L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 237, September 7, 2003
Pretty Close to the Mark
Professional Paranoid, Part II
Exclusive to TLE
"Must've hit it pretty close to the mark, to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid?"
Last week's column, "Professional Paranoid," garnered a fair amount of e-mail. The overwhelming majority was positive, due largely to the fact that the argument is unassailable from virtually any angle. I had one particularly enlightening e-mail conversation with a libertarian author whose work I've generally respected who objected to my broad statement that there are no terrorists.
I also, for the first time, received a personal reply from Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. I found this particularly interesting for two reasons:
Firstly, this is the first time he's replied to me, despite the fact that he's been receiving my column every Monday since I started writing it.
Secondly, his primary objection was the same as the libertarian author. This objection was uniformly the same from all my detractors, and was quite simple:
"How can you say there are no terrorists, Bill, when the WTC towers lie in ruin?"
Well, mea culpa. There were obviously about a dozen terrorists in the United States on September 11. In fact, if one examines the history of the Republic, one finds that there are basically four incidents of true terrorism:
There are terrorists in the United States. There simply aren't enough of them to make a fuss about. Just look at the statistics:
The total number of casualties incurred on American soil (fatalities and injuries) as a result of terrorist attacks is:
For purposes of the following examination of risk, we'll throw out the injuries. Not because they're trivial, but because it won't make an adequate comparison.
Throughout the history of the Republic, 3262 individuals have died on United States soil as a victim of terrorist attack. This covered a period from 1993 through 2001.
During the same time period, 315,856 individuals died as a result of a traffic accident.
In the United States, therefore, it is 9,683% more likely that any given individual will be killed in a traffic accident than by terrorist attack.
This figure would need to be studied more in-depth to obtain specific statistics. For example, since all terrorist attacks have occurred in Oklahoma City, Atlanta, New York City, Washington, and Somerset, there's an argument to be made that the chances of being a terrorist's victims are much higher in these locations than anywhere else. Similarly, since terrorists have a penchant for areas with a high population density, it's probably more statistically likely that one will be a victim in a highly-populated area.
One can apply the statistical analysis to virtually any inherently hazardous activity and discern that about the only cause of death less likely than terrorism is being struck by lightning.
My business is assessing risk. I am paid to judging the likelihood of loss or damage due to malicious intent. My expertise is in quantifying the likelihood of annual loss in real terms, and then devising ways to mitigate against this loss.
When these principles are applied to terrorism, what I find is that it's extremely unlikely. When examined purely from the perspective of statistics, devoid of the emotional impact of watching two of the world's tallest buildings destroyed live on worldwide TV, one must ask oneself, "Does it make sense to mitigate against this very small risk in the way the FedGov has?"
And the answer is, no, it doesn't make sense. In terms that I use, imagine that one of my clients is a CPA who rents a two-room office at a local business park. He has two computers, one for his secretary and one for himself. The secretary's is a desktop system used to make appointments and surf the net. The laptop has all his customer data on it.
In real terms, the CPA's primary concern should be theft of his laptop and hard drive failure leading to data loss. A sane approach to mitigating against this risk would be regular backups of his hard drive, with copies kept at home and at the office, preferably in a safe. To mitigate against theft, I'd suggest the use of PGP-Disk to encrypt the contents of his customer files on-the-fly.
The FedGov's reaction to domestic terrorism is akin to me suggesting that the CPA construct a concrete bunker around his laptop; that he establish physical security involving multiple independent airlock-style entrances, that he implement iris scanners, palm readers, and cryptocards in order to secure access to it.
In short, government's solution to the problem is at best a total overreaction.
What, in fact, has been the FedGov's reaction to the infinitesimally small possibility of domestic terrorism? To utterly gut what was left of the Bill of Rights and Constitution with the full knowledge that these measures couldn't possibly impact domestic security.
As I mentioned last week, terrorists can at any time commit terrorist acts if they're of a mind to. Even with the draconian policies put into place by the big-government, tax-and-spend Republicans, America is no more secure today than it was on September 11.
