Essays in the Category "Terrorism"

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Why FBI and CIA Didn't Connect the Dots

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • May 2, 2013

The FBI and the CIA are being criticized for not keeping better track of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the months before the Boston Marathon bombings. How could they have ignored such a dangerous person? How do we reform the intelligence community to ensure this kind of failure doesn’t happen again?

It’s an old song by now, one we heard after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and after the Underwear Bomber’s failed attack in 2009. The problem is that connecting the dots is a bad metaphor, and focusing on it makes us more likely to implement useless reforms.

Connecting the dots in a coloring book is easy and fun. They’re right there on the page, and they’re all numbered. All you have to do is move your pencil from one dot to the next, and when you’re done, you’ve drawn a sailboat. Or a tiger. It’s so simple that 5-year-olds can do it…

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On

It is easy to feel scared and powerless in the wake of attacks like those at the Boston Marathon. But it also plays into the perpetrators' hands.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • April 15, 2013

German translation

As the details about the bombings in Boston unfold, it’d be easy to be scared. It’d be easy to feel powerless and demand that our elected leaders do something—anything—to keep us safe. 

It’d be easy, but it’d be wrong. We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators’ hands—and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: …

Our Security Models Will Never Work—No Matter What We Do

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • March 14, 2013

A core, not side, effect of technology is its ability to magnify power and multiply force—for both attackers and defenders. One side creates ceramic handguns, laser-guided missiles, and new-identity theft techniques, while the other side creates anti-missile defense systems, fingerprint databases, and automatic facial recognition systems.

The problem is that it’s not balanced: Attackers generally benefit from new security technologies before defenders do. They have a first-mover advantage. They’re more nimble and adaptable than defensive institutions like police forces. They’re not limited by bureaucracy, laws, or ethics. They can evolve faster. And entropy is on their side—it’s easier to destroy something than it is to prevent, defend against, or recover from that destruction…

Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Horrific Events

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • July 31, 2012

Horrific events, such as the massacre in Aurora, can be catalysts for social and political change. Sometimes it seems that they’re the only catalyst; recall how drastically our policies toward terrorism changed after 9/11 despite how moribund they were before.

The problem is that fear can cloud our reasoning, causing us to overreact and to overly focus on the specifics. And the key is to steer our desire for change in that time of fear.

Our brains aren’t very good at probability and risk analysis. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. We think rare risks are more common than they are. We fear them more than probability indicates we should…

Securing Medical Research: A Cybersecurity Point of View

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Science
  • June 22, 2012

ABSTRACT: The problem of securing biological research data is a difficult and complicated one. Our ability to secure data on computers is not robust enough to ensure the security of existing data sets. Lessons from cryptography illustrate that neither secrecy measures, such as deleting technical details, nor national solutions, such as export controls, will work.

Science and Nature have each published papers on the H5N1 virus in humans after considerable debate about whether the research results in those papers could help terrorists create a bioweapon (…

To Profile or Not to Profile? (Part 2)

A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier

  • Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier
  • Sam Harris's Blog
  • May 25, 2012

Return to Part 1

A profile that encompasses “anyone who could conceivably be Muslim” needs to include almost everyone. Anything less and you’re missing known Muslim airplane terrorist wannabes.

SH:It includes a lot of people, but I wouldn’t say almost everyone. In fact, I just flew out of San Jose this morning and witnessed a performance of security theater so masochistic and absurd that, given our ongoing discussion, it seemed too good to be true. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was being punked by the TSA.

The line at the back-scatter X-ray machines was moving so slowly that I opted for a full-body pat down. What was the hang up? There were …

To Profile or Not to Profile? (Part 1)

A Debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier

  • Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier
  • Sam Harris's Blog
  • May 25, 2012

Introduction by Sam Harris

I recently wrote two articles in defense of “profiling” in the context of airline security (1 & 2), arguing that the TSA should stop doing secondary screenings of people who stand no reasonable chance of being Muslim jihadists. I knew this proposal would be controversial, but I seriously underestimated how inflamed the response would be. Had I worked for a newspaper or a university, I could well have lost my job over it.

One thing that united many of my critics was their admiration for Bruce Schneier. Bruce is an expert on security who has written for …

Why Terror Alert Codes Never Made Sense

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 28, 2011

The Department of Homeland Security is getting rid of the color-coded threat level system. It was introduced after 9/11, and was supposed to tell you how likely a terrorist attack might be. Except that it never did.

Attacks happened more often when the level was yellow (“significant risk”) than when it was orange (“high risk”). And the one time it was red (“severe risk”), nothing happened. It’s never been blue or green, the two least dangerous levels.

The system has been at yellow for the past four years, and before then the changes seemed more timed to political events than actual terrorist threats. Not that any of this matters. We all ignored the levels because they didn’t tell us anything useful…

Close the Washington Monument

  • Bruce Schneier
  • New York Daily News
  • December 2, 2010

A heavily edited version of this essay appeared in the New York Daily News.

Securing the Washington Monument from terrorism has turned out to be a surprisingly difficult job. The concrete fence around the building protects it from attacking vehicles, but there’s no visually appealing way to house the airport-level security mechanisms the National Park Service has decided are a must for visitors. It is considering several options, but I think we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears…

A Waste of Money and Time

  • Bruce Schneier
  • New York Times Room for Debate
  • November 23, 2010

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces—the level of magical thinking here is amazing—and they’re going to do something else…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.