Outguessing the Terrorists

Isn't it a bit embarrassing for an "expert on counter-terrorism" to be quoted as saying this?

Bill Tupman, an expert on counter-terrorism from Exeter University, told BBC News: "The problem is trying to predict the mind of the al-Qaeda planner; there are so many things they might do.

"And it is also necessary to reassure the public that we are trying to outguess the al-Qaeda planner and we are in the process of protecting them from any threat."

I think it's necessary to convince the public to refuse to be terrorized. What frustrates me most about Abdulmutallab is that he caused terror even though his plot failed. I want us to be indomitable enough for the next attack to fail to cause terror, even if it succeeds. Remember: terrorism can't destroy our country's way of life; only our reaction to terrorism can.

Posted on February 9, 2010 at 6:07 AM • 42 Comments

Comments

uk visaFebruary 9, 2010 6:34 AM

Very few British people are afraid of terrorism - we lived through many years of the IRA failing to terrorise us.
Nothing has changed in Britain apart from a broken government trying to convince us that the threat is worse so it can be a shining knight... what an absurd vision - Gordon Brown as a knight on horseback!
The US has long known that government is easier if it's seen to be saving it's populace from potential terrors - think cold war.
Here in Britain we're more pragmatic and suspicious of government and it's use of patriotism or fear as a tool to manipulate people with.

Nick LancasterFebruary 9, 2010 6:57 AM

Far too often, when I talk up the 'refuse to be terrorized' angle, I get glassy eyed stares, as if people don't understand.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 9, 2010 7:10 AM

@ Bruce,

"What frustrates me most about Abdulmutallab is that he caused terror even though his plot failed."

That is because not enough people laughed at "Cptn Underpants".

If you want to stop the "Walter Mitty" mentality wanabies then you have to make them the subject of pityless laughter and ridicule.

As long as the think they are going to get taken seriously then their fantasy mind set will be easily taken advantage of by "recruiters" who then use them as a throw away item like a mail shot just to remind people they are still there.

The US was actually on a tipping point and I'm afraid to say that those incharge fluffed it with the result the US rolled back not forwards.

It will take another year or so for the US to get back to the tipping point again. Hopefully when it happens (and it will) the powers that be will push things in the right direction this time.

However as has been noted by many others various Three letter Agencies have a monopoly on the purse strings to US tax dollars and they will out of self interest keep pushing the US people the wrong way.

So you also need to cut of their access to money not give them more.

But then the old "If you know what I know" card still works on the less than bright politicos as does the "you pay me to do it and I'll do it in your home town" line.

So you have to get rid of those two idiot lures or the idiots that bite on them first...

larry seltzerFebruary 9, 2010 7:13 AM

Bruce's last line expresses much of what I've always thought. I remember right after 9/11 thinking "what did they think they would accomplish? Did they think this would actually bring America down?" All they did was to bring a lot of hurt down on themselves and a lot of innocent people.

HugoFebruary 9, 2010 7:13 AM

"predict the mind of the al-Qaeda planner"

how about: bomb, kill, die, have many virgins... :)

MartinFebruary 9, 2010 7:33 AM

You say in your essay "Refuse to be terrorized":
"Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed."

This is the approach we Brits took in World War II. The Ministry of Information famously produced a poster "Keep calm and carry on". They've had a recent revival and you can now buy reproductions: http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com/products/...

In the eighties we also took a similar approach to IRA terrorism, Mrs Thatcher famously saying: "We must try and find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker the oxygen of publicity on which they depend".

We knew how to defeat terrorism, it seems we have forgotten.

J LilburneFebruary 9, 2010 7:36 AM

I have to agree with uk visa's comment. During WWI Londoners had to deal Zeppelin bombing raids. During WWII we had the blitz, then V1 raids and v2 raids and their attitude was business as usual. Then it was the IRA and life went on much as before. Next it was AQ bombing the public transport system and people guessed that the bombers hadn't bothered to read any history books about London.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 9, 2010 7:47 AM

@ Nick Lancaster,

"Far too often, when I talk up the 'refuse to be terrorized' angle, I get glassy eyed stares, as if people don't understand."

