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Bruce Schneier: Refuse to be terrorized (schneier.com)
152 points by iwr on Nov 24, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

From 2006, and sadly so; this advice should have been followed back in 2002, and been the reality by 2010. Schneier is well known, but somehow still isn't being heard by the right ears...how can we help change that?

What seems interesting to me as a European is that this type of reactions happened mostly in the US. Terror attacks have happened for a long time in Europe (red brigades, IRA, algerian terror cells, etc...), and the reaction has been quite different to say the least. Granted, the amount of damages has been different (nothing near 9/11 has ever happened on European soil), but I don't think that explains it.

This is even more incomprehensible to me because I have always considered American citizens to be more attached to civil liberties and individual freedom than most Europens.

I have always considered American citizens to be more attached to civil liberties and individual freedom than most Europeans.

Perhaps, but still... it's complicated. Ask an Irish-American in the 1800s, a black American in 1840 or 1930, or a Japanese-American in 1944:


From the earliest days of the USA, it has taken a lot of fighting to keep the ideals alive in practice as well as on paper.

Ask a Jewish Frenchman in 1942, an Indian Briton in 1920, or 5th generation Korean immigrants to Japan today. America may have struggled to keep its ideals alive in practice, but at least it has such ideals. And it has been far more successful at living up to them than just about any other country in history. We should celebrate that even as we strive for further improvement (current anti-immigration sentiment in America is far too prevalent, for example).

Current anti-illegal-immigration sentiment is pretty prevalent. If there's actually a massive anti-immigrant sentiment I haven't really noticed it much. I do notice a lot of people trying their hardest to conflate the two, though.

If there's actually a massive anti-immigrant sentiment I haven't really noticed it much.

I've watched several highly-educated friends try to get green cards, jumping through hoops all the way.

The fact that emigrating to the USA has been deliberately engineered to be very difficult is a relatively polite, bureaucratic, impersonal form of anti-immigrant sentiment, but it is definitely real.

Well, there are a lot of people that think that we should prevent Chinese immigrants...

I don't disagree at all. American culture actually seems to be unusually good at resisting xenophobia.

But that skill was developed through practice.

Many of us in the US who are attached to civil liberties and individual freedom are taking notice.

From civil liberties to software patents, maybe Europe isn't what Rush Limbaugh says it is. Wonder of wonders.

I assume you didnt live in northern ireland in the 70s/80s, where stop and searches where normal way of life and where you could see British soldiers patrolling the streets daily

Events in Northern Ireland have killed approx 3600 in the last 40years - not too far off.

The timeframe probably makes the psychological impact different (over 40 years vs. in one day), though.

Yes two generations of train stations closed because of bomb scares, of weekly news reports of a new bomb blast.

"Different" means exactly that. I'm not downplaying it, just saying that it's not as easy to compare as saying that the number of deaths is similar.

Personally I think the lesson to be learned from Northern Ireland is to avoid demonizing terrorists - it really doesn't achieve anything. Try and understand what it motivating them and you might stand a chance of working things out.

Every culture that's experienced terrorism has different scars. The US was attacked using airliners; hence airliners are a target of paranoia. The IRA was fond of planting bombs in public trash cans ("rubbish bins" in the British vernacular); the British pull all the trash cans off the street and then invent a bomb-proof rubbish bin (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5051419.ece)

I think perhaps you don't appreciate the degree of erosion of civil liberties that has come with the reactions of most European governments to modern terrorism. Most European governments took measures more drastic than the US. The things that the police in Britain are allowed to do in the name of "fighting terrorism" are extreme, for example.

> The things that the police in Britain are allowed to do in the name of "fighting terrorism" are extreme, for example.

Can you give an example of something the British police can do that the American counterparts can't ?

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act (Especially as it relates to photographers: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-23/world/photography.protest...)

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I remember reading about airliners being blown up: Air India Flight 182, Pan Am 103, etc. etc. Red Brigade, PFLP, IRA, etc. etc. So many planes were hijacked, blown up, or even shot down (Korean Air by the Soviets). And yet we didn't start cowering in terror like we do today. Here's a quick link; just read it and see how safe we've been since the late 90s: http://www.historycentral.com/Terrorhistory.html We were safe without any groping or x-raying or taking off our shoes and throwing away our bottles of baby's milk.

What happened? How did we become a nation of wimps??

What happened? Our leaders pursued a policy of fear and vengeance and the public ate it up like starving dogs.

The shock of 9/11 will do that to a person, heh.

"a Port of Seattle terminal was evacuated because a couple of dogs gave a false alarm for explosives"

That doesn't sound like living in terror, that sounds like good sense. IIRC dogs are pretty reliable (false alarms are rare) and one terminal isn't the whole airport.

I wonder why, instead of X-rays and pat-downs they don't just use dogs. I would trust that a dog would be able to detect a bomb on a person much more readily than a person who's eyes are glazed over after looking at the nth person's scan or pat-down. And they gladly work for just love and kibble. Of course the TSA claims they are able to detect weapons such as guns and knives too, but I believe metal detectors are probably just as effective along with secure cockpits, air marshals on-board, and a public ready to fight back if necessary. Am I missing something about dogs that would make this impractical?

>Am I missing something about dogs ?

