Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Close the Washington Monument (schneier.com)
211 points by psadauskas on Dec 2, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

Don't forget the most recent success of our information agencies, the printer bomb that was intercepted and defused. That was a big success to our current security systems.

What does the TSA do though? Ban printer cartridges on planes. WTF?! I thought this was a success? Now it's being treated like a failure?

I'm waiting for the first congressman to openly call out the TSA as a terrorist organization. He or she will get my vote for the rest of my life.

Great article Mr Schneier, couldn't have said it any better.

"That was a big success to our current security systems."

No, it wasn't. Saudi intelligence provided the tracking numbers for the parcel bombs[1]. All the billions of dollars that we've spent on airport security did absolutely nothing. As Schneier as argued before, if you secure the one route the attack just comes from another route.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/06/world/middleeast/06terror....

Sorry, I said that wrong. I didn't mean a success for airport security but for the intelligence agencies who aren't infringing on basic freedoms and privacy of the general public (who in this case has good enough diplomatic ties with other intel agencies around the world to have this information passed to us).

If you stop flying as a result of this nonsense, then the TSA really will have won.

To the contrary. If we stop flying until the TSA changes their policies, it will encourage the airlines and the rest of the travel industry to put pressure on the TSA and the government.

Better yet, buy refundable tickets and then cancel them until the airlines grow some.

beautifully written ... brings tears to my eyes.

"We can reopen the Washington Monument when we've defeated our fears, when we've come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime."

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

--Benjamin Franklin

That was a well written op-ed

Indeed. And I am not even American.

Sometime ago we turned from a species of brave explorers into one of coward couch potatoes.

When we finally give them our world, I hope the cockroaches have better luck.

Wouldn't it be great if Bruce Schneier was in charge of the TSA? (not that he'd probably want/enjoy the job). Then, I'd feel a lot better about things.

"I don't want it because it's too narrow. I think the right thing for the government to do is to give the TSA a lot less money. I'd rather they defend against the broad threat of terrorism than focus on the narrow threat of airplane terrorism, and I'd rather they defend against the myriad of threats that face our society than focus on the singular threat of terrorism. But the head of the TSA can't have those opinions; he has to take the money he's given and perform the specific function he's assigned to perform. Not very much fun, really."


> not that he'd probably want/enjoy the job

Sometimes you do the job you want to do. On some other times, you do what needs to be done.

But that's a ridiculous issue, really. Bruce will never be offered the TSA.

Someone might do something bad so no one should be allowed to do anything.

If the people that founded this country lived by this, they never would have left Europe.

> If the people that founded this country

People who founded the US risked their necks and property fighting the most powerful empire on Earth, they probably wouldn't be very impressed by those few terrorist here and there.

The people who founded the USA were regarded as terrorists by the British Empire from which they were fighting to secede. How times have changed.

This is not correct. The fundamental - only, in many cases - goal of a terrorist is to inspire terror. The founders of the United States did not leverage terror in any capacity, rather they waged a conventional war to achieve their aims.

Terrorism is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The fundamental goal of a terrorist is not to inspire terror in itself; it is to inspire terror for the purpose of weakening public support for a policy the terrorists consider abhorrent. The IRA wanted Britain out of Northern Ireland; the ANC wanted the Apartheid government out of South Africa; Hamas wants Israel out of Palestine; and so on.

We can agree or disagree over whether to support the goals of a given terrorist group, just as we can agree or disagree over whether their methods are legitimate (for the record I do not condone violence, even in pursuit of a legitimate end). However, it's hypocritical to decide whether someone is a terrorist based on the goal of their terrorism.

Like all terrorists, the founders of the USA used both violent and nonviolent means, including property destruction, sabotage, assaults, propaganda and so on, for the purpose of overthrowing the government and establishing their own rule in is place. Again, we can agree or disagree over the legitimacy of both their motives and their means, but the facts of their actions are not in dispute.

"Terrorism is a means to an end, not an end in itself."

Precisely, hence my objection. My objection to the original statement is not based on the goals, as the statement below implies:

"However, it's hypocritical to decide whether someone is a terrorist based on the goal of their terrorism."

When we discuss terrorism, we're talking about a tactic. You've described that tactic well above. My objection is based on the fact that I am not aware of any specific activities on the part of the founders of the United States whose goal was to inspire terror in the populace at large. The primary tactics employed ranged from civil disobedience and sabotage (e.g. the original Tea Party) to conventional warfare (e.g. Bunker Hill).

If you are aware of specific actions conducted by the founding fathers prior to or during the Revolutionary War whose only purpose was to inspire fear amongst the general population, please do cite them.

Otherwise, I don't believe the categorization of the founders as terrorists is supportable.

"The day after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to blow up a Northwest jet with a bomb hidden in his underwear, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said "The system worked." I agreed. Plane lands safely, terrorist in custody, nobody injured except the terrorist. Seems like a working system to me."

If he got on the plane with the bomb in the first place, doesn't that imply the system doesn't work?

