9/11 Made us Safer?

There’s an essay on the Computerworld website that claims I implied, and believe, so:

OK, so strictly-speaking, he doesn’t use those exact words, but the implication is certainly clear. In a discussion about why there aren’t more terrorist attacks, he argues that ‘minor’ terrorist plots like the Times Square car bomb are counter-productive for terrorist groups, because “9/11 upped the stakes.”

This comes from an essay of mine that discusses why there have been so few terrorist attacks since 9/11. There’s the primary reason—there aren’t very many terrorists out there—and the secondary reason: terrorist attacks are harder to pull off than popular culture leads people to believe. What he’s talking about above is the tertiary reason: terrorist attacks have a secondary purpose of impressing supporters back home, and 9/11 has upped the stakes in what a flashy terrorist attack is supposed to look like.

From there to 9/11 making us safer is quite a leap, and not one that I expected anyone to make. Certainly a series of events, before, during, and after 9/11, contributed to an environment in which a particular group of terrorists found low-budget terrorist attacks less useful—and I suppose by extension we might be safer because of it. But you’d also have to factor in the risks associated with increased police powers, the NSA spying on all of us without warrants, and the increased disregard for the law we’ve seen out of the U.S. government since 9/11. And even so, that’s a far cry from claiming causality that 9/11 made us safer.

Not that any of this really matters. Compared to the real risks in the world, the risk of terrorism is so small that it’s not worth a lot of worry. As John Mueller pointed out, the risks of terrorism “are similar to the risks of using home appliances (200 deaths per year in the United States) or of commercial aviation (103 deaths per year).”

EDITED TO ADD (5/10): A response from Computerworld.

Posted on May 10, 2010 at 6:15 AM β€’ 54 Comments


freedomofeverything β€’ May 10, 2010 7:12 AM

I guess safety is a relative term – it’s not like there’s some galactic fuel gauge upon which is written “Safe” and “Not Safe.”

Safer from one thing isn’t safer from all, and the concept of being safer from terror than we were during 9/11 is only true because it is self-fulfilling: that attack is the highest point on the chart.

freedomofeverything β€’ May 10, 2010 7:45 AM

So far πŸ™‚

I think 9/11 only happened because everything somehow just went right for the attackers. So many hundreds of little things could have thrown the plot off, and it was only by the merest chance that it went right.

People do pay more attention now, and we have certain countermeasures in place, and in this way we are safer from airliner bombs – but are we safer from an ever-encroaching government, or a massive attack along a different front?

I don’t think we’re safer from terrorism than we were before, but that’s because it’s so rare in the first place that human minds will construe that as enhanced safety because of the response to 9/11 rather than the natural state of random events.

freedomofeverything β€’ May 10, 2010 7:51 AM

And that gun article is such blatant political ‘for the children’ dross it hurts me to read.

M.Mcloud β€’ May 10, 2010 7:52 AM

Unfortunately, Bruce, this is not the first time someone has twisted a common sense essay on terrorism into something that will grab a headline(and what a headline. “Dying means you will no longer be worried by Terrorism”. No hang on, that’s not what the Computerworld article meant…ohh, never mind, it sounds right because that’s how I interpreted it.
Next, Rush Limbaugh will say that you support the terrorists because you wrote this:
“Note that this is very different than terrorism by an occupied population: the IRA in Northern Ireland, Iraqis in Iraq, Palestinians in Israel. Setting aside the actual politics, all of these terrorists believe they are repelling foreign invaders. That’s not the situation here in the U.S.”

Rush: I mean, look at this Schneier guy-he’s got a beard.
O’Reilly: You’re right. Ring Chuck Norris.

Misconstrued on purpose is how I see it. But I could be misconstruing it.

However, the comparison to number of deaths in commercial aviation per year belies the fact that vast quantities of energy and money and GOOD sense have gone into making planes as safe as they are. Ditto some of the measures put in place to prevent further terrorist attacks. They have been effective. But are huge amounts of money being thrown at the wrong areas as well? I think they could be, because security companies are great at shilling their wares to unsophisticated government officials. Or worse still, officials who receive kickbacks for approving the latest line in Terror-meters. (Look, this one can tell from the way a Terrorist walks, what kind of bomb he has in his underpants).

It’s like the 21st century equivalent of phrenology. But more expensive, obviously.

