Ministry of Propaganda

Ministry of Propaganda - 10/Jan/2004: "Security nonsense"

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Security nonsense

I haven't read the book yet (only received it this week), but I'm sure Bruce Scheier would destroy most of it in Beyond Fear - Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World.

The Herald writes about it from a Scottish perspective, but then the same applies for a lot of people in the north of England, anywhere in Wales and the southwest of England as well. With the new visa guidelines a lot of people will face a lengthy trip to the American consulate to obtain a visa. And what will this really buy in terms of security? Will this really make it that difficult for any terrorist? Let's take a look at what a visa applicant has to go through:

  1. Apply in person at US offices in London or Belfast. Visitors 16 and under or 60 and over can apply by post.
  2. Expect to be at the embassy for four hours during which fingerprints and photographs are taken.
  3. Give evidence of funds to cover spending during visit.
  4. Provide proof that home links are strong enough to ensure a return journey.
  5. Fill out form detailing job, illnesses, criminal convictions, places to be visited and length of stay.
  6. Pay 67 visa fee

Now let's compare what this means for a "law-abiding citizen" in comparison to a potential terrorist (my current thoughts, I plan to compare this to what I'll read in the book later):

  1. A full day (potentially two) away from work and/or family, potentially having to take holidays for it. Just part of the preparation for a potential terrorist
  2. Must be a strange feeling to get your fingerprints taken just to visit family or go on a business trip. Not a real concern for a terrorist on a one-way trip, assuming he was clever enough never to be fingerprinted by law enforcement agencies before (which to my knowledge most if not all of the 9/11 terrorists were)
  3. Depending on their finances that could be embarrassing for people who finance their holiday on credit. But it shouldn't really be a problem for a well funded terrorist.
  4. That could be interesting: I guess I would be struggling to do this. I don't have any family in the UK (my parents, sister and relatives all live in Germany), I'm single, so there are no strong links in that sense to ensure a return journey. On the other hand a lot of the suicide bombers leave behind families, sometimes even children.
  5. Similar to the fingerprints, this might be embarrassing for a normal citizen, may be someone who made a mistake earlier in life and has a criminal conviction for it. But probably not a real problem for a well selected and prepared terrorist, as in that case he won't have a criminal record and will be able to provide all the other information
  6. An additional cost for the holiday maker or the business trip. Just part of the preparation for the well funded terrorist

My preliminary conclusion: A quite big burden for the "law-abiding citizen" who hasn't been able to obtain one of the new passports. I believe my passport should still be OK, but if it isn't I will think twice about any holiday or business trip to the US. On the other hand I don't believe this will be a huge burden (if any) to a well prepared terrorist and highly organised terrorist network (which Al Quaeda is, if I'm to believe what we are frequently told).

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