The Myth of Homeland Security
By Marcus Ranum
Publisher: Wiley
Released: November 2003
Pages: 304

"As I write this, I’m sitting in a restaurant in a major U.S. airport, eating my breakfast with a plastic knife and fork. I worked up quite an appetite getting here two hours early and shuffling in the block-long lines until I got to the security checkpoint where I could take off my shoes, remove my belt, and put my carry-on luggage through the screening system …

"What’s going on? It’s homeland security. Welcome to the new age of knee-jerk security at any price. Well, I’ve paid, and you’ve paid, and we’ll all keep paying–but is it going to help? Have we embarked on a massive multibillion-dollar boondoggle that’s going to do nothing more than make us feel more secure? Are we paying nosebleed prices for "feel-good" measures? …

"This book was painful to write. By nature, I am a problem solver. Professionally I have made my career out of solving complex problems efficiently by trying to find the right place to push hard and make a difference. Researching the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA, INS, the PATRIOT Act, and so forth, one falls into a rabbit’s hole of interdependent lameness and dysfunction. I came face to face with the realization that there are gigantic bureaucracies that exist primarily for the sole purpose of prolonging their existence, that the very structure of bureaucracy rewards inefficiency and encourages territorialism and turf warfare."This rather jumbled study of the state of modern American security issues falls short of indispensable but rises well above useless polemic. Saying the most in his own professional area, information-technology security, Ranum denigrates the prospect of "cyberwar," but then discusses in some detail the disruption that hackers have caused. Existing firewalls (of which the author is a professional developer) and virus protection are valuable, but only if universally and rigorously used. Hackers should not be rewarded for turning "expert" but charged with grand theft, and people with top-secret access need to be paid more than clerks. He praises the better-trained personnel of the Transportation Security Authority and goes on to denounce the opposition to profiling as the dreaded "PC's." If Ranum demonizes anybody in this breezy first-person polemic, it is the media, with the standard charges of giving information to the enemy ("Thanks a lot, guys!"), but he also makes a persuasive case for their abysmal technical ignorance. (The ACLU is not accused of anything worse than having a radically different perspective than his about the long-term consequences of the Patriot Act.) Ranum notes I that more cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies is needed, and is possibly occurring. The turf war between the FBI and the CIA has to end. And the government's information technology system needs to be rationalized, starting about 10 years ago. At the end of Ranum's stocktaking, one is left with an instant soup-like aftertaste, but there are enough cubes of information among the "You Should Know" sidebars and "Bringing the Point Home" boxes, particularly for technophiles, to make it worthwhile. (Nov.) (Publishers Weekly, November 3, 2003)

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