Nope, they are not interested, simple as that.

People are "overloaded" with the "war on terror" and they don't want to hear about it any more simply because there is nothing they can do about it. Look on it as "shell shock" what they need is "Tea, biscuits and a friendly face" not "refuse to be afraid".

There is nothing in it for them to listen to you therefore you are like the bloke at the party that only want's to talk about "fishing".

Find a way to give them something of interest/value to them and the glassy eyed stare will become warm and friendly.

As the old saying has it the,

"Best way with blokes,
is dirty jokes,
as for the gals,
give'm something to tell their pals."

BF SkinnerFebruary 9, 2010 7:51 AM

@Marin The Dunkirk spirit has a lot to recommend itself. My favorite was Carry On Doctor.

Looks like they are pulling the KSM trial from New York. The Terrorized won.

IntelVetFebruary 9, 2010 7:57 AM

What do you mean, unsuccessful?

How do you know that the shoe and crotch bombers were intended to "down" an airplane?

What you do have is a three letter agency or two, charged with keeping bombs off aircraft, caught with their proverbial pants down. So, a "crafty" bomb it is (becomes) and cries for renewed "security" echo, with resulting public fear and more funding for failure agencies. Behold, Archimedes has moved the world! and not one soul died.

Americans, steeped in flim-flam like "One Day at a Time", Dallas, 24 and Faux Entertainment News, fall for it every time.

pFebruary 9, 2010 8:02 AM

One of the many problems in the U.S.A. is ignorance. Apart from your broken political system where 99% of all concerns and efforts are fixated to getting re-elected is that a very large proportion of your citizens don't read any books, get their news from american TV station like fox which are a propaganda vehicule and concentrate on generating fear and can't locate their own country on a world map much less Iraq or Afghanistan. Education and culture would be a good start in order to not be terrorized. Or am I in left field and under a false impression?

CGomezFebruary 9, 2010 8:02 AM

I think over the years there has been some mythmaking over entities like the Secret Service, or other high profile security organization. Heck even "24" contributes to this in my view.

We see it in movies, where they are made out to be gods that are infalliable and think of every contingency.

I do not really believe Americans are "terrorized" but I may have a different definition than Bruce (yes I've read Bruce's writings on this). I feel if Americans were truly terrorized they would not go to work, or school, or the mall, and certainly not the Super Bowl.

No, generally we think nothing is going to happen.

But we also have a false sense that "people in charge know what they are doing" and they should do "whatever it takes to keep us safe".

But they don't know what they are doing.

Why do I know this? Well most of us aren't security experts (I know I'm not). But we vote for our leaders. Our leaders are simply an amalgation and reflection of ourselves. If we know little about security and respond well to security theater, surely we will elect people who also respond to security theater.

Except it's worse, because they have the power to make us pay for it and endure it.

And we willingly give over that power through elections.

It's a hard cycle to break.

Mauro SFebruary 9, 2010 8:09 AM

Well, “anti-terrorist experts” depend on the perception of a great terrorist threat for their own existence…and jobs, and book sales, and conferences...you get the picture.

They would be the last ones to tone down the terrorist threat, just the opposite. The worse, the better.

GreenSquirrelFebruary 9, 2010 8:30 AM

Bill Tupman is a fairly decent guy - I am not sure if the BBC quote is out of context or accurately reflects his views over this.

He is a retired senior lecturer so I am intrigued as to why the BBC went to him for comment, unless he was the only one who said what they wanted him to say....

From http://huss.exeter.ac.uk/politics/staff/tupman/

"My research is on transnational crime, terrorism and the process of creating a supranational police response to these phenomena. I am reliant to a great extent on information from the World Wide Web and the problems such source material produces. I am happy to supervise research students on organised crime, terrorism, Justice and Home Affairs Policy in the European Union [Third Pillar] and police use of information technology. I also have an interest in evaluation research where this concerns policing policy and community safety partnerships.

