Bruce Schneier is a great mind — a recommend reading his books (although one of them, Applied Cryptography is fantastic but for computer scientists only) and this op-ed in full and thank him for sharing his ideas with the rest of us.
Here are some quotes:
Last week's attempted terror attack on an airplane heading from Amsterdam to Detroit has given rise to a bunch of familiar questions.
How did the explosives get past security screening? What steps could be taken to avert similar attacks? Why wasn't there an air marshal on the flight? And, predictably, government officials have rushed to institute new safety measures to close holes in the system exposed by the incident.
Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It's rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.
[...] our elected leaders [...] are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats. [...] "Security theater" refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.
Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at U.S. airports in the months after 9/11 -- their guns had no bullets. The U.S. color-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.
The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.
When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.
Our police don't need any new laws to deal with terrorism; rather, they need apolitical funding.
The best way to help people feel secure is by acting secure around them. Instead of reacting to terrorism with fear, we -- and our leaders -- need to react with indomitability
By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant "bring 'em on" rhetoric. There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.
We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice -- not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer.
Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.
Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we're doing the terrorists' job for them.
Today, we can project indomitability by rolling back all the fear-based post-9/11 security measures. Our leaders have lost credibility; getting it back requires a decrease in hyperbole. Ditch the invasive mass surveillance systems and new police state-like powers. Return airport security to pre-9/11 levels. Remove swagger from our foreign policies. Show the world that our legal system is up to the challenge of terrorism. Stop telling people to report all suspicious activity; it does little but make us suspicious of each other, increasing both fear and helplessness.