Schneier on Security Theater

I don’t want to excerpt it, because the whole thing is too awesome. From Bruce Schneier: Is aviation security mostly for show?

41 Responses to “Schneier on Security Theater”

  1. ymatt Says:

    Answer: Yes, and I’m sure everybody responsible knows it.

    Terrorism is hard, and mostly averted because it’s on people’s minds now. Security theater hedges the government’s bets so that if something happens they don’t look bad, and it makes the general public feel safer. Everybody wins! (Except that everybody actually loses, due to the enormous cost and inconvenience incurred on a daily basis.)

  2. knarlyknight Says:

    Yes, awesome, and much the same as the theme of Michael Moore’s 2004 “Fahrenheit 9/11” and previous “Bowling for Columbine.”

    No-one listens, most people are perfectly willing to sacrifice a little of their freedoms to ensure their liberty – or is it sacrifice some liberty to secure their freedom? Now, how exactly did Bush describe that to America? Oh never mind, Obama has the right words to describe how more intrusive State apparatuses are good for us.

  3. Smith Says:

    I think the quote you were looking for is “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” from Benjamin Franklin.

  4. knarlyknight Says:

    Smith, yes that quote is the primary source, unfortunately what it brings to my mind is a long segment where reporters interview British people in the street. The question was “To combat terrorism, are you willing to give up some of your liberty to preserve your freedom?” It was a trick question, but they could not find anyone who did not answer “yes”.

    The first trick is that “liberty” and “freedom” are virtual synonyms, so if you give up a little of one you are not preserving the other, you are also losing some of the other. It was interesting to hear people rationalize their approval for relinquishing a bit of their freedoms. Benjamin Franklin would have been appalled. (Then again, these were Brits not Americans.)

    The interviews were somehow related to an Alex Jones’ work.

    The second trick in the question is that a key goal of terrorism is to make the public see the domination by the authority powers and thus set the stage for some people to become sympathetic to their cause. So a security clampdown and curtailment of the public’s normal freedoms does not actually “combat terrorism” but instead helps the terrorists achieve their goals. That idea is implicit within Schneier’s article above.

  5. Smith Says:

    I wasn’t sure if you were deliberately mangling the quote, or if you had gotten yourself confused. Good to see that it was the former rather than the latter.

    I always found it ironic that the group shouting “the terrorists hate us for our freedoms” were same people claiming that we should be willing to surrender some of our freedoms in order to combat terrorism.

  6. knarlyknight Says:

    I don’t often deliberately mangle the truth, usually its more like I deliberately mangle my confusion. For example, I give you Knarly’s First Law:

    In any set of possible outcomes, the probability of any one outcome occuring is directly proportional to its degree of irony.

    I’ve found this law to be remarkably accurate in my personal life, to my profound amusement and solace in facing an uncertain future.

  7. knarlyknight Says:

    oops – first line should have been “I don’t often deliberatly mangle a quote” rather than “… the truth”, as I never deliberately mangle the truth (my subconscious efforts at mangling the truth aside.)

  8. ethan-p Says:

    What’s really funny is that I’m a big Schneier fan, and I would love to see more ration in place of the “security theater”. However, I feel like there’s a balance to be had.

    I do think that there is something to be said for feeling safe, and he does acknowledge this fact. It allows everyday people to go to work every day, go shopping, travel, and participate in the commerce that keeps our country moving.

    I also completely agree that many security theater measures that impinge on essential liberties make terrorism tactics more effective. Signing into a building, or other security measures with no apparent purpose just doesn’t make sense to me. I am completely on board with the article here.

    Where I think that Schneier goes wrong is a sense of idealism. It seems pragmatic at face value, but when I think about what he’s suggesting, it just seems a little unrealistic. If only everyone could act more secure and not overreact. I sure wish that we lived in that world. Hell, I wish that terrorism didn’t exist. That’s just not reality.

    While I don’t like a lot the changes implemented after September, 2001, the idea of going back to pre-9/11 airport security kind of scares me. I know that the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack are astronomically low – perhaps I’m not entirely rational in my desire for being safe.

    I can’t believe that I’m saying this — but maybe there is a balance to be had between realistic security, counter-terrorism, and the theater that’s like a nice warm blanket?

  9. enkidu Says:

    The Freedom Snuggie – now available in red white and blue flavors for terror-induced suckling (also functions as a super-absorbent Depends in case something actually, you know, happens)

  10. ethan-p Says:

    Of course, you can’t use your Freedom Snuggie during the last hour of a flight.