I grew up in London during the IRA campaigns of the 70’s and 80’s and I laughed when I saw someone comment on here that the authorities took all the bins out of the train stations because of the threat. That’s why tourists think London is so dirty. Blame the IRA. I think we all got fairly blase about it. I remember people used to get mildly annoyed if we had to get off a tube because there was a suspect package on board. Very British, I thought.
I also, like what you said here about the terrorists:
“even the Muslim population, is against you.”
My parents are Muslim(I, however, am somewhere on the augnostic scale-you know, I have an impaired sense of interaction with all things religious) and when people throw genaralisations at me that Muslims are all violent because the Koran is full of violence etc, I realise that my mother must have been reading a different Koran to the one all these violent Muslims are reading. Because her religion actually informed and helped to shape her sense of conscience and compassion and peaceable nature. She would be the first to turn someone in for a heinous act of violence. People get from these books what they want to get; if they are eternally angry and prone to violence then everything the book says looks like an excuse to commit violence. I’m sure they could read Goldilocks and turn it into a reason to murder the infidel bears(Were they circumcised? Then they must die!). My mother however, reads it(the Koran, not Golidlocks) and finds a message of peace and hope and kindness. I suppose it all depends on how you want to twist it and how twisted you already are.

GreenSquirrel β€’ May 10, 2010 7:53 AM

OpEd peice on ComputerWorld misrepresents a more famous person’s opinion to make an article….

Wow, who’da thunk it.

Roxanne β€’ May 10, 2010 8:15 AM

Be careful: The Safety Experts are probably working out a way to ban home toasters, or at least the ones you can poke a knife into, based on this argument.

“Toasters are more dangerous than terrorists! Ban toasters!”

No, learn how to use a toaster safely, and how to negate the threat of terrorism.

I note that in NYC, the suspect car was already under surveillance by passersby before it detonated. That’s why we may be safer now than before 9/11: Ordinary citizens are more vigilant, and more apt to take action than before.

NobodySpecial β€’ May 10, 2010 8:38 AM

The 911 attacks did make a return to violence by the IRA impossible.

There would be no US public support for a group that would be seen as closer to the 911 attackers than romantic freedom fighters and there would be greater British public support for a hardline military campaign.

Is Our Children Learning? β€’ May 10, 2010 8:45 AM

As a person who survived those attacks on my office building, I find this statement Orwellian, on the level of “Hate is Love, War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom”. 9/11 made us safer? From WHOM, exactly? There are 2,995 people who would disagree that event made anyone safer if they were here!

At BEST American intelligence FAILED, miserably and completely, to protect it’s citizens; and that same government’s immediate response thereafter was an unconstitutional power grab which has yet to be dealt with. So again I have to ask – and this time I’m going to wear my ex-military, ex-TS/SCI hat: SAFE FROM WHOM?


Clive Robinson β€’ May 10, 2010 8:49 AM


Did 9/11 make us safer?

Obviously the answer is both yes and no.

In the Yes side a lot of quite sensible ideas that had been around pprior to 9/11 finaly got implemented (ie cockpit doors etc).

On the no side is pretty much all the other junk that has been thought of post 9/11, 99% of which solves no problem but directly creates others. Some of these such as the huge ques actuall makes people easier targets.

Lets make this brutally honest, yes you are marginally safer on an aircraft post 9/11 but you are one heck of a lot less safe in the airport prior to boarding than you where. In fact you could easily argue that your life had been put at significantly greater risk from a fire or other non terrorist event that is hundreds if not thousands of times more likley event post 9/11 due to plain simple stupidity on behalf of those “cashing in” in one way or another…

However 9/11 has had some positive benifts in terms of society in that contary to what a lot of the press say there is now greater understanding between the various ethnic communities. Sadly this is more due to “self preservation” than mutual respect and celebration of the differences from which we would all benifit.

David Romm β€’ May 10, 2010 8:52 AM

9/11 not only upped the stakes for flash among terrorists, but for news organizations. Put more simply: Anthrax attacks, the assassination of doctors, teabaggers flying into government buildings… when such terrorist attacks get reported at all, they are underplayed for whatever is the news story of the day. Giulinani can, with a straight face, say we had no terror attacks under Bush and the interviewer will just nod.

If most anti-terror tactics are security theater, then yes, 9/11 made us FEEL safer about everything else.

Ian β€’ May 10, 2010 8:55 AM

@Is Our Children Learning –

I’m going to wear my current military, current Secret pending TS/SCI hat and make two points.