I am a member of the executive committe of the Standing Group on Organised Crime of the ECPR and run the SGOC blog at:

http://sgoc.blogspot.com/"

IntelVetFebruary 9, 2010 8:31 AM

"But we also have a false sense that "people in charge know what they are doing" and they should do "whatever it takes to keep us safe"."

CGomez,

Knowing this, why ever would an outside "terrorist" wish to reinforce that particular attitude? Would that not be something an "insider" would want?

Just sayin' Notin' to see here, move along.....

bruceFebruary 9, 2010 8:34 AM

Speaking as a Brit, I wonder if half the purpose of the terrorist acts so far has be to cause a reaction against our otherwise neutral moslem minority, and drive them towards the extremists.

Laughter at 'great balls of fire' from all sides would help avoid this. As would some more condemnation from the moderates.

And the 'Keep calm & carry on' posters were printed for use in the event of invasion of the UK in WW2, but never actually distributed. My guess would be that the Forces and government wished to avoid roads being blocked by refugees, as happened in France earlier.

StephanieFebruary 9, 2010 9:04 AM

You know as an American I surely appreciate the advice about the stiff upper lip and all that. I'd like to point out, as others have, that we aren't a bunch of chicken littles. Its a mistake to underestimate our people as we are, not as we are portrayed in the media or by people with agendas. We're tough, most of us came here from other places and know how lucky we are to be here.
That freaking out stuff is the media, big business, and political posturing. Most of us are figuring out how to survive this economy. You are getting sound bites and a very different picture of us than what is real.

AndrewFebruary 9, 2010 9:06 AM

(cracks knuckles)

Americans are already terrorized. If you play the game, you get the house, the 2.5 kids, the white picket fence, the string of nice but barely paid for cars, the health care and the nice casket.

What you pay for it is that you must play the game. It's the Deal -- you put in your life in the system, vote Republican, agree with your boss, don't make waves, and last but not least, blindly buy a package of beliefs ranging from apple pie through zeitgeist. In exchange you get the promise of cradle-to-grave security.

Random terror upsets the applecart, so to speak. Too much danger that sheeple might think, so only authorized terror need apply. Random terror must be covered by a government program, explained away by pseudo-experts, or used to reify the system by positing an external if nonexistent enemy. Thank you, George Orwell, but your "1984" did not imagine non-state actors as the eternal foe.

The system is starting to break down because so many people are putting in the work and then not getting their end of the deal. From mortgages to banks, from government promises of largess to budget realities of impoverishment, the Deal is starting to show big hairy cracks.

If we refused to be terrorized, we'd stop being afraid of a lot more than al queda.

John KelseyFebruary 9, 2010 9:08 AM

I think our responses to terrorism make much more sense, when you realize that while terrorism is a very small threat for most Americans, it's a huge threat to the continued power of high-ranking politicians. Al Qaida post-9/11 was a much smaller threat to Americans than any number of street gangs, but it was a deadly danger to George W Bush's presidency, as one more successful attack might well have knocked him and his party out of office. Similarly, Al Qaida poses little threat to Americans in the US today, but poses a grave threat to Barrack Obama, the Democrats in Congress, and any number of political appointees whose heads may roll if the next attack succeeds in ways that can be blamed on them.

Our response to terrorism is NOT an overreaction, from the perspective of the people at the top. It's quite rational.

SimonFebruary 9, 2010 9:16 AM

Problem is it's in the media's interests to help generate terror and outrage. Even if the public doesn't care the headlines will still scream blue murder.

AnnFebruary 9, 2010 9:34 AM

@ Bruce- here's a good one- South Caroline is requiring that subversives register. http://rawstory.com/2010/02/...

I'd be tempted to register as a joke and encourage my friends to do the same if I weren't morally certain that it would put me on the "no-fly" list. This will work about as well as trying to force criminals to register their firearms.

AlanSFebruary 9, 2010 10:06 AM

@CGomez "I think over the years there has been some myth-making over entities like the Secret Service, or other high profile security organization. Heck even "24" contributes to this in my view."

Try watching "24" along with the live commentary from Dave and friends over on Dave Barry's blog next week and you'll be cured. As Clive points out there's value in "pitiless laughter and ridicule".

Bryan FeirFebruary 9, 2010 11:07 AM

@bruce (8:34AM):

Reminds me of a talk I heard once, where the speaker was trying to find a dividing line between the 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' ideas. Your point about disenfranchising the neutrals was brought up, in that it was not only in the terrorist's best interest to paint everything in black and white terms to prevent any attempt at dialog across the divide, but that it was often in their best interests to ensure the oppression of the people on their 'side' so the terrorist group would be seen as the only available group fighting for them.

In the end, this was part of his dividing line: the 'freedom fighter' starts off trying to do things the legal way and resorts to guerrilla warfare when it is the only option remaining; the 'terrorist' actively works to ensure that guerrilla warfare is the only option to maintain its own group coherence.

Joachim R.February 9, 2010 11:31 AM

"And it is also necessary to reassure the public that [...] we are in the process of protecting them from any threat."

I would definitely recommend not to do that because it won't be possible.

Total security is an illusion and not worth the trade-offs. Never. Nowhere.

Rick AuricchioFebruary 9, 2010 11:52 AM

"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow?

"Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

"At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad.

"If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume I, "Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois" (January 27, 1838), p. 109.

PhillipFebruary 9, 2010 12:26 PM

My sincere thanks to you, Bruce, for continuing to carry the torch and proclaiming to people they shouldn't be terrorized. Have we become such a panzy society that we can tolerate no risks and we must try to reduce risk to absolute zero regardless of the cost?


...I guess I better cancel my plans to go skiing tonight, aside from terrorism on the slopes, there are a large group of other risks. I could Sonny Bono myself....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_Bono#Death

Scott OlsenFebruary 9, 2010 12:54 PM

"Remember: terrorism can't destroy our country's way of life; only our reaction to terrorism can."

Indeed Bruce. Evidence the reaction to the breach at Detroit's Metro Airport. One man, clearly identified, stopped, tasered and apprehended. TSA's response?

"Authorities ordered other passengers there to leave the terminal immediately and panicked people fled."

Two reasons for panicked people... Americans are mostly sheeples and TSA's inept handling, causing overkill of the situation.

Keep us the good fight Bruce. There are some of us out here who refuse to succumb.

PeterFebruary 9, 2010 4:49 PM

"I want us to be indomitable enough for the next attack to fail to cause terror, even if it succeeds. "

As long as Fox News needs ratings, this will be impossible.

pfoggFebruary 9, 2010 5:28 PM

Tupman uses calm, rational phrasing to present what is essentially an emotional appeal, while Schneier offers a rational argument in emotionally charged language. Is anyone trying to offer rational arguments phrased in unemphatic terms, or do those just not get news coverage?

jacobFebruary 9, 2010 8:21 PM

@bruce
Did you see yet that the TPM has been hacked?
Granted it takes physical access, but very impressive from a technical standpoint. Wanna bet that the chinese and terrorists are hard at work?

Clive RobinsonFebruary 10, 2010 3:37 AM

@ pfogg,

"Is anyone trying to offer rational arguments phrased in unemphatic terms, or do those just not get news coverage?"

They probably are but do you get to hear it under all the other spin and hype being pushed out by various political encumbrents through their trusted news sources.

After a period of time where 9/11 has got to the point where quite a few cannot even remember the year it happened without significant pause it appears that you have to have some "bell to ring" to be heard.

Unfortunatly the cost in deaths is so large we have to mark it against some other event.

For instance in the UK the number of soldiers killed has just past that of the Falkland's Islands war (which lasted 7months well over a quater of a century ago) back when Maggie Thatcher was PM.

However we also need to remember the other costs of what is in effect a futile military action for political reasons.

Both the US & UK have been hit financialy in a way that has compleatly empoverished large swaths of the respective populations. Both are so far in debt that we are mortgaging up not just our childrens but our grand childrens futures.

