Entries Tagged "sports"

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Metal Detectors at Sports Stadiums

Fans attending Major League Baseball games are being greeted in a new way this year: with metal detectors at the ballparks. Touted as a counterterrorism measure, they’re nothing of the sort. They’re pure security theater: They look good without doing anything to make us safer. We’re stuck with them because of a combination of buck passing, CYA thinking, and fear.

As a security measure, the new devices are laughable. The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren’t very sensitive—people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through—and there are no X-ray machines. Bags get the same cursory search they’ve gotten for years. And fans wanting to avoid the detectors can opt for a “light pat-down search” instead.

There’s no evidence that this new measure makes anyone safer. A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium. For that matter, a bomb exploded at a crowded checkpoint would be no less deadly than one exploded in the stands. These measures will, at best, be effective at stopping the random baseball fan who’s carrying a gun or knife into the stadium. That may be a good idea, but unless there’s been a recent spate of fan shootings and stabbings at baseball games—and there hasn’t—this is a whole lot of time and money being spent to combat an imaginary threat.

But imaginary threats are the only ones baseball executives have to stop this season; there’s been no specific terrorist threat or actual intelligence to be concerned about. MLB executives forced this change on ballparks based on unspecified discussions with the Department of Homeland Security after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Because, you know, that was also a sporting event.

This system of vague consultations and equally vague threats ensure that no one organization can be seen as responsible for the change. MLB can claim that the league and teams “work closely” with DHS. DHS can claim that it was MLB’s initiative. And both can safely relax because if something happens, at least they did something.

It’s an attitude I’ve seen before: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it.” Never mind if the something makes any sense or not.

In reality, this is CYA security, and it’s pervasive in post-9/11 America. It no longer matters if a security measure makes sense, if it’s cost-effective or if it mitigates any actual threats. All that matters is that you took the threat seriously, so if something happens you won’t be blamed for inaction. It’s security, all right—security for the careers of those in charge.

I’m not saying that these officials care only about their jobs and not at all about preventing terrorism, only that their priorities are skewed. They imagine vague threats, and come up with correspondingly vague security measures intended to address them. They experience none of the costs. They’re not the ones who have to deal with the long lines and confusion at the gates. They’re not the ones who have to arrive early to avoid the messes the new policies have caused around the league. And if fans spend more money at the concession stands because they’ve arrived an hour early and have had the food and drinks they tried to bring along confiscated, so much the better, from the team owners’ point of view.

I can hear the objections to this as I write. You don’t know these measures won’t be effective! What if something happens? Don’t we have to do everything possible to protect ourselves against terrorism?

That’s worst-case thinking, and it’s dangerous. It leads to bad decisions, bad design and bad security. A better approach is to realistically assess the threats, judge security measures on their effectiveness and take their costs into account. And the result of that calm, rational look will be the realization that there will always be places where we pack ourselves densely together, and that we should spend less time trying to secure those places and more time finding terrorist plots before they can be carried out.

So far, fans have been exasperated but mostly accepting of these new security measures. And this is precisely the problem—most of us don’t care all that much. Our options are to put up with these measures, or stay home. Going to a baseball game is not a political act, and metal detectors aren’t worth a boycott. But there’s an undercurrent of fear as well. If it’s in the name of security, we’ll accept it. As long as our leaders are scared of the terrorists, they’re going to continue the security theater. And we’re similarly going to accept whatever measures are forced upon us in the name of security. We’re going to accept the National Security Agency’s surveillance of every American, airport security procedures that make no sense and metal detectors at baseball and football stadiums. We’re going to continue to waste money overreacting to irrational fears.

We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

Posted on April 15, 2015 at 6:58 AMView Comments

Tom Ridge Can Find Terrorists Anywhere

One of the problems with our current discourse about terrorism and terrorist policies is that the people entrusted with counterterrorism—those whose job it is to surveil, study, or defend against terrorism—become so consumed with their role that they literally start seeing terrorists everywhere. So it comes as no surprise that if you ask Tom Ridge, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, about potential terrorism risks at a new LA football stadium, of course he finds them everywhere.

From a report he prepared—paid, I’m sure—about the location of a new football stadium:

Specifically, locating an NFL stadium at the Inglewood-Hollywood Park site needlessly increases risks for existing interests: LAX and tenant airlines, the NFL, the City of Los Angeles, law enforcement and first responders as well as the citizens and commercial enterprises in surrounding areas and across global transportation networks and supply chains. That risk would be expanded with the additional stadium and “soft target” infrastructure that would encircle the facility locally.

To be clear, total risk cannot be eliminated at any site. But basic risk management principles suggest that the proximity of these two sites creates a separate and additional set of risks that are wholly unnecessary.

In the post 9/11 world, the threat of terrorism is a permanent condition. As both a former governor and secretary of homeland security, it is my opinion that the peril of placing a National Football League stadium in the direct flight path of LAX—layering risk—outweigh any benefits over the decades-long lifespan of the facility.

If a decision is made to move forward at the Inglewood/Hollywood Park site, the NFL, state and local leaders, and those they represent, must be willing to accept the significant risk and the possible consequences that accompany a stadium at the location. This should give both public and private leaders in the area some pause. At the very least, an open, public debate should be enabled so that all interests may understand the comprehensive and interconnected security, safety and economic risks well before a shovel touches the ground.

I’m sure he can’t help himself.

I am reminded of Glenn Greenwald’s essay on the “terrorist expert” industry. I am also reminded of this story about a father taking pictures of his daughters.

On the plus side, now we all have a convincing argument against development. “You can’t possibly build that shopping mall near my home, because OMG! terrorism.”

