The major security measures:
Today’s terrorists kill in quantity and kill indiscriminately — there are no spectators. They continue to be fascinated with unconventional weapons. They are redefining national security. Terrorists can avoid security by attacking soft targets, such as public places that are difficult to protect. That terrorists have moved toward softer targets can be interpreted as an indirect indicator that security works. Not all terrorist perpetrators worry about being caught in the act, or even about escaping. Even the terrorists’ operational failures cause fear, which is the goal of terrorism.
Instead of the large hierarchical organizations that were the targets of intelligence during the Cold War, or the mythical centrally directed conspiracies of James Bond novels, today’s enemies are dynamic, unpredictable, diverse, fluid, networked and constantly evolving. They are global and local at the same time. They do not fit our current organizations.
Although there have been intelligence successes, spectacular intelligence failures are now under review in America, the United Kingdom and Russia — the three largest intelligence services in the world. The threat of terrorism obliges us to devote more resources to physical security. However, terrorists can attack anything, anywhere, any time while we lack the resources to protect everything, everywhere and all the time. There will always be vulnerabilities.
In historical point of view, terrorists attacked trains, subways, apartment buildings, a theater, a rock concert, and a school. Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists have attacked residences, restaurants, hotels, banks, churches, synagogues, nightclubs, and tourist sites. All public places are difficult to defend.
Physical security measures cost the most and their effectiveness is hard to measure. How do we know how much security is enough when our only criterion is the absence of an attack? In addition, security measures can disrupt the economy. Our goal cannot be to create a neo-Medieval “security state” that stifles the movement of people, goods, and ideas. We cannot banish all risk.
Above all, it means having in place a crisis management structure and ways. At stake in all terrorist crises is the perception of government competence. To respond well reduces public alarm and panicky demands for extreme measures that may imperil democracy. A poor response increases public alarm and erodes confidence in government.
Terrorism is violence aimed at the people watching. Combating terrorism means not only trying to prevent terrorist attacks, but also reducing the terror these create. That can be achieved by actively involving the public. People cannot be permitted to be passive observers or vicarious victims of terror. People can be instructed about how they are targets of terror’s psychological effects. They can be informed of the real as opposed to imagined risks. The public can be enlisted in surveillance. Children and adults can be educated about ordinary measures to take in case of synthetic or natural disasters.
What we can see is that the effects of security measures ought not to be measured solely in terms of prevention. Different types of countermeasures produce different effects, from deterrence to making it more difficult to carry out an attack, and from making it easier for security to intervene during an attempted attack to providing visible security that reassure an apprehensive public. Each of these efforts would need to be scored differently. The final protection against terrorism depends not on the thickness of concrete barriers or the severity of the penal code.