Yes we can argue that it was our "deregulated banking sectors" that caused the tip over the edge. But the reality is the store cupboard was already empty both finacialy and moraly when that happened, because we where off tilting at windmills in forign lands. Historicaly crusades have always been a waste of time and resources and achive little of positive benifit. We found this out hundreds of years ago. And we also know from more recent times that "Empire Building" is a costly excercise as you then have to defend not just your perimiter from the "barbarians at the gate" but also those within.

China appears to have learnt that lesson so they are trying a different aproach with Africa. They are going for what on the face of it appears to be "hearts and minds". However on looking slightly deeper a more sinister plan can be seen in outline.

I could go on at length about how various countries are making false market places to sell product into to sustain their home economic development model to substantiate the point (but it is rather dull).

The upshot is the Chinese have bought into the US market in a similar way to Japan some thirty years ago. However the US economic downturn is having very profound implications for the Chinese who hold near to a trillion dollars of US debt via near valuless T-Bills and other paper assets.

As others have noted the Chinese are not happy about this as they are locked in for the short term to the fate of the US. However they are now shaking the sword and talking about a "cold war" with the US.

As the old Chinese curse has it we are currently "living in interesting times".

RogerFebruary 11, 2010 3:46 AM

"What frustrates me most about Abdulmutallab is that he caused terror even though his plot failed"

Is there any evidence that he *did* create terror? I don't know of anyone who felt terrified, or even mildly alarmed, by his actions. In fact responses fall into two categories:
a) those who see him as a figure of derision; and
b) those who couldn't care about "yet another terrorism story" and just ignore them all.

RogerFebruary 11, 2010 4:48 AM

> Unfortunatly the cost in deaths is so large we have to mark it against some other event. ... For instance in the UK the number of soldiers killed has just past that of the Falkland's Islands war (which lasted 7months well over a quater of a century ago) back when Maggie Thatcher was PM.

Another way to mark the same number might be to say that the death toll from 9 years of these wars is equal to to about 9 weeks of the British civilian road toll; or approximately the first 8.2 minutes of the Battle of the Somme. (These are actual calculations.)

I do not wish in any way to demean the individual sacrifice of any of those soldiers, but the fact is this is a very small war.

> However we also need to remember the other costs of what is in effect a futile military action for political reasons.

> Both the US & UK have been hit financialy in a way that has compleatly empoverished large swaths of the respective populations. Both are so far in debt that we are mortgaging up not just our childrens but our grand childrens futures.

> Yes we can argue that it was our "deregulated banking sectors" that caused the tip over the edge.

Sorry Clive, I generally have the greatest respect for your posts, but this is so far out of whack ...

We can indeed argue that the "GFC" was caused by banks, because pretty well everyone who has studied the matter agrees that that was precisely the cause. Military expenditure had nothing to do with. In inflation adjusted terms, US annual military expenditure today is and continues to be less than has been sustained for decades in the past; it is only about 2/3 what it was during even the declining years of the Cold War, and less than a quarter of what it was in the 1960s.

As for the increase in annual US defence expenditure between 2000 and today having an impact on the "GFC", the exact value depends on who's figures you believe for the "GFC", but figures from the Asian Development Bank would make the defence increment equal to about 0.8% of the losses from bad trading.

In fact, not just the annual but the *total* cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and all concomitant defence spending increases, is actually smaller than the accounting error in estimating the traders' losses.

Perry NoyaFebruary 11, 2010 4:41 PM

Hopefully columns like yours will unmask the potential fact that it isn't the-People-Refusing-to-be-Terrorized alone that makes Terror Scams work, It's because of the answer to this: What does it matter if the people refuse to BE terrorized if the Major Media rationalize that they ARE terrorized, in order to give Politicals the opening to pass laws desired by Politicos.

It makes you wonder how much - and how long - political campaigns have been conducted simply to provide platforms for arguments that the political class can rationalize as 'reasons for why the election came out the way it did', irrespective of the actual votes cast?

AndrewFebruary 18, 2010 8:00 PM

If you're a counter-terrorism expert, who's going to hire you if there are no terrorism fears?

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