Preventing Terrorist Attacks in Crowded Areas

On the New York Times Room for Debate Blog, I -- along with several other people -- was asked about how to prevent terrorist attacks in crowded areas. This is my response.

In the wake of Saturday's failed Times Square car bombing, it's natural to ask how we can prevent this sort of thing from happening again. The answer is stop focusing on the specifics of what actually happened, and instead think about the threat in general.

Think about the security measures commonly proposed. Cameras won't help. They don't prevent terrorist attacks, and their forensic value after the fact is minimal. In the Times Square case, surely there's enough other evidence -- the car's identification number, the auto body shop the stolen license plates came from, the name of the fertilizer store -- to identify the guy. We will almost certainly not need the camera footage. The images released so far, like the images in so many other terrorist attacks, may make for exciting television, but their value to law enforcement officers is limited.

Check points won't help, either. You can't check everybody and everything. There are too many people to check, and too many train stations, buses, theaters, department stores and other places where people congregate. Patrolling guards, bomb-sniffing dogs, chemical and biological weapons detectors: they all suffer from similar problems. In general, focusing on specific tactics or defending specific targets doesn't make sense. They're inflexible; possibly effective if you guess the plot correctly, but completely ineffective if you don't. At best, the countermeasures just force the terrorists to make minor changes in their tactic and target.

It's much smarter to spend our limited counterterrorism resources on measures that don't focus on the specific. It's more efficient to spend money on investigating and stopping terrorist attacks before they happen, and responding effectively to any that occur. This approach works because it's flexible and adaptive; it's effective regardless of what the bad guys are planning for next time.

After the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt, I was asked how we can better protect our airplanes from terrorist attacks. I pointed out that the event was a security success -- the plane landed safely, nobody was hurt, a terrorist was in custody -- and that the next attack would probably have nothing to do with explosive underwear. After the Moscow subway bombing, I wrote that overly specific security countermeasures like subway cameras and sensors were a waste of money.

Now we have a failed car bombing in Times Square. We can't protect against the next imagined movie-plot threat. Isn't it time to recognize that the bad guys are flexible and adaptive, and that we need the same quality in our countermeasures?

I know, nothing I haven't said many times before.

Steven Simon likes cameras, although his arguments are more movie-plot than real. Michael Black, Noah Shachtman, Michael Tarr, and Jeffrey Rosen all write about the limitations of security cameras. Paul Ekman wants more people. And Richard Clarke has a nice essay about how we shouldn't panic.

Posted on May 4, 2010 at 1:31 PM • 76 Comments

Comments

Steve SyfuhsMay 4, 2010 2:12 PM

You certainly have a valid point, but it doesn't really sound like you answered the initial question posed to you. You said "It's more efficient to spend money on investigating and stopping terrorist attacks before they happen." Well yes, great, but how? Is it that you are saying authorities really aren't investigating beforehand?

Cheers,

Robert RichardsonMay 4, 2010 2:12 PM

No question that you're not going to detect the specific threat of an amateur with a car and some gasoline. On the other hand, this doesn't, so far, appear to be the sort of crime where better intelligence would have been likely to pick something up in advance. For this sort of threat, minimal protections are probably the only ones that make sense over the long haul. This also applies to IT security... exactly how it applies is something I'm working on now in a blog entry for Darkreading.com that should be up by tomorrow (Thursday).

Robert Richardson
Director, CSI

Matt SimmonsMay 4, 2010 2:15 PM

Bruce, I have the utmost respect for you and what you say, but I have to wonder how the normally effective techniques of anti-terrorism will stop something like this.

Normally, you say "don't let terrorists get their hands on explosives". I agree, but fertilizer and propane tanks can be purchased / rented anywhere, but nearly everyone, and this sized bomb could be rigged by (apparently almost) anyone, independently. A terror cell wouldn't even be necessary, because a half an hour trip would produce everything someone needed.

The only really effective countermeasure would be to make sure that people don't want to blow other people up. I'm not entirely sure that's ever going to happen.

I don't see a way to put a stop to something like this without checking cars, and like you said, you can't check everyone for everything.

SJWMay 4, 2010 2:32 PM

@Matt Simmons:

That's the point, which is why it's a two part answer. You won't prevent everything. If that's your hope, give up now. You put the best effort into flexible detection and monitoring, and have a good first response plan in place to deal with those situations that do get through, because they *will* happen.

And even better, they'll deal with those situations where someone has a heart attack while driving, and puts their car into a crowd. Or a gas leak causes an explosion. Which no amount of security cameras, checkpoints, sniffer dogs or similar will actually do a damned thing for.

Which has been posted by Bruce (and others) dozens of times, all over the place.

But it's easier to say "we'll make sure it never happens again!" rather than "we're ready for when it happens again!" to a voting public. Even if its a lie, it sounds better.

Some GuyMay 4, 2010 2:34 PM

And what about diminishing the exposure to the threat?
Something like the Times Square could be made off-limits for cars and trucks during business hours, and cars wouldn't be allowed to park in. End result: the place would be much more amenable to human traffic, and car bomb threat would be annulled. More frequent foot police patrols, explosive sniffing dogs and a more educated public would help diminish the threat from the occasional bag with a couple of pipe bombs that is left in the middle of the street. Choke points at entry (like the entrance of a metro station) would still be a problem but could be mitigated.

DanMay 4, 2010 2:36 PM

Like any preventive measure we need to focus on the specifics so that anomalies can be detected before or while they are happening. Just looking at being adaptive in my opinion doesn't mean much without a baseline. In this case how are we not tracking someone who traveled and stayed for 5 months in a known terrorist locale in Pakistan ? Now we can use that info to monitor other suspicious activity using that data as an indicator.

We NeedMay 4, 2010 2:37 PM

We need to have better background checks of people who come to the USA and get US Citizen status. I know it will stink for those who are honest, but we need to stop jerking around and subject all people coming to the USA for citizenship with the same vigor we use in performing background checks for folks who get TS/SCI in the gov. Ya I can hear you na sayers, BUT the question remains--what type of security checks are done for such people and how deep -far back does it go!

Jim AMay 4, 2010 2:43 PM

The attack the other day outside the Pentagon also illustrates the problem with checkpoints. The more thorough they are, the bigger the crowd waiting to go through them, which can become a target in and of itself. Which isn't to say that security checkpoints are worthless, just that they CAN'T prevent attacks, just channel them.

Alan KaminskyMay 4, 2010 2:49 PM

Iraq, Pakistan, and India are plagued with suicide bombers. These terrorists make damn sure the explosion happens by pushing the button themselves.

But on U.S. soil, we're not getting suicide bombers. Instead, we get the Times Square Bomber, who activated some kind of device to (supposedly) detonate the explosives and then ran away. Or we get Timothy McVeigh, who did manage to detonate a truck bomb in Oklahoma City, but did not commit suicide in the process. Or we get the Shoe Bomber and the Underwear Bomber, who would have been suicides, but their attacks fizzled. I can't recall an instance of a successful suicide bomber attack in the U.S.

Why is this?

TimMay 4, 2010 3:02 PM

So Bruce, are you saying that warrentless screening of overseas cell phone calls from US citizens to known terrorist leaders outside of the US would be more effective? I believe it would have been helpful in catching this individual before he could act. The information gathered in the cell phone converstations may not have been admissible in court, but his later actions would have been tracked and prosecuted. The NSA previous efforts don't sound so bad after all.

acMay 4, 2010 3:17 PM

@Alan Kaminsky

First off, even in the worst places, the number of these people is so low that any little fluctuations in numbers can seem to be huge differences. So any differences are probably more minor than you'd think.

It's hard to speculate on motivations, but I'd imagine it's easier to motivate people to commit suicide if they think they're going to be killed anyway. Thus I'd imagine Iraq is a relatively easy place to recruit (but still an incredibly small percentage of the population).

Curt SampsonMay 4, 2010 3:32 PM

@Matt Simmons:

"I have to wonder how the normally effective techniques of anti-terrorism will stop something like this. "

Could you clarify what you mean by "this"? Do you mean, "stop things that don't explode in Times Square"? That's a lot of things to stop.

It would have been a miracle (for the wannabe terrorist or terrorists) if that SUV had damaged anything beyond itself. Even if the gasoline might have ignited, it was stopped before that could happen by a reasonably alert citizen, much as anything smelling of burning, anywhere in NYC, would be. This would be yet another "terrorist" failure, if only people would stop panicking.

It's only the abject fear that Americans live in at the moment that's the real problem.

derfMay 4, 2010 3:36 PM

The Times Square style attack simply can't be prevented if the culprit has any shred of intelligence. Until the driver makes a visible mistake (like leaving a smoking car or jumping up and down on the car yelling "bomb"), there will be no camera, police, FBI, CIA, NSA, TSA, or innocent bystander observable indication of the coming explosion. At that point, it's too late.

RoyMay 4, 2010 3:40 PM

That wasn't a failed car bomb. It was a failed car fire. It had none of the makings of a car bomb. As an intentional arson, it was inept. The idiot tried kids' firecrackers as a combination fuse and fire starter. And he left the windows closed, apparently unaware that oxygen is needed for things to burn.

It was such disaster in planning and execution, I suspect a false-flag operation meant to scare the public with wannabe terrorists, since we're not having much luck with real terrorists coming here.