>>If he got on the plane with the bomb in the first place, doesn't that imply the system doesn't work?

I think that means part of the system had a failure, but that failure did not propogate catastrophically. If anything, this is reminiscent of a working AND resilient system.

Which system are we talking about?

The "keep bombs off of planes" system failed.

The "keep folks from blowing up bombs on planes" system succeeded.

Note that the former is what the US govt is claiming to do while the latter was entirely the doing of random folks on the plane.

Do we have any instances of air marshals stopping anyone? I ask because both the shoe and underwear bomber were handled by ordinary people.

The ultimate goal is to keep folks from blowing up bombs on planes, correct?


the Ultimate Goal is to create and maintain as much of an ideal society as we can pragmatically attain. An ideal society has no crime. In Canada we've realized we can't entirely eliminate crime, because many of the more drastic measures to "get tough on crime" have harmful side-effects that take us further away from the ideal society, not closer towards it.

We take the same arguments towards cigarettes, alcohol, automobile speeding, and children in swimming pools. Draconian measures that would increase our safety--like banning tobacco, prohibition, stringent requirements to obtain and maintain a license to drive, or banning personal swimming pools--actually move us away from our ideal society, not closer.

We have to "Play God" and agree that someone, somewhere, must die as a result of terrorism. We as a society already do that with our respective health care systems, with our automobils, with the sale of alcohol and tobacco, with the sale of guns, by allowing children to swim in swimming pools,and the ridiculous ease with which we allow people to obtain and drive vehicles.

The ultimate goal is to define what it means to be a Canadian or an American and then to live as much of that life as possible. The argument is whether the goal of zero airplanes downed can be achieved without compromising our Canadian or American identities.

I'll leave it up to others to argue whether strip searches and banning toner cartridges will achieve this.

The ultimate goal would be to live in a world where nobody wants to blow up planes.

That's not a goal. That's a fantasy world.

There will always be a tiny fraction of people that want to harm others. Whether it is because they have an agenda or are simply crazy (or likely both), they will always exist.

We have the choice of whether we want to sell our liberties and freedom for the illusion of safety from insignificant, yet inevitable, risks.

It's interesting that the part of the system that works cost $0 and the part of the system that failed costs billions.

A safe system is one that has redundant subsystems, so the complete failure of any one subsystem does not cause the whole to fail.

Do we know if air marshals were on the flight? Sample size is too small to draw conclusions.

> Do we know if air marshals were on the flight? Sample size is too small to draw conclusions.

I assume that they weren't. If we can't afford to put air marshals on every flight, that's a weakness. (It may be a reasonable weakness given the cost, but it's still a weakness.)

Note that the deterrence argument of air marshals assumes that folks who are willing to die are unwilling to spend time in prison. That may be true, but I'd like to see some evidence. (The deterrence argument is how you get from "air marshals on x% of the flights protects more than x% of the flights".)

There are always other passengers on passenger flights.

The bit that worked though, both for this and Richard Reid's shoe bomb, was that passengers - not air marshals - noticed the terrorist trying to set light to something in the main cabin area.

All it takes is a terrorist bright enough to try and set light to their bomb in the toilet rather than sitting surrounded by other passengers while fiddling with a fuse and lighter, and the system has failed. These attacks are failing because the chosen attackers are stupid, not because the system is effective.

Air Marshals. 4.2 arrests per year average, $200m per arrest. A very, very expensive comfort blanket.

The author of the article is the one who rightly explains that the only thing that has made us safer since 9/11 is locking cockpit doors and the knowledge that passengers should not comply with terrorists. In fact, that last one was learned so quickly it disrupted the 4th plane of that very attack.

Everything else is security theater.

I don't know that you could really get away with it in the lavatory either. Those smoke detectors are meant to stop people from having a cigarette, which doesn't necessarily emit that much smoke, so they're probably tuned to be pretty sensitive, right? But yeah, I assume the guy wouldn't really care if he was going to blow up the plane; attendants probably aren't in the habit of storming the lavatory when the smoke detector goes off.

Exactly. Every system will experience failure; it's how the system responds to the failure that is so important.

You can only reject the robustness principle ("Be conservative in what you send; be liberal in what you accept." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robustness_principle) if you can completely control the input 100% of the time.

To get the bomb on the plane, he had to have a bomb that was ineffective.

It's not ideal, but I'm pretty sure I can live with a system that lets faulty bombs through.

I could live with a system that lets working bombs through, too. I didn't stop flying after Pan Am Flight 103. Why was 9/11 so different? (More people died? But many, many, many more people die of preventable heart disease. Why do we have a war on people flying planes into buildings and not a war on heart disease? I don't want to die of either, and a bad diet seems a lot riskier than a random wacko hijacking a plane and flying it into stuff. Right!?)