  11. shcb Says:

    Ethan is right, there has to be a balance between security and freedoms and the Franklin quote is a little out of context for this discussion. We need to be able to get on a plane with a reasonable sense of security that it is safe, but we also have to have the understanding that it can’t be totally safe, that is where we as citizens need to still get on the plane.

    As to the silly things like taking your shoes off, well those are just silly, but what can you do, it makes some people feel better so it probably has to be done. I worked with a girl for a while that had moved to Colorado from New York because she was afraid of the soldiers patrolling with machine guns as she called them. They probably weren’t even loaded, and yet there was a rent a cop with a loaded handgun in every mall she went into, you can’t rationalize with people like that.

    I don’t agree with him that this can be handled in our civil courts or that we should ignore it and it will go away, that is an exaggeration of his view of course. I agree this will primarily be handled in the shadows but those shadow lurkers need support of police and military if for no other reason than to herd the bad guys into a smaller geographical area.

    He makes the point that Churchill and FDR knew how to handle bad guys, one of the reasons is they knew who the bad guys were and had no problem pointing them out and vilifying them, if that leads to racial profiling well, be that as it may.

  12. enkidu Says:

    If only The Bad Guys were national leaders of large industrialized countries with a manufacturing base that we could bomb to smithereens! Instead they are a bunch of disgruntled 4th century religious zealots with cheap kalashnikovs who are funded by saudi oil money.

    Please note that the (failed) undiebomber wasn’t an A-rab. He was a black guy from Nigeria. Who was inspired or sent by zealots that the bush admin released from gitmo in 2007. heck of a job bushie!

    Racial profiling? So how would that work?
    Anyone from a “mud hut country” gets a cavity search?

  13. shcb Says:

    Then let’s call them who they are, this is a war against radical Islam, this administration won’t even allow its people to use the phrase “war on terror”. As far as racial profiling, no we don’t need to cavity search everyone, but we shouldn’t be afraid of putting two and two together either, the Ft Hood Islamic terrorist gave plenty of indication he was dangerous, but those in power ignored those signs because they didn’t want to be charged with being insensitive.

  14. Smith Says:

    “Ft Hood Islamic terrorist”

    The definition of “terrorist” is apparently getting very broad. I guess the Post Office is just chock-full of terrorists. If a Christian gets angry and shoots up his workplace, is he also a terrorist, or is that label reserved for Muslims?

  15. shcb Says:

    You’re tight, terrorist is too broad, change that to Fort Hood Islamic Jihadist, a bad guy in this war on Radical Islamic Terror. Can a Christian be a terrorist? Sure, it is just a tactic. McVeigh was a terrorist, the IRA were certainly terrorists and they considered themselves Christian.

  16. knarlyknight Says:

    Our smallest dog is a Shitzou x Yorkshire terrier, but don’t let that fool you, she’s the toughest thing you’ll ever see. She’s made up of nothing but muscle and attitude. I consider her to be a terrorrist.

  17. knarlyknight Says:

    When people ask me her breed, I say a Shitsou Yorky terrorist mix.

  18. shcb Says:

    By the way Smith if Christians were using terrorist tactics to target innocent people I would call them Christian terrorists. I don’t know why you have this obsession with me being racist.

  19. enkidu Says:

    maybe because Smith calls a spade a spade, eh? ;)
    “So now I’m not only paying the taxes of some woman who didn’t pay attention in high school enough to graduate but also didn’t have the brains to realize that breeding to a lazy man would result in a kid she can’t afford.”

    I am sure your son in law is proud of you too!

  20. Smith Says:

    “I don’t know why you have this obsession with me being racist.”

    Since when is Muslim a race?

  21. shcb Says:

    Enky, I have no idea what what you’re talking about, Smith, I don’t care.

  22. enkidu Says:
    “we had to go somewhere to kill Arabs”

    perhaps you might actually try clicking on these links to read your own posts once again?

  23. enkidu Says:
    “I don’t harbor any animosity for Negros or Jews.”

    errr, ok… whatever you say boss!

  24. enkidu Says:
    “We’re all adults here, we can say the word, yes they gave loans to negros and Mexicans, simply because they were negros and Mexicans.”


    wwnj blaming the financial meltdown on negroes, jews and mexicans. I am sure you used more colorful language at first and had to backspace.

  25. Smith Says:

    You seem to think my comment was intended to label you a racist. I’d love to know when Muslim and Christian became races. You do know that not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Christians are white, right? Arabs aren’t necessarily Muslim either.

  26. shcb Says:

    Enky, I’ve answered all those charges before, be a pal and include my rebuttal when you quote me on items I have already explained, it will save me a lot of time.

