Love him or hate him, Bruce Schneier always has a fascinating take on security. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I disagree. When I disagree, it's like a train wreck... So horrible, but so hard to look away.
I must admit, though, that his take on "Movie Plot Threats" is one issue where my stance and his line up quite parallel. And he finally worded it so succinctly today, that I may just have a new favorite Schneier Quote:
... the very definition of news is something that hardly ever happens. [emphasis added] If an incident is in the news, we shouldn't worry about it. It's when something is so common that its no longer news - car crashes, domestic violence - that we should worry. But that's not the way people think.
Check out the full essay, which originally was published in The Guardian.
As a culture, we've become so fraught with fear of dozens upon dozens of little specific "threats" simply because we saw that it happened or that a plot was uncovered and made the news one time. Helicopters dumping anthrax into our HVAC systems, dirty radiological bombs, splinter cells targeting kids at shopping malls on Halloween, IEDs taking out bridges, poisoned water supplies, elaborate mechanical sabotage plots (when the TSA's done a better job sabotaging our airplanes than any terrorist has) and many, many more.
It's the classic game of attacker and defender. If the defense is constantly reacting to attacks as they happen rather than identifying and stopping the attackers, the defense will end up spinning its wheels trying to make sure the old attacks aren't happening. Meanwhile, the attackers are concocting something else that no one is even expecting.
Most of the terrorists who've been caught were caught through investigating leads based on intelligence gained through slip-ups or stool pigeons within the terrorist organization. After that, the specific plots-du-jour became paradigms of terrorism. You're doing it WRONG!
The security gate at the airport is the wrong place to be identifying terrorists. Profiling individuals at a choke point is a sure-fire way to fail, by metric of false positives (stopping a non-terrorist) or false negative (allowing a terrorist). If instead of hiring people to keep liquids and toenail clippers off of airplanes, we'd put more effort into following leads, identifying terrorists, and making their lives hell (instead of making the rest of our lives hell), I think we'd be a lot better off.