Crypto-Gram Editor Bruce Schneier coined the term security theater to describe intrusive but pointless rituals that provide the illusion of safety. After the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) unveiled new travel regulations in response to the failed bombing of Northwest Flight 253 in December, we asked Schneier, a consistently persuasive voice when it comes to rationally assessing relative risks, to list three things that would make Americans genuinely safer from terrorist plots.
1. Reduce the TSA's budget, and spend the money on intelligence. Security measures that focus on specific tactics or targets are a waste of money unless we guess correctly, and the terrorists choose plots that deliberately avoid our guesses. Security that just forces the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactic or target is not money well spent.
2. Reduce the TSA's budget even further, and spend the money on investigation. Since the terrorists deliberately choose plots that we're not looking for—and we can't keep weapons out of prisons, let alone airports—the best way to secure airplanes is to stop them before they get to the airport. Remember the arrest of the London liquid bombers.
3. Reduce the TSA's budget further still, and spend the money on emergency response. Terrorism's harm depends more on our reactions to attacks than the attacks themselves. We're naturally resilient, but how we respond in those first hours and days is critical.