Bruce Schneier is a well-known computer security expert. I’ve read his book Secrets & Lies and highly recommend this clearly written description of the everyday problems with digital security. It might not be obvious, but pretty much every security problem these days implicates the use of computers. Or does it? What’s great about Schneier is that he spends most of his time analyzing the ‘human element’ in security problems. That’s where the fuzzy thinking occurs.
Take the much-reported issue of airline security, for example. Schneier’s recent article in Salon magazine is entitled Homeland Insecurity (annoyance ad viewing required, unless you have a subscription to Salon):
Citing “very credible” intelligence regarding terrorism threats, U.S. intelligence canceled 15 international flights in the last couple of weeks, diverted at least one more flight to Canada, and had F-16s shadow others as they approached their final destinations.
These seem to have been a bunch of false alarms. Sometimes it was a case of mistaken identity. For example, one of the “terrorists” on an Air France flight was a child whose name matched that of a terrorist leader; another was a Welsh insurance agent….
These airline disruptions highlight a serious problem with U.S. intelligence. There’s too much bureaucracy and not enough coordination. There’s too much reliance on computers and automation. There’s plenty of raw material, but not enough thoughtfulness. These problems are not new; they’re historically what’s been wrong with U.S. intelligence. These airline disruptions make us look like a bunch of incompetents who cry wolf at the slightest provocation.
Amen to that.