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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Tuning in to 'security theater.'

Since 9/11, airline travelers in the US (and elsewhere) have been amazed and baffled by the ever-changing list of stuff that poses a security threat: Nail clippers. Knitting needles. Scissors. Screwdrivers. All of these items have been banned, and then un-banned.

The alleged terror plot against transatlantic airliners has brought a new list of no-no's: Lip gloss. Shampoo. Sports drinks. Yogurt. You can bet that, just as soon as the current wave of government-abetted paranoia slackens, these items will suddenly stop being so threatening.

All of this goes to point to some incontrovertible facts about anti-terror measures: You can't defend against the last attack. And you can't anticipate what the method of the next attack will be. That's why banning lip gloss isn't going to make the skies any safer than they were when nail cutters were on the blacklist.

What does work, however, is careful investigative work conducted by law enforcement — a conclusion that runs directly counter to the Dubya administration's insistence the 'war on terror' can only be won if the nation acquiesces to an ever-broadening assault on privacy and the US Constitution. The arrests made by Uk authorities after a year-long investigation should prove to any reasonable person that Dubya's anti-terror policies are wrong-headed and ineffective.

Security expert Bruce Schneier has an excellent post making these points more eloquently than we have:

It's easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it'll catch the sloppy and the stupid -- and that's a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely -- but it won't catch a well-planned plot. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly keep them off airplanes.

The goal of a terrorist is to cause terror. Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.

As much sense as Schneier is making, you can bet that Dubya's administration will continue on with its same old 'security theater' song and dance. After all, building a huge anti-terror apparatus makes lots of money for the big corporations that have bankrolled the rise to power of Dubya and his accomplices. And stoking public fears of terrorism has so far kept GOP election victories coming fast and furious.

Making money. Having an audience. What more does a theater need?

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:30 AM | Get permalink




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