IanMay 4, 2010 3:44 PM

@Some Guy

Nobody is blocking off Times Square. Traffic around here is bad enough. Besides, then they'd go park a smoking SUV by Penn Station, or Union Square, or somewhere else.

@We Need

Do you have a TS/SCI? Know anyone with one? It costs a lot and takes a lot of time, and doesn't tell you what a person WILL do, only what they MAY have done in the past - maybe. A lot of people become citizens. Too many to do a SSBI on. Even if we had the money for it, and we don't, we wouldn't be able to hire enough investigators to process all of the investigations in any kind of realistic time frame. And even if we could solve those two problems, even the best investigation isn't a crystal ball - it can tell you some of a person's history and give you a general idea of their character. They're not plumbing the depths of your character, they're making you fill out a long-ass form and talking to a few people to make sure you didn't lie after they run you through a few databases.

To answer your question - what kind of background checks are done on prospective citizens? Enough to make sure that the vast, overwhelming majority of new citizens are fundamentally decent people who want to be here. Even a natural-born citizen can be a terrorist or a criminal, remember?

Frank Ch. EiglerMay 4, 2010 4:18 PM

"I know, nothing I haven't said many times before."

Makes one wonder why they asked!

mcbMay 4, 2010 4:24 PM

I wonder if the flexible and adaptive transnational counterterrorism investigative techniques that Bruce espouses work better on detecting, delaying, disrupting, disappearing, and just maybe deterring skilled and organized "real" terrorists.

Poorly trained, radicalized lone wolves bent on movie plot missions of buffoonery may be harder to detect in advance but when they show up with firecrackers, gasoline jugs, bbq grill canisters, and Miracle Grow in carelessly acquired vehicles, leaving an investigative trail a mile wide, I'm inclined to worry about them a little less.

Bottomline, none of us will ever live in a society where baseball bats, boxcuttters, highway flares, and gasoline cannot be used in evil combination.

RandomMay 4, 2010 4:26 PM

Most efficient and cost-effective method: follow Ron Paul's suggestions on foreign policy: take all US troops back home (including those stationed in Saudi Arabia), stop treating Israel as if it were a US state, stop playing world police.
Terrorists will stop targeting you, they will lose many supporters and you can focus on sorting out your public debt.

U. N. KnownMay 4, 2010 4:27 PM

Might I suggest having a look at a (sadly, out of print) book by Dean Ing entitled "Soft Targets"? His suggestion to preventing terrorism is to deny it that which it seeks: respectful attention. Have our media quit turning every attack into a circus and instead, turn it into an occasion to mock and deride them:

A comedy sketch example:

Osama bin Idiot: We must drive everybody who opposes us into catatonic terror!

Henchman: And how do we get fed when everybody on earth but us is terrorized into immobility?

JohnMay 4, 2010 4:36 PM

Cameras are useless now; in 20, 50, 100 years they'll be able to identify every single individual--then they might be useful. But with a total loss of privacy. But by then cameras all over the cities will be already accepted by the public. That's why agencies waste all this money now, they invest for the future.

AndrewMay 4, 2010 4:40 PM

>> That wasn't a failed car bomb. It was a failed car fire. It had none of the makings of a car bomb. As an intentional arson, it was inept. The idiot tried kids' firecrackers as a combination fuse and fire starter. And he left the windows closed, apparently unaware that oxygen is needed for things to burn.

Cause for much rejoicing around the office here. As long as the bad guys remain this inept, we have nothing to worry about.

Petréa MitchellMay 4, 2010 4:54 PM

"[...] it's natural to ask how we can prevent this sort of thing from happening again."

What, you want the next bomb to work? :-)

PhilMay 4, 2010 5:05 PM

Is it just me, or is footage of a failed attempt almost as good for the terrorists as a successful one? Remember the object of the terrorists is terrorism! They don't have to be successful to succeed. Maybe another reason why cameras aren't productive since they are more easily used by the terrorists for their own benefit.

MikeMay 4, 2010 5:15 PM

The FBI is calling some M-80's and a couple of cans of gas a "weapon of mass destruction" now? WTF?!

KristianMay 4, 2010 5:41 PM

I think that this is better left to the national security experts, IMHO. You may know computer security but national security is an entirely different and enormously more complex matter.

CountoMay 4, 2010 6:04 PM

And as it turns out one of the secondary VINs on the car was tracked to the owner of record who sold it to the bomber. They found him though phone and internet records tied to the sale of the car. So yet again it turns out that old-fashioned police investigation albeit with a bit of a high tech twist is what caught the bad guy, not some Orwellian surveillance system. Yet people are still pushing this high tech crap even though it didn't do a damn thing. Of course it didn't hurt that the bomber was so stupid that apparently he thought simply removing the VIN plate visible in the dash would make the car untraceable.

RichMay 4, 2010 6:21 PM

I'm amazed the Pakastani Taliban wanted to claim any connection with such an incompetent wannabe.

AndrewMay 4, 2010 7:16 PM

Kristian says:

>> I think that this is better left to the national security experts, IMHO. You may know computer security but national security is an entirely different and enormously more complex matter.

A moron leaving hazardous chemicals in his car with an inept attempt at a detonator is NOT a "national security" incident. The news media grossly overreacting and spreading fear and panic for no reason has national security implications, but these are much more political than practical.

I appreciate Bruce's perspective, as I do that of all informed citizens and lawful permanent residents. Independent of his credentials as a computer security expert, he has every right to speak out about stupidity in the name of national security.

As for the parallels between computer security and national security, it is amazing how much complex systems have in common with each other when you pry the VIN off the dashboard. We call it an "arms race" whether it's EOD versus the bomb squad, hackers vs. CERT, or insects vs. each other.

Show me a security system that will reliably stop random stupidity, and I will beg you to deploy it at once in the nation's large bureaucracies, especially health care systems, where it would save far more lives on a daily basis. (Medical errors, dirty hands, misread charts, wrong parts amputated -- you name it, a hospital near you is doing it.)

periMay 4, 2010 8:06 PM

"their forensic value after the fact is minimal."

It seems like the cameras actually _cost_ the police time following up on the wrong guy!

http://www.ny1.com/5-manhattan-news-content/...

"Police had originally been focusing on surveillance video showing a man taking off his shirt in Shubert Alley, about half a block from the SUV."

I'll also admit that I initially suspected redneck terrorists for this one but I soon felt silly because they would know which fertilizer to use.

Ross SniderMay 4, 2010 8:55 PM

@Alan Kaminsky

Besides 9/11? There certainly have been successful suicide bombings (and suicide gunnings) on U.S. soil. More prominently, these sorts of things happen to U.S. embassies or other U.S. run/owned/occupied spaces.

There's also the culture gap, although admittedly shrinking due to globalization and global transportation, that separates what types of behavior are accepted, expected, deemed necessary and deemed fruitful.

Curious observation.

larry seltzerMay 4, 2010 9:10 PM

In fact cameras did help. Just not the cameras in Times Square.

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/...

"Members of the family told the FBI that Shahzad paid $1,300 for the vehicle in $100 bills after taking the Pathfinder on a test drive in the parking lot of a Bridgeport shopping center. FBI agents recovered a shopping center surveillance tape that they say shows Shahzad driving the car, authorities said."

mooMay 4, 2010 10:12 PM

Ironically enough, they managed to catch him because they had put his name on the no-fly list a few hours before. This is actually about the *only* legitimate use of the no-fly list that I've ever heard of: when pursuing a major crime suspect who is probably trying to flee the country after committing a crime.

If we could remove all the hundreds of thousands of "suspected bad people" from the list and just limit its use to the small number of persons who are--on that very day--the targets of a nationwide manhunt, then I would no longer have a problem with the no-fly list.

I wonder if the original idea for the no-fly list was more like what I just proposed. There's a pithy comment about scope creep lurking somewhere.

MarkPMay 4, 2010 10:47 PM

How can you say the Christmas bomber was a security success? The bomber got onto the plane with a device. Only the fact that the device failed resulted in a good outcome. The bomber got through security with a device on board.

I agree with your general advice, but I'm baffled at your analysis of a 'success'.

BobMay 4, 2010 11:02 PM

An effective anti-terrorism policy is virtually identical to an "avoid getting your ass kicked" policy:

1. Don't pick fights
2. Be nice/respectful

It's trivially easy for an individual. But it runs counter to the activities of a government, so this is what we get.

RonKMay 5, 2010 12:08 AM

@ Bob

From Congressional Research Service report RL30172,
(available at http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/...

1851 -- Turkey. After a massacre of foreigners (including Americans) at Jaffa in January, a demonstration by the Mediterranean Squadron was ordered along the Turkish (Levant) coast.

> It's trivially easy for an individual.

I have the distinct impression you have lead a very sheltered life. Even disregarding situations where mutual survival is impossible because of conflict over scarce resources, what exactly happens, do you think, when someone who _doesn't_ follow your advice has a bad day and you happen by chance to be his most convenient target?

AGuyActuallyWorkingSecurityMay 5, 2010 12:39 AM

"but their value to law enforcement officers is limited"

You don't know what your talking about. Nothing seals a conviction like the video of a person commiting the crime.

FPMay 5, 2010 2:06 AM

@moo: "legitimate use of the no-fly list"

No, it's not. If you have a suspect, you put out a warrant and have them arrested. There's a perfectly legitimate legal process for that.

