Just finished Bruce Schneier’s new book , which treats the design and analysis of security measures with numerous applications to Current Events. Schneier’s common-sense writing style makes a nice contrast to the hysterical pieties that fill most public discourse on security these days. He follows Orwell’s rules with rare scrupulousness; Beyond Fear is straightforward but never dumbed-down, elegant but never glib.
Schneier keeps his political leanings carefully hidden, emphasizing pragmatic arguments. Not all of his conclusions will please hard-core libertarians; he argues that arming pilots is probably not worthwhile and that the TSA is a real improvement over the (sorta) private firms that it replaced. Yet his reasoning can be refreshing even here: his case against armed pilots, for example, is completely non-hoplophobic– he just thinks separate armed sky marshals are more effective.
The book does have plenty of libertarian red meat; Schneier rips on ID-checking requirements, takes apart TIA and TIPS. Moreover, when discussing the impact of security measures on civil liberties, he repeatedly reminds us that Constitutional restraints on government are themselves security measures, and he treats police-state tyranny as a genuine security threat, not to be dismissed as paranoid fantasy. Schneier stops short of an analysis of government as an attacker with an interest in systematically gaining power over people’s lives, which disappointed me given his general diligence in pointing out the special-interest agendas behind so many bad security measures. But perhaps such an analysis is too much to ask of such a determinedly apolitical book.
Beyond Fear is full of pleasantly geeky factoids about locks in Switzerland, the design of the Berlin Wall, Iranian counterfeit $100 bills, and the like. It’s also peppered with insightful skewerings of conventional wisdom. Toward the end Schneier convincingly debunks the “terrorists could never again hijack a plane 9/11-style because of the passenger response” meme, by listing several plausible ways to pull off such a hijacking. This is good stuff, well worth the hardcover price.