I blame the cable-news rating frenzy for the over-reaction to 9/11. Everyone saw those planes fly into the twin towers. "Something drastic had to be done!", the pundits declared... and here we are. CNN got some ad revenue, and you have to let a rent-a-cop grope your balls to get on a plane. We defeated the terrorists for sure!

The system should not be designed to prevent bombs in planes. This is focusing on the method you will use instead of the result you want.

The idea is to prevent planes from being hijacked or destroyed and passengers and crew to be harmed.

Besides, military planes routinely carry bombs and hardly experience any problem with them

And, to top that (as someone else said before) the only reason he was able to get into the plane was that his bomb was not a functional one - it would be very difficult to take down the plane with it.

Of course the system worked. Chertoff's buddies have sold a shitload of body scanners the past year, haven't they?

A bomb too small to cause harm and no way to detonate it properly. It worked.

I want him to write more about interesting security and less about America's reaction to 9/11. We non-politicians and non-Americans get it already; the response is disproportionate, knee-jerk and terrified (terror-ified?). But that's been the case for a long time now.

Someone should really start an "Americans Are not Chickens, Wimps and Wusses" campaign. Proclaiming loudly that Americans are not going to be manipulated into losing their freedom by politicians and fear of terror.

Sometimes our fears can get the best of us. This is one of those times.

Totally in agreement in theory. But sadly, people in general are knee-jerk reactors who aren't really interested in abstract thought of this level. Or am I being too cynical?

Could it be that sone people sacrifice a little of their liberty for the safety of... others?

I don’t find this kind of thing helpful.

The question on things like the TSA policies is one of degree and not absolutes. So his claim that we should “conquer our fears because they are the real problem” doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me. Fearing a terrorist attack is perfectly rational the question is how much liberty we’re willing to give up to prevent such attacks.

So painting this as a “living in fear” vs “not living in fear” question doesn’t really address the problem.

Beyond that there’s the issue of disagreeing respectfully. Though he couches his point in flowery language the purpose of this type of article is to demonize the people who disagree with him. “They are the fear mongers and I am the rational one” is the point he’s making. He’s just making it in a way that sounds nice. That type of statement doesn’t lead to productive discussion and it certainly doesn't do anything to convince people who disagree with him (people who I assume are the intended audience here)

> Fearing a terrorist attack is perfectly rational the question is how much liberty we’re willing to give up to prevent such attacks.

How much liberty are you willing to give up to prevent automobile accidents? children drowning in swimming pools?

Both of these kill far more people every year than terrorist attacks against americans. Why is it ok for thousands of people to die every year from drunk drivers, yet I have to take off my shoes at the airport?

Schneier's point has consistently been to fight terrorism effectively. Spend our money and resources in areas that actually reduce terrorism and deaths, rather than areas that appear effective, yet are ultimately worthless (taking off shoes, 3oz liquid restriction, TSA circling things on your boarding pass)

> How much liberty are you willing to give up to prevent automobile accidents? children drowning in swimming pools?

I'm willing to give up the liberty to not wear a seat belt and to not go as fast as I want to prevent the majority of accidents. I'm willing to give up the liberty to not put a fence around my pool to prevent most children from drowning. But I'm not willing to let the Government take my car entirely or say I just can't own a pool. So again, as I said in my original point, it's a question of degree not of absolutes.

As far as your last paragraph that's you projecting. No where in his piece does he talk about methods that are and are not effective. The word effective isn't in the piece one single time.

Perhaps it is clear that current TSA measures are silly, ineffective and an eggregious infringement of liberty?

Have they been proven to be ineffective?

Well again I go back to the point I raised in my first post on this thread which is you have to consider intent.

The whole point of a post like this is to try to re-frame the topic in the minds of people who don't yet agree with you. So while it might be clear to you and it might be clear to the author it's obviously not clear to everyone or there would be no reason for this piece to be written.

So if the author's intent was to alter the perspective of people who don't agree with him he shouldn't write under the assumption that it's a clear cut issue (if that's in fact what he was doing)

The point Schneier is making is not that we shouldn't have any fear, or ignore threats. Rather, that living in a free society means that sometimes we choose to live with fear, because trying to stamp it out would force us to give up too much "essential liberty". That's what it means to "conquer" fear: to control it, rather than letting it control you.

"...the question is how much liberty we’re willing to give up to prevent such attacks."

Indeed, that's exactly right. Or, to phrase it another way: how much fear are we willing to endure to preserve our liberties? That question is politically out-of-bounds, because the idea that we should respond to fear with courage, rather than ever-increasing security measures, is not acceptable to politicians (either Democrats or Republicans), the Washington press corps, etc.

You're speaking in platitudes. You say...

"That's what it means to "conquer" fear: to control it, rather than letting it control you."

Well I'm sorry but that's silly in practical application. Fear does control us. I don't cross the street when the red hand is up because I fear getting hit by a car. That's not irrational.

It would be irrational if I NEVER crossed a street for the same reason. So again this reinforces my original point which is these things are a question of degree and arguing "against fear" is pointless and counterproductive.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact