background checks—may not be new or exciting, they complement approaches such as biometrics. The joint use of traditional and newer technologies might thus allow exploitation of the latter while minimizing their need for potentially intrusive refinements.


The organizing principle of this report is that our nation’s store of scientific and technological knowledge—as it exists and as it must be improved—is a key resource in efforts to counter the threat of terrorism. This knowledge is the basis for effective intelligence and military operations against terrorism, for securing our borders and other points of entry, and for making inaccessible the many targets of terrorist activities.

However, technology is not the sole solution to any problem. Virtually all technologies—including those discussed in this report—are subject to the reality that human agents and social organizations are necessary to implement and operate them. Decision makers oversee warning systems, human agents administer detectors, relief efforts following chemical or biological attack