Schneier on Great Mistakes In Fighting Terrorism

11 Jun

Troubles in the Data MineWhen there’s a controversy, I can always depend on Russ Roberts to host an EconTalk podcast, that cuts through the hypocrisy and murkiness caused by biased press coverage.

Bruce Schneier talks about the mistakes the United States has made combating terrorism.

Guest: So, I’ll talk about two major mistakes. I could spend an hour on this topic. The first one is we over-exaggerate the threat. And in a lot of ways this is an effect of the psychology of terrorism–that it’s big, it’s spectacular. The media repeats it endlessly. And in our brains we think it’s a much larger problem than it is. We don’t say things like: well, every month a 9/11’s worth of people die in car crashes in the United States. We don’t say that pigs kill more people than terrorists every year. We believe terrorism is this huge problem and needs an inordinate amount of security and spending to mitigate. So I think that’s the first thing we get badly wrong. The second is that we worry about the specifics of what happened rather than the generalities of what could happen. So, we worry about terrorists taking over airplanes with box cutters. I mean, right now we’re worried about finish lines of marathons. It’s almost magical thinking, that we somehow have to secure the finish lines at marathons in this country. Because that’s what the terrorists did last time, and obviously that’s the place of worry. We see this in airplane security. Think of the history. We take away guns and bombs, they use box cutters. We take away box cutters, they put a bomb in their shoes. We screen shoes, they use liquids. We take away liquids, they put a bomb in their underwear. We put in full body scanners, they are going to do something else. Again, this overly specific focus on the details of the plot rather than the broad generalities. Those are the two major mistakes.

One feature of this discussion is how much time Roberts and Schneier spend on corporate surveillance. Another is the emphasis on storing information, not just monitoring, which I am beginning to see is the main problem. I’m interested in alternatives, because NSA and their supporters will always try to argue that we have to trust our leaders, What else can we do?

Change human nature.

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