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