is another excerpt from the book I'm writing on technology, terrorism, and my
time at DHS, tentatively titled "Skating on Stilts." (If you want to
read the excerpts in a more coherent fashion, try the category on the
right labeled "excerpts from the book.") Comments and factual quibbles
are welcome, either in the comments section or by email:
email@example.com. If you're dying to order the book, send
mail to the same address. I'm still looking for an agent and a
publisher, so feel free to make recommendations on that score too.
Some lessons from my time at DHS are hard-won: Even if al Qaeda disappears, the temptation to terrorism will not go away. And tools that can give new power to terrorists are being improved every day. Terrorist attacks using these technologies are completely predictable.
But I also know now just how hard it is to head off predictable disasters. Anything government proposes to modify the trajectory of that technology, any suggestion that we apply the brakes or wear a helmet will face diplomatic, privacy, and business resistance.
These constituencies will fight for the status quo. It’s a strange kind of status quo that they want – constant, exponential acceleration. But acceleration can feel very stable. For a while.
I’m proud of what DHS was able to do at the border. It was a revolution. It took years of hard fighting to put in place security solutions that worked with new technologies instead of against them. Truth be told, it took three thousand deaths, too.
I’d like to think that we can apply those lessons to other technologies before we suffer a catastrophe. I’d like to think we can build prudent, imaginative security measures into information networks and biotechnology, just as we did with our border procedures. I’d like to think that we can act before there’s been a disaster.
But, really, I don’t know if we can.