Catching terrorists…

A sobering thought… today is 10 years since the Omagh bombing, a savage attack where 29 people were killed by terrorists. It also happens to be the month that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) estimates that there are now 1,000,000 people on the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) watch list. What’s been learnt? Well in Ireland and the UK quite a lot – and to be fair the Brits are not total eedgits when it came to noting the bleedin’ obvious. I’ll not rehash the ongoing debate on good vs. stupid security – Bruce Schneier does a better job of this than I ever could – but here are two links that just look at some numbers:

The UK terrorism arrest statistics (excluding Northern Ireland) from 11 September 2001 – 31 March 2007 show 1228 arrests were made and 427 charged over the 5.5 year period. With a population 59 million in Great Britain, that gives us an arrest rate of about 1.3 people per million of population.

Now for a back-of-the-envelope calculation on the US numbers (population 299 million). Do check out Bob’s numbers – they are guestimates, but they tie up with the stats above. If we extrapolate (and I think that we are being generous to the US by allowing them the same success rates as the Brits), at 1.3 per million we could expect about 390 people to be arrested and charged with terrorism related offences.

So my thought, if the US are chasing 390 arrests per year (I wonder do we include people randomly picked up and dumped on rendition flights?) then why are there 1,000,000 names on TAS’s watch list? Just to drive the point home: 25 million Americans will travel in 2008, including duplicates there are perhaps 400,000 people on the TSA watch list. That’s 2.5% of all travellers or 625,000 people.

So, the mission, pick the 390 people you want to nab from 625,000 travellers flagged by the TSA list. I can’t help thinking that they would be better off sticking to Where’s Waldo.

Feeling safer?!

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