  1. Bruce is explicitly saying that 9/11 DID NOT make us safer. Someone posted an op-ed saying that Bruce thought that, and Bruce is responding to that making it clear that he does not think that is true. You are actually agreeing with Bruce here.

  2. “There are 2,995 people who would disagree that event made anyone safer if they were here!” They were killed in the event. You’re not talking about the event itself, you’re talking about what happened after, so the casualties in the event have no bearing on whether or not the event itself made us safer. After that, I agree – intel failures, executive power grab, etc.

Pay Attention β€’ May 10, 2010 9:06 AM

If 9/11 raised the stakes for attacks, then what happened in London’s subway system, and what could have happened with the underwear bomber and in Times Square? Play-acting?

Terrorist groups retain their effectiveness and their fundraising by continuing to attack targets. Period. A group that doesn’t attack doesn’t get funding.

The attacks will continue. The question is what are you going to do about it.

Is Our Children Learning? β€’ May 10, 2010 9:26 AM


1) I am aware that I agree with Bruce and find the misappropriation of his words by Computerworld reprehensible. My intent is both to support Bruce’s position from the perspective of someone who did not watch the collapse of those buildings on television; and to urge anyone else who agrees with it to fight these continued attempts by the mainstream media to whitewash the exploitative, unconstitutional post-9/11 actions of the Bush administration.

2) The answer to the question “Safer from WHOM?” cannot be gained without a thorough, scientific and non-partisan investigation of the attacks on 9/11. The people who died that day, were severely injured or died from post-event medical complications are not some kind of “water under the bridge” who should be dismissively brushed off with glib references to the “Bush Kabuki” 9/11 Commission. A new investigation is needed or the statement “9/11 made us safer” remains a propagandist travesty; and by proxy so does the thought that the US government is both capable and willing to protect it’s citizens.

Ian β€’ May 10, 2010 9:55 AM

@Is Our…

  1. Ah, I see. It just looks like you were commenting on the other guy’s op-ed and hadn’t read Bruce’s response. Sorry about that, but it wasn’t really clear.

  2. I’m all for thorough, fair investigations. Not much else to say, otherwise we’ll start endlessly agreeing. πŸ™‚

Michelle β€’ May 10, 2010 10:10 AM

Odd. There is a problem with the “9/11 made us safer” idea, and no one has mentioned it yet.

If the terrorists are refraining from small attacks because they won’t make big headlines, it presumably means they are focusing their efforts on a BIG attack that simply hasn’t happened yet. We won’t feel “safer” the day after they detonate a nuclear weapon, or even just a dirty bomb, in a major city. The fact that it took 10 years or more to happen won’t be much solace.

Now if we can just convince our leaders that you don’t defeat terrorist agents by wiretapping peace activists and killing civilians in illegal wars…

BF Skinner β€’ May 10, 2010 11:04 AM

@M.Mcleod “this is not the first time someone has twisted a common sense essay…”
On anything really but the advantage of the times we are living is that the record is easily examined
I was watching the Congresswoman from LA state that while she was all in favor of off shore drilling she never claimed it was safe.
Then Jon Stewart showed her on the House floor declaring unequivocally that it was totaly safe. A DC blogger stated in an interview
she didn’t believe that politico’s really understood yet how easily their remarks and statements can be correlated because of the new

@M.Mcleod “Or worse still, officials who receive kickbacks for approving the latest line in Terror-meters. ”

While I agree with your premise that deciders self-interest can and does compromise their objectivity. Here in the US it’s a little more subtle than quid pro quo. Direct bribery at the congressional level and up has become rare since ABSCAM.

What we are seeing now are hints and suggestions and revolving doors. Our previous Vice President came to office directly from a CEO’s chair. During the war a sole source uncompeted contract was awarded to his former company. Quid pro quo? Hard to say. Although he had assets still in the company he was supposed to be insulated from them. I think it was more that knowing the company and their capabilities he had no problem with them getting the contract. I think it was improper. The bribery, over charging and waste since documented makes a good case for why it should have been competed.

Then there was our former Secretary of Homeland Security. He now works for a company that sells the naked body scanners. Why would anybody hire a guy that looks like he drinks the blood ov virgins on dark night? Because he knows everyone and the world of work that the company wants to play in. They’d be dim to pass on him.

But the subtle pressures are there. People who work for regulators see that the companies they regulate pay more than government civilian and the companies surely want people experienced in the regulations (and personailities and organziations they operate under) that its natural that there is an uptake from government to industry. The compromise comes in when people think “if I’m hard to deal with as a regulator, I won’t be able to get a cushy job in industry.”

