Stopping Terrorism

Nice essay on the futility of trying to prevent another 9/11:

“Never again.” It is as simplistic as it is absurd. It is as vague as it is damaging. No two words have provided so little meaning or context; no catchphrase has so warped policy discussions that it has permanently confused the public’s understanding of homeland security. It convinced us that invulnerability was a possibility.

The notion that policies should focus almost exclusively on preventing the next attack has also masked an ideological battle within homeland-security policy circles between “never again” and its antithesis, commonly referred to as “shit happens” but in polite company known as “resiliency.” The debate isn’t often discussed this way, and not simply because of the bad language. Time has not only eased the pain of that day, but there have also been no significant attacks. “Never again” has so infiltrated public discourse that to even acknowledge a trend away from prevention is considered risky, un-American. Americans don’t do “Keep Calm and Carry On.” But if they really want security, the kind of security that is sustainable and realistic, then they are going to have to.

There’s a lot of good material in this essay.

And on a related topic, an essay and commentary on overhyping the threat of terrorism at the London Olympics.

Posted on September 12, 2012 at 12:55 PM23 Comments


Anonymous Patriot September 12, 2012 1:20 PM

The commentary on the London Olympics(tm) was especially cogent. I wonder when the phrase “terrorism-industrial complex” will start to take hold.

billswift September 12, 2012 1:30 PM

I’ve read “shit happens” as a vulgar and simple-minded statement of Murphy’s Law. You cannot prevent everything from going wrong; at best you can reduce the frequency of problems. Too often, rules and regulations (and software and tools and …) just redirect the vulnerabilities. And often make things overall worse when people actually believe they are “solving” the problem.

People interested in security really should read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions because the “conflict” he discusses is largely this same issue. People who believe complex social problems can be solved (liberals) versus those who believe they can only be managed, and then only within pretty severe limits (old fashioned small government conservatives, what Eric Raymond calls “epistemic skeptical anti-intellectuals”).

Steven Hoober September 12, 2012 3:07 PM

You cannot prevent everything from going wrong; at best you can reduce the frequency of problems.

And mitigate damage, be aware of infringements as soon as possible, etc. THIS, not one-dimensional work like thicker walls is security.

bob September 12, 2012 3:08 PM

Wow, what an asshole. She is part of [several] government agencies that sieze every aspect of control that they can get their hands on, guzzle public funding like it was water and then she says the public should suck it up and not expect so much from government [not returning the money or the freedom, just the responsibility]. Amazing duplicity.

Clive Robinson September 12, 2012 3:37 PM

Americans don’t do”Keep Calm and Carry On.” But if they really want security, the kind of security that is sustainable and realistic, then they are going to have to.

As some of you might know there has been a “fundementalist Muslim” on a US embassy in the middle east. Supposadly sparked off by an amateur made film that “purports” to tell “the truth” about Muslim beliefs but from many reports suggest it is actually an attack on fundementalist Muslim beliefs.

What ever the reality of it is, it is an oportunity to show forbarance not vengance and allow the fledgling police forces of the country to try and find those involved and bring them to trial. And importantly only lend assistance as requested by the country, not force the issue at the point of a gun or sanctions or other form of intimidation that can only do harm in terms of becoming a rallying call to recruite more malcontents and resources.

Sometimes being humble and talking peacfully robs your enemy of any victory before they have even thought how to attack you. Peace can only come when those involved actually want peace as they can see it is the better option for all present and future.

When you look at the “troubles” between Northan Ireland communities it rumbled on for many years of sensless killing and destruction. It stopped when Conservative Prime Minister John Major decided it could not go on and took many almost unthinkable steps to start the walk along the road to peace. Sometimes the people of N.I. had to be figuratively speaking “dragged screaming and shouting” along the path, but atleast they were not shooting in the dark. It took the culling of many “sacred cows” and the help of many political figures outside of N.I. to help the process along including US President Bill Clinton, many working quietly without the recognition they deserve, some (Tony Blair & Co) sadly stealing the credit they did not deserve.

The peace process in N.I. is not over sometimes it flares up but slowly year by year the economic dividend is showing people that peace floats everybodies boat and they want the things in life that peace allows that were just not possible during the “troubles”.

Anon September 12, 2012 4:23 PM

The only way to defeat Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists that threaten the US homeland is to kill them all.