The no-fly list is for suspicion without reasonable cause, i.e., where the government can't be bothered to have a judge sign off a warrant.

bruceMay 5, 2010 2:40 AM

Here in the UK, there was a similar car bombing attempt at Glasgow Airport in 2007. The result was damage and the loss of one bomber, and the airport closed for a day or two. Wiki seems to say the CCTV helped in backtracking the offenders.

A few more attempts like that and we may see a major backlash against a largely-innocent minority. This might be part of the bombers' planning.

The Angry IndependentMay 5, 2010 2:53 AM

Here are a few of my thoughts on the Times Square case. (17 years experience in Security industry). http://mirroronamerica.blogspot.com/2010/05/...

Basically we need a combination of measures to improve and maintain a decent level of security in the U.S. There is no magic bullet. It's the pressure brought on by a combination of restrictions & security measures that leads to these suspects eventually making mistakes in a lot of cases.

Cameras can't be dismissed. It's true that they can't prevent terrorist attacks, especially when some of these suspects are willing to give their lives during the commission of their crimes..and therefore the cameras don't hold the traditional deterrent value.... However, there are many positives to being able to exploit the information provided by video. #1. Cameras, even if they don't directly crack a case, help strengthen cases when video is added to other evidence. This increases the chances for conviction. #2. In some cases, video may be all that you have...at least early on. Many cases are solved or at least broken open based on tips that are called in after citizens see reports on the news...and recognize a suspect. #3. The video from cameras may help lead to the discovery of wider terrorist networks....and may prevent more attacks from a particular group. That's a good thing. #4. They help solve cases, which provides closure.... or the closest thing to closure that law enforcement can provide to the families of victims. Governments owe that to their citizens. #5. Cameras provide some level of peace of mind to the public... even after an event takes place. And don't forget...there are many more events- more traditional crimes- that we don't hear about for which cameras play an important role. And in those cases, they are usually useful at deterring criminal activity or bringing suspects to justice.

But the U.S. needs a more comprehensive approach to its domestic security. Some things need fundamental change... but smaller measures could also be useful. I believe in biometric ID (should be required in each State). Also... ID should be required for the private sale of vehicles, and the info should be recorded at the time of the transaction. This should be Federal law IMO...but it could be implemented by State/local officials. There should also be more restrictions on the over the counter sale of dangerous dual use substances. There are many ingredients that could be used to make a weapon...but we could make it more difficult. ID should be required for the sale of items like ammonium nitrate...(and other dangerous chem materials used for bombs) and the info should be placed in a national database. Also... patrons should have to provide a legitimate reason for needing certain items....particularly if the materials are purchased in large amounts. Again... this won't stop them completely...but it would slow them down...and may allow law enforcement to catch up to them if a tip comes in. Or... if an attack is successful...the paper trail will allow for swifter apprehensions.

I also believe there should be better scrutiny regarding visas... I have been screaming about this since 9/11.... but there have been no real changes. The Times Square suspect apparently came in on a student visa before 9/11... but what was the renewal process? Was he scrutinized at any point after 1998? Student visa holders should go through a tougher vetting, particularly those from points of interests...and they should be vetted every 1-2 years.

And we need bomb sniffing dogs at sea ports, passenger rail stations, and bus stations. This is the most economical way to provide some level of security for those modes of transportation (which currently have little to no security measures at all). Bus drivers ala greyhound, can handcheck passenger bags for people that they pick up at small rural stops that have no stations.
This wouldn't be very economical for Metro rail systems in our biggest cities... too many stations.... But there could be a few dogs at least...and more officers for increased vigilance. Unusually large bags could be checked selectively.

Also... the U.S. security apparatus isn't ready for the kinds of events that have hit London and Madrid.... and it certainly isn't ready for what has hit Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, or India in recent years. The U.S. system is fundamentally flawed in that it relies on a for-profit, private model that has no Federal standards. Private security personnel often aren't empowered to take action (for fear of being fired)... like in the recent incident on the Seattle subway. They are also not very well trained, very well paid, very well treated, etc. And no one cares when one is hurt or killed. Yet, it's the private security officer, along with the ordinary citizen, who is most likely to initially notice something suspicious or encounter the first wave on an attack....such as what occurred in India. Private security workers in the U.S. need Federal standards (for pay, training, etc) as well as Federal protections (vests for those who request them...protection from revenge just for doing their jobs, legal protection and assistance, etc...provisions to empower them). Without these kinds of changes...the U.S. will continue to be vulnerable.

The point is... it's the cumulative effect from a number of measures that makes it harder for these maniacs to carry out their attacks. And right now... the U.S. isn't ready.

The Angry IndependentMay 5, 2010 3:09 AM

Forgot to mention the need for changes on the macro level. The U.S. should revamp its entire foreign policy strategy.... stop playing world cop. We must do something about the 'tail wagging the dog' relationship that we have with Israel...where Israel, via AIPAC, controls U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim World. Why are we allowing Israel to dictate our foreign policy, especially when Israels interests may not line up with the best interests of the United States? Shouldn't our leaders put our nations interests first?

These are some of the big picture problems that the U.S. has to fix (that I know it never will).... if it wants to stem Muslim extremism and animosity towards this Country.

A different issue.... but I think its related to many of our security problems.

bruceMay 5, 2010 3:43 AM

Adding to what TAI said about dual-use substances, I seem to remember in-store video from a pharmacy showing the purchase of hydrogen peroxide in bulk by an alleged terrorist. I think it was shown in the trial. Again it helped to back-track and build a prosecution case.

Curt SampsonMay 5, 2010 3:46 AM

MarkP: your question is a tough one, because the answer is subtle. You believe that merely letting a potential bomb on board an aircraft is a failure, whereas I believe it's not a failure until it actually does harm to someone.

So let's try a little thought experiment. Given the choice between a thousand failures where the bomb doesn't detonate, causing no harm to people requiring hospitalization, or only one failure where it does, destroying the aircraft and killing all the passengers in it, which would you chose?

If you chose the thousand over the one, you clearly agree with me that these are two vastly different levels of "failure." So ask yourself, how many "failures" of the first kind are equivalant to a failure of the second kind. I suspect you might say that you'd be fine with a bomb on every aeroplane, so long as none of them went off.

So I say that, when a bomb doesn't go off, even if it's there, it may be a failure of part of the security system, but the overall, the whole system worked, because we're not trying to prevent bombs on aeroplanes, we're trying to prevent bombs detonating on aeroplanes in a harmful manner. You can say otherwise, but I think it becomes a matter of semantics, since in both cases we achieve the end result we're looking for. I just don't find your concern over which part of the security system did exactly what part of the work all that compelling.

GreenSquirrelMay 5, 2010 3:57 AM

Its a shame that an otherwise comical attack attempt has (once again) got the worlds greatest superpower wrapped up, chasing its tail, trying to make sure "it never happens again."

Although I am not suggesting it is a "good thing" attacks like this are still almost a weekly occurence in Northern Ireland where the population has realised that [in general] the work done by the security forces is good enough that the competent terrorists are spending too much time avoiding capture to mount an attack, so all thats left are the idiots who want a bit of notoriety. This allows the public to live their lives with minimal disruption (roads closed for a few hours is unavoidable). Also, fortunately in NI the media works to starve the terrorists of publicity, which in turn trivialises their support. This is good.

I am not for one second saying we *should* live in a world where terrorists can close an urban area for a day at a time, but the harsh reality is that its unlikely to stop anytime soon.

As has been said several times, here and elsewhere, the most effective weapon terrorists can use is fear. This fear is being fed and supported by (in this case) both the media and the Government agencies. This fear is what causes secondary acts of disruption and damage (eg the Dutch War Memorial erik mentioned), and costs the victim Government a monstrously disproportionate amount in countering things people are frightened of.

I am not convinced there is a solution. We may well be trapped in a death spiral where the actions of a few lone nutcases cause such an overreaction that more get disenfranchised, which leads to more attacks, more draconian responses etc. Have the terrorists already won?

We can never totally eliminate the risk that some crazed sociopath wont go off the rails and decide to spectacularly kill lots of people. In reality, we should just accept this as a risk of living but we seem reluctant to do this.

Side note: I find it interesing that you often find rapid supporters of "small government" calling for massive increases to the powers available to the state when it comes to "fighting terrorists" (but this may be more prevalent in the UK than elsewhere).

ytMay 5, 2010 4:00 AM

@moo "Ironically enough, they managed to catch him because they had put his name on the no-fly list a few hours before. This is actually about the *only* legitimate use of the no-fly list that I've ever heard of: when pursuing a major crime suspect who is probably trying to flee the country after committing a crime."

Except the no-fly list *didn't* work. He was still allowed to buy a ticket and board the plane. It was only customs agents-not TSA, *customs* agents-who noticed him on both the no-fly list and the passenger manifest *after* the plane had taxied away from the gate. As luck would have it, the plane's departure had been delayed. If the plane had departed on time, he would have been in the air before anyone noticed.

ytMay 5, 2010 4:04 AM

@AGuyActuallyWorkingSecurity "You don't know what your talking about. Nothing seals a conviction like the video of a person commiting the crime."

That would imply that cameras are useful to prosecutors, not to law enforcement officers.

GreenSquirrelMay 5, 2010 4:13 AM

@ Curt Sampson at May 5, 2010 3:46 AM

I agree.

With the Christmas plane farce, the overal security system worked. That some parts failed isnt as important.

