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February 18, 2010

Asymmetrical Temper Tantrums

The latest example of asymmetrical temper tantrum is today's pilot who flew into an IRS building in Texas.

I've been thinking about threats to national security, and who and what can be a threat. Obviously, other nations can be a threat, and some organizations like Al Queda can be, too. But when talking about the individual, the measure of how much of a threat an individual can be comes down to one question: What is the maximum amount of damage one person can do?

The key ingredient is leverage. How much leverage can one person have, when they are thinking and acting on their own? One route a person can take is by making themselves a sleeper agent of sorts, by spending years living an outward life that enables them to burrow into some sort of organization where they could have a lot of leverage. Like a government, or a nuclear power plant. But the other type of person is the normal citizen that just freaks out from time to time.

Over the years, does it get more extreme? It seems that someone flying a plane into a building is a post-9/11 occurrence, but I can't help but think that's just a belief borne of 9/11 trauma. This had to have happened before 9/11. But I also can't help but think that each time something like this happens, the pandora's box opens further.

So far it seems to be a matter of a disturbed individual taking a gun to the workplace or to school. In this case, flying a plane into an office building. But it seems possible for a normal citizen to create more leverage and cause even more damage. I have a resistance to even thinking/imagining what kinds of things are possible, and maybe that resistance in all of us is what keeps them from happening. But it does seem the resistance (in society, not in myself) towards imagining these things does go down over time, doesn't it?

At any rate, the question is what defense do we have against asymmetry? Asymmetrical attackers aren't rational actors in the way most nation states are, so you can't exactly use diplomacy, or appeal to their self-interest. In general, the best defense against asymmetrical attacks appears to be decentralized sources of power, whether that means power grids, the financial system, or government.

Posted by tunesmith at February 18, 2010 01:19 PM


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