Terrorism Defense: A Failure of Imagination

Terrorism Defense: A Failure of Imagination.

The 9/11 Commission report talked about a “failure of imagination” before the 9/11 attacks:

The most important failure was one of imagination. We do
not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist
danger from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for policy
debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it
barely came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.

More generally, this term
has been used to describe the U.S. government's response to the
terrorist threat. We spend a lot of money defending against what they
did last time, or against particular threats we imagine, but ignore the
general threat or the root causes of terrorism.

With the London bombings, we're doing it again. I was going to write a long post about this, but Richard Forno already wrote a nice essay.

The London bombs went off over 12 hours ago.

So why is CNN-TV still splashing “breaking news” on the screen?

There's been zero new developments in the past several hours.
Perhaps the “breaking news” is that CNN's now playing spooky “terror
attack” music over commercial bumpers now filled with dramatic
camera-phone images from London commuters that appeared on the Web
earlier this morning.

Aside from that, the only new development since about noon seems to
be the incessant press conferences held by public officials in cities
around the country showcasing what they've done since 9/11 and what
they're doing here at home to respond to the blasts in London…which
pretty much comes down to lots of guys with guns running around
America's mass transit system in an effort to present the appearance of
“increased security” to reassure the public. While such activities are
a political necessity to show that our leaders are 'doing something'
during a time of crisis we must remember that talk or activity is no
substitute for progress or effectiveness.

Forget the fact that regular uniformed police officers and rail
employees can sweep or monitor a train station just as well as a
fully-decked-out SWAT team — not to mention, they know it better, too.
Forget that even with an added law enforcement presence, it's quite
possible to launch a suicide attack on mass transit. Forget that a
smart terrorist now knows that the DHS response to attacks is to
“increase” the security of related infrastructures (e.g., train
stations) and just might attack another, lesser-protected part of
American society potentially with far greater success. In these and
other ways today following the London bombings, the majority of
security attention has been directed at mass transit. However, while we
can't protect everything against every form of attack, our American
responses remain conventional and predictable — just as we did after
the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and today's events in London, we
continue to respond in ways designed to “prevent the last attack.”

In other words, we are demonstrating a lack of protective imagination.

Contrary to America's infatuation with instant gratification,
protective imagination is not quickly built, funded, or enacted. It
takes years to inculcate such a mindset brought about by outside the
box, unconventional, and daring thinking from folks with expertise and
years of firsthand knowledge in areas far beyond security or law
enforcement and who are encouraged to think freely and have their
analyses seriously considered in the halls of Washington. Such a
radical way of thinking and planning is necessary to deal with an
equally radical adversary, yet we remain entrenched in conventional
wisdom and responses.

Here at home, for all the money spent in the name of homeland
security, we're not acting against the terrorists, we're reacting
against them, and doing so in a very conventional, very ineffective
manner. Yet nobody seems to be asking why.

While this morning's events in London is a tragedy and Londoners
deserve our full support in the coming days, it's sad to see that
regarding the need for effective domestic preparedness here in the
United States, nearly 4 years after 9/11, it's clear that despite the
catchy sound-bytes and flurry of activity in the name of protecting the
homeland, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

[Schneier on Security]

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