Link List: September 10, 2011

Lynne Kiesling @ Knowledge Problem Be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized. : “And to what end — how justified is this fear? High financial, human, cultural costs, to avert events that are one-quarter as likely as being struck by lightning. Some may criticize the performance of relative risk assessments between accidents and deliberate attacks, but it’s precisely these crucial relative risk assessments that enable us to recognize the unavoidable reality that neither accidents nor deliberate attacks can be prevented, and that to maintain both mental and financial balance we cannot delude ourselves about that, or give in to the panic that is the objective of the deliberate attacks in the first place. Thus the title of this post, which comes from two separate quotes from Bruce Schneier — the first from his excellent remarks at EPIC’s January The Stripping of Freedom event about the TSA’s use of x-ray body scanners, the second from his classic 2006 Wired essay of the same title:

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.
The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.”

Reason Foundation – Out of Control Policy Blog > Airport Policy and Security Newsletter: Airport Security 10 Years After 9/11: “Although my airline friends will disagree, I’ve concluded that the cost of aviation security measures is somewhat analogous to insurance. If you engage in risky behavior (drive a sports car, live in a beach house, etc.) you expose yourself to higher risks, and you rightly pay somewhat more for the relevant kind of insurance. Likewise, while it’s not the fault of air travelers or airlines that aviation is a high-profile terrorist target, the fact is that it is. So from a resource-allocation standpoint, I think a sector-specific user-tax approach is less bad than having general taxpayers pay for this.” [and much other good stuff]

The Long Now Blog » The Archive Team – Long Views: The Long Now Blog: “One of our favorite rogue digital archivists, Jason Scott, has just posted a video of his talk at DefCon 19 about The Archive Team exploits. This is perhaps the most eloquent (and freely peppered with profanity) explanations of the problems inherent with preserving our digital cultural heritage. He also describes in a fair amount of detail what he and The Archive Team have been doing to help remedy the problem.” [On a related note, The Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive has had its funding re-upped for another year, so we have more archiving to do, hopefully under less stressful conditions than Jason Scott above]

Soon we will all be disemboweled before we can board a plane

USA Today says: TSA warns airlines of explosive implants in people’s bodies : “”

Rep. Paul: Abolish TSA

The Hill says Ron Paul proposes to Abolish TSA , including privatizing airport security.

“If the perpetrators were a gang of criminals, their headquarters would be raided by SWAT teams and armed federal agents,” he continued. “Unfortunately in this case, the perpetrators are armed federal agents.”
Paul said he was introducing a bill called the “American Traveler Dignity Act,” which he said would force TSA employees to follow existing laws against inappropriate physical contact.

Good.

Airport security: Frequent fliers would pay for faster airport security checks

The LA Times reports: Airport security: Frequent fliers would pay for faster airport security checks – latimes.com:

“U.S. air travelers already pay to check bags and buy onboard snacks, among other charges. But would they pay to avoid those long airport security lines?
A sizable chunk of them would, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Assn., the nationwide trade group that has been pushing the idea of a fee-based plan to unclog the gridlock at the country’s airports.
The survey of 1,007 Americans found that 45% of those questioned would be either “very” or “somewhat” likely to pay an annual fee of up to $150 to undergo a government background check to speed through a new, faster airport security line.”

Security lines have been less painful of late, so I really, really doubt that 45% random Americans would actually pay an ANNUAL fee of $150 to save 10 or 15 minutes two or four times per year. (The average American flies about once a year, though I am sure jet-setting readers of this blog are exceptional in that regard) But I am sure that it would be worth it for those who travel on 2 or more flights per month.

Schumer calls for horse “no ride” list in wake of terror plot

Cap’n Transit posts: Schumer calls for horse “no ride” list in wake of terror plot

Schumer
Chuck Schumer and a Horse
Photo: John Haeger, Oneida Daily Dispatch

Schumer calls for horse “no ride” list in wake of terror plot
Sen. Charles Schumer called today for the creation of a “No Ride List” for American horses to prevent suspected terrorists from targeting the US equine system.

 
The move follows reports from intelligence gathered at Osama bin Laden’s compound that showed the Arabian Horse Association was considering attacks on US horses.
In a press conference at his New York City office, Schumer said he will begin pushing congressional appropriators to increase funding for rectal inspections of commuter and passenger horse systems, as well as heightened monitoring and support for security at local horse stables throughout the country.
The Democratic senator said he also asked the Department of Homeland Security to expand its Secure Flight program to stables, which would essentially create a “No Ride List” to prevent suspected terrorists from mounting horses.

Intelligence analysts who examined the documents seized from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan concluded that al Qaeda was considering attacks on high-profile dates, including the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the conclusion of the State of the Union address and high traffic holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Day, Schumer said.

“We must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves from future terror attacks, and when intelligence emerges that provides insight into potential vulnerabilities, we must act with speed,” Schumer said.
Under the current program for airlines, travelers’ names and other identifying information are cross-checked with the terror watch list to select passengers for enhanced screening and prevent possible terrorists from boarding planes.
Schumer wants that program to be applied to stables when passengers purchase their passage before mounting the horse.
Schumer noted that the nation’s horse system transported 90,000 passengers in 2010 and carries 90,000 passengers every day on 90,000 different horses.
Not all horseback riders were enamored of the plan. “Sounds like a big load of horseshit to me,” said noted equestrian ‘Cap’n’ Ignatius R. Transit. “Like something you’d read in the Post.”