Security relies on defence in depth because we know that every layer will fail to *something* - we just hope that the later layers are sufficient to prevent the failure being widespread or damaging.

BF SkinnerMay 5, 2010 7:06 AM

@Mike "weapons of mass destruction"
Lamentably US laws define WMD broadly enough that normal explosives are considered a WMD. We've discussed/ridiculed the fact and how it conflates the issue and raises people fears on this blog many times. But it is the definition the law uses.

@Kristen "but national security is an entirely different and enormously more complex matter."
Computer security might not be so simple either; and since it covers more than controlling for more risks than intentional human behavior you could say it's even broader and more complex in scope than "dangerous terrorists".
The same principals apply there are threats and actors seeking to cause harm to assets using vulnerabilities known or not. There is limited money, time and understanding of the threat yet life must go on.

What I find interesting in the coverage of all the bombings is lack of sufficient context. This is where my conservative friends claim media bias. I find instead it is journalists (particularly video journalists in a 2 minute segment) trying to tell stories. When you abstract something from reality as a whole it becomes a fiction. All media is fictional in this sense. The story they try to tell "Al Qaeda/home grown terrorist plot", "angry tea bagger/militia", "saving a single life is worth any cost", "it's all Obama's fault" are all predictable not really truthful even where factual. I find them fairly useless for policy discussions. Media frenzies needs to be tuned down/out.

Here's a relevant question - WHY DO WE HAVE BOMB DISPOSAL UNITS IN EVERY MAJOR CITY AND COUNTY IN THIS NATION?

It’s not because Al Qaeda is sending in bombs by passenger pigeon. No media report I've heard reports on how many bombings happen in this country every year. Context helps. We have quite a few as it turns out. We never hear about them unless they fit easily into storylines already developed. We don't hear about them because they aren't news. Our society has adapted to deal with a certain number of things and people blown up. It's a local issue for maybe a day or a week.

Terrorism is given higher emphasis. Mistakenly as we've discussed here before (a Wiki would be useful wouldn't it Bruce?).

When are we going to put threat back into our risk calculation? That's what I take Bruce to be saying.
Its cheaper to reduce the threat by hunting down the actors than it is to correct every possible vulnerability or reduce the value of every target (though as we keep hearing the cost of any single human life is worth any expense.

If that is the case doesn't R = T * V * ∞? and R = ∞ or at least R=US(GNP).)

But let's look at this threat. I agree with @Roy that this wasn't a bomb but a failed car fire. (I don't agree this is a false flag but it's possible but such theories need fact not Alex Jones declaiming it. He thinks everything is false flag.)

I haven't seen details on the valves; we know they were closed. Do you know what happens when a propane tank get's thrown on to a hot fire? After about 5-10 minutes the propane expands and . . . is released by a safety. The gas adds to the combustion - but it don't explode. If the safety is bypassed--yeah it'll blow big time. But was the safety tampered with? Are reporters even aware enough to be asking this question.

So the guys that are getting bombs through are careful and clever (Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh) or hurried and careless (Faisal Shahzad). Self motivated local actors who want to believe they are part of bigger fights. Makes me think that either a) the efforts we don’t see to keep highly motivated, highly skilled foreign actors out of the country are effective; or b) they don’t really want to come here. Bin Laden wanted the US pinned down in Afghanistan so they could be done like the Soviets were. He’s got that.

We've got a lot of idiots in this country. Most of them are just yammerheads, some don't mind killing people even a lot of people, some are dull normals easily misled when angry or scared. While I'm interested in the agenda's of those who want us angry and scared all the time policy needs to be driven by reality not fear of the possible.

CGomezMay 5, 2010 7:10 AM

Yeah, I don't feel like any specific answer was given. I think you used it as a platform to disagree with the stupid things that are done (and I agree, they are stupid and wasteful).

But besides pointing those things out, we need to have a clear list of what we should do. Nebulous "investigating beforehand" isn't going to connect with the avergage citizen who is... not an investigator.

Would you say there was a success in the "See something, say something" campaign plastered all over New York City? Or do you think that someone would have spotted the smoking SUV and said something no matter what? Or do you have an alternative belief?

In the end, citizens who just thought they saw something "hinky" allowed law enforcement to intervene before perhaps even this ridiculously crude pile of explosives acheived some small level of detonation. That's a triumph for a lot of what you have said.

But I have always felt we need specifics on what to do, not just what NOT to do. As you can see in the media, it is too easy for morons to label someone who just criticizes the wrong things to do as a party of No instead of actually taking up the reasons why they are all stupid things to do.

People in this society vote for illogic, ad hominem, and straw man arguments every day. If you just stop at saying "refuse to be terrorized", unfortunately it's too easy for a commentator to come along and say "that man has no ideas. He thinks if we just shout sternly at the terrorists they will not harm us."

CGomezMay 5, 2010 7:17 AM

@BFSkinner:

I believe there is little change in the politics of fear between Bush and Obama. Isn't it because playing up how much they are defending us against unspecified threats good for campaigns?

I think both parties and most politicians care about nothing more than the acquisition and maintenance of power. I don't see any differences here.

Reporters are useful idiots because they have no expertise in anything but reporting, and they are taught in school that everyone has a valid opinion and to be "neutral".
So the reporting of the day is, "Obama says 2+2=4" instead of "2+2=4" when it comes to facts.
Every fact is reported as just some man's opinion and what will be called facts are decided by polls. They decide if policy is good and bad by polling, not any objective analysis. They decide if someone is doing a good job by polling, not by objective analysis.

GreenSquirrelMay 5, 2010 7:51 AM

@ BF Skinner at May 5, 2010 7:06 AM

Well said all round really.

@ CGomez at May 5, 2010 7:17 AM

"I believe there is little change in the politics of fear between Bush and Obama."

Largely because they are both "just one man" and the cause and effect of the world madness is the result of many, often disparate, people.

BobMay 5, 2010 8:14 AM

@RonK

"I have the distinct impression you have lead a very sheltered life."

Not true, I've lived in two countries other than my own. Been homeless, started my own business, lead quite a varied life. I've noticed that most people inject their assumptions about people (especially inflammatory ones) when their arguments are not well supported. In any case, this website isn't dedicated to the life history of Bob.

I'd like to see a correlation between countries who violate my two rules (don't pick fights, be nice) and terrorist attacks seen directed at those countries.

How many terrorist attacks are directed against Switzerland or Taiwan? Both rich countries, but they don't walk around picking fights, either. How about the USA, GB, Russia, Spain, India? Iraq war, anyone? A long history of colonization? And India has tons of violent internal tension between groups, lots of government-sponsored massacres.

In most places, terrorism follows in the wake of some sort of provocation or repression (military, war on drugs, foreign meddling, etc). Not all, but most.

hwKeitelMay 5, 2010 9:10 AM

police presence is a better way to reduce the risk then cameras (not only the risk of terrorism). cameras have also their advantages, but that does not mean we need 10.000 new cameras or more police. maybe 'we' have to use this tools in a different way.
but, you now, nothing is perfect. screening of overseas cell phone calls won't help against an US born idiot who never left the city. but a specific technique must not solve every problem. it's about a combination of useful, affordable (...) measures. and the optimum of safety (in general or specific) will never be 100%.
the threat is not 'Times Square Bombing', it is terror, civil war, natural disaster, industrial accident,etc. the question is not only how to prevent, but also what we have to do if it happens and how to reduce the damage.

-May 5, 2010 10:10 AM

some people write that is was a failed car bomb or something like that. in terms of killing someone it failed. but in terms of terror PR and marketing it worked great, everybody talks about it. and it's always the same. something happens, everybody is worried, important people give important answers to the same questions, maybe someone in charge is changing something.
and then something different happen and it starts all over again. worrying, talking, maybe fixing but nothing changes.
all this people have their opinion, some know what they are talking about the most not. this is politics and it is exhausting.
where are the people able to change this situation, adjust foreign policy, change the way people think about each other, fight the pain, the fear and the feelings about revenge.
Who are the politicians that are really making a difference and not only keep it like it is?

Alex GMay 5, 2010 12:06 PM

What I am wondering is why the media is acting as if once the plane had taken off, that this would-be Times Square bomber would have been home free? His "last-minute" arrest was not really that dramatic. Air traffic control could have turned the plane around once it was determined he was on the flight. Or we could have picked up the phone and had him detained when he landed in Dubai.

kangarooMay 5, 2010 12:06 PM

"Check points won't help, either. You can't check everybody and everything. There are too many people to check, and too many train stations, buses, theaters, department stores and other places where people congregate..."

Your gist is right AND wrong. You can check everyone -- you can eliminate violence, crime, terrorism, drugs -- whatever you want.

The Soviets did to an incredible level of success, and despite their funding and desire, Cuban exiles have been pathetically unsuccessful in mounting terrorist attacks on Cuba, despite Cuba's poverty (one airliner back in '76 and a few off-shore shootings at tourist beaches with no known damage).

But you're right in that the price is exorbitant. For police state tactics to work, you have to be a full on police state. Not a half-ass police state -- that just creates a more dangerous underground -- but a 1984 style society where everyone is paranoid, where half the population works for the intelligence services, where everything traded, written and said is tracked.

Of course, that means no freedom and massive poverty.

But, technically, it will work.

