As American as Glasnost 2


Are openness and security mutually exclusive?

Can openness actually *increase* security? This is the point I tried to make in my last post I made that point within the context of computer security, but what about other kinds of security?

Can open discussion increase security?

The intuition is that nothing good can come from the open discussion of ideas. I'm reminded of those talking heads on the news. They keep coming up with new ideas for ways terrorists could kill us. I get mad whenever I hear them. "Thanks for giving the bad guys another idea!" I say.

If we openly discuss threats we have a better chance of being ready for various threats, but is that extra readiness overshadowed by the fact that so many people are giving the terrorists new ideas? Dr. Jonathan Farley is a mathematician who definitely favors open discussion. In the recent book, "Advances in Networking and Its Applications (Springer)," he writes:

"if a terrorist cell has a single leader, and each terrorist has at most two immediate subordinates, then the cell structure most likely to succeed if some of the terrorists are captured at random looks something like ..." [more]

Farley describes the perfect terrorist cell in mathematical detail. Why? Is he trying to help the bad guys? I know him personally and I know he is not trying to help bad guys.

Open discussion can help in this way: We (the international community) have caught many terrorists. We have to assume that there are many more whom we haven't yet captured. Some terrorist cells will be easy to bring down, while others will be more resilient and robust. It is safe to assume that we've brought down more of the easy ones, and not so many of the robust cells.

Assuming that a large number of highly resilient terrorist cells are still operating, we need to figure out what makes them resilient so we can come up with strategies to find them and combat them. This short paper by Dr. Farley indicates possible network shapes (graphs) for these highly resilient terrorist cells. This kind of information could be used by SIGINT officers. One strategy would be to look for a graph fitting Farley's description amongst the networks of people connected to known terrorists.

At best, the "War on Terrorism" is an ill-fitting analogy. At worst, it is a paradigm that continues to mislead us. Many more Americans died in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq than died during the 9/11 attacks. Does that make sense? In some ways, terrorists are more like criminals than state-sponsored armies. Perhaps it is time to treat them as such. Take away the "glory" of being combatants in a war. They're just criminals.

Over 400,000 people die from smoking-related illness EVERY YEAR [Link], but we don't have a Homeland-nonsmoking dept. Way more will die from global climate issues, but the CIA can't find any money in their $25B budget to keep open their climate change desk [MORE]. Why the focus on terrorism? The number of affected people is tiny by comparison.

We fight terrorism because it brings up such sharp emotions. Calling it a "war" can help to stir people to action. Even so, I'm tired of the military analogy. We have a war on poverty, war on malaria, and even a war against breast cancer. I support "The War on saying, 'The War on X'."

Enough digression. Back to the subject at hand.

Is openness good for our security? Is this non-intuitive for everyone?

I'd love to hear from you in the comments!



2 Responses to “As American as Glasnost 2”

  1. Khalil A. Cassimally Reply | Permalink

    It depends, to a certain extent, who actually embraces the open culture. If international communities all get together and add their own experiences and knowledge, you end up with a great pool of resources. But ultimately, any proper policies or facilities developed from this resulting pool needs to be shielded. So, what I'm saying, I guess, is that openness is good up to a point when it comes to delicate matters, such as countering terrorism.

  2. Dad Reply | Permalink

    I think it was Tom Clancy who wrote a novel pre_9-11-01 in which a rogue Japanese airline pilot flew a large airliner into the white house, killing the President among many others. Your point about giving them ideas is valid.

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