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"Fortress urbanism," the modern Panopticon, is essentially reactive and will work no better in the US than in the UK


The UK's "fortress urbanism," its "ring of steel," is essentially reactive, a tool more for police and forensic analysis, as the terrorist is already in motion at the point of potential identification when the chance of successful interdiction is down to roughly 1 in 10. Designed originally to defend against IRA bombings, "fortress urbanism" is a network of checkpoints, concrete barriers, and CCTV video cameras (now estimated at 4.2 million cameras). The London transportation system alone has 6,000 cameras in its network with 9,000 planned by 2010. Some 1,800 of the 6,000 are installed in London's train stations and selected buses.

The CCTV network was conceived as a modern Panopticon, which was the model prison proposed by Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a round-the-clock surveillance machine designed to ensure "that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled -- mental uncertainty that in itself would prove to be a crucial instrument of discipline."

But unlike the prisoners that were already under lock and key in the Panopticon, modern terrorists can conceive, plan and execute substantial acts of violence because, not having yet been identified as a primary threat, they remain anonymous among millions of hours of unintegrated daily video footage too vast to be examined in real-time. A privacy specialist that has studied the UK's surveillance system, Jeffrey Rosen, notes that, "The fact that the bombers struck in the most heavily surveilled city in the world, the city with more CCTV cameras than any other, reminds us of the chilling but obvious truth: suicide attacks, are by their nature, very difficult to prevent. Nevertheless, the London bombings suggest that cameras may be one of many useful tools in investigating attacks after the fact." Having just politely corralled cameras as a post event forensic tool whose costs compete with the less visible intel gathering and proactive policing, Rosen goes on the observe that "Spain and Germany [have] identified suspects in major terrorist attacks without CCTV cameras."

What I find interesting in the highest per capita nation of CCTV coverage is that there is a valid history of research that shows that there is little evidence to prove that CCTV works in reducing crime and is worth the diversion of monies that could be devoted to simpler, but more proactive measures. In 1999 and 2002 the crime reduction charity, Nacro (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) has noted that despite increasing camera expenditures that there is little substantive evidence that CCTV reduces crime, i.e., provides a proactive effect.

Showing the fallacy of an excessive focus on the fortress urbanism approach, the initial UK attacks of 7 July, the botched attacks of 21 July, and the discovery of twelve bombs and four improvised detonators in the car trunk of one of the bombers occurred in the Western city said to be best equipped to prevent such bombings. In keeping with the non-alertive approach of the asymmetrical attacker, these bombs and detonators were produced from materials available at either supermarket or hardware store.

Politicians on this side of the Atlantic appear to be no better at responding to the UK's lessons of the low proactive and predictive value of large 'feel good' visible security measure such as CCTV security systems, GPS tracking devices for buses and electronic intrusion monitors:

Some government officials in Washington and New York want to spend billions of dollars on security systems [where the] call to redirect a chunk of the nation's homeland security dollars to "harden" mass transit systems is hardly a surprise. In fact, for politicians from urban centers, it is an almost irresistible refrain.

We have already commenced on this slippery slope in New York City where, in the post-UK bombing atmosphere, the city is spending $1.9 million USD per week in overtime for added police presence and random inspections in the subway and mass transit system. How long is that sustainable, who will pay it, and what will we not be able to financially or conceptually address because of that spending? The problem only gets worse as we build our own fortress urbanism, our own rigid Maginot Line.

Just as the Maginot Line, crafted from the 'success' of static, defensive combat in World War I, failed under a newer mobile mechanized infantry, so will our own fail under the small-scale high-impact operations of an asymmetrical attacker employing unexpected, non-traditional and broadly applicable methods. One should keep three simple equations in mind to characterize risk, threat, and impact but learn to view them through the eyes of the asymmetric attacker:

  • Threat = Vulnerabilities X Intentions X Capabilities
  • Risk = Threat X Vulnerability X Asset Value
  • Impact = Resources + Unexpected Methods + (Understanding + Exploitation) Vulnerabilities + Effect Multipliers (M1+M2+M3+…MX)

The successful approach to defend, defer, or deflect an attacker is almost all proactive process with a modest amount of strategically placed hardware that has a specific value to the process - one variant of which is to prevent, deter, prepare, detect, respond, recover, and mitigate.

Sane voices mirroring our own thinking appear to be trampled in the stampede of politicians that cherish well-intentioned but misguided effort that allow themselves to be seen as 'doing something' on behalf of their constituents. Randall Larsen cautions that, "We should not be focusing our efforts on preventing an attack 10 meters or 10 minutes before the attack," when the shooter is already in motion and you have little chance of interdiction. (One can always hope that they run out of ammunition first.) James Carafano stresses the need to remedy deficiencies in our foreign and domestic intel collection and analysis (notably HUMINT), reduce the consequences of a successful attack, and only then look to "building barriers" and inspecting bags.

Fat chance. The US is "already replete with examples of well-intentioned but marginally effective efforts to create anti-terrorism barriers." Expect it to get far worse without improving our proactive efforts. Expect that we could fall victim to a domestic version of the UK bombers, "all British citizens, had no criminal records, weren't on any watch lists and had no extremist pasts."

To Fight Terror, New York Tries London's 'Ring of Steel'
New York Times
July 24, 2005

Cameras in Britain Record the Criminal and the Banal
New York Times
July 23, 2005

Experts Say Suicide Mission in United States Is Inevitable
Following London Attacks, Small, Insular Jihadi Networks Seen as Big Threat
ABC News
July 18, 2005

Modeling Homeland Security
Kristopher A. Pruitt, Richard F. Deckro, and Stephen P. Chambal
JDMS, Volume 1, Issue 4, October 2004 Page 187-200
The Society for Modeling and Simulation International

CCTV: Does it work?
BBC News
Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK

CCTV 'fails to reduce crime'
BBC News
Friday, 28 June, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK

TO CCTV or not to CCTV? A review of current research into the effectiveness of CCTV systems in reducing crime
National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro)
Friday, June 28 2002

Community Safety. Community Solutions: tackling crime in inner city neighbourhoods
National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro)
Friday, November 12 1999


Gordon Housworth

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