people aren't terrified.

Oliver MacphersonOctober 10, 2009 7:45 AM

security is important but these random tragedies cant always be stopped even by governments, the real facts are that we're never entirely protected but you cannot let that stop you from living your life!

Bruce SchneierOctober 10, 2009 7:46 AM

"'On the other hand, hiring one out of every 300 Americans to guard our nation's infrastructure would solve our unemployment problem.' Ten percent unemployment means one out of every 10, not one out of every 300, numbnuts."

Of course. But you also have to consider the economic stimulus that will result from injecting $100B in salaries into the economy.

Bruce SchneierOctober 10, 2009 7:48 AM

"When you say 'all too common police informants', are you suggesting that informing on terrorist plots is a bad thing?"

No, but there is a difference between informing on existing terrorists and creating new terrorists where there weren't any before, and a lot of the terrorist informants seem to cross that line. They start with some idiot who talks big, then they egg him on, provide him with "contacts" for weapons, help him with plans, and suddenly he's an international danger.

mooOctober 11, 2009 9:46 AM

@Stewie:
"Protecting the stadium 24/7 could stop that, and that's great. The problem here is that you can attack virtually any inhabited building and get the same effect (maybe not the same body count, but the media attention and a terrorized population). "

Right on. No terrorist would bother to blow up some second-rate stadium when thousands of more interesting targets are available across the whole nation.

Also, you put your finger on the real problem: a population of propagandized news-absorbers who are easily cowed and terrorized by acts of violence.

The U.S. needs to shrug its shoulders and get over this, or you are doomed to continue wasting hundreds of billions of dollars a year on wasteful "anti-terrorism" efforts of all sorts. For christ's sake, 9/11 was *eight years* ago, get over it already! The threat of terrorism to the U.S. is not really any worse now than it was during the ten years before 9/11.

Being afraid of terrorists only gives them power over you. The only things that need to be done about terrorists are (1) kill them whenever possible, and (2) use police investigative techniques to detect and prevent attacks whenever possible. If the citizens of the U.S. would lose their blinkered "we are supposed to be invincible" belief, then they might react more appropriately when any kind of "terrorist-related incident" is mentioned in the media. Instead, they go into hysterics, and your media overlords and political masters have figured out how to exploit this. The country that used to be the Land of the Free has really fallen into an embarassing condition, with its cowardly citizens willingly allowing the government to strip away their freedom in the name of defending it.

wsindaOctober 12, 2009 1:10 AM

... and when Beaver Stadium is securely guarded 24/7, there is another site that will be the No. 1 target for terrorists, which warrants 24/7 security. And after there, some other site etc. etc.

AndréOctober 12, 2009 5:34 AM

@ETG
Police's main task is NOT to prevent crimes but to catch criminals. If doing so they are able to prevent further crimes, well, extra points to them. But anything else would require either some organization like "PreCrime" (Minority Report) or until we find someone with such capabilities: 24/7 watch of every single person in this world. How that can be done - espacially regarding the problems around watching the watchers - I can not imagine, even leaving out aspects as freedom and liberty.

Mark WOctober 12, 2009 12:21 PM

@moo

"Right on. No terrorist would bother to blow up some second-rate stadium when thousands of more interesting targets are available across the whole nation."

Not that I agree with the article (the CDT is a rag, and I agree w/ Bruce's analysis and the general consensus here), but (at least in terms of seating capacity) Beaver Stadium is the largest stadium in the Western hemisphere, the third largest stadium in the world, and on game days, it's the third most populous city in Pennsylvania. So, if nothing else, it'd be a pretty big bodycount.

bf skinnerOctober 12, 2009 5:35 PM

well they HAVEN'T been playing well lately.

But really...this is why risk assessment is supposed to be the start of what we do isn't it?

ETGOctober 13, 2009 11:51 AM

Andre - Really? Why do police patrol neighborhoods, if not to prevent crime? why not just have a special office where crime victims go to report crimes and have them investigated? Why have police stationed outside polling places on election day?

No, they don't watch everyone 24/7, but they certainly do serve as a deterrent and I can't believe anyone thinks they exist only to catch criminals after the fact.

And to Moo, I love how you think people who are afraid of terrorism are cowards who've been watching too much tv. Something tells me you were not downtown on 9/11. My office was a few blocks away from the WTC and I felt it when the second plane hit. I was running in the street when the second tower fell. Sorry if I haven't "gotten over it yet" but to you it was probably just something that happened on tv. To me it was real and it was beyond horrifying. Unless you are a war veteran, I sincerely doubt you have ever felt that kind of fear in your life. And trust me, you don't want to.

Bill SOctober 13, 2009 7:48 PM

"Beaver stadium" sounds like an urgent target -- for college-age young men, that is!

This reminds me of my local airport, which has one big room where the security lines for the entire airport snake through. On a busy day there are a number of plane-loads of passengers standing in line in this one room, whose baggage is on the "unsafe" side of the security perimeter, waiting to be checked. I see a big problem with this. But obviously DHS knows better.

fireblade80October 14, 2009 8:46 AM

I think a large part of the terrorist risks could be thwarted if the communities were more united and interested in the overall, common good, rather than the selfish and cowardly each-man-for-himself mentality.

Terrorists are not ghosts who teleport out of thin air to the crime site, they are people who live somewhere, relate to (potentially) a lot of other people, plan for months if not years and, most importantly, spend a lot of time plotting and scheming within the borders of the target country.

If communities were united and vigilent, they would notice strange (mostly new and foreign) people who meet people secretively or somehow behave out of the ordinary and alert authorities on a potential threat. Even if one hunch out of a hundred reports turned to be true, it would mean a tremendous benefit.

Communities should be empowered to question the identities and purposes of new members, before (more or less implicitly) allowing them in. I'm not saying one should be forced to attend Sunday church, but communities should be knowledgeable of their members and people should be able to confide and rely on each other.

DoctorateInTerrorOctober 15, 2009 6:02 PM

I find the mindset of much of the underlying response to this blog entry mildly-amusing and somewhat disturbing.

Hypothetical attacks on football stadia can be easily risk managed with appropriately-placed CCTV. Though I very much doubt the small cost worthwhile in this particular scenario.

Consider the rather surprising fact that no CCTV evidence has been released placing any alleged 'terrorist' at the 9/11 airports, the Madrid railway station, nor the London Underground stations. Odd to say the least?

By strange coincidence the same security company was responsible for each of these CCTV systems. I will leave you to discover their identity - not a difficult exercise, given the awesome power of the Internet.

Now if you have the time, inclination and courage to follow that path I recommend you do so and start to understand the real nature and purpose of terrorism.

Happy hunting.

DoctorateInTerrorOctober 15, 2009 6:34 PM

I would add that released CCTV capture of implicated individuals in the case of the London bombings exists but the time, date and locations are not reliable. There should be abundant, reliable evidence but there is not. BTW the CCTV on the London bus in Tavistock Square was 'not working' even though serviced over the prior weekend.

Due diligence required.

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