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Terrorism Expert

Steven Weber, a professor of political science and director of the Institute of International Studies at U.C. Berkeley, is hosting a chat in the Washington Post on today’s thwarted terrorist plot. Some of the comments so far run along exactly the lines I was thinking about earlier.

From the chat:

Santa Fe, N.M.: It seems to me that liquid explosives can be transported in faux “fat” packs or even sealed in plastic and inserted into body orifices. How can security possibly detect all the creative ways that people can dream up to smuggle liquids?

Steven Weber: We can’t. I think we’ve been very lucky so far, that our security procedures have not been bypassed. There are a lot of creative people in the world who spend a lot of time thinking about how to design around security procedures. And there is always a way, there is always a loose link in the chain.
The best analogy here is to computer security. the smartest programmers in the world know that they can never beat the smartest hackers once and for all. it’s a constant race, cat and mouse.[End of chat quote.]

And this was pretty much what I was getting at: there are no guarantees. No matter what security we come up with, someone will think of a way to get around it. It’s the police work, the investigations that track such plotters and ferret out the plots that are our real hope of preventing such attacks.

Or, as Mr. Weber puts it:

Washington, D.C.: Sir,

What do you believe has done more in the last five years to thwart terrorists: large scale military actions in foreign nations or good old-fashioned police work?

Steven Weber: Undoubtably the most important question in play today. Donald Rumsfeld has said, ‘are we killing and capturing more terrorists each day, than we are creating’? I think the answer to that question, at least in Iraq, is pretty clear. Which means, stopping a terrorist from taking a bomb onto an airplane is very close to closing the barn door after the horses have run out. It’s the very last step in a process that began long before….

Yes we have to have the last line of defense in place and as close to impregnable as it can be. But in no way can that ever be as efficient a response as getting closer to the sources of the problem.

[End of quote]

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