Entries Tagged "Beyond Fear"
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Ressam had to clear customs before boarding the ferry. He had fake ID, in the name of Benni Antoine Noris, and the computer cleared him based on this ID. He was allowed to go through after a routine check of his car’s trunk, even though he was wanted by the Canadian police. On the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, at Port Angeles, Washington, Ressam was approached by U.S. customs agent Diana Dean, who asked some routine questions and then decided that he looked suspicious. He was fidgeting, sweaty, and jittery. He avoided eye contact. In Dean’s own words, he was acting “hinky.” More questioning — there was no one else crossing the border, so two other agents got involved — and more hinky behavior. Ressam’s car was eventually searched, and he was finally discovered and captured. It wasn’t any one thing that tipped Dean off; it was everything encompassed in the slang term “hinky.” But the system worked. The reason there wasn’t a bombing at LAX around Christmas in 1999 was because a knowledgeable person was in charge of security and paying attention.
I wrote about this again in 2007:
The key difference is expertise. People trained to be alert for something hinky will do much better than any profiler, but people who have no idea what to look for will do no better than random.
Here’s another story from last year:
On April 28, 2014, Yusuf showed up alone at the Minneapolis Passport Agency and applied for an expedited passport. He wanted to go “sightseeing” in Istanbul, where he was planning to meet someone he recently connected with on Facebook, he allegedly told the passport specialist.
“It’s a guy, just a friend,” he told the specialist, according to court documents.
But when the specialist pressed him for more information about his “friend” in Istanbul and his plans while there, Yusuf couldn’t offer any details, the documents allege.
“[He] became visibly nervous, more soft-spoken, and began to avoid eye contact,” the documents say. “Yusuf did not appear excited or happy to be traveling to Turkey for vacation.”
In fact, the passport specialist “found his interaction with Yusuf so unusual that he contacted his supervisor who, in turn, alerted the FBI to Yusuf’s travel,” according to the court documents.
This is what works. Not profiling. Not bulk surveillance. Not defending against any particular tactics or targets. In the end, this is what keeps us safe.
In both Secrets and Lies and Beyond Fear, I discuss a key difference between attackers and defenders: the ability to concentrate resources. The defender must defend against all possible attacks, while the attacker can concentrate his forces on one particular avenue of attack. This precept is fundamental to a lot of security, and can be seen very clearly in counterterrorism. A country is in the position of the interior; it must defend itself against all possible terrorist attacks: airplane terrorism, chemical bombs, threats at the ports, threats through the mails, lone lunatics with automatic weapons, assassinations, etc, etc, etc. The terrorist just needs to find one weak spot in the defenses, and exploit that. This concentration versus diffusion of resources is one reason why the defender’s job is so much harder than the attackers.
This same principle guides security questioning at the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. In this example, the attacker is the security screener and the defender is the terrorist. (It’s important to remember that “attacker” and “defender” are not moral labels, but tactical ones. Sometimes the defenders are the good guys and the attackers are the bad guys. In this case, the bad guy is trying to defend his cover story against the good guy who is attacking it.)
Security is impressively tight at the airport, and includes a potentially lengthy interview by a trained security screener. The screener asks each passenger questions, trying to determine if he’s a security risk. But instead of asking different questions — where do you live, what do you do for a living, where were you born — the screener asks questions that follow a storyline: “Where are you going? Who do you know there? How did you meet him? What were you doing there?” And so on.
See the ability to concentrate resources? The defender — the terrorist trying to sneak aboard the airplane — needs a cover story sufficiently broad to be able to respond to any line of questioning. So he might memorize the answers to several hundred questions. The attacker — the security screener — could ask questions scattershot, but instead concentrates his questioning along one particular line. The theory is that eventually the defender will reach the end of his memorized story, and that the attacker will then notice the subtle changes in the defender as he starts to make up answers.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.