Alex GMay 5, 2010 12:10 PM

I think a lot of times we forget that we have an enormous amount of resources at our disposal. We were able to find this man in a little over 2 days. He went from unknown to caught in what, 52 hours? That is amazing police work. I think the terrorist threat is totally inflated. We have the real, organized terrorists on the run, watching over their shoulder for Hellfire missles. They can't use their cell phones without changing the SIM card for each call. They cant rely on credit cards or the internet without popping up on the grid. All that is left are "insurgents" and lone wolf wackos.

GreenSquirrelMay 5, 2010 12:13 PM

@ hwKeitel at May 5, 2010 9:10 AM

"police presence is a better way to reduce the risk then cameras "

I sort of agree, and I am quite anti-camera in general.

However, when the police are the target having lots of them around just increases the threat.

MikeMay 5, 2010 1:31 PM

@BF Skinner. Re. WMD
Thanks I did not realize US law was so lamebrained on that. I assume the UN definition is different, else I guess WMDs would have been found in Iraq.

Bryan FeirMay 5, 2010 3:03 PM

@U. N. Known:
"His suggestion to preventing terrorism is to deny it that which it seeks: respectful attention."

Well, Dean Ing's 1978 short story "Very Proper Charlies" (which was the basis for "Soft Targets") has been brought up on this blog before. Including by me, a couple of years back.

@bruce:
"A few more attempts like that and we may see a major backlash against a largely-innocent minority. This might be part of the bombers' planning."

I remember hearing a talk on terrorism where the speaker said that, in his opinion, that sort of thinking IS part of the terrorist's attitude. Make everything 'us vs. them', use the overreaction of 'them' to ensure that the people in the middle have to join or get caught in the crossfire, and recruit people into your own ranks by using the results of a war that you've been pushing.

The speaker's comment was also that this could be used as the main distinction between 'terrorists' and 'freedom fighters', inasmuch as there was one: 'freedom fighters' use war as the last resort when there's no other way, while 'terrorists' use the war as part of the means rather than the ends.

AndrewMay 5, 2010 7:56 PM

@The Angry Independent

>> restrictions & security measures

Administered by who? For what purpose?

>> video from cameras may help lead to the discovery of wider terrorist networks....

Have you read Orwell's _1984_?

>> Cameras provide some level of peace of mind to the public...

False peace of mind. We've all pointed out that cameras help investigators after the fact. I find cold comfort in the idea that a loved one's death may someday be video recorded.

>> I believe in biometric ID (should be required in each State).

Right now a US citizen does not need identification.

>>ID should be required for the private sale of vehicles, and the info should be recorded at the time of the transaction. This should be Federal law IMO...

So instead of mailing in a certificate of title, I'm supposed to go stand in line with the seller at DMV?

>> more restrictions on the over the counter sale of dangerous dual use substances

In all seriousness, do you know how many such substances there are? Several hundred products in your supermarket alone. Thousands in a WalMart.

>> ID should be required for the sale of items like ammonium nitrate...(and other dangerous chem materials used for bombs) and the info should be placed in a national database.

What are you going to do, install a biometrics drivers license reader on every diesel fuel pump in America?

>> patrons should have to provide a legitimate reason for needing certain items

How so? Not going to segue into a gun control debate, but for what conceivable reason should I need to justify my need for, oh, body armor to a bureaucrat, unless I'm under correctional supervision or a convicted felon?

>> Student visa holders should go through a tougher vetting, particularly those from points of interests...and they should be vetted every 1-2 years.

Thus increasing our brain drain to other countries. I agree with the idea that we should search where we lost our keys (visa overstays), but 1-2 years is absurd. Having the colleges required to notify the government when they stop going to school would be adequate and a lot cheaper.

>> bomb sniffing dogs at sea ports, passenger rail stations, and bus stations.

You do know the hard limits on working time for bomb sniffing dogs, yes? This looks good until you run the numbers and get into the details.

>> Private security workers in the U.S. need Federal standards (for pay, training, etc) as well as Federal protections (vests for those who request them...

OK, so in addition to complying with state law, now I have to comply with conflicting Federal regulations as well?

Your prescription means fewer private guards, because private industry will not pay for superguards unless they are compelled to do so. CF 9/11 and airport screeners, followed by TSA.

You want a vest? Go buy one. Or support private companies with higher standards. No guard should carry a firearm unless they are also issued a vest. Full stop.

>> protection from revenge just for doing their jobs, legal protection and assistance, etc...provisions to empower them).

I'm not comfortable with giving private guards more immunity. Authority, maybe. Protection, certainly. The key part in private guards is "private" and that means accountable to the courts and juries for misconduct just like everyone but police. Power with immunity breeds corruption.

>> it's the cumulative effect from a number of measures that makes it harder for these maniacs to carry out their attacks.

And robs the rest of us, who outnumber the maniacs by tens of thousands to one, of our cherished freedoms.

In my arrogant personal opinion, you and people like you who would "give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." To quote Thomas Jefferson.

In more immediate terms, you're with us or you're with the terrorists.

The Angry IndependentMay 5, 2010 11:43 PM

@Andrew

restrictions & security measures
-- I was referring to measures that are largely already in place...measures that were put in place post-9/11. The requiring of ID to open a bank account, rent an apartment, etc... some of the recommendations from the 9/11 commission. I am also talking about restrictions that were discussed just today in Congress regarding making sure that subjects on terror lists aren't able to purchase weapons. Right now, they can do so with no problem. We need more measures to make it difficult to purchase explosives or explosive materials.

Enough common sense measures added together will make operations more difficult for any future terrorist cells in this Country....or even for lone actors.

*****

Cameras provide some level of peace of mind to the public...
-- I am fully aware that much of that is false security. But it is important to maintain and encourage a confident public. This is also important to maintain commerce. If your population is scared to death.... then your economy will sink and the terrorist a-holes win. Any confidence boosting measures should be seen as positive.... not negative. The public wants to feel that their authorities are on top of the situation and are as vigilant as they are.

*****

I believe in biometric ID (should be required in each State).
Right now a US citizen does not need identification.
-- most States already adhere to Real ID (which was never fully implemented). This required proof of citizenship or residency to obtain a license during the first issuance...most don't require birth certificates after the first time. Most of these ID's already have magnetic strips or bar codes. Adding more features to facilitate bio metric technology is not much of a leap from what we already have...

******

ID should be required for the private sale of vehicles, and the info should be recorded at the time of the transaction. This should be Federal law IMO...

So instead of mailing in a certificate of title, I'm supposed to go stand in line with the seller at DMV?

-- No, this may not be necessary. It could simply mean that the seller should ask for ID from the buyer on their own, and take reasonable steps to make sure that the ID is valid. He/she could fill out a form including the persons name, DL #, DOB, etc...and mail it in to his/her State DMV...and they could keep that document on file for 2 years...or whatever time might be reasonable. Or he/she could even do that online. Really simple. It would be extremely helpful for tracking vehicles if something were to occur.

If the buyer cannot produce valid ID, then it should be illegal for the seller to make the sale. Basically...this responsibility would be largely on the seller. And he/she would sign the form under penalty of perjury, etc... That would probably be good enough.

******

In all seriousness, do you know how many such substances there are? Several hundred products in your supermarket alone. Thousands in a WalMart.

patrons should have to provide a legitimate reason for needing certain items
How so? Not going to segue into a gun control debate, but for what conceivable reason should I need to justify my need for, oh, body armor to a bureaucrat, unless I'm under correctional supervision or a convicted felon?

-- Yes, there are a lot of dangerous substances. But I am talking about a system that would look at the most likely substances that terrorists may use for a bomb. When you actually narrow that down... to the items that would be most effective...and most likely to be used in an attack... then the number of items is not all that large. I'm not talking about putting controls on every substance in Walgreens or Home Depot.

And yes, if you are buying loads of ammonium nitrate, Potassium chlorate, sulfur, etc you should have to show that you are a farmer, have your own lawn care service, or you are a demolition contractor, or represent a fireworks company, and you should have to obtain some sort of hazmat designation- basically a pass. You should be required to show a legitimate need for certain sensitive materials, PERIOD. As long as there is a legit use for what you are buying... then there would be no problem. Or if you are willing to go through a little more scrutiny... and can obtain a commercial hazmat pass (which could be issued by States or Counties...) then there would be no problem. It wouldn't be that difficult to obtain.

And regarding the practicality... do you realize that these systems already exist? The TSA already checks truck drivers & companies that transport hazardous materials. This is a consequence of 9/11. Also, local communities, particularly those struggling with the meth problem, already put limits on who can buy OTC cold medicine, and limits the quantity that can be bought at any one location. FOR COLD MEDICINE. We probably have more restrictions & controls on OTC Cold medicine than we have regarding the most likely materials that would be used for bombs. We must get our priorities straight.

Please don't act as if these measures don't already exist in some form...and aren't already working.

*****

bomb sniffing dogs at sea ports, passenger rail stations, and bus stations.
You do know the hard limits on working time for bomb sniffing dogs, yes? This looks good until you run the numbers and get into the details.

-- CBP already uses dogs at our major seaports and airports. We must simply expand these existing systems to bus and rail service. And I don't know what calculations you are looking at....but dogs are cheaper than going the full airport screening route for rail and bus. Plus.... rail and bus service doesn't have nearly the same traffic as air travel.... so dog screening could be done with no problem....and with no risk of overworking crews. Most bus terminals (greyhound) around the Country are quite small.

*****

Private security workers in the U.S. need Federal standards (for pay, training, etc) as well as Federal protections (vests for those who request them...