@Richi Jennings “posted a correction at Computerworld”
And how quickly corrections can be made to the record. And Good on Computerworld. What follows has nothing to do with them. I don’t know what their editorial processes are.
But how that correction is made is important. Replacing the verbiage with more suitable text with out placing the change in context that’s like new history from 1984 isn’t it? When you print a correction or retraction then the reader can look up the original article and see if it makes any difference to them. But if you just update a web page with new electrons; we’re immediately back to the case where politicians can declare they never said that!

Richi Jennings β€’ May 10, 2010 11:12 AM

To be clear, nothing has been “replaced”. I wrote a new post with the correction and linked to it in an addition to the original post. The change log of the original post is at the bottom of the page (the ‘first’ comment).

KAL β€’ May 10, 2010 11:15 AM

It seems to me that many have failed to account for the fact that deployments of US Armed forces in the areas of Iraq and Afganistan present disaffected organizations with an easier target for their wrath (as compared to flying over an ocean, and then organizaing a conspiracy in an unfamiliar (and highly addictive) culture).

mcb β€’ May 10, 2010 11:34 AM

@ Richi Jennings

Your response was downright upright of you. Good show.

Corrections in close to real time…what a concept.

GreenSquirrel β€’ May 10, 2010 11:53 AM

At the risk of appearing to be an agree bot, I agree with mcb.

@ Richi Jennings

Very decent thing to do – not many people bother to make corrections, let alone tell the world.

I would like to take back my previous remarks and say “well done.”

peri β€’ May 10, 2010 12:57 PM


I completely agree with every word you wrote! I’ve suggested the same as well in the past.

Chris β€’ May 10, 2010 2:16 PM

I think the argument that 9/11 made us safer is akin to saying that you are at less risk of dying in a fire after your house burns down. Yes you don’t have a house that can kill you in a fire, but you also don’t have a house.

Fundamentally, conditions make for safety, not events. If events push people to take changes in the conditions, it is still the people who changed the conditions that made things safer or not, not the events that precipitated those changes. To argue otherwise is a confusion of terms.

BF Skinner β€’ May 10, 2010 4:07 PM

@NobodySpecial “make a return to violence by the IRA impossible”

So the bombings this year in the north didn’t happen?

SMH β€’ May 10, 2010 5:29 PM

More terrorist attacks are really not necessary at this point. As a people everyone at all levels of society and government is operating at a level of fear, panic and paranoia that another attack would be overkill.

Fear drive decisions and policies have replace rational well thought out decisions in every area and security theater plays out 24/7/365.

M.Mcloud β€’ May 10, 2010 7:15 PM

@ NobodySpecial

To quote some dumb advertsing strapline, ‘Impossible is nothing’.

I wonder whether there are people who will never be happy with the concessions and compromises that I see as a necessary part of living in a ‘civilised’ society. I agree with you in part that the attacks have woken up those who may have once been funnelling monies into the IRA from the US. They are so much less likely to give funding and that is, in my mind, a ‘good’ thing. The funding for such activities has ben almost extinguished but it seems it could still be coming from somewhere.
The solution we see in Eire/N.I. was mostly a diplomatic one, not one where one side overpowered the other. Which tend to be the most long lasting solutions.

My line was a fairly blunt instrument to express what you have done with more clarity. ‘Corruption’ is such a grey area these days because the law cannot infinitely detail how people subtly usurp public funds for private gain. It’s very sophisticated trickery that the boys clubs have been using for a long time and is apparent wherever there are large concentrations of money. TARP comes to mind…or Iraq’s CPA (supposed) billions.
As for the former DHS guy who looks like he drinks the blood of virgins…I snorted my coffee when I read that. Please refrain from such statements as they are dangerous for my health and my white shirt.

911TRUTH β€’ May 11, 2010 12:12 AM

This is an insanely stupid question because the “official” story of 9/11 is a myth.

So the question becomes, safer from whom? The people who the government says did 9/11 or the people who actually did 9/11?

I’m terrified of the people who actually did 9/11. Because they will do it again when it suits their needs. At which point this country will become a true Orwellian Police State.

Did Al Qaeda decimate The Constitution along with our rights, freedoms, privacy, etc, etc?

No. The bush crime family did with the help of our spineless Congress, starting with the passage of the Patriot Act. And Obushbama is towing the line.

And to pre-answer BF Skinner: I am not a tea bagger or an Alex Jones follower, etc. I’m simply someone who believes his own eyes and not what he’s told to believe. Like you do.

