Homeland Security as Security Theater Metaphor

Look at the last sentence in this article on hotel cleanliness:

"I relate this to homeland security. We are not any safer, but many people believe that we are," he said.

It's interesting to see the waste-of-money meme used so cavalierly.

Posted on June 7, 2012 at 6:15 AM • 33 Comments

Comments

BillJune 7, 2012 7:19 AM

I can't find that quote in the article.

Maybe CNN excised it at the behest of DHS?

Paul RenaultJune 7, 2012 7:25 AM

Nope, it's there for me. But then again, I'm not in the 'States. Maybe the DHS is censoring what you're reading.... ;>

Jay from BKKJune 7, 2012 8:00 AM

"It's interesting to see the waste-of-money meme used so cavalierly."

T$A is beginning to approach the metaphoric level of the yacht: a hole in the water into which one throws money.

JohnJune 7, 2012 8:18 AM

Cavalierly, but perhaps this is a good thing: people have no faith that HS is doing anything worthwhile.

Dr. I. Needtob AtheJune 7, 2012 8:21 AM

This idea of making people feel safer reminds me of the early sixties during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when there were jokes about the government's official "Duck and Cover" instructions to follow during a nuclear attack. They included sitting with your legs spread, putting your head between your legs, and kissing...

Well, you know.

JohnJune 7, 2012 8:21 AM

TSA most likely yes, but there are parts of the DHS that does good work for the nation. TSA/Border protection does not equal DHS. They are a rogue subset of contractors.

Kevin GranadeJune 7, 2012 8:59 AM

I particularly liked this quote: "We are unlocking the potential of the housekeeping profession by providing new tools and training to help ensure customer satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately trust,"
Notice what's missing in there? Anything about actually making the room cleaner. I agree, very similar to Homeland Security.

Clive RobinsonJune 7, 2012 8:59 AM

Hmm,

And slowly the virus of the meme spreads how immune is the DHS/TSA from the virus, will they succumb?

And if so will they survive or die?

Hopefully the latter but of course that raises the specter of what might replace it, or what damage the death throws might inflict...

Clive RobinsonJune 7, 2012 9:17 AM

@ Jay from BKK,

The problem for LinkedIn and nearly every other site that stores passwords and has been successfuly attacked should not realy have arisen.

For around a quater of a century it has not been required for the user password to ever leave the (users) client computer. The Stanford Secure Remote Password (SRP) protocol is fairly well known and has made it into all sorts of RFC's etc,

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TLS-SRP

michael bradyJune 7, 2012 10:08 AM

"’In many cases hotel rooms are cleaner than peoples' (own) bedrooms or bathrooms…I relate this to homeland security. We are not any safer, but many people believe that we are’" [said the Purdue academic].

The “aggressive cleaning program was inspired by research showing a lack of consumer confidence in cleanliness among mid-scale hotels…’to help ensure customer satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately trust,’” [said the senior vice president of brand management]

Is it security theater to take credit for work (especially work that was being done anyway) that is important to the customer?

Now that they mention it, I’d be pleased to know that the TV remote has been sanitized on the chance the previous occupant of the room used it to turn off the flat screen after he was done enjoying adults-only programming.

B. D. JohnsonJune 7, 2012 10:35 AM

"Is it security theater to take credit for work (especially work that was being done anyway) that is important to the customer?"

Well, it wasn't being done. The announcement was that they are starting to do it. And yes, I think it counts as security theater. I figure security theater is anything put in place that manipulates people's trust level (inadvertently or intentionally) without actually proving a substantial reason for that trust change. The actual risk is fairly minimal, but the perception of that risk is fairly high. By announcing and advertising their new cleaning practices they're changing that perception without actually changing the risk.

Granted, the perceived risk was artificially high to begin with, but the proper way to go about change that isn't to play off that perceived risk, it would be to advertise that hotel rooms are generally clean to begin with, and that the odds of getting sick from one are pretty slim (especially since to get to that hotel you probably spent a few hours in a big aluminum tube with 100 or so other people from all over the place). But that message would benefit all "midscale hotels", not just Best Western. Hotel industry's best interest to raise business across the board, but it's in Best Western's interest to make their own hotel seem better.

If someone were really concerned about this risk they'd carry their own UV wand anyways. They're fairly cheap, which is probably why the hotel is getting them in the first place.

