Friday, November 2, 2007

Stand Down, Citizens

Via Chris Hayes, Bruce Schneier talks about how making citizens part of the counterterrorism effort is ... well, counterproductive. The "If you see something, say something" ad campaigns that are in airports, subway stations, and high-security buildings are sort of ineffective:

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or a trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.

Even worse: after someone reports a "terrorist threat," the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment.

Watch how it happens. Someone sees something, so he says something. The person he says it to -- a policeman, a security guard, a flight attendant -- now faces a choice: ignore or escalate. Even though he may believe that it's a false alarm, it's not in his best interests to dismiss the threat. If he's wrong, it'll cost him his career. But if he escalates, he'll be praised for "doing his job" and the cost will be borne by others. So he escalates. And the person he escalates to also escalates, in a series of CYA decisions. And before we're done, innocent people have been arrested, airports have been evacuated, and hundreds of police hours have been wasted.

What's more, ordinary citizens could point out someone they suspect of being a terrorist just because they have a different color of skin or are wearing religious garments. Those characteristics don't automatically make people terrorists. Leave the counterterrorism efforts to professionals. Observant people who really suspect something will report things anyway, and there's no need to make people paranoid.

Cross-posted at


Zorro said...

"Leave the counterterrorism efforts to professionals. "

Leave the blogging to the professionals as well.


Unknown said...

I feel so much better now that we can just ignore terrorists.

Tell, me Kay, after a bomb goes off, am I supposed to raise a hissy-fit and complain that the government wasn't diligent enough to protect me after dhimmis like you assure me that the "professionals" have it covered?

That's the liberal way: Complain incessantly of our rights being compromised in the global war on terror, and when the terrorists strike, complain even louder that the government didn't do *enough*.

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