(Via Schneier on Security.)

Homeland Security Doesn’t Do Cost/Benefit Analysis; They Just Do Fear And Bluster | Techdirt

Techdirt is outraged, but this isn’t just Homeland Security, it is the whole damn government which doesn’t systematically compare benefits to costs.

 

“Homeland Security Doesn’t Do Cost/Benefit Analysis; They Just Do Fear And Bluster

from the you-might-die!!!!!! dept

This should hardly come as a surprise, but a new paper that analyzes money being spent on Homeland Security finds that it’s incredibly wasteful (found via Julian Sanchez). You can read the full report (pdf) by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, which probably confirms what most people were already thinking. Basically, Homeland Security has ratcheted up spending at a massive rate, and there’s little to no effort to judge that spending against the actual risk reduction. That is, there’s simply no one doing any sort of real cost-benefit analysis on this spending. The report seeks to do some of that, and what it finds isn’t pretty. From the abstract (with my emphasis):

The cumulative increase in expenditures on US domestic homeland security over the decade since 9/11 exceeds one trillion dollars. It is clearly time to examine these massive expenditures applying risk assessment and cost-benefit approaches that have been standard for decades. Thus far, officials do not seem to have done so and have engaged in various forms of probability neglect by focusing on worst case scenarios; adding, rather than multiplying, the probabilities; assessing relative, rather than absolute, risk; and inflating terrorist capacities and the importance of potential terrorist targets. We find that enhanced expenditures have been excessive: to be deemed cost-effective in analyses that substantially bias the consideration toward the opposite conclusion, they would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day. Although there are emotional and political pressures on the terrorism issue, this does not relieve politicians and bureaucrats of the fundamental responsibility of informing the public of the limited risk that terrorism presents and of seeking to expend funds wisely. Moreover, political concerns may be over-wrought: restrained reaction has often proved to be entirely acceptable politically. 

In seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of the massive increases in homeland security expenditures since the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the common and urgent query has been “are we safer?” This, however, is the wrong question. Of course we are “safer”–the posting of a single security guard at one building’s entrance enhances safety, however microscopically. The correct question is “are the gains in security worth the funds expended?” Or as this absolutely central question was posed shortly after 9/11 by risk analyst Howard Kunreuther, “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”

Among other things, the report looks at everyone’s favorite DHS boondoggle, the naked radiation scanners at the airport by the TSA. Apparently, DHS was directly told by the GAO to study the cost-benefit and it refused to do so. The same is true of other DHS expenditures:

Indeed, at times DHS has ignored specific calls by other government agencies to conduct risk assessments. In 2010, the Department began deploying full-body scanners at airports, a technology that will cost $1.2 billion per year. The Government Accountability Office specifically declared that conducting a cost-benefit analysis of this new technology to be “important.”12 As far as we can see, no such study was conducted. Or there was GAO’s request that DHS conduct a full cost/benefit analysis of the extremely costly process of scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound containers. To do so would require the dedicated work of a few skilled analysts for a few months or possibly a year. Yet, DHS replied that, although it agreed that such a study would help to “frame the discussion and better inform Congress,” to actually carry it out “would place significant burdens on agency resources.”

Of course, from a political perspective, this makes perfect sense. It’s all game theory. You don’t get praised and promoted for doing a cost-benefit analysis that saves taxpayer money from wasteful and useless projects if a terrorist attack happens. So the end result is that the incentives for everyone at DHS to just spend as much as possible in the hopes that it stops something, knowing that if anything bad happens (as it inevitably will), all of the blame will go towards anyone who said “we shouldn’t do project x that would have prevented attack y.” 

Of course, the real problem is that this is exactly what our enemies would like. They don’t care about “terror” for the sake of terror. They want the US to spend itself silly to completely bankrupt the country. And it appears to be working. That doesn’t make me feel any safer at all, no matter what the cost.”

Osama bin Laden death: Intelligence reveals US rail threat from al-Qaida

Guardian reports: Osama bin Laden death: Intelligence reveals US rail threat from al-Qaida:
“Information found at scene shows ‘aspiration’ to attack American trains, says Department for Homeland Security”

Terrorism and International Transport: Towards risk-based security policy

I was part of a International Transport Forum roundtable in December 2008 that produced this report Terrorism and International Transport: Towards risk-based security policy

The costs of potential damage from terrorism are substantial but so are the costs of improved security. Careful policy appraisal can help make good use of scarce resources.

Why are we so afraid of terrorists?

From AP US parents say airport security agent frisked their 6-year-old daughter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A couple in Kentucky said Wednesday that they want the Transportation Security Administration to change how it screens children after their 6-year-old daughter was frisked at the New Orleans airport.

Selena Drexel told ABC television that the family was returning home from a vacation earlier this month when their daughter Anna was selected for a pat-down.

The couple posted a video of the search on YouTube. It shows a TSA agent patting down the child and explaining the procedure to the girl and her parents. The screener says that she will use the back of her hands on sensitive areas and will “put my hand in the waistband.”

Martin Macpherson, the director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, said he is not aware of instances when terrorists have used children as young as six in an attack.

Why are we so afraid of terrorists we succumb to this? 9/11 will not be successfully repeated, we continue to fight the last war.