I'm somewhat reminded of this xkcd comic.

NobodySpecialJune 7, 2012 11:04 AM

Although in this case it's as if the Hotel fired all the cleaning staff and replaced them with inspectors telling you how important cleanliness is - and then searched your bags and confiscated any UV wands

josephdietrichJune 7, 2012 1:10 PM

What I find interesting is the incredible amount of worry about "germs" and contamination that seems to have taken residence in America's public mind in the last ten years or so. I wonder sometimes how it fits into the larger framework of the security fears that seem to have taken the population by storm, but I'm not surprised to see businesses take it into account when looking to maintain or increase their bottom line.

conciergeJune 7, 2012 2:30 PM

"UV black lights will be used during housekeeping inspections to detect biological matter and other particles..."

You may (or may not) be surprised where some of that "biological matter" is located. For the most part, none of it poses any risks to humans other than the weird, sick feeling you can get when thinking about it too much.

Bob RobertsJune 7, 2012 3:06 PM

Well, I'm in the US too and:

"But new policies are sometimes adopted to calm guest fears.

"I relate this to homeland security. We are not any safer, but many people believe that we are," he said."

Bryan WJune 7, 2012 5:10 PM

Exposure to UV light is a cause cataracts.

The article doesn't say that the hotel workers are provided with protective eyeware, but I would not be surprised if they weren't.

This would be another example of the externalities of some decision. The customer will [possibly] benefit from reduced exposure to germs. The hotel will benefit from publicizing their new practice at virtually no cost. The workers suffer the consequences.

It would also be easy to fix at low cost. Provide protective eyeware and training when using the black lights.

DoctorTJune 7, 2012 7:07 PM

@John: "... there are parts of the DHS that does good work for the nation."

I doubt that any DHS program or division generates benefits that exceed its costs even if one excludes intangible costs such as losses of privacy and liberty.

Peter E RetepJune 7, 2012 8:24 PM

There used to be a business traveller hotel in Japan
that advertised in America
that the waste basket's contents of paper litter
and notes from each room were catalogued
and archived every day
-"just in case the guest accidentaslly throws away
some valuable information the night before
that the guest might later want."-

Well, I guess it pays to advertise....

Nick NJune 8, 2012 12:06 AM

"http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/#.T8_ecHyMuW4.twitter

You've probably seen it, but I like the stat saying that we're more likely to be crushed by a couch or whatever than killed by a terrorist."

The author of that article needs to take a refresher course in Maths:

"- Of 978 terrorism-related kidnapping last year, only three hostages were private U.S. citizens, or .003 percent. A private citizen is defined as 'any U.S. citizen not acting in an official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government.' (13, 17)
- Of the 13,288 people killed by terrorist attacks last year, seventeen were private U.S. citizens, or .001 percent. (17)"

I make it 0.3% and 0.12%

JohnJune 8, 2012 10:14 AM

@DoctorT - as tim mentioned Coast Guard, plus the Secret Service (minus the Columbia incident), Science and Technology, industry partnerships to protect your water food and power, helping first responders to do their job in crises, ICE just busted a major pedo ring. There's many things that DHS has been doing which seems good for the country that I've read. Too bad for them, they're bundled up with over-budgeted programs like the TSA. Which is not really a federal entity from what Ive read.

Peter E RetepJune 9, 2012 10:33 AM

Security is many faceted.
Part of it clearly depends on allowing professionals
to exercise their judgement when scaling up to include the masses.

Two examples spring to mind:
Up until past the year 2000,
the State of California was officially teaching that the HIV virus
neither existed nor could be transmitted
through any other bodily fluid but red blood, contradicting basic biologic.
I wondered why, until I went back from
the seminar into my motel room,
and found the help scrubbing up
the bathroom without gloves or mask.
The tourist-hospitality industry was afraid that germ proofing the janitorial staff
would panic away their customer base.
[TSA theater has taken over that role of discouragement.]

This was akin to the commercial hospitals refusing
to spend the extra 19 cents per disposable syringe
to prevent worker accidental needlesticks,
which happened many times per year,
and it took nurses seven years of concerted lobbying
to get a law passed requiring the self closing needle.
which occurred at about the same time.