Puppy breeders don't make million $ campaign contributions or hire TSA officials as 'advisers'

More specifically, Michael Chertoff isn't a puppy breeder.

Also some people are terrified of dogs so having one sniff over them would be worse than being groped. Not that the TSA cares about feelings or anything though.

Thats why airport sniffer dogs are often beagles rather than the German Sheppard/Bloodhounds used for cargo. Beagles are small cute and non-threatening, and they don't have to climb all over you to smell explosives.

By contrast the police here got German Sheppards to sniff for drugs on suspects on the street. It turns out the police didn't actually buy trained sniffer dogs - they just wanted something big and fierce looking to 'encourage' people to cooperate.

Not that the TSA would consider any such thing.

It sounds totally practical but in this whole TSA debate there's a weird misunderstanding of public opinion. Various polls have shown overwhelming public support for body scanners for instance. People want the security theater antics. It makes them feel safe. Dogs are too old fashion -- people trust machines more. It's amazing to me how quickly the online community especially, but also the media, have forgot the uproar over the failed X-Mas day bombing last year. People were upset we didn't have full body scanners deployed. Another failed attempt and people will be demanding everyone gets a full pat down AND a body scan. Another successful attempt and they'll be demanding racial profiling. Maybe we'll ban Muslims from flying entirely. Nothing would surprise me. I guess my point is what is effective and what makes the public feel better are two very different things.

I've concluded that freedom is an anti-value for many people. They don't want the responsibility that goes with freedom. They want people in government to grant them the cozy feeling of living at home with their parents, carefree, even when it's all theater and illusion. Those in government are happy to oblige because it's a fantastic never-ending jobs program for them. This is why the police state relentlessly ratchets forward, with only a temporary respite to allow the occasional fits of outrage to subside.


We are seeing the hybrid of the Nanny State and the Police State, the kindergarten teacher and the prison warden, with everything all soft and fuzzy and nice, but manacles and truncheons for those who step out of line. The rising cost of this state metastasis will fall squarely on the shoulders of the dwindling few suckers who choose to live responsibly.

Giant African pouched rats are even better sniffers than dogs. Might be some, uh, cultural challenges to deployment though.

I suspect a lot of what has brought about the over-the-top paranoia these days is the fact that 9/11 was a hijacking. Dogs would be perfect if we wanted to stop people who wanted to blow the plane up, because you have to have chemicals for that- but we also want to stop the people with weapons, and there's a ton of weapons dogs and metal detectors can't catch.

You are correct- there are a bunch of policies and people etc that can help mitigate all that- but I think this explains why there is less focus and/or use of our bomb-sniffing pals.

I agree with the coverage of events by the press/media encourage people to be terrorized. If the media get a story that will sell papers / get eye balls watching TV screens they will run with it until the cows come home (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/382900.html).


We're not really afraid/terrorized. We only require that leaders protect us and some are willing to forgo more liberties than others.

If we were terrorized, we would not fly by the millions... every day!

I won't get into the civil liberties topic. There are trade-offs we will all never agree on. One of those is security v. liberties. So everyone just tug their way and we'll see where we end up.

Your view attributes much rationality to how people are acting.

My view of it is that humans routinely miscalculate risk and behave quite irrationally from a risk-minimization perspective. At the same time, a public that is largely apathetic about politics in general is easily moved by fear-mongering, us-vs-them rhetoric, etc. -- like any fad, terrorism simply captures the imagination of some people.

Attempts to stop the overreaction suffer from the typical challenge: the majority who don't care about terrorism care about the issue less than the vocal minority for whom it's a very big (as in scary or as in profitable) deal.

Also, due to the government's habit of paying for terrorism prevention, the typical corruption/overspending problems happen far more easily than they would in a decentralized system. And, due to the political nature of terrorism prevention, our leaders work to minimize the extent to which they would likely be blamed for an attack rather than working to make us feel/be safer.

Funny, I was going to start and end my post with similar statements. My first statement was a quote "a person is smart but people are stupid" (due to herd behavior). And I was going to end with the fact that many leaders care more about maintaining their seats than losing any lives on their watch and so are ready scare the minority who actually are not afraid of terrorism much more than they are about religions, people and ways of life they ignore (most of the author's examples are in fact evidence of this).

But I edited my post because statistically the majority of us are not afraid. We care, and definitely vote for leaders who refuse to terrorize us a la Cheney, but we know we have to adapt our way of life to minimize the risks--which can be confused with fear, but is actually the rational thing to do, since we're dealing with irrational people.

I was too succinct, but yes the majority needs to do a better job of controlling the message we send to terrorists--that I should have conceded.

Minimize the risks? There is no significant risk posed by terrorism. It's equivalent to the risk of spending a few extra minutes in the sun each week w/o sunscreen in Northern Canada.

"Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed."

Yes, the terrorists would have failed. Then they would exploit our continued lack of vigilance and try again and again until we were scared and started to crack down. These arguments that we should not respond to terrorism are a bunch of lovey dove hopeful hogwash. Terrorists aren't going to give up because we ignored their destructive acts. They will keep blowing more shit up until they are dead or get the attention they seek.

"This does not mean that we simply roll over and accept terrorism. There are things our government can and should do to fight terrorism, most of them involving intelligence and investigation -- and not focusing on specific plots."


At least read the next paragraph, dude.

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