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For the Courage of the Founders
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Confusing Safety with Security - In the months following 9/11, the United States became obsessed with security. Securing our borders. Securing our airports. Securing our ports. Unfortunately, our efforts in this area are prejudiced by our short-term focus. What we really began doing was trying to make things safe. We have been building a greater and greater physical security scheme. Without a greater long-term strategy, physical security does not make you appreciably safer within an already safe society. The marginal benefit of adding physical security is pitiful within the realm of combating terrorism. This is a difficult metric when looked at emotionally; it deals with the worth of a human life. Factually, this is a fairly easy number to estimate and is done so frequently by judges, juries and insurance companies. One of the lowest estimates comes from the United States government, which values the life of service members at 12,000 dollars. That is the death gratuity paid if the service member is killed in the line of duty (the government also provides discounted life insurance so that most families will receive between 100-250K). The specific point is that the extraordinary cost of physical security, security that is layered upon an already extraordinarily safe environment, is wasted. Diminishing returns have been attained and the cost benefit curve is now flat. Consider again the cost of heightened airline security. As will be discussed later, the problem of 9/11 was not security, it was policy. Increasing the physical security at airports has not made air travel safer because the original problem was not security. Plus, the passengers and crews are much more willing to incur individual risk to defend themselves than they had been pre-9/11, a major tactical assumption for the terrorists.
Further, though meaningful to security specialists, added security is only a planning factor for the unconventional warrior. That is a known dichotomy of warfare and the very purpose of "special forces." Security specialists seek to establish a set of rules to control, sort, search etc; the unconventional warrior seeks to operate within those rules but avoid, deceive, and strike. Example: At any given moment there are many thousands of people walking around the United States with implants; breast enhancements, buttock enhancements, pacemakers, various prosthetics. How long until that well endowed young lady sitting in the window seat explodes? The terrorist is, at a very basic level, an unconventional warrior. For the unconventional warrior, security is simply a planning consideration. Unconventional warriors are cunning, flexible and dedicated; static security posturing and defenses will always become obsolete in the face of an innovative enemy.
Physical security also has serious unintended consequences, which can, and will, be exploited by the unconventional warrior. The most obvious is that people actually expect that an increase in security spending means an increase in effectiveness. However, the absolute lack of terrorists traveling on airlines means that there is no way to measure effectiveness. The security specialists thus default to other measures of effectiveness that focus on the people that they do have going through the system; law abiding, innocent, non-terrorist travelers. Thus, the presence of nail clippers on an airline represents the failure of a multi-billion dollar system, regardless of whether the nail clippers represent any threat. The understanding of what it is to be secure is skewed. A pair of mustache scissors becomes dangerous and banned. The equally dangerous pen remains legal. The need to show results necessarily means that the results must be derived from the legal traveling public.
Less obvious is that many security efforts provide opportunity to the terrorists. "Upgraded" security at airports causes large high-density lines and back ups at security check points during peak travel times. A terrorist can very easily determine high traffic times in specific airports. When a suicide bomber detonates himself in the high-victim density "corral" line leading to the security check point it will create a difficult conundrum for the security specialist. They designed the high-density target and the system that necessarily creates it. The response will be to move the checkpoints further away, perhaps to the parking lots and curbs, where a similar problem will then immediately exist. Immediately following 9/11airports were manned with national guardsmen, an unsustainable effort to encourage travel and make travelers feel safer. The unconventional warrior, however, saw the opportunity inherent in having automatic weapons available in the airports to anyone with basic martial arts skills and audacity. The unconventional warrior knows that there is an excellent chance that there are guns on board an airplane (Sky Marshal); his challenge is how to use that knowledge to his advantage. The tools used in physical security are predictable and thus vulnerable.
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Copyright ©2003-2007 by Thomas Rancich. Printing, copying, creating or transmitting of electronic copies of this transcript in whole or in part without the written consent of Mr. Rancich is expressly forbidden and will be construed as constituting copyright infringement.