One was fear, one was grasping greed.
Both were externalizing the consequences.
The janitor's union, and the health worker's unions,
in each case, forced the exercise of professional judgement.
In their absence, nothing would have happened
until the Institutions were forced to take responsibility for NOT changing
their accepted level of standards of practice.
"We always did it that way before,
so why do you have a problem?"

We now are witnessing a concerted attack
by other source profiting interests
to disrupt and savagely reduce professional involvement
in education,
by persons progiting from it,
but bearing no responsibility for the consequences.

Again this is a security issue.
Ignorance provides no security,
only the illusion of calm.
If we want to not be eloi at the mercy of morlocks,
we need to see that education is a core security necessity,
as is (generally) free sharing of information.

Some decisions need be state secrets,
but state processes and goals in democratic governments are public affairs,
knowable to all who inquire after them.
Knowledge of cause, effect, and consequence enables
distributed security throughout a population.

Peter E RetepJune 9, 2012 10:59 AM

by persons progiting from it,
should read
by persons profiting from it,

WaelJune 9, 2012 11:38 AM

@ Peter E Retep

And "contradicting basic biologic" should have been "contradicting basic biology" or "contradicting basic biologic knowledge". No worries, your message was conveyed. No matter how many times I proof read my posts, I always find a mistake or two just after posting. I wonddder hooow many I made in zis posting ;)


Anyways, the point of my comment is this: I'd like to highlight the statement you made "education is a core security necessity". What other "core security necessities" can you share with us? And can you guess why I enclosed "Security" in quotation marks? - Aside from the possibility that I am attempting to reignite the "castle-v-prison" discussion.

@ Nick P, (Clive Robinson implied)
Done with reading the links you provided on "castle-v-prison". I glossed over the orange book stuff. Found it too boring, and I was familiar with it anyway ...

Cool Hand GeekJune 9, 2012 4:09 PM

This cleanliness obsession reminds me of the story of polio. I read this story in a book some time in the past, the title of which I've forgotten.

My grandfather used to obsess about washing his hands before a meal, which was common in people who came of age during the early part of this century when germs were seen as a terrible scourge. Later it was discovered that this obsession with cleanliness had a downside. Children who had previously been bought up on "dirty" farms (or other places where germ consciousness was not an obsession prior to the 1920s or so -probably everywhere in the US) lived under conditions were actually factors that caused polio to be less prevalent. Previous exposure to various pathogens in youth had caused a certain degree of resistance to many forms of disease - the small pox story is similar. As many recall, "milk maids", as they were called, were quite often immune to smallpox and this actually led to the create of the vaccine.

However, once the cleanliness obsession of the medical establishment had taken hold, the pathogens were now not held back as easily and polio proliferated. I recall that it was not uncommon 20 years ago to meet many, many adults who had disabilities or were polio survivors.

I'll leave it to others to make an analogy to our world today, but in the case of polio, obsessive cleanliness, especially in regards to children, caused the disease to spread quicker and faster and probably more potently than it had previously. And as we all know, we even had a President once who was a polio survivor.

Cool Hand GeekJune 9, 2012 4:10 PM

Excuse me in my previous post for still thinking we are in the 20th century. A copy editor would have caught my mistake in that first sentence.

GweihirJune 10, 2012 8:31 AM

The TSA expansion is not even about security. It is traditional bureaucracy growth. In a bureaucracy, two things are expanded, because they make the bureaucrats more powerful:

1. The number of people under each bureaucrats control
2. The amount of time of others wasted

Than nicely explains the complete problem. And this is not in any way new. Even the Romans had that problem and their society eventually collapsed, in large part due to it.

The only solution is to neutralize those of the bureaucratic inclination. They are dangerous parasites that do not contribute anything to society, but take a lot. But then, they are not the only group that does that and without these parasites we would probably be living in paradise.

Michael BradyJune 18, 2012 1:20 PM

Thought so...

From WebMD http://women.webmd.com/news/20120618/dirtiest-spot-in-hotel-rooms

June 17, 2012 -- One of the most contaminated things you're likely to encounter in a hotel room may surprise you. It's not the bed or even the door handle. It's the TV remote control.

That, and bedside lamp switches, are among the most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms, a new study shows. Researchers found high levels of fecal bacteria and other potentially harmful bacteria on these commonly used items.

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