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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 3

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 3

Subject:

Body Scanners: A Waste of Time and Money

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Fri, 17 Dec 2010 22:18:26 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (125 lines)

Body Scanners: A Waste of Time and Money

     Travelers are resisting new airport security
     measures. Are there better options?

by Bruce Schneier
November 23, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/11/22/do-body-scanners-make-us-safer/a-waste-of-money-and-time

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of
several books on computer security, including "Beyond
Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain
World."

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns
and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We
confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put
explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so
they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they
put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-
body scanners, even though they wouldn't have caught
the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer
cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces --
the level of magical thinking here is amazing -- and
they're going to do something else.

Take all the money spent on new security measures and
spend it on investigation and intelligence.
This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.

It's not even a fair game. It's not that the terrorist
picks an attack and we pick a defense, and we see who
wins. It's that we pick a defense, and then the
terrorists look at our defense and pick an attack
designed to get around it. Our security measures only
work if we happen to guess the plot correctly. If we
get it wrong, we've wasted our money. This isn't
security; it's security theater.

There are two basic kinds of terrorists. The are the
sloppy planners, like the guy who crashed his plane
into the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin.
He's going to be sloppy and stupid, and even pre-9/11
airplane security is going to catch him. The second is
the well-planned, well-financed, and much rarer sort of
plot. Do you really expect the T.S.A. screeners, who
are busy confiscating water bottles and making people
take off their belts -- and now doing uncomfortable pat-
downs -- to stop them?

Of course not. Airport security is the last line of
defense, and it's not a very good one. What works is
investigation and intelligence: security that works
regardless of the terrorist tactic or target. Yes, the
target matters too; all this airport security is only
effective if the terrorists target airports. If they
decide to bomb crowded shopping malls instead, we've
wasted our money.

That being said, airplanes require a special level of
security for several reasons: they're a favored
terrorist target; their failure characteristics mean
more deaths than a comparable bomb on a bus or train;
they tend to be national symbols; and they often fly to
foreign countries where terrorists can operate with
more impunity.

But all that can be handled with pre-9/11 security.
Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer
since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and
convincing passengers they need to fight back.
Everything else has been a waste of money. Add
screening of checked bags and airport workers and we're
done. Take all the rest of the money and spend it on
investigation and intelligence.

Immediately after the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber's
plot failed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet
Napolitano called airplane security a success. She was
pilloried in the press and quickly backpedaled, but I
think it was one of the most sensible things said on
the subject. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody,
nobody injured except the terrorist: what more do
people want out of a security success?

Look at what succeeded. Because even pre-9/11 security
screened for obvious bombs, Abdulmutallab had to
construct a far less reliable bomb than he would have
otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or a
reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial
user of PETN, Abdulmutallab had to resort to an ad hoc
and much more inefficient detonation mechanism
involving a syringe, 20 minutes in the lavatory, and
setting his pants on fire. As a result, his actions
came to the notice of the other passengers, who subdued
him.

Neither the full-body scanners or the enhanced pat-
downs are making anyone safer. They're more a result of
politicians and government appointees capitulating to a
public that demands that "something must be done," even
when nothing should be done; and a government
bureaucracy that is more concerned about the security
of their careers if they fail to secure against the
last attack than what happens if they fail anticipate
the next one.

___________________________________________

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on the left that will help them to interpret the world
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