Thursday, August 11, 2005

Is Deterrence of Terrorists Verifiable? 

Eric the Unread reports on an assertion by Victor Keegan in a recent Guardian piece:

...video cameras do not seem to have acted as a deterrent to terrorists, even though they have made it easier to identify them afterwards, whether dead or alive.
I wonder what exactly Keegan considered as evidence in support of his assertion that cameras have not deterred terrorists. He didn't really make that clear in the article. The impression he gives is that because the police have other powerful tools at their disposal, these cameras must not make a difference.

Since his assertion is only part of the introduction to a much larger theme, perhaps the euphemistic use of "do not seem" invokes Justification by Journalistic Necessity. Surely not the strongest evidence one can bring to support a position, but not unprecedented. And it's a very difficult hypothesis to test objectively. I could only come up with a few other likely proofs myself:

Perhaps he went door to door (or cave-opening) in Afghanistan for a survey:

1) Are you a terrorist, insurgent, freedom-fighter, militant or activist?
2) If so, have you ever been deterred from detonating yourself by the presence of a video camera?

Or, maybe he plotted "# of cameras" and "# of bombings" vs "year" on the same chart, and noticed that both have been rising.

It's even conceivable that he scanned the terrorist arrest logs and noticed the complete absence of the phrase "captured just before exploding by Emergency Camera Response Team".

Whichever method he used, it looks like he ignored an obvious counter-argument suggested by Eric: that the cameras do not have to result in arrests of bomb-strapped insurgents to deter terror. If it makes the work of support cells more difficult, or inhibits the free transfer of weapons and explosives, then it has deterred terror. Whether that deterrence would be a good thing or not is left as an exercise to the reader, but you should not be surprised that opinions differ.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: