I have very mixed feelings about this report:
Anticipating attacks from terrorists, and hardening potential targets against them, is a wearying and expensive business that could be made simpler through a broader view of the opponents’ origins, fears, and ultimate objectives, according to studies by the Advanced Concepts Group (ACG) of Sandia National Laboratories.
“Right now, there are way too many targets considered and way too many ways to attack them,” says ACG’s Curtis Johnson. “Any thinking person can spin up enemies, threats, and locations it takes billions [of dollars] to fix.”
That makes a lot of sense, and this way of thinking is sorely needed. As is this kind of thing:
“The game really starts when the bad guys are getting together to plan something, not when they show up at your door,” says Johnson. “Can you ping them to get them to reveal their hand, or get them to turn against themselves?”
Better yet is to bring the battle to the countries from which terrorists spring, and beat insurgencies before they have a foothold.
“We need to help win over the as-yet-undecided populace to the view it is their government that is legitimate and not the insurgents,” says the ACG’s David Kitterman. Data from Middle East polls suggest, perhaps surprisingly, that most respondents are favorable to Western values. Turbulent times, however, put that liking under stress.
A nation’s people and media can be won over, says Yonas, through global initiatives that deal with local problems such as the need for clean water and affordable energy.
Says Johnson, “U.S. security already is integrated with global security. We’re always helping victims of disaster like tsunami victims, or victims of oppressive governments. Perhaps our ideas on national security should be redefined to reflect the needs of these people.”
Remember right after 9/11, when that kind of thinking would get you vilified?
But the article also talks about security mechanisms that won’t work, cost too much in freedoms and liberties, and have dangerous side effects.
People in airports voluntarily might carry smart cards if the cards could be sweetened to perform additional tasks like helping the bearer get through security, or to the right gate at the right time.
Mall shoppers might be handed a sensing card that also would help locate a particular store, a special sale, or find the closest parking space through cheap distributed-sensor networks.
“Suppose every PDA had a sensor on it,” suggests ACG researcher Laura McNamara. “We would achieve decentralized surveillance.” These sensors could report by radio frequency to a central computer any signal from contraband biological, chemical, or nuclear material.
Universal surveillance to improve our security? Seems unlikely.
But the most chilling quote of all:
“The goal here is to abolish anonymity, the terrorist’s friend,” says Sandia researcher Peter Chew. “We’re not talking about abolishing privacy — that’s another issue. We’re only considering the effect of setting up an electronic situation where all the people in a mall, subway, or airport ‘know’ each other — via, say, Bluetooth — as they would have, personally, in a small town. This would help malls and communities become bad targets.”
Anonymity is now the terrorist’s friend? I like to think of it as democracy’s friend.
Security against terrorism is important, but it’s equally important to remember that terrorism isn’t the only threat. Criminals, police, and governments are also threats, and security needs to be viewed as a trade-off with respect to all the threats. When you analyze terrorism in isolation, you end up with all sorts of weird answers.
Posted on April 5, 2005 at 9:26 AM •