Tag Archives: terrorism

Terrorism and Our Responses

Shortly after the Northwest Airlines Flight 253 incident, Bruce Schneier provided links to a number of articles that published interviews, quotes or essays from him. As expected, Schneier calmly reiterates his old advice that is as valid now as it was pre-9/11.

The one not to miss: Is aviation security mostly for show?

The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. […]

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 reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them. […]

We’d do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable.

In an interview with The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg Schneier was asked if we are “moving toward the Israelification” of airport security. Unsure what Israelification referred to, a quick search led to an excellent article discussing how airport security works in Israel:

Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Interestingly, a large proportion of Israel’s airport security is rooted in behavioural profiling: the meta-data.

The Psychology of Terrorism

Alienation, a belief that membership of a movement offers social and psychological rewards (e.g. adventure, camaraderie, a heightened sense of identity) and the need to take action rather than just talk: three psychological traits that together create part of the profile of those most “open to terrorist recruitment and radicalization”.

In addition to profiles like that above and different theories about what can lead to radicalisation, this overview of the psychological research into terrorism also discusses terror management theory:

Paradoxically, an unconscious fear of death may underlie much of the motivation behind terrorism and reactions to terrorism, maintains psychologist Tom Pyszczynski [et al.]. Pyszczynski developed “terror management theory,” which holds that people use culture and religion to protect themselves from a fear of death that lies on the fringes of awareness.

Across dozens of studies, the team has induced thoughts of death by subliminally presenting people with death-related stimuli or by inserting a delay-and-distraction task between a reminder of death and people’s assessment of its effects. This subliminal prompting induces people to psychologically defend themselves against death in ways that bear little surface relationship to the problem of death, Pyszczynski’s team has found. These include clinging to their cultural identities, working hard to live up to their culture’s values and going to great lengths to defend those values. (Conversely, the investigators have shown that getting people to consciously contemplate their mortality increases their intention to engage in life-enhancing behaviors, such as exercise.)

via Mind Hacks

The Realistic Threat of Terrorism

To think rationally about risk is to think probabilistically / statistically about the dangers we face.

Noting that “the most dangerous person you’re ever likely to encounter – by several orders of magnitude – is the one you see in the mirror every morning”, John Goekler offers some perspective on what risks we really should be more concerned about than terrorism.

A significant majority of Americans, polls repeatedly tell us, list terrorism as one of their greatest fears. Like most of our media-inspired interests and worries, however, this one has little basis in reality. […]

As the data clearly shows, the things that genuinely threaten us are the ones we are most likely to ignore or simply accept. (We’re statistically far more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than by an action of Al Qaeda, for example.) The ones that we’re scared witless of – and spend trillions of increasingly scarce dollars to avert in our boundless paranoia – are less likely to harm us than a bag of peanuts. (Deaths in America due to peanut allergies average 50 – 100 per year. Deaths of Americans due to terrorist activities […] have averaged less than 15 per year since 2002.)

via Schneier