  27. shcb Says:

    The flip side

  28. knarlyknight Says:

    The “flip” side? By that you must mean the crazy side. She starts off with:

    When Obama finally appeared on Monday to make a statement, he gave a boilerplate nod to the potential terror connections of the “suspect,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: “We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.” But in the same statement he went on to say that “This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist.”

    And I think to myself, well yes the citizenry on the plane did do a good job of of neutralizing the threat. Damn good thing he didn’t have a boxcutter or he might have modified the Detroit skyline…
    Then the crazy lady goes on to talk about all the people who “helped” him get to where he is today (let’s remember where he is lady, he is in a hospital with burn bandages wrapped around his butt and about as isolated from his so called “helpers” as he could be) in what might be considered as an melancholic quelched scream to bring back the neo-con fearmongering of the former administration about the losers (aka wannabe terrorists) that al-cia-duh recruits in these futile attacks on civilian targets being some global crisis akin to AGW for Christ sake.

    Then, in the ironic twist that proves she was only fooling herself, she brings forth the answer, in a simpering, sarcastic snear that befits her ugly politicalized mindset:

    How could Abdulmutallab be seen as “isolated”? Because once Northwest Airlines Flight 253 took off from Amsterdam to Detroit, he appeared to be the only “alleged terrorist” onboard?

    Uh, yes lady. Actually that is a good assessment. Now go back to your seat and stfu because people more intelligent than you actually want to deal with the problems al-cia-duh presents to the world rahter than try vainly to score cheap political points.

    Oh, and by the way lady, your quote of the Rand guy talking about domestic terrorist attacks totally sucked. You entirely missed the point of the report, in order to insinuate that terror is up under Obama when the fact is that it is the anti-terrorist activity that is improving under Obama’s watch.

    You may not have noticed because most of the plots were foiled, …

    and as is apparent from the rest of that article (here: )the wannabe terrorists, are in fact quite isolated in many different senses of the word.

    So sorry shcb, but that was an epically poor article. Oh, and one more point, fighting terrorism is best accomplished through action, as is apparent from the many arrests, and the downplaying of the terror theatre as is evident from the current administration’s measured and well deliberated statements. It’s a nice contrast to the insanity that prevailed under Bush.

  29. shcb Says:

    I can’t comment on that last post it was just too nonsensical

  30. knarlyknight Says:

    Oh, the irony.

    You just commented: you said it was “just too nonsensical”, but you just just said that you couldn’t comment. (!)

    That was the most concise expression of your lack of logical reasoning that we’ve yet seen. Well done, (not)!

    I’m sort of glad you didn’t comment on specific items of my last post, because it was fairly reasoned and you’ve warped enough threads here with quasi racist, 19th century social Darwinist and authoritarian diatribes already.

    Yet I must confess, that last post of yours was the most delicious non-sequitur I’ve seen anywhere. So I’m going to stop writing and just let your last comment gently settle upon the ether so it can be savoured, as it rightly deserves to be: as an elegant paradoxical escapee from a confused mind.

  31. shcb Says:

    Well Knarly just how would you like me to phrase that sentence short of making it a legal document? You shouldn’t try and be petty and coy like Smith and Enky, it doesn’t fit, you’re too nice a guy.

    Take your first point, she isn’t talking about where he is this very moment and who is taking care of his self-inflicted wounds, she is talking about the people that gave him the bomb and trained him to use it, and those religious leaders that convinced him God wanted him to kill the people on the plane. Why would she care what is happening to him now?

    I kept thinking you were doing a Gilda Radner skit and someone was going to say, that’s resources, not race horses. I can’t argue logic like that, there is no logic.

  32. knarlyknight Says:

    Yes, I’ll take my first point because, just like the author wasn’t talking about the terrorist’s isolation now that he’s captured, Obama surely wasn’t talking about any support the terrorist might have had in preparing the terrorist attack. Srsly.

    The author’s suggestion that the current administration does not understand the true nature of international terrorism is laughable, at best. Picking one sentence and then playing semantics with it is a pithy & “coy” excuse for the basis of an opinion piece, and her choice of the word “isolated” to get all cute with is particularly indicative of low journalistic integrity. It is something more often seen in the comment section from the rabble than the keynote address (Sarah Palin being the exception.)

    And as an aside, note that “isolated” is not an exact term, because when it is applied to an individual (either in gerneral or as a term from psychology) it tends to mean with either little or no contact. There is a world of difference between “little contact” and “no contact”. I’d guess Obama was talking about little contact, the author was trying in pithy and coy terms to erroneously imply that the term was used to indicate there was no contact.

    Also, in military terms a fighting group is isolated if it’s far from home and its supply lines are compromised, but it may still comprise a considerable number of men; likewise, terrorists are isolated now because their “bases” are generally relegated to outposts in frontier regions of dysfunctional states or minor countries with racial, religious or other power chasms and outside of those bases they must hide and isolate themselves or risk exposure and capture.

