Preventing High-Tech Crime


Technological Terrorism, by Richard C. Clark, Old Greenwich, Conn.: Devin-Adair, 1980, 214 pp., $10.00.

This book is another in the growing literature about the threats posed by high-technology terrorism. What distinguishes Professor Clark's contribution from the rest is his assertion that mass doomsday terrorism is inevitable in the United States and the West "without some form of crisis government." The gravity of the threats that can be unleashed by terrorists in possession of superviolent technologies is so severe, Clark contends, that "ultimate" constitutional remedies may be required to enable the effectuation of crisis government. That such remedies are nowhere clearly specified in his book is the most revealing indication of how little of substance the author has to say. Technological Terrorism is at best an interesting polemic.

This observation is not made lightly, since a substantial volume of information is presented. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of this 214-page book consists of a "dump" of many of the well-known nuclear, chemical, and biological horrors of which the modern terrorist is capable in theory. Despite a lengthy description of such threats, replete with 176 citations ranging from the New York Times to Gallery, there is no coherent analysis of the physical security problems raised by the introduction of nuclear weapons and power plants, computers, water distribution systems, liquefied natural gas tankers and processing terminals, and other complex energy systems. Yet the flyleaf of the book advises the reader to expect "hard facts and figures" that support the author's warning of the "imminent threat to our lives and liberties if our government and its agencies continue to lag in taking and enforcing active measures of security."

To be sure, the reader will learn, for example, that a 1976 General Accounting Office study concluded that many of the federal government's 9,000 computers were insufficiently protected against sabotage, vandalism, terrorism, or natural disaster and that between 1966 and 1975 there were at least 21 incidents in which individuals or groups allegedly attacked a nuclear facility. The point to be made in mentioning these observations is not to dispute their authenticity but to demonstrate that these two types of threats call for very different types of physical security capabilities. The former involves the development and implementation of both software and hardware to prevent unauthorized access to secured data, whereas the latter involves the deployment of highly reliable detection systems and security forces well trained in the use of deadly force. Although selected from the book at random, these two examples suggest how diverse the problems are for the crisis government Professor Clark asserts is so long overdue.

His prescription is presented in the final 26 pages of the book. He alludes with seeming approval to some passages in a report of the "National Advisory Commission" (sic), apparently the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals Task Force Report on Disorders and Terrorism published in 1976, which purportedly recommended legislation that would "permit disruption of the activities of suspected [presumably terrorist] groups, maintenance of computerized files on suspects, warrantless searches and preventive detention." How the elimination of such key constitutional safeguards as those embedded in the Fourth and Sixth Amendments would remedy any of the security problems he discusses in the preceding 188 pages of his book is left for the reader to surmise.

Clearly, the physical security problems of protecting the high-security, high-value assets of the modern industrial State are large, given the thousands of violent terrorist incidents that have occurred in the world over the past two decades. However, the suspension of the Bill of Rights and the promulgation of extraconstitutional "emergency legislation" that increases the scope of the State's police powers would not ipso facto deliver the desired solutions Professor Clark implies. There is still the problem of detecting if and when certain acts are terrorist, much less criminal, in intent. The police are not omniscient, even when granted vastly broadened investigative powers and methods (warrantless arrest powers, wiretapping, and the like). There is the problem of effective utilization of security technology. A sensor at a high-security facility that registers too many false alarms desensitizes even the most energetic guard force. There is the problem of security personnel proficiency. A security guard, untrained in the use of nonlethal weaponry or, when warranted, the use of deadly force is just as menacing to innocent third parties whether constitutional restraints are in force or not. These problems are among those that constitute the real research grist of physical security. Regrettably, they receive negligible, if any, attention. The author seems to be preoccupied with more weighty matters relating to the necessity for crisis government.

If Professor Clark's definition is tantamount to constitutional dictatorship, notwithstanding his attempts to stamp it with the scholarly imprimatur of Carl J. Friedrich's and Clinton Rossiter's books on constitutional government, then Technological Terrorism belongs to that genus of terrorism tracts where one can only exclaim: "This guy knows just enough to be dangerous."

John Caldwell is a research political scientist at Mission Research Corporation in Santa Barbara, California.