OK, so in addition to complying with state law, now I have to comply with conflicting Federal regulations as well?
Your prescription means fewer private guards, because private industry will not pay for superguards unless they are compelled to do so.

-- I know. They are conniving, cut-throat for-profit companies only concerned with their earnings. That's why they need to be compelled. Regarding conflicts.... having a Federal Standard would actually eliminate the current conflicts. Currently, there is a hogpog of private security standards in place from the company level, the municipal and County level, and the State level. One professional standard across the board (a good standard) would eliminate most of this problem. The Fed standards would be higher...and would take precedence over what exists now. All officers would have to meet that Federal training standard in order to obtain their licenses to work.

******

You want a vest? Go buy one. Or support private companies with higher standards. No guard should carry a firearm unless they are also issued a vest. Full stop.

-- No.... fishing industry boats that send workers out to sea are required to provide life jackets...with the common sense anticipation that the boat may capsize. Construction contractors are required by OSHA & State regs to provide their people with gear like hardhats and steel toed shoes, tethers, etc...with the common sense anticipation that there could be an accident. Firefighters are provided with air tanks, fire resistant clothing, and audible alarms with the common sense anticipation that they may have to do a rescue or may be trapped in a fire and may need to be rescued themselves. Contrary to popular belief, security officers are human beings too and deserve the same common sense safety measures. Most major police departments don't require personnel to buy vests. They should be provided by employers, PERIOD. There have been two recent examples of security officers perishing because their companies did not provide vests. One case in February involved Marques Rainey, a security officer shot to death in a Memphis Tennessee mall while trying to break up a fight. And we all remember of the case of Stephen Johns who was shot by a Conservative nutcase in Washington D.C. last year. Neither officer was provided with common sense protective gear. These cases happen more often than we think. There was one case last year that involved a school security officer in (I believe) Philadelphia... who was stabbed center mass.... but luckily he had a vest. The point is...security officers are attacked all the time. We don't hear about it because...well, they are security officers and they are generally viewed as the scum of the earth. There is no respect for their lives or their value as human beings whatsoever in this Country. In fact, the whole concept of the security officer was born from the idea of dispensability in the late 1800's,- early 1900's. It was to protect police...and save money.

*****


>> protection from revenge just for doing their jobs, legal protection and assistance, etc...provisions to empower them).
I'm not comfortable with giving private guards more immunity. Authority, maybe. Protection, certainly. The key part in private guards is "private" and that means accountable to the courts and juries for misconduct just like everyone but police. Power with immunity breeds corruption.


it's the cumulative effect from a number of measures that makes it harder for these maniacs to carry out their attacks.
And robs the rest of us, who outnumber the maniacs by tens of thousands to one, of our cherished freedoms.
In my arrogant personal opinion, you and people like you who would "give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." To quote Thomas Jefferson.

-- How in the world do you get corruption and "immunity" from "legal protections"??? What in the World are you talking about?

The legal protections would be in place to protect workers from rogue corrupt security companies. These measures would not be meant to protect personnel from the law.

For example... the incident in the Seattle train station where the young lady was beaten to a pulp while security officers stood around and watched... Immediately the media jumped on the officers (because the media is pretty stupid and too quick to comment on matters that they know little about). But I knew immediately why they were standing around and couldn't act - the contract. They had instructions from their company not to act. (and the company was so dirty that they allowed their officers to take the blame for about 3 or 4 days before they finally admitted what was going on). Most companies are concerned about liability and their bottom lines... so they turn their people into warm bodies...nothing more. But this actually puts the officer at even more risk physically and legally...and puts the companies at risk legally as well.

I envision a situation where Security officers can use common sense and step into situations like the Seattle subway beating and would be protected from termination for doing the right thing.

It is important to have security officers who are empowered to take action.

This translates into the terrorism arena. You want security officers who can assist in evacuating a business or a populated area...without waiting for permission from some corporate a-hole in an ivory tower at some other location. Security officers, at times, have to be able to take decisive action, especially when seconds count. They must also be empowered to detain someone who needs further questioning/investigation, based on probable cause... they must know that they shouldn't be afraid to hold someone for police or to copy a name from a drivers license and get a license plate number.

Having security officers who cower, who are not empowered, who can't make decisions, who can't do the right thing or are afraid to do so... who are poorly paid, poorly trained and poorly equipped, and who aren't given respect and support, is a huge security risk for the United States.

It is people like you who make me believe that the Country is screwed. That we will never fix the gaping holes in our domestic security.

I also believe in maintaining liberty.... If we use the technology and the human capital that we have at an optimum level, we can have both liberty and security. It doesn't have to be a choice between one or the other as most Conservatives believe.

hwKeitelMay 6, 2010 3:32 AM

@GreenSquirrel

yes, the police can be a target too.

1. numerous cops have not much to do with the quality of the work.
2. terrorism is not the only thing the police has to care about. the daily crime and accidents are more important. if they have an open eye for possible terror threats, that is great.

cameras are useful for the 'normal crime'. if they make a picture of the terrorist: great, but it is more important to get the criminal or use the deterrent effect in a store.

we have more than a hand full of tools and more than a hand full of threats in this world. nothing is perfect. we have to handle both in a clever way. and sometimes the solution is not a tool but a different way of thinking, of living, of respecting other people, etc.

hwKeitelMay 6, 2010 4:39 AM

I'm interested in Bruce's opinion to what happend in the Netherlands. They had a dead soldiers commemoration and a guy startet to scream or shout (BOMB, BOMB), the crowd paniced. A lot of people got hurt.
A year ago a man drove with his car into the crowd on the Queen's celebration day in the netherland (seven people died), this and a number of politically motivated murders are still in their minds.

GreenSquirrelMay 6, 2010 9:04 AM

@ hwKeitel

"cameras are useful for the 'normal crime'. if they make a picture of the terrorist: great, but it is more important to get the criminal or use the deterrent effect in a store."

Again, I find I sort of agree. Cameras can be useful when it comes to identifying the person who robbed the cashier at the local shop. However I am not sure they are really all that cost effective.

Public space surveillance by cameras is (IMHO) even less effective at crime prevention / detection - but it is cheap so I suppose it depends on your goals (very cost effective way of public surveillance for example).

I strongly feel that police patrolling and doing proper police work is the best way to reduce crime. However, having lots of police standing around important landmarks is (IMHO of course) just a good way of increasing the value of the target to terrorists.

hwKeitelMay 6, 2010 10:23 AM

@GreenSquirrel
a few month ago I saw something on TV about the cameras in London.
One guy was sitting in front of approx 30 screens. He said: it happened that he saw a crime and called the police. and they needed half an hour to show up. He had to watch and couldn't do anything.
A shop owner (using normal cameras for years) said, the police often don't even take a look on the video. He was trying a new service, that streams everything to the internet so everyone can watch it. if the internet junky sees a crime he can push a button ... (what the f*).

'I strongly feel that police patrolling and doing proper police work'
anonymity is your enemy. if the cops and the neighbourhood don't know each other, it's like a fight and not a partnership.

I agree with your words.

GreenSquirrelMay 6, 2010 10:48 AM

@ hwKeitel at May 6, 2010 10:23 AM

The best cameras can offer is a deterrent effect and a detective control.

They dont reduce manpower issues - you still need someone with a warm, beating, heart to turn up at an incident.

I dont particularly feel they are very effective for the two types of action they *can* do either. It seems to be too easy to defeat them (hood/hat/glasses) for a real benefit to be realised.

As an anecdotal example, look at the majority of the "caught on CCTV type programs" - most show multiple incidents of robber breaking into shop and getting caught on camera. Very few go on to mention that the theif was later caught - normally its "police are still looking for our [insert witty comment] robber".

Without wanting to come over all Tinfoil Hat Wearing Conspiracy Theorist, the only thing cameras have done in the UK seems to have been to de-sensitise the population to surveillance. This has a knock on effect because our laws require a warrant if any government agency wants to mount surveillance where the target has a "reasonable expectation of privacy." As this gets worn away, so do the times where a warrant is needed.............

anonymousMay 6, 2010 11:30 AM

"angry tea bagger/militia"

Umm...
Tea bagging militia?
That is a very disturbing thought.

AndrewMay 7, 2010 4:14 PM


@ "The Angry Independent"

There is a large gulf between us of both understanding and knowledge. I am therefore going to comment twice: once about the politics of the matter, and then a second time about the strictly security-related aspects.

For your general knowledge, I am a flaming liberal and have little use for conservatives.

The post 9/11 "security measures" have done little or nothing to deter terrorism, a very rare event. Note that the cold medicine controls do little to keep meth users from getting their raw materials -- in fact, the unintended consequence is to encourage individual 'cooking' by users instead of larger criminal manufacturers, with the result of more burned-down apartment complexes and more meth lab waste being generated to harm the environment. You assert that they are working -- I observe in my community that they are spectacularly not working.

You seem to be completely unfamiliar with the Constitutional rights of citizens in the United States. I suggest that you Google the "Bill of Rights" and read it carefully. Punishing people who have not been convicted of a crime is not what this country was founded for.

Your "common sense" is my tyranny and fascism. Your "confident public" is the Big Lie technique used to mislead people. The vast majority of people in America are very, very safe from terrorism. They are much less safe from ordinary crime.

