Sunday, April 21, 2013

Public debate on post 9/11 security omits many important areas, and it gets "existential" (as Newt Gingrich points out)

Greg Miller and Scott Wilson have an article, “Vulnerabilities persist in a post-9/11 world on the front page of the Washington Post Sunday, link here
The discussion ranges over a number of issues, including security of large public events, monitoring of disaffected immigrants who travel back and forth, and the expanded use of security cameras everywhere (as in the French film “Paris Under Watch”, Movies blog,  April 19).  There is no question that Americans face impediments to quality of life because of the security issues, at least when traveling and attending events.  On the other hand, many of the privacy concerns (like the current flap over CISPA) seem largely theoretical for most people.  But there remains a troubling question about the role of the Internet – whether it facilitates attacks or facilitates law enforcement more. 
There’s one aspect of the big picture that the reporters didn’t take up in the article.  It is true that the weapons in the Boston attack were crude, using technology that might well have worked in the 1950s (it’s not completely clear whether the devices were set off by cell phones or timers).   But there are other weapons, like RF or flux guns that produce an “EMP” effect that could be used in unconventional ways by criminals or terrorists, not mentioned in the article.  I discussed Michael Maloof’s book “A Nation Forsaken” on the Books blog on April 13, where some of these threats are described, and they have been written about by some conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich (who was at least a credible GOP candidate in the 2012 primaries) and Roscoe Bartlett.  Objectively speaking,, it is far from clear that these sorts of dangers are as credible as a minority of engineering reporters claim (otherwise, they would presumably have been used, at least overseas, as in the Middle East). But, as a matter of policy, we need to find out quickly.  Are we doing all we should to protect our power grid, transportation, and even consumer goods (automobiles and electronics)? 

There's also the issue of "radiation dispersion devices" that have not received much media attention in recent years (as they did right after 9/11). 

The events of this past week make the focus on "just" background checks and assault weapons bans in response to domestic mass shootings (admittedly, a particular kind of terrorism) rather inadequate in the big picture.  

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