AS ANYONE IN the security business will affirm, the best way to protect your community from terrorist attacks is to prevent them from happening. This important operating principle gets short shrift in most of the coverage following the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow. Sky News, RTE correspondents and the BBC give more time and compliments to the last line of defense, including the bomb squads and sniffer dogs. That's an unhelpful perspective because if you're looking to averting bloodshed by building thicker doors or getting flak vests for security personnel, you're well into the execution phase of a terrorist attack and your chances of averting tragedy often come down to luck. Luck played a big part in the London and Glasgow cases. An alert ambulance crew, an efficient recovery team and a faulty bomb design may have prevented a massacre. But instead of crediting these people, some politicians applauded London's overpopulated CCTV system. That perspective is unfounded, as anyone watching the Glasgow report will tell you.
In June 2006, Glasgow Airport installed a high-tech license plate recognition system that would make CCTV lovers salivate. The system activates a barrier at the entrance to the inside lane around the airport. Only taxis and buses with registered numbers are allowed through. When the men in the green Jeep pulled up, however, they simpled tailgated a registered car and sped past before the barrier closed.
Chase McAllister and Adam Zagorin have analysed the $40m invested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in video surveillance. In March 2007, the Washington metropolitan police department admitted that the dozens of cameras it has had in place since 9/11 have so far netted zero arrests. Sure, the cameras help piece together things after they have blown up but they're not effective defensive technologies.
You prevent terrorism through information gathering and intelligence. You erode civil liberties and decrease privacy through widespread installation of CCTV.
Irish counter-terrorism efforts would serve the public better by monitoring and swiftly responding to radical propaganda online. The press could help the cause by bolstering the credibility of those within the Muslim world willing to stand against extremists. We get diverted from the real tasks by falsely hoping for CCTV to protect and defend.
Time magazine's cover story this week is "Keeping an Eye on Terror"