I have worked with and for a number of the 'authorities' in whom you place so much confidence. They put their pants on one leg at a time, fart in meetings, and generally are as prone to human error as anyone else.

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" or in Latin, "Who will guard the guards themselves?"

You ask, apparently sincerely, "How in the world do you get corruption and 'immunity' from 'legal protections'?"

A legal protection is a statement that the law will not be applied to a person in the same way as it is applied to others. Peace (police) officers have this protection, since police are human and make mistakes. Acts which would get you or me imprisoned get police officers written up or suspended. This immunity breeds corruption unless very strong measures are used to prevent it. In police work, we have very strong supervision, Internal Affairs units, the judiciary and especially the 'exclusionary rule' that eliminates the temptation for police to cheat by breaking the rules of evidence, and are very careful about who we allow to become police, through extensive backgrounding and the Academy and Field Training Officer processes -- three high hurdles for would-be thug cops to jump. Some still get through.

Our Founding Fathers wisely feared a tyrannical future government.

No photo identification is required of a United States citizen. Driving a motor vehicle is a privilege, not a right. Many people do not need or have a driver's license.

You assert repeatedly that "it wouldn't be hard, it wouldn't be that difficult to obtain" to fill out the paperwork and get the endless and expanded government approvals you propose. As someone who often does exactly that, I'm not sure whether I should thank you for guaranteeing my future employment or damn people like you for making it necessary.

You miss the point, the slippery slope that even the ancient Romans recognized leads inevitably to tyranny.

I do not work for the government. The government works for me. Only when there is a truly compelling reason should the government get its nose in my face. Vague fear of precursor chemicals and wafting about the word "traitor" (or terrorist if you prefer) is simply not enough to spend a penny of my money, let alone take up hours of my time.

AndrewMay 7, 2010 4:32 PM

@ "The Angry Independent"

As a security professional myself, I am either embarrassed at your public lack of professional knowledge or disgusted with your lack of integrity. Run, do not walk to the IFPO and ASIS Web sites and learn all about what you do not know. I know that some employers do not make adequate training resources available. I have sent you contact information privately if you need links and/or bibliographies. Most major university libraries have the CPP texts available.

First and foremost, SPO Johns was murdered by a white supremacist nutjob, NOT "a conservative." If you must dishonor the dead by dragging them into political debate, get your facts right!

Biometrics do not add appreciably to the security of an ID without field biometric verification. Your proposed changes to a motor vehicle sale do not improve security. There is a substantial difference between small quantities of chemicals transportable in a private vehicle, and container loads / tank car loads / truckloads which pose a danger to the larger public safety if mishandled or hijacked.

You seem to feel that a photo ID should be required to buy and sell, and that a "legitimate need" should be required to purchase "sensitive materials," which you define as anything that could conceivably be misused, including motor vehicles and chemicals of which you have little knowledge. With so much additional bureaucracy, how will the numerous 'false positives' be screened out in time for the very rare 'hits' to be acted upon?

Because a little knowledge is dangerous, I will not direct you to references on how to manufacture explosives. However, your unsupported assertion that 'the number of items [that can be used in explosives] is not all that large' is flatly inaccurate. For the same reason, I will not share the time limits for working dogs, which in fact make dogs one of the most expensive security screening methods available. The size of the facility is largely irrelevant, by the way, as it is not the facility which is being protected.

The roots of private security in America are the night watchmen of the major East Coast cities, especially New York, which pre-dated Sir Robert Peel's "Bobbies" in London; embarrassingly enough, the anti-slave patrols of the pre Civil War South; and the Pinkertons and Wells Fargo Special Agents of the Wild West. All three illustrate the problem: a tough job, not enough money or resources to do it with, little public support or respect, and serious and valid concerns about abuse of authority coupled with a reputation for laziness.

Your facile acceptance of a "higher Federal standard" for guards defies the fact that Federal agencies asked to supervise contract guards have consistently blown it, from Army bases to DHS headquarters itself to our embassy in Afghanistan, public buildings and courthouses. Private sector companies demand performance from contractors in a way that hidebound bureaucrats have neither the imagination nor the flexibility to achieve. Government regulation has its place but just as one size of uniform does not fit all, a "higher Federal standard" would be overkill in some positions and not nearly enough in others. The watchman in the warehouse and the nuclear power plant guard are NOT doing the same work.

Notice that the Seattle incident, which you correctly denounce, was work performed for a public transit agency.

You are flatly wrong about police and vests. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/pdf/...

"While the vast majority of law enforcement agencies (99 percent) responding to a recent [August 2009] Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey indicated that their officers currently are provided body armor, only about half of these agencies (59 percent) indicated that they require their officers to wear body armor at least some of the time."

You, like most of the laypeople and some of the guards I have met, seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the security profession. Police are not guards. Guards are not police. They are not interchangeable and do not do the same jobs. They look the same in a hard look uniform, that's about it.

Police go in harm's way to enforce the law and make arrests. Guards prevent crime and protect life by painstaking observation, documentation and reporting.

Those guards who are at high risk of being shot should be provided vests. By definition this includes all armed guards. OSHA statistics recognize that homicide is a higher employment risk for guards than in many other professions. However, a vest will not protect you from a head shot, or being kicked or stabbed to death. Bullet resistant vests do not protect from knife attacks.

This is why most guards are taught over and over again our industry's mantra, "Observe And Report." Go beyond that and you take your life in your hands -- and if your employer wants that of you, they had better give you proper training and equipment first. I would want a radio and the dispatcher and police response that the radio implies.

As for building evacuations, please realize that this is a complex situation and that many factors affecting human life go into an evacuation decision. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omagh_bombing for a case where the tangos called in a bomb threat to get the police to put civilians into the target zone. I doubt that you have had the training to make such decisions; in any case, only the senior building management has the authority to make these life and death decisions. It is not uncommon for a false bomb threat to result in injuries during a building evacuation. In any case, Follow Your Post Orders -- or do what you think is right to save lives, then quit and get another job.

If you want to protect security guards from their employers, the answer is obvious and compelling -- unionization. See http://www.spfpa.org/ for one of the most respected ones. However, the requirement that guards should follow the lawful directions of their employers is reasonable. If I am paying someone to watch a door, I have the right to tell them how to do it. If they don't like it enough, they can quit. If I violate their rights or put them in an unsafe situation, they have every right to either complain to enforcement agencies or to sue me.

An employer is directly liable for the actions of their employees and owns every punch they throw or shot they fire. It works the same way for police, by the way, except that the taxpayers pick up the tab when a cop shoots an unarmed suspect or wrecks a squad during a pursuit.

The problem with 'warm body' security is that customers do not get what they are paying for -- but there will always be bucketshop operators and cheap skates, some of them waving the "I'm a former police officer" card around as if it means anything, willing to lie to customers and tell them they can get something for nothing.

The solution is to educate customers, not pass laws making security guards into some sort of reservist police officer without the training or the equipment to do the job right. I also don't want guards detaining people without legal authority or demanding ID in situations where they have no right to do so. We have enough abuse of authority problems in the industry as it is.

You say "It is people like you who make me believe that the Country is screwed."

Sorry to hear that. I've studied these issues for some years and we agree on more than we disagree. However, your abiding faith in Federalization is almost as disturbing as your lack of knowledge on truly critical matters, both for public safety and for the health of our representative democracy. I am also not as confident that technology is the answer.

To borrow another Roman motto, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The Angry IndependentMay 8, 2010 11:51 AM

@Andrew

Your condescension and personal attacks/insults don't do anything to help your arguments. You can keep it.

Do you really believe that you are the only one who knows what PERF is... or IFPO or ASIS? I was reading about PERF in undergrad several years ago (1990's). I was once a member of IFPO, and have been a member of a couple of other professional organizations in the past. I have recently considered pursuing the CPO program. So please save the condescension. You may be impressing the other folks who read this blog... but this kind of stuff doesn't impress me. In fact, it's one of the things that I literally hate about the security profession (so called industry experts with overgrown testicles, constantly in the mode of wanting to prove how stupid others are). This is why I don't have much respect for CPP's. To me, the designation only proves that you could spend a lot of money for a certificate. Most CPP's have little or no practical experience in the field, at all levels. They are bureaucrats of the worst kind.

The truth of the matter is, the security architecture in the U.S. is inadequate for the kinds of threats that we currently face and are likely to face in the years to come. That is a fact.
Respected observers like Clark Kent Ervin, former DHS Inspector, and others, have been sounding the alarm on this.

There is nothing wrong with establishing higher standards for private security personnel. Your opposition gives me the impression that you are probably management.... To you, the private free market should be able to run wild, unregulated. Free market capitalism will be able to fix everything.... just like it did before the abuses of the industrial revolution, just like it did before the crash of 1929, just like it did before the savings & loan crisis, just like it did before 2008, just like it did before the Massey mine disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill, just like it did before 9/11 (with private screening & airlines being put in charge of their own security, cutting corners of course) and all the other crisis' where regulation could have saved lives and livelihoods. I'm sorry, but you appear to be Conservative to me. You are reading right from the Republican playbook. Your comments ref. (if they don't like it, they can find another job...if they think i'm putting them in an unsafe condition they should find another job....otherwise...be quiet and suck it up). That attitude tells me all I need to know.