NobodySpecial September 12, 2012 6:21 PM

@Clive and an important thing to realise is that an attack on the embassy of a country that supported the former regime and seems to have a global war against people like them is as much about this film as the troubles in Northern Ireland were about the doctrine of transubstantiation

Whiskers In Menlo September 12, 2012 8:27 PM

Never again is one of the placards survivors of the holocaust carry.

Saying it in the context of the TSA and Homeland Security very much confuses things.

Today a couple of thugs with box cutters would never take over an aircraft they way it was done on 9/11. Perhaps an individual would get cut and die but not the entire aircraft. Further the thugs would find justice.

In the context of the TSA and Homeland Security the abuses that a minority inflicted on millions began with registration, isolation and evolved into the terror of the Holocaust.

For those that remember and those of us that have spoken in person with survivors the actions of the TSA and Homeland Security clearly rest on the slippery slope that prior generations to mine suffered.

One of the hallmarks of those dark times was the verbal trick of assigning blame to vague others. Today it is the abstract rich 1%, then it was the Jews, Gypsies, Polish, the intellectuals.

Personalize this and listen to Voices.

Brandioch Conner September 12, 2012 9:24 PM

But we’re already at the point of “never again”.

Now, if someone tried to take over a plane, the passengers would fight back. As they have when terrorists have tried to set off bombs on planes.

So “never again” works in this limited context. We’ve solved that problem. We can move on.

Beyond that, I like the term “resiliency” for how to deal with future terrorist attacks. It’s a good term what what Bruce has been preaching all along.

Anon September 12, 2012 9:45 PM

“Now, if someone tried to take over a plane, the passengers would fight back. ”

Really? Are you sure? What of the cowards who ran out of the Batman movie rather than face, attack, and bring down that crazy piece of shit firing into the crowd?

Figureitout September 12, 2012 9:52 PM

Want to stop terrorism?–Make a police state.

Sometimes being humble and talking peacfully…


Exactly, and show no fear either. So many people bluff these days and are too soft to take a bad situation further.

The only way to defeat Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists…


Grab your weapon and lead the charge tough guy/girl. Or you can be a coward and drop a nuke or drone bomb. Do you want to kill only Islamic terrorists?–Don’t be so picky. What’s your classification of terrorism?

From my limited standpoint, the thought of foreign troops walking the streets I walk would make me quite uneasy. A police state is bad enough, but a military state?–I’d rather move or die.

mashiara September 13, 2012 5:54 AM

@Anon ref planes vs theaters

From a plane there is no escape, therefore there is no other option but the prevent the hijacking or everyone will die.

Of course it takes a very special breed of stupidity/bravery (the distinction is in actually understanding the odds and consequences or not) to be the first to lead the charge even in the case where the only rational choice for the population of the plane is overpowering by numbers and never mind the inevitable casualties.

For the theater case the calculation for minimizing 1. casualties have personal impact to me 2. total casualties is very different. The attacker has much more room to manouvre and is better armed with more stopping power (once in a fight it’s likely you will not even notice being badly cut until it’s over or you can’t use some part of your body because of severed tendons/muscle, high-energy bullets are a very different story).

Anon September 13, 2012 6:25 AM


I never said anything about a nuke. The US should destroy those terrorist organizations that are plotting to attack the US. For the most part, the only terrorist organizations plotting to attack the US homeland are Islamic radicals.

vasiliy pupkin September 13, 2012 8:22 AM

The USA currently has enough military capability to fight sources of terrorism without occupation of countries supporting them or using nukes (drones: air, water, underwater, missiles launched out of submarines and USSs; with human engagement as the last resort: tactical operations by special forces like Israel fight enemies around the world).
Fighting terrorism and attempt to be world cop is two absolutely different things. The whole structrure of foreign policy including military aspects should address former, not latter. Budget/money allocation should reflect that concept as well and adjusted to the current actual threats and use the most efficient remedies with least casualties (human, financial, political, ideological).
That will refelect interest of the USA (meaning the majority of population), not military-industrial complex or ambitions of some politicians and provide leadership in the world and more security inside.

No One September 13, 2012 8:30 AM

Re: Planes vs. Theaters — it’s possible that at the next mass shooting the gunman /will/ be tackled by martyrs now that people realize how massive a shooting in such a confined space can be.

David September 13, 2012 10:03 AM


I seem to recall reading that the KC&CO posters were developed during WWII for use if the British Isles were actually invaded. Since Operation Sea Lion never happened, the posters were never used and were discovered some time after the war finished.

