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Monday, August 14, 2006 

Do Terror Alerts Work?

"A terror alert that instills a vague feeling of dread or panic echoes the very tactics of the terrorists."

"It's instructive to look at the European countries that have been dealing with terrorism for decades, like the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, and Spain. None of these has a color-coded terror-alert system."

- Bruce Schneier, "security guru"

In contemplating the U.S. terror alert system, I found myself questioning the efficacy of such a system. Does it make sense to have a vague "Ooh! Someone might attack us" warning in place? Does it make any sense to tell people to be alert, but not change any of their plans? So I poked around on the net and found an interesting essay by a security expert that outlines a case for questioning a terror alert system. He asks the questions: "How effective have they been in preventing terrorism? Have they made us any safer, or are they causing harm? Are they, as critics claim, just a political ploy?"

The essay is from 2004, but the problems with terror alert remain the same:
"In theory, the warnings are supposed to cultivate an atmosphere of preparedness. If Americans are vigilant against the terrorist threat, then maybe the terrorists will be caught and their plots foiled. And repeated warnings brace Americans for the aftermath of another attack.

The problem is that the warnings don't do any of this. Because they are so vague and so frequent, and because they don't recommend any useful actions that people can take, terror threat warnings don't prevent terrorist attacks. They might force a terrorist to delay his plan temporarily, or change his target. But in general, professional security experts like me are not particularly impressed by systems that merely force the bad guys to make minor modifications in their tactics."

"Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist and author. Described by The Economist as a "security guru," Schneier is best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator. When people want to know how security really works, they turn to Schneier."

The full essay: Do Terror Alerts Work?

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/terrorism_secur.html

Check out his latest. Good as usual.

I have to agree that this doesnot make much sense. If I was a terrorist, I would just wait until the alert level was lowered and _then_ plan my attack. This whole thing seems like another Bush plan to distract from the real issues

Hey Mike - thanks for the link. As you have likely seen, I used it as the basis of another post.

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