    Basically this first point, wherein the author in the link you provided is being coy with the word “isolated”, destroys the credibility of the link by demonstrating its extreme bias. And I use the terms “extreme bias” here as a euphemism.

  33. enkidu Says:

    one more thought on the whole “isolated” thing: AQ’s signature is multiple near simultaneous attacks (not always, but it is their calling card so to speak). This was one psycho with some explosives in his undies.

    It is very hard to prevent this kind of attack: someone who is basically already dead inside, willing to die to kill someone else. Did you read about the trrrst who tried to kill a Saudi minister with a bomb. Metal detectors, dogs, pat downs etc. The guy had shoved a bomb up his nether region. When he set it off, he died, but much of the force of the blast was taken up by the bomber’s body. The minister lived btw.

    Amazing how the right wing is wetting their pants about a bunch of criminal religious zealots with psychotic ideas about how the future should look. No no not Rick Warren (or insert religious telecrook name here). The undie bomber was stopped by a dutch guy who got out of his damn seat and did what you or I would do: subdue the ienj by any means possible (I wonder: in a struggle, is it OK to bite a nutjob’s pinky tip off if it saves a planeload of people? my answer; if he tried to sucker punch the plane w a undie bomb then we aint fighting by the Marquis de Queensbury rules)

  34. NorthernLite Says:

    Anybody watch Jon Stewart last night? Quite possibly one of his best shows ever. Topics were terrorism, religion, healthcare and his guest was the author of a book called “Food Rules” which talks about the Western diet and how it costs us all billions a year.

  35. enkidu Says:

    hell yeah I watched it! hella funny
    I was too tired to watch more than the first segment of the Colbert Report (new set, no The Word [my fav colbert bit])

    I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food over thxgv
    I had the kids in stitches when I read the ingredient list for Sarah Lee Whole Grain White Bread (lets just say it contains a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t want to, you know, eat)

    also try The Botany of Desire

    Just changing your diet won’t fix healthcare (getting rid of the ‘insurance’ industry would be a good first step) but it would have some beneficial effects.

  36. NorthernLite Says:

    Yeah no ‘The Word’ :(

    I’ll have to pick up those books, I was really impressed with Pollan’s interview.

    Colbert did have a really funny skit with the American Olympic Curling team. One part that really cracked me up was he asked one member if it bothered him that the other guy was always yelling at him (you know how they yell “Sweep!” and stuff?). He was all sincere asking the guy how it made him feel… best hour in television for sure!

    PS – Sorry, but our Jr. Hockey Team is going to have to kick the American team’s butt tonight ;)

  37. enkidu Says:

    I read Pollan’s A Place of My Own (where he sets out to make a small writing hut in back of his house) before the boys and I made a totally rocking Eichler style playhouse (that also echoed elements of the cool treehouse I built w my Dad on the cusp of being a teenager).

    If you haven’t rented the movie foodinc, you should. Something is drastically wrong with the way we are producing our food in America. I am growing food year round now. Feels good, tastes better.

    One of my wife’s best friends from growing up is a curling pro on Australia’s team. Steve Johns, great guy. Sweep damn yer eyes! Sweeeeeeeeep!

    Line up The Daily Show and Colbert Report against the dumb vs dumber Meet the Press or other Sunday shows and there are clear winners and losers.

  38. ethan-p Says:

    Interesting – Schneier is at it again. In this case, I do agree with him.

  39. knarlyknight Says:

    ethan, look at the comments at your Schneier link, many people are more critical. Some good suggestions too, like installing turnstiles or optical turnstiles to regulate foot traffic into restricted areas.

  40. shcb Says:

    Schipol Airport is the only place I have been questioned, at the gate there were several officers, everyone was assigned one right there in the open area before the chairs and asked a series of questions, what kind of electronics did we have with us where were we going, what was our home town, they never asked us to show them the gear and of course they didn’t know where we were born, they were judging our reactions to the questions. I’ve never had that kind of scrutiny anywhere else and yet the Undi bomber make it through, it’s a tough job.

  41. NorthernLite Says:

    Thanks enk.

    And… “The Word” lives on! Must have not had it on Monday since they were unveiling the new set.

    Congrats to your USA Junior Hockey Team on winning gold last night against us. Not sure if it’s widely watched down there but what a great game it was! You guys won 6-5 in overtime in Saskatoon. Nothing like watching 18 year olds play their hearts out for their country. Next year the tournament is being held in Buffalo which is fairly close to me so I hope to be able to catch a few games!

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