Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Our Own Worst Enemy

Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions about Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America
Author: Randall J. Larsen
New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007
303 pages including bibliography


Since 9/11, homeland security has become a boom industry, creating many new disciplines such as nuclear, chemical, and biological science, security and intelligence services, and information technology. While we continue to put billions of dollars into the security industry, the media daily report on our failures.

What can we do to ensure against terrorists smuggling a nuclear (or biological or chemical) weapon through one of our ports (or across one of our borders)? This is the wrong question, writes Larsen. Why? Because it is unlikely we could detect a nuclear device (or other weapon of mass destruction), no matter how much we spent in detection devices. More than 300 metric tons of cocaine come across our southern border annually and we can't stop it.  A fence or wall wouldn't prevent it from coming through nor would more border patrols. Even if we could prevent any illegal materials from crossing our borders or getting through our ports, it wouldn't prevent terroirst attacks. In previous attacks, terrorists built most explosive and bio-weapons inside the countries where they were used.

Rather than spending tons of money on impractical solutions, Larsen's view is that we need to be better prepared by educating the public and sharing resources. Planning for 10 years from now, the National War College teaches officers how to think rather than what to do.

When water ran out after Hurricane Katrina, people started asking: Where is FEMA? Why can't we get any water? People knew four days ahead that Katrina was coming but they didn't buy water or other supplies.


How do we win the war on terror? This is the wrong question. Terrorism is a strategy, not an enemy. Nothing will take us back to pre-9/11.

The goal of terrorism is to create fear. The chances of being killed in a car accident are hundreds of times greater than by terrorism. By creating fear, terrorists hope we overreact. The cost of overreacting can be enormous and the effect on our economy can be devastating.  For example, in 2005, the Transportation Security Administration required permit holders for carrying hazardius materials get fingerprinted so they could compare fingerprints to known terrorists.  With 2.7 million permit holders at $100 each the cost to tapayers was over a quarter billion dollars. By definition anyone who transports paint, Coke syrup, finger nail polish remover or Listerine has to have a hazardous materials transport permit.

Another fear is that planes could be destroyed by shoulder-launched missles. In fact, the shoulder-launched missles in the hands of terrorists are low grade, old technology and unlikely to hit an airplane if fired. More advanced heat-seeking missles would take out only one engine and the plane could still fly. The chances of hitting a plane are minuit. The cost of installation and maintenance of missile defenses on airplanes would be so prohibitive that the commercial aviation industry would be devastated, if not destroyed.

Terrorists alone cannot destroy our economy, corrupt our political system, or take away our freedoms. These goals can only be achieved if we help the terrorists. we do this by overreacting.

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