[ISN] Bruce Schneier: Wrong on Katrina, Wrong on Terrorism

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Mon Sep 19 02:09:31 EDT 2005

Forwarded from: Dan Verton <editor at danverton.com>


Bruce Schneier: Wrong About Katrina, Wrong About Terrorism

Posted 9/15/05 

By Dan Verton
Executive Editor
Homeland Defense Journal

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently ran an editorial by Bruce
Schneier, the chief technology officer at Counterpane Internet
Security Inc., in which the esteemed technologist blamed the failure
of federal, state and local officials to respond effectively to the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on a lack of funding for emergency
responders. He also implies that America's homeland security community
can prepare for both natural disasters and terrorist attacks in the
same way because, according to Schneier, large-scale terrorist attacks
and natural disasters "are very similar in aftermath."

Schneier, a technologist with no known formal training and education
in military operations or traditional security, is wrong on both

First off, no amount of money could have made up for the leadership
failure at all levels of government that led to the post-Katrina
response disaster. Money cannot fix a broken decision cycle or the
inability of federal, state and local officials to properly plan for a
disaster. More money would not have pre-deployed the appropriate
number of National Guard troops, generators for hospitals, buses for
evacuees who had no transportation, or critical supplies, such as
food, water and medicines. All of those necessities existed prior to
Katrina making landfall. What prevented the effective use of those
assets was a failure of leadership and imagination.

If you want to know how federal, state and local leaders failed, seek
answers to the following questions:  

1. Why didn't Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco order the
   pre-positioning of adequate forces and first-responders? Could it 
   be that she was betting the storm would turn at the last moment 
   and that the levees would hold?

2. Why did New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin fail to use all of the
   transportation assets at his disposal to bus people out of the city
   days before Katrina hit? And if he was not given appropriate 
   resources by the state, why didn't he approach the federal 
   government for direct assistance?

3. Why didn't the federal government, specifically Secretary of
   Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and the now former director of
   FEMA, Michael Brown, question what was clearly an inadequate
   pre-disaster plan in New Orleans? Isn't that a key responsibility
   of those overseeing the nationwide homeland security mission?

So please, Mr. Schneier, don't tell America or the people of New
Orleans that money could have prevented their suffering. It is not
only preposterous to blame the response failure on money (although
funding for first responders and the oversight of how those monies are
used have been issues that the Bush administration has failed to
address) but such ill-informed statements threaten to distract
attention from the real issue of failing leadership and a lack of
imagination in disaster planning. That brings me to my second point.

Mr. Schneier wants Americans to believe that terrorists and hurricanes
are alike, and that if we can properly prepare for one we will be
prepared for the other. This is perhaps the most preposterous claim
made in his editorial and one that clearly shows the limit of Mr.
Schneier's homeland security expertise. This is not a personal attack.
But Mr. Schneier is a technologist and has spent his entire career
doing things like writing encryption algorithms. He has not spent any
time to my knowledge in the trenches managing military or government
homeland security initiatives.

What Mr. Schneier fails to understand is that while terrorist attacks
and natural disasters may in fact lead to a comparable amount of
confusion - what is known in military parlance as the fog of war -
they differ significantly in many critical aspects.

First, natural disasters are random events that can leave one facility
in shambles while a neighboring facility remains unscathed. In
addition, natural disasters, particularly hurricanes, are known events
that give ample indications and warning as to their intended target
area and potential for destruction. A hurricane should be a homeland
security or emergency manager's dream scenario - because if you have
to experience a disaster, you might as well experience one that you
have days to prepare for.

Terrorists, on the other hand, are not the mindless forces of nature
that hurricanes are. Terrorists plan their attacks, sometimes years in
advance. They also carefully select their targets - there is very
little randomness to terrorist attacks, particularly the new terrorism
as characterized by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Hurricanes do not
care if they damage critical infrastructures. Al-Qaeda trains its
operatives in the most effective ways to destroy or damage critical
infrastructures. Hurricanes do not care about the financial toll that
follows their powerful blow. Osama bin Laden is on film trying to
assess the cost to the U.S. economy of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist

Likewise, hurricanes do not intentionally target symbols of American
government and economic power. Terrorists have made those symbols a
primary target. Hurricanes do not conduct surveillance of their
potential landfall areas and produce targeting packages designed to
ensure the greatest chance of success. Terrorists, particularly
al-Qaeda, do. Hurricanes do not time their landfall with the morning
or evening rush hour, they do not target specific economic sectors of
the economy, and they do not seek out population centers. Terrorists

Finally, hurricanes are not gathering in far away places conspiring to
acquire weapons of mass destruction and planning ways to smuggle those
weapons into the United States. Al-Qaeda is doing just that. And when
they get here, they will not provide us with advance indications and
warning that we are so lucky to receive from our natural enemy, the


About The Author

Dan Verton is the author of three books on security and terrorism, and
has advised the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the U.S.
Secret Service. He currently serves as the executive editor of
Homeland Defense Journal and IT*Security Magazine, and is a former
intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps. Visit him
online at www.danverton.com

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