Over at CNN.com there is an excellent post by the security expert Bruce Schneier. Finally, somebody has spoken what must be said. Schneier, by the way, was the one who invented the Blowfish encryption algorithm.

“Security theater” refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards …

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them. –Bruce Schneier

My take on Schneier’s thesis is that the public, i.e., the teeming masses, must not allow the many arms of government to further tighten its grip on our liberties. Liberties once taken are hard to recover. The combination of media sensationalism, advanced information gathering, and authoritarian reflex is driving the USA into a permanent security state. A mature and thinking public must buffer the exaggerations and sensationalism that is broadcast into our homes every minute of every day.

Counterterrorism is also hard, especially when we’re psychologically prone to muck it up. Since 9/11, we’ve embarked on strategies of defending specific targets against specific tactics, overreacting to every terrorist video, stoking fear, demonizing ethnic groups, and treating the terrorists as if they were legitimate military opponents who could actually destroy a country or a way of life — all of this plays into the hands of terrorists. –Bruce Schneier

By closely following the exploits of a handful of radicals as though they could bring down our civilization, we legitimize their efforts as being worthy of our sustained attention. These are low frequency high visibility events.  Unfortunately, lingering and repeated gawking at sensational events against a constant buzz of soaring narrative is what television does best.