IIRC, I read this in some part of the museum displays at Bletchley Park (or maybe in a book that was for sale in the souvenir shop, I’m not too sure)

Figureitout September 13, 2012 12:01 PM


I brought up the nuke b/c I wasn’t sure how you wanted to kill. There are other ways to “disarm” people. One that I use frequently is to be self-denigrating, and reveal weaknesses, thus telling someone I trust them; and they may be inclined to reveal some of their weaknesses. Next thing is listen, and really listen; not too many people are good at really listening. Plus, realize these are people and they are practically the same as you.

For the most part, the only terrorist organizations plotting to attack the US homeland are Islamic radicals.

–Mind telling me and the internet what are your intelligence sources? Are you in the military?

Jared September 13, 2012 12:12 PM

Oh, I dunno about that. “Just say no” or “Get tough on crime” probably give it a run for its money. The War on Terror has been somewhat expensive, but the War on Drugs is what’s got a quarter to a half a percent of the entire American populace behind bars.

MikeA September 13, 2012 1:24 PM

Am I the only one who smells a “Joe Job” in that movie? The “demonstrators” were very well armed, well planned, and apparently sufficiently “connected” to have free reign attacking the safe-house for hours before the police/military showed up.

Asking “cui bono”, I’d not be surprised to learn that the film was actually made/posted by AQ,IR,IL,RU,CN,GOP… Not that the public will ever hear about it, as all those actors are smarter than that.

Of course, it’s possible that someone like Breivik or Wilders was involved, either sincerely or as a “confused Lieutenant”.

So many suspects, so little time…

Clive Robinson September 13, 2012 4:53 PM

@ NobodySpecial,

…as much about this film as the troubles in Northern Ireland were about the doctrine of transubstantiation [1]

The Film like Transubstantiation are as “butterflies wings” in these situations,

That said however as can be seen by the history of the film they can make very effective political weapons when deployed with intent…

Briefly as I understand it the film is a mish mash of half truths innuendo and carefully selected items all designed to present a false image. It was put up on the internet some time ago and attracted little attention or interest (basicaly the few that watched it either regarded it as trash or it just confirmed their prejudices). However somebody then over dubbed it in an appropriate language, which then made it more of interest, sufficient for a television station in the region to give it air time in full advertised by other carefully selected parts, the attacks and protests then followed fairly quickly.

Now you have to ask, seeing as the date it happened was 9/11 and a US presidential election is in the running, who was behind the “convenient timing” etc…

The problem being from afar it is dificult to see the strings that connect the puppets with the puppet masters and who in turn directs them.

[1] For those unfamiliar with some older christian religions the “Doctrine of Transubstanitiation” is where a person believes by way of faith that the bread and wine given out at the Eucharist become in reality the body and blood of christ. Now you have to ask yourself what other faith they have to prevent themselves believing thay are commiting cannibalism when participating in the Eucharist, Personaly I can not see how you can belive the one and not the other [2].

[2] Part of the same theology as the Eucharist is “The blood of christ cleanses all sin” which I guess is their “get out of jail free card”. It was also the test used during WWI to condem “conscienctious objectors”, because it was the “knee jerk” doctrine of the major religions in Britain at the time, and if you said you believed it as you would in a “knee jerk” fashion, then you could not have “conscientious objections” as “the church” at the time activly suported the war for essentialy political reasons used “the blood of christ” argument. And further because it was considered that if you did not believe in “christ” then you could not have “conscientious objections” you were likewise put in uniform be it military or prison. As Leon Heller observed much later in “Catch 22” you had to be mad to fight but to say it was madness was the act of a sane man therefore you could not be mad and had to fight.

Clive Robinson September 13, 2012 5:06 PM

@ fearbi,

and what exactly went on a bosworth? I hear that dicky the trey got it in the back with an arrow, was he running away or was it blue on blue murder. What did you see?

To make the famous quote,

“Me? I saw nothing!!”

Contrary to what many on this blog appear to believe, I’m

“just this guy…”[1]

Not Methusala in disguise, so no I was not watching at the Battle of Bosworth, however,

“I know a guy who was” 😉

And he swears blind it was a conspiracy…

[1] According to Douglas Adams this was said by an eminent “talking head” psychologists on TriD TV News of Zaphod when he absconded with the Heart of Gold space ship (in book one of the six book trillogy).

Fried Ape September 14, 2012 5:02 AM

Good reading, if you haven’t already:
What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (2006).
Louise Richardson.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.