Posted on March 4, 2015 at 6:40 AMView Comments

Security at Sports Stadiums

Lots of sports stadiums have instituted Draconian new rules. Here are the rules for St. Louis Rams games:

Fans will be able to carry the following style and size bag, package, or container at stadium plaza areas, stadium gates, or when approaching queue lines of fans awaiting entry into the stadium:

  • Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12.” (Official NFL team logo clear plastic tote bags are available through club merchandise outlets or at nflshop.com), or
  • One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
  • Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the stadium along with one of the clear bag options.
  • An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at a gate designated for this purpose.

Prohibited items include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, luggage of any kind, seat cushions, computer bags and camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size.

Of course you’re supposed to think this is about terrorism. My guess is that this is to help protect the security of the profits at the concession stands.

Posted on August 12, 2013 at 6:29 AMView Comments

Fixing Soccer Matches

How international soccer matches are fixed.

Right now, Dan Tan’s programmers are busy reverse-engineering the safeguards of online betting houses. About $3 billion is wagered on sports every day, most of it on soccer, most of it in Asia. That’s a lot of noise on the big exchanges. We can exploit the fluctuations, rig the bets in a way that won’t trip the houses’ alarms. And there are so many moments in a soccer game that could swing either way. All you have to do is see an Ilves tackle in the box where maybe the Viikingit forward took a dive. It happens all the time. It would happen anyway. So while you’re running around the pitch in Finland, the syndicate will have computers placing high-volume max bets on whatever outcome the bosses decided on, using markets in Manila that take bets during games, timing the surges so the security bots don’t spot anything suspicious. The exchanges don’t care, not really. They get a cut of all the action anyway. The system is stacked so it’s gamblers further down the chain who bear all the risks.

Posted on February 20, 2013 at 7:29 AMView Comments

The DHS Partners with Major League Soccer to Promote Fear

It seems to be harder and harder to keep people scared:

The Department’s “If You See Something, Say Something™” partnership with the MLS Cup will feature a “If You See Something, Say Something™” graphic that will aired on the video board during the MLS Cup championship game in Carson City, Calif. Safety messaging will also be printed on the back of MLS Cup credentials for staff, players, and volunteers and in game day programs distributed to fans. Throughout the MLS season “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign graphics appeared on video boards and on the MLS website, and the “If You See Something, Say Something™” Public Service Announcement was read at games.

Will there also be “If You See Something, Say Something™” Day, with Janet Napolitano bobbleheads given to all the kids?

This kind of thing only serves to ratchet up fear, and doesn’t make us any safer. I’ve written about this before.

Posted on November 28, 2011 at 7:26 AMView Comments

Football Match Fixing

Detecting fixed football (soccer) games.

There is a certain buzz of expectation, because Oscar, one of the fraud analysts, has spotted a game he is sure has been fixed.

“We’ve been watching this for a couple of weeks now,” he says.

“The odds have gone to a very suspicious level. We believe that this game will finish in an away victory. Usually an away team would have around a 30% chance of winning, but at the current odds this team is about 85% likely to win.”

[…]

Often news of the fix will leak so that gamblers jump on the bandwagon. The game we are watching falls, it seems, into the second category.

Oscar monitors the betting at half-time. He is especially interested in money being laid not on the result itself, but on the number of goals that are going to be scored.

“The most likely score lines are 2-1 or 3-1,” he announces.

This is interesting:

Oscar is also interested in the activity of a club manager – but his modus operandi is somewhat different. He does not throw games. He wins them.

[…]

“The reason he’s so important is because he has relationships with all his previous clubs. He has managed at least three or four of the teams he is now buying wins against. He has also managed a lot of players from the opposition, who are being told to lose these matches.”

I always think of fixing a game as meaning losing it on purpose, not winning it by paying the other team to lose.

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 12:41 PMView Comments

Hiding in Plain Sight

Ha!

When he’s out and about near his Denver home, former Broncos quarterback John Elway has come up with a novel way to travel incognito—­he wears his own jersey. “I do that all the time here,” the 50-year-old Hall of Famer told me. “I go to the mall that way. They know it’s not me because they say there’s no way Elway would be wearing his own jersey in the mall. So it actually is the safest thing to do.”

Of course, now everybody knows.

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 7:34 AMView Comments

Terrorists Targeting High-Profile Events

In an AP story on increased security at major football (the American variety) events, this sentence struck me:

“High-profile events are something that terrorist groups would love to interrupt somehow,” said Anthony Mangione, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Miami office.

This is certainly the conventional wisdom, but is there any actual evidence that it’s true? The 9/11 terrorists could have easily chosen a different date and a major event—sporting or other—to target, but they didn’t. The London and Madrid train bombers could have just as easily chosen more high-profile events to bomb, but they didn’t. The Mumbai terrorists chose an ordinary day and ordinary targets. Aum Shinrikyo chose an ordinary day and ordinary train lines. Timothy McVeigh chose the ordinary Oklahoma City Federal Building. Irish terrorists chose, and Palestinian terrorists continue to choose, ordinary targets. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that ordinary targets are easier targets, but not a lot of it.

The only examples that come to mind of terrorists choosing high-profile events or targets are the idiot wannabe terrorists who would have been incapable of doing anything unless egged on by a government informant. Hardly convincing evidence.

Yes, I’ve seen the movie Black Sunday. But is there any reason to believe that terrorists want to target these sorts of events other than us projecting our own fears and prejudices onto the terrorists’ motives?

I wrote about protecting the World Series some years ago.

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 7:53 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.