Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dissecting terrorism

Ed Lazowska, Steve Maurer, Stefan Savage, and Geoff Voelker are once again running a multi-institutional course on public policy and technology. This term's focus is on cybersecurity, but the first few weeks have basically focused on terrorism and security more generally.

Just like last year's offering, there's an online lecture archive with PowerPoints and videos, or synchronized video/slides using WebViewer.

Anyway, I just got home from this evening's lecture (which isn't entirely online yet, but will be soon), and it bears watching. Delivered tag-team style by Gary Ackerman and Jeffrey Bale of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the lecture was an unusually clear-eyed and (relatively) apolitical look at the definition of terrorism, the notion of "weapons of mass destruction", the motivations and deterrability of various styles of terrorist groups, and the likelihood of the various kinds and scales of terrorists attacks using non-conventional weapons. The lecture was sobering and occasionally darkly comic, as such discussions tend to be --- there's something inherently Strangelovian about weighing the probabilities of greater or lesser disasters. The overall message I came away with was: preventing devastating terrorist attacks is vastly complex, and can't be reduced to a simple formula.

Which makes me pretty worried, because America's current political discourse ain't exactly nimble when grappling with complicated issues.

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