The fact is, most major changes in this Country, in terms of regulation and safety, came after some sort of catastrophe...whether it was through OSHA, FAA, Financial regulation, or through security measures. That's what history tells us, and history does not lie. I'm afraid that this will be the case with the security sector (yet again), particularly the private security industry. In Israel and in many parts of Europe, security is either regulated by the State, or is run by the State. Security is nationalized. Not that we should do that here.... but there are fundamental differences that put the U.S. at a disadvantage. You say private corporate bureaucrats who know little about security should make security decisions? Yes I am well aware that this is the current standard in the Country.... but I don't agree that it should be. Good luck with that in a Country that may soon be dealing with the kinds of threats seen in Madrid, India, and Israel. Security personnel in other parts of the world are respected and more empowered to make life saving decisions... unlike what we have with the warm body security structure here in the U.S.
One way or another the private, "for-profit" money driven, unregulated, unprofessional, lowest bid private security model will have to change.

Your comments aren't surprising. Security in the U.S. is viewed, for the most part, from the perspective of what can save the most money... as opposed to how to actually improve safety and security. Everything is a business decision. You see, this is the fundamental problem. Your comments highlight what is fundamentally wrong with the security infrastructure of the U.S.

Time Will Tell

Unfortunately, I believe time may end up proving me right... at least regarding (1) the need to establish some sort of minimum (but high) national standard for private security, (2) having personnel that are empowered & properly equipped to take action, and (3) having a private security system that is integrated into the overall homeland security of the Country. Right now, the integration is minimal or non-existent. Private security is mostly out of the loop in terms of the exchange of information, etc. Most info stops at the local police level via the JTTF's. The private sector folks don't always get the information (and they are the people who need it most). Local police, as gatekeepers... decide if they want to provide info or not (and in some cases, THEY don't even have it).

Maybe we'll have this discussion again in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.

AndrewMay 10, 2010 6:13 PM

@"The Angry Independent"

I feel that the burden of proof is on those such as yourself who shout that we're on fire.

I don't share your opinion of the security profession, or of ASIS or of the value of the CPP certification in proving that someone has at least been exposed to a complete grounding in the basics. You seem to lack that grounding.

You allege that "the security architecture in the U.S. is inadequate for the kinds of threats we currently face and are likely to face in the years to come." Yet you don't seem to know much about that architecture nor have you shared any real risk analysis of the various threats, and defend your ignorance by attacking the "overgrown testicles" of those who do.

Costs are real whether you are budgeting for a guard at the warehouse or a police department for your city. Every penny you spend on a hypothetical or fantastic threat is a penny taken away from a real threat. Whether public or private sector, efficiency is critical to results. The public sector agencies tend to buy a certain amount of manpower and assign it by priority, where the private sector spends a certain amount of money on technology and patches the many cracks with minimal staff. Either way, you must get the job done with the resources available, not play fantasy football with the resources you wish you had.

Since you completely discount the expertise of the private security industry, where do you feel that security expertise is to be found? Government agencies? DHS is improving slowly but quite frankly started out as a joke, and the antics of TSA would be office-cooler entertainment if they weren't so very expensive, not only in money but in civil liberty. The halls of academe? The military or police? Just curious.

When challenged to prove your assertions, and given specific facts both publicly and privately, you choose to indulge in personal attacks instead of focusing on the facts. That makes this discussion political rather than professional, and ideological rather than technical. Appeals to authority, whether present or former, leave me unmoved.

You set me up as a straw puppet of the politics and ideology you abhor, and attack that instead of conversing with me. In fact I am as displeased with stupid government regulation as I am with the crowning stupidity of running a corporation as if the quarterly reports were the only important measure of a company's health and stability. The disasters you justly cite are jointly the fault of incompetent government and of unchecked capitalist greed.

The law of unintended consequences when applied to government regulation states that people will evade the regulations when the cost of compliance is higher than the cost of evasion. There is nothing wrong with GSA using its purchasing clout to set a high standard for guards; the problem is when that standard is made mandatory, because the same amount of money will be spread across fewer guards, which means fewer eyes and ears on the job. I feel that companies can do a better job figuring out where to spend their money than a sweeping Federal bureaucracy can -- NOT because of some mythic superiority of the private sector, but because those who are closer to the problem often make the better decision.

For example, on September 11th, 2001, the vast majority of airport screening in this country was done by minimum and sub-minimum wage guards, some of whom were unlawfully in the United States. This perfect storm of stupidity was the result of penny-pinching by airlines (heavily subsidized by the government) and airport authorities (mostly city governments), under regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA found that only massive fines were enough to provoke even the semblance of compliance.

Instead of providing real security against known threats (9/11 was not the first attack targeted on WTC and was not the first Al Queda plot involving passenger aircraft), the combination of bureaucracy and greed created ineffective security designed to focus on the _last_ threat, the threat of hijacked aircraft in the 1980s. The same threat that flight attendants and pilots were taught to counter through nonviolent cooperation and encouraging passengers to sit back and do nothing. FAA, far from being the agency that prevented 9/11, helped create the conditions that made the attack possible.

"People don't do what you expect. They do what you _inspect_." When government agencies impose sanctions for noncompliance, this arrests the attention and results in security programs narrow tailored towards today's "threat" i.e. government action rather than the "actual" threat, whether it be crime or terrorism or other emerging vulnerabilities. The guard is most alert for vehicles which resemble the supervisor's . . . and money spent to obey stupid government regulations is by definition wasted.

This is not to say that FAA and OSHA and SEC do not play a valuable role. They do, especially when properly funded to perform their mandate with adequate resources to actually enforce reasonable regulations. The TWIC card is a great example of something DHS has largely gotten right. Smart regulation would be great -- but I have no confidence, especially when it comes to public fear of terrorism, that smart security regulations can come from the government.

Look at NRC and the nuclear power industry for another great example of government bureaucracy run amuck. The power plant security force is minimally designed to counter the threat of the NRC inspection. In adversary exercises they generally get their clocks cleaned. As you put it, time will tell if they defeat that first terrorist attack which hasn't happened yet.

Europe and Israel have always lived with the spectre of what is to them severe domestic terrorism. The history is very, very different.

You allege that we may soon be facing "the kinds of threats seen in Madrid, India, and Israel." Who will be carrying out this complex transit bombing, active shooter attack and/or suicide campaign? Where will they train? How will they get their weapons and deploy them to their targets? Will our police stand around and mutter as many did in Mumbai, or aggressively engage?

Yes, our transit systems are wide open compared to say, Israel. But _THIS IS NOT ISRAEL_ and we simply do not face the same level of threat. Spending money on threats we do not face takes away from spending money on threats we do face. If I put a guard on every platform, trained to detect suspicious packages, that means fewer patrol drivers keeping an eye on the parking lots and preventing break-ins, muggings and worse. If the bombings are few and far between and the crime is common, where do YOU choose to spend the money?

We agree on this, "One way or another the private, "for-profit" money driven, unregulated, unprofessional, lowest bid private security model will have to change."

I do not see government regulation changing this model in the slightest. Note the generally poor luck GSA has had with its government bids, which are by the way "to the lowest bidder." Technology is changing in two directions: one is the minimum wage guard, sentenced to guard work as a condition of probation, wearing electronic monitoring devices that force him to do his job -- the other is the security officer paid about twice that who is an active competent user of technological systems that make him a force multiplier, from cameras to gates to handheld devices.

The customer, i.e. the private businesses who pay for the guards, is the one who makes the choice. Too often they pay minimum to get junk, or pay a premium to also get junk. The companies that can provide premium physical security to exacting standards are out there, doing the job every day. I'll pick on Guardsmark as an example. With expensive tastes in management and outrageous screening criteria, they can never price-compete with the likes of Securitas or Bob's Discount Guards -- but they can do a particular kind of job much better than almost any other company.

Much of the information flow is from private sector to public sector, not the other way around. This is the value of the "X"s, as in "ex-" who have done the job on the public dime and then graduated to the big leagues. Far from being the gatekeepers, my observation is that the local police are largely out of the loop precisely because they rely on the JTTFs instead of developing local contacts with the industries in their home towns. The obverse is often true: when you get a bomb threat, you don't call the flatfoots, you get out your Rolodex.

The guard force role is in the prevention phase. The surveillance and counter-surveillance game, access control, patrolling, reporting discrepancies and equipment problems, developing security awareness in the facility population ... all of these are vital roles which cannot be performed by public sector agencies. The empowerment required is neither legal authority nor arms, but the support and backing of management. If illegally parked cars are towed regardless of who owns them, employees who left their badges at home are sent home to get them, and security misconduct by managers results in write-ups from their bosses, this is far more valuable than any amount of regulation or statutory authority.

The personnel who are properly empowered and equipped to take action in the mitigation phase are called "police." Obviously they can't be everywhere and they are expensive, so the question becomes one of "How much can the guards do until the police show up?" Often this is quite a lot with proper investment in training and equipment. Without that investment, false expectations with no support is a prescription for disaster.

How much time and money should we spend on planning and training for relatively rare, high intensity events? More than most people would think, actually, c.f. Admiral Rickover. However, the risks and the consequences need to be clearly spelled out rather than hand-waving over vague threats and making invalid overseas comparisons.

That is what makes security management a science rather than politics -- one of many lessons that one can take from the CPP materials.


CraigMay 11, 2010 8:56 AM

Richard A. Clarke was correct in his analysis the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism for Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton when he stated "Homegrown plots are highly likely and some will succeed."

As stated a lot harder to combat this sort of criminal.

Leave a comment

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

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

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