Steve S β€’ May 11, 2010 12:19 AM

This is a body scanner system most of us could live with. Mmw scanner (no X-Rays). It has automatic detection and uses no screener for the raw images. It is currently in use in Amsterdam.
The BONEHEADS at TSA thinks it’s not good enough (yet), but it’s pretty clear that eventually automatic detection without naked pictures will rule. Can’t happen soon enough.
Join us in protest and discussion of Facebook:
All Facebook Against Airport Full Body Scanners

AddictedToBSFacts β€’ May 11, 2010 5:55 AM

Rush: I mean, look at this Schneier guy-he’s got a beard.
O’Reilly: You’re right. Ring Chuck Norris.

Bruce Schneier can encrypt your communications against your will! Chuck will only hear static…

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

BF Skinner β€’ May 11, 2010 6:56 AM

@Is Our children Learning

Let’s stop waving clearances around. ‘k?

Gov’t only give out clearances to people they think they can trust. Not to people they think can think. So they don’t crendential us in any meaningful way. Especially with so many higher levels of information secret keeping than TS/SCI. Compartmentalized data is particularly hurtful to analysis since it’s structure to deliberately deny the us a view of the big picture. I’d argue that people with classified access are more limited in their thinking.

Remember how the Harkonnes controlled Atradies Mentat Thufir Hawat? It wasn’t through the poison but through the information they did and didn’t let him process.

Having a clearance can seriously distort our thinking and effectiveness by dismissing the people without them. This can create a tight little air less bubble. The argument “If you knew what we know you’d think the same” is a canard. Since it’s untestable it requires unconditional trust of our elected officials, the beauacracy and the military-industrial complex large; and since other people don’t have the necessary clearances they can’t have the information with which to think with. Yet even people without clearances can, often do, provide clearer assessment of

Finally (and sorry to keep going back to the Viet Nam war but I’m plowing through Ellsbergs Secrets and it’s on my mind), just because you have good analysis doesn’t mean you have good decision making. The Presidents from Rooseveldt through Nixon had consistent best quality analysis on the possibility of victory in Viet Nam. Zero. Best case scenario was always prolonging it. Yet instead of pulling out each president escalated the war even when the risk was open war with China. This was one of two principal lessons of the McNamara report.

That’s why I say prove it to someone like Clarke. He’s external to you and your belief systesm. He’s worked that world and I would trust him based on his actions, (for a given value of trust). He even looked at the claim that McVeigh was Al Quida trained in Indonesia. Possible was his answer; but unverifiable. Unverifiable is often a case we find in investigation and nature. Unverifiable is not permitted in the all tied to all world of conspiracy modeling.

You are a nym pinned to an opinion but I’ll tell you this; while conspiracy is fun, at first, it can damage your mind. Distort your thinking far worse than drugs or alcohol. With them, at least, you can sober up. Try unthinking what you have thought. The universe also has this weird way of conforming to our beliefs and creating weird coincidences. You have a belief, a conviction, not a hypothesis. People who test beliefs are often burned at the stake and those who hold convictions are themselves convicts.

The only way you can keep out of the prison you’re building in your head is to demand proof. Demand it always of those who disagree with you, those who agree with you but most importantly; demand it of yourself.

Ian β€’ May 11, 2010 9:03 AM

@BF Skinner

You made my point. I’ve said it before in other comments – clearances mean only that they haven’t found any visible screw-ups on the Approved List, so their usefulness is limited. Certainly they aren’t any kind of indicator of intelligence, education, being a nice person, etc. – so I was trying to be tongue-in-cheek. πŸ™‚

Kristian β€’ May 11, 2010 9:59 AM

Hey Bruce,
I’m glad that you don’t work for the government if you feel like we should not be concerned with terrorism. πŸ™‚ Statistical odds are much different than lunatic extremists who are trying to attack us. Talk to anyone who’s served fighting terrorism or in intelligence and you might get a paradigm shift. Cheers.

BF Skinner β€’ May 11, 2010 11:58 AM

@Ian “said it before in other comments ”
So Noted. I have glanced at other discussions before now re: clearances and was thinking of them in my answer.

Yes your point that a clearance provides for a level of trust at a particular time based on a clean record does have some flaws. The reason we bounce most people is debt. Does that mean that people in debt are inherently untrustworthy? I don’t think so but there is a higher risk that they have higher motivation to convert their access to ready cash.

There was a case at NSA in the 70s or 80s where they were going to bounce an analyst because they discovered they were gay. Does that mean gay people are inherently less trustworthy than hetero’s? No. The fear there is blackmail. Someone with a secret gives a handle to those who want to manipulate them. Interesting solve they told him to come out to his friends and family.

No secret no coercion. No debt no temptation.

But I would go further and say it’s not just a clean background, nobody saying something they should or the individual lying on their SF85. For lower background checks it is just checking records of state, local and federal agencies.

The investigative process should produce a surface of information reflecting the individual’s character. The investigators (at higher assurance levels) should be able to assemble enough data for an informed judgement.

That trust is not a steady state quality is reflected in our periodic reinvestigations. People become drug dependent, radicalized, indebted, marry the wrong people, fall into the wrong crowd. Things change and the trust relationship has to be reassessed and perhaps renegotiated.

Perfect no. Little is. That’s what COIN and incident response plans are for.

HJohn β€’ May 11, 2010 12:32 PM

@BF Skinner: “Does that mean that people in debt are inherently untrustworthy? I don’t think so but there is a higher risk that they have higher motivation to convert their access to ready cash.

Does that mean gay people are inherently less trustworthy than hetero’s? No. The fear there is blackmail. ___________

I think you make a good point there.

I heard an interesting speech a while back from a decorated former serviceman. He had an exemplary record, never reprimanded. However, there was a ceiling on his security clearance. His superiors were very up-front about the reason why. It wasn’t to punish him or limit him. But, his family immigrated here from a nation we had conflicts with. He still had family in those nations. They simply were willing to risk him sharing any information.

Unfair? Perhaps, but he understood.

I’m acquainted a woman whose son was murdered and she was released from jury duty because of it. While it happened years before and it certainly wasn’t her fault he was murderered, the defense had a legitimate concern that she may give a bit too much weight to weeping relatives.

Fair to her? Nope. But understandable.

There are certain things that may be prejudicial, but some risks just are not worth taking, especially when it comes to a defendants liberty or national security.

GreenSquirrel β€’ May 11, 2010 12:56 PM

@ Kristian at May 11, 2010 9:59 AM
(on the off chance you are willing to engage in discussion)

“Statistical odds are much different than lunatic extremists who are trying to attack us.”

Erm, what?

“Talk to anyone who’s served fighting terrorism or in intelligence and you might get a paradigm shift. Cheers.”

I have done both as have several other people here. What do you want to talk about?

BF Skinner β€’ May 11, 2010 1:54 PM

@Hjohn “, his family immigrated here from a nation we had conflicts with. He still had family in those nations. ”

I wasn’t going to talk to the foreign born or the 1st gens. I think most people don’t understand how diverse our bureaucracy has become and should they ever examine it it would make the tea parties look like tea parties.

My personal belief was at sharp odds to my service peers and superiors. It was a very white, very middle class organization that didn’t trust the foreign born. It was hard for me to separate rational assessment of risk from xenophobia or jingoism. The conflicts occured through out the work-life culture and was once expressed as “Why do we have all these PIs in ‘our’ service.” When I replied “Do you mean why after supporting us during our war with Japanese fighting beside our ground troops, protecting our civilians at the cost of their own lives and freedoms, crewing our ships as cooks and mess boys for decades afterwards these people deserve the same status and benifits of the American dream we do? You mean like that?” I was told that I just couldn’t be wrong could I. Meh. To be American is to be fair.

We’ve had foreign born allies that we’ve shared the most sensitive intell we own since the founding of the country. Some we’ve been able to trust others (like Iraq under Saddam) we found we could not. I believe loyalty, trust and nationality are independent variables.

And you’ve described the central point of a risk decision. I usually hear it in terms of ‘is system operation with it’s, now, known risks greater than the effect of the system being turned off.’ I guess it can be worded Is the risk of an choice worth it’s consequence. We can control that risk only as far as it is forseen. Quadrant 4 will always represent our risk even in a perfect world.

In this case you cite though it was a nation we’ve conflicted with. That is relevant factor that must be taken into the totality of the decision. Fair? Yeah I would argue it is. Nothing was hidden from the member. If I was his CO I’d try to help them into a career path they could advance in without the clearance.

Fair treatment doesn’t equal equal treatment.

