What Faisal Shahzad could learn from "The Wire"


In the wake of Shahzad’s arrest, the dangers of disposable phones are likely to be scrutinized once again—and there are sure to be renewed calls for their closer regulation. We called Bruce Schneier, security technologist, chief security technology officer at British Telecom, and author of “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World,” to find out how dangerous they really are.

How dangerous are these disposable cellphones from a national security perspective?

I think it’s a trivial danger. There are a lot of people who will say these anonymous cellphones are bad, that we’re all going to die. But stealing a cellphone is easy. It’s easy to get a cellphone in somebody else’s name. Cellphone hijacking is easy. I actually don’t believe that disposable cellphones are a problem—it’s a huge red herring.

Then why are people using them in organized crime in the U.S.?

Generally, because they’re at an economic level in their life where they can’t get anything else, in the same way that people that use them legitimately do it because that’s what they’ve got. They can’t get an account if they don’t have a credit card. It’s the best they can do.

So it’s fair to say that Shahzad used a disposable cellphone because he just didn’t know how to do it in a smarter way?

Basically, yes.

Then why has there been such a move in recent years to clamp down on them?

People latch on to details. Why are people latching on to car bombs? Are they more dangerous than they were a week ago? No! Before that it was subways. Why? Because people are in the news, people are scared of things in front of them. We fear stories, today’s story involves Times Square and a car bomb and a disposable cellphone. We’re focusing on the specifics of the plot as it happened to unfold—but the next plot will be different.

So what do we focus on if we don’t focus on the details?

The generalities. Security is only effective if you happen to guess the next plot correctly, otherwise it’s a waste of money.

Categories: Text, Written Interviews

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.