image by Ososment
I was reading this interesting 9/11 retrospective in the Times when I chanced upon a piece by William Gibson, the Sci-Fi author of Neuromancer. He talks about ‘politically agnostic maximization of intelligence’ rather than ‘security theatre‘. Looked up the latter and it’s defined as ‘carrying out of actions which are designed to look as if they improve security whilst at the same time there is little improvement, or possibly even a loss of security through those actions’. That, to me, is a lot of what’s happening in Colombo. There is a large-scale disruption of life without a measurable improvement in the security situation. If it was a purely logical or economic decision you wouldn’t hit your economy so hard without proof that the methods work, but perhaps the feeling of security is worth it.
ANOTHER attempt on the scale of the 2001 attacks hasnâ€™t been necessary. The last one is still doing the trick, and the terroristsâ€™ resources are limited. The fear induced by terrorism mirrors the irrational psychology that makes state lotteries an utterly reliable form of stupidity tax. A huge statistical asymmetry serves as fulcrum for a spectral yet powerful lever: apprehension of the next jackpot. Weâ€™re terrorized not by the actual explosion, which statistically weâ€™re almost never present for, but by our apprehension of the next one.
The terrorist tactic that matters most is the next one used, one we havenâ€™t seen yet. In order to know it, we must know the terrorists. Without a national security policy that concentrates on the vigorous and politically agnostic maximization of intelligence rather than, in the phrase of the security expert Bruce Schneier, â€œsecurity theater,â€ that may well prove impossible.
â€” WILLIAM GIBSON, novelist.
I think the threat to Sri Lanka is actually far greater as we share an island with the creators of suicide bombing. The LTTE makes Al Qaeda look tame in terms of sophistication and brutality, and we live with them. Regardless, there are lessons Sri Lanka can learn. Security Theatre is basically security measures that are highly visible but not necessarily effective. In fact, the best security is probably invisible. Here’s some stuff which I think is a bit ineffective.
35 Police Officers at Checkpoint
I exagerate, but only slightly. At the Rajagiriya checkpoint I see literally 15 policeman. It’s so dumb I feel like evading taxes. Are they waiting to Rodney King somebody? Is it a field trip? I dunno. Once I was driving past Independance Square at night and I saw 25 policemen just milling about. That is highly visible but it makes me feel so much less secure because things are obviously mindless. If you have two or three people at a checkpoint and train them well it should be more effective than 35 dummies.
This hasn’t happened recently, but I have been checked at two checkpoints in a row. This makes me scared cause it means they’re not communicating. It’s a simple thing to SMS a license number to the next checkpoints where they can write it in a log-book. It’d be better if it was computerized and even better if they tracked license numbers to see what was regular and irregular traffic, but I digress. Again, a little invisible thinking provides more security than all the visibile bodies you can muster.
Targets in Colombo
Some people should be moved to more secure locations rather than forcing the entire country to move around them. I’ve never seen public servants behave with such disregard for their masters. If the people on Bauddhaloka Mawatha are such high targets they should move. I have to drive at least a kilometre around almost daily and the collective costs in petrol in time are not worth it for the nation. Those buggers should move somewhere secure with roads they can secure rather than putting a big roadblock in front of national productivity. This is not to mention all the scattered offices on Flower Road, near Matiland Crescent, Gregory’s etc. Move.
I’m not even getting into the larger issue, but Sri Lanka’s security policy is all visibility and no efficiency. There is also no cost/benefit analysis or though to the nation they are hobbling and the costs to the economy and everyday life. That is what we’re fighting for and we should pay it something more than lip service. I don’t want to see security every day, I just want to be secure.