DC β€’ May 11, 2010 1:56 PM

Back when I had a fairly high clearance, and certain peccadilloes came to light, it was explained to me that yes, they worry about three things — blackmail, jail-able offenses, and loose lips. All for the same reason — and they hate having to try and protect their secrets if someone holding them is in jail, or losing them because someone is coerced or could be. Suffice to say that my clearance was restored quickly as I was completely open and didn’t have loose lips.

On that thing about “children shooting one another”, oh come now. We’re talking mainly gang-bangers and the very odd innocent here.
More actual children (18 is kinda pushing the definition) drown in buckets.

If their nature and nurture combined were so bad as to cause this (they’d use knives or something else if they couldn’t get guns) then perhaps we’re better off without them? If the violent want to eliminate one another from society for us, why stop them? We could teach them to shoot better so they only hit one another….Clearly they are able to bribe or frighten the cops well enough to keep them from costing us yet more by living in prison at our expense. I am often glad Darwin works.

And yes, that’s sarcasm. But as mentioned in another thread — maybe someone takes it seriously — or should be. Since that’s clearly an anti gun rant — let me say this:

I am the weapon. Guns and whatever else are just some tools I may (or may not) choose to use.
Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

HJohn β€’ May 11, 2010 2:06 PM

@BF Skinner: “In this case you cite though it was a nation we’ve conflicted with. That is relevant factor that must be taken into the totality of the decision. Fair? Yeah I would argue it is. ”

“Fair treatment doesn’t equal equal treatment.”

That’s a good way to put it. This person’s service was quite some time ago, back when toilet paper inventory was considered classified because it tipped off troop strength.

Part of the benefit of excluding this guy, perhaps not even intended, was for his own protection. In my job, we not only have to refrain from conflicts of interest, we have to refrain from the appearance of it. If something happened, this guy may very well be suspected wrongly, putting a black mark on his record regardless of his actions.

I also agree that fair and equal aren’t the same.

Andrew_M_Garland β€’ May 11, 2010 3:04 PM

Terrorism is Thug Advertising

Why do they want to kill us. What is in it fo them? They attack us as a way to build their organizations and street cred.

Julian Sanchez at Cato@Liberty:

Terrorism is primarily a symbolic act. Terror groups execute sensational attacks as PR stunts. They don’t love blowing up airplanes; they do it to establish their own credibility versus more locally-focused Islamist groups. They compete with both violent and peaceful groups for recruits.

BF Skinner β€’ May 11, 2010 3:52 PM

@Hjohn “refrain from the appearance ”
Oh. If only people really understood and followed that.

I meant to add one thing that is not national security related. Failure to screen backgrounds for some roles (security guards say) can leave the security company liable.

Case in law (I’ll look it up only if you make me) was where a young fella was hired as a night guard by a security firm with a contract at a precious metal storage facility. His neighbor was a criminal who convinced the kid to help him heist the metal stored. The storage facility sued the security firm and won because the court found they failed in their due diligence. A check of the kid’s housing should have revealed the criminal association which may have led them not to put him, by himself, at night guarding a building, from himself.

Francois D β€’ May 11, 2010 4:11 PM

I am afraid I find the entire discussion illogical and unsubstantiated.

1) Terrorism has increased, not decreased, since 9/11. There have been almost daily suicide bombs in Iraq for many years. Of course, that is worldwide terrorism, even though it’s probably not the case for US based terrorism. Nombrilism does not go well with science.

2) Even after 9/11, there were multiple very significant instances of directly connected terrorism (London, Madrid, Bali, etc) that targeted at large the US-led coalition. In addition, there were multiple attempts.

3) It’s not like US based terrorism has fully disappeared. Anthrax, planes crashing in federal building, attack within a US base, etc. You might have thought of “Islamic” terrorism?

4) Prior to 9/11, there was terrorism in the US. Oklahoma City anyone? Not clear at all that the fundamental hypothesis is even true in the US

5) With rare events, statistics are essentially meaningless. Using those statistics over short periods of time to assert something like safer or not is statistically non representative. It could be like assessing safety of the proverbial guy falling from a tall building who can be overheard saying “so far so good, so far so good…”: if you only look at the short window of time with statistics, all may look good, but a catastrophic event could be looming. Not saying that’s the case for terrorism in the US, but who can know?

Bottom line – the very notion of safer or not safer is not even meaningful statistically – but terrorism has grown, not declined, worldwide, and does not appear that drastically different statistically in the US.

Ultimately, the only point I agree with you on is that the events (in the US and most developed countries) are so rare as to be entirely inconsequential statistically (very much like plane crashes), and it is mostly the emotional and media entanglements of those events that blow them out of proportion.