The major impact of airport security, for example, is to drive commercial airlines deeper into the ground. How they survived government regulation for as long as they did is a testament to the the market demand for rapid transportation even incredibly expensive transportation with poor customer service.
What really killed commercial airlines was "airport security." The FedGov likes to claim that people are afraid of terrorism, but that's nonsense. No one's really afraid of terrorism, because if anyone tried it today, even unarmed individuals will do what the people of Flight 93 did.
The truth is that people don't want is to be harassed by some Federal flunky.
Attractive women don't want to be groped by leering security guards (one of my close relatives was just such a victim). Mothers don't want to run the risk that their infant sons will be taken from them and searched (that same relative's son was taken screaming from my her arms by some security bully for this purpose). Fathers don't want to run the risk that they'll be forced to watch their daughters be groped by Federal perverts (my relative's father was on the same flight as she when the flunky felt her up). Sons don't want to have the pocket-knife presented to them by their father that's never been off their person in fifty years confiscated from them (my father).
And some people my grandparents' age simply won't put up with anyone screwing around with them that way.
That's why people don't fly any more. That's what Federal "security" has accomplished.
Locally, "security" is starting to have an impact in South Dakota. We depend on a brisk tourist trade for our existence, and after 9/11 the State received Federal funds to "fight terrorism." They immediately put this money to use hiring addition State Troopers whose job it is to stop speeders, string their belongings out behind their van on I-90 and "search for contraband" (drugs, explosives, etc).
Prior to 9/11, one could drive the 500 miles across South Dakota to the Black Hills and enjoy the scenery. Now one runs the risk of having to drag out two weeks worth of vacation packing and let State bullies sift through it. It's axiomatic among South Dakota natives that during tourist season, you'll see at least one car with all its contents strung out behind it on I-90 while a team searches through it, dogs sniff around it, and Mom, Dad, and their 2.3 children looking frightened and disgusted, wishing they'd never come here in the first place.
That's what Federal "security" has accomplished in South Dakota.
Then there's the philosophical end: it's quite clear that the USA PATRIOT Act violates literally every single one of the Bill of Rights. Does violating what's left of the Bill of Rights enhance or degrade security?
I would suggest that it degrades it. Look what happened when the Second Amendment was immorally suspended on aircraft. Over 3000 people would be alive today, but for that particular violation of the Bill of Rights not to mention all the victims of violent crime who die every year because they're unable to protect themselves.
Will pitching out the other nine Bill of Rights help or hinder security?
Not a single thing the FedGov has done impacts a terrorist's ability to board an aircraft with a weapon. Most people simply don't understand the reality of the situation, because they prefer to think that government is here to help them. But consider this:
Inmates in prison routinely smuggle in weapons, drugs, and other contraband and they're routinely strip-searched and manacled. If prisoners can do this under much tighter security than is available at airports, then it's a dead certainty that someone employing similar tactics could board an aircraft with an undetected weapon.
The only way to prevent airline passengers from smuggling weapons onto aircraft is simple:
Strip every passenger. Manacle them at the hands and feet. Cavity search them. X-ray them. Frog-march them naked to the aircraft. Lock their manacles to the steel seats of the plane.
That will significantly reduce the likelihood of aircraft terrorism.
Unlike Al Franken, I don't take President Bush for an idiot he knew damned well that his domestic security policies are a pointless waste of time at best. The question one must ask is: knowing that Bush understands that what he's implemented domestically does not enhance security, why did he do it?
The conclusionis obvious: he took advantage of a situation that caused many people to have a visceral emotional reaction that clouded their judgment. People became willing to say, "I don't care what it takes, GET THOSE BASTARDS!"
And he smiled and said, "You betcha! Just lemme take away some more of your freedom, and we'll get 'em."
The long-term impact of the "war" on terrorism is that it will accelerate the slave mentality. I sometimes weep at night imagining that my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will have to live in a South Dakota that has become the same hideous police state as the Chicago area we escaped in 1999.
My professional training only makes this worse, because I'm able to look at government's "war" on terrorism and see it for what it is: pointless at best, and actively destructive to freedom at worst.
Freedom, Immortality, and the Stars!