Peter E Retep β€’ May 11, 2010 7:57 PM

But do home appliances change their behavior to anticipate vulnerabilities in your own?

Its the interactivity of intellect aspect that confounds perceptions

Kristian β€’ May 12, 2010 9:58 AM

@GreenSquirrel: I find your statement suspect. πŸ™‚ Have a good one.

HJohn β€’ May 12, 2010 10:16 AM

@BF Skinner: “Case in law (I’ll look it up only if you make me) was where a young fella was hired as a night guard by a security firm with a contract at a precious metal storage facility. His neighbor was a criminal who convinced the kid to help him heist the metal stored. The storage facility sued the security firm and won because the court found they failed in their due diligence. A check of the kid’s housing should have revealed the criminal association which may have led them not to put him, by himself, at night guarding a building, from himself.”

I won’t make you look anything up. I do the same thing. After being in the area I’ve been in for so many years, I run across so many events and stories that I often discuss but seldom cite. I don’t have a problem with doing so since we are just dialoguing and sharing knowledge, not attacking or convicting anyone or anything.

Your case seems strange. I wouldn’t have thought a background check would give a neighbors criminal record since you have to approve having one done. But if there is one thing I know about law, is some are very adept at finding a scapegoat–someone, anyone, that could have saved the day. We saw it large scale after 9/11 and Virginia Tech, and small scale in events like you mentioned.

Some standard of due dilligence is fair. You shouldn’t let someone with a criminal record do certain tasks, someone who served time for a white collar crime probably isn’t the best CFO, someone heavily in debt may not be the best choice to manage petty cash (at least, not without reasonable controls). Etc. There is also a lot of gray area. Not to mention, every criminal has a first offense, at least, a first one where he was caught, and background checks can’t help that.

As a seasoned auditor, I find myself at odds with many others in my profession a lot. They often lack a sense of proportion. They want great security and control just for the sake of security and control, not factoring in the costs versus benefits. They come in with their black and white checklists that do little more than waste resources. They fail to see the opportunity costs–a dollar spent upgrading from X-bit encryption to 2X-bit encryption is a dollar not spent in other areas, for example.

This applies generally to the original topic of “safer.” That isn’t a black and white term that can’t be easily measured. Especially when we erode one area by weighing another too heavily.

The Archon β€’ May 12, 2010 4:13 PM

In lieu of original thought, I’m just gonna repost my Slashdot comment on the topic of how this is all a screwed-up game of Telephone.

Bruce Schneier: Terrorism is hard, and ‘topping’ 9/11 in order to really impress their backers is harder.

Columnist: Bruce Schneier says 9/11 made us safer! But not really, that’s how I interpret it!

Slashdot: Bruce Schneier says 9/11 made us safer! That’s what he said!

Next iteration: Bruce Schneier is AN EVIL MUSLIM NAZI!

GreenSquirrel β€’ May 13, 2010 4:57 AM

@ Kristian at May 12, 2010 9:58 AM

“I find your statement suspect.”

Which one? I made two.


alreadyonthelist β€’ May 13, 2010 7:40 PM

Considering the folks getting terror labels slapped on them, including elderly Dominican nuns in the state of Maryland, I’m not drinking the Koolaid on being any safer with the terror watch programs contractors run out of public coffee shops/drop off your hours and mileage get your Sprint cellphone network code. Feel free to form an orderly line and get your dixie cup, then quietly lie down in the corner. You’ll be nice and safe there.

paul β€’ May 14, 2010 12:42 PM

“Certainly a series of events, before, during, and after 9/11, contributed to an environment in which a particular group of terrorists found low-budget terrorist attacks less useful”

This actually has interesting implications if true (and it may be true for some terrorist groups, at least). If terrorists believe they have to up the ante in order to have whatever effect it is they want to have, then it might be that the kinds of threats we need to defend against involve complex plotting by multiple coordinated actors with relatively — for terrorists — sophisticated training, and aimed at extraordinarily high-visibility targets. Dare I even say, threats that might superficially resemble a movie plot?

When someone trying to set his underpants on fire can lead to calls for mass panic, it’s unclear that terrorists do need to up the ante to get attention. And it’s even less clear whether or how many terrorist groups believe that. But it would certainly be in the interest of the more-civilized world to draw terrorists into that narrative, because big complicated conspiracies with lots of perfectly-timed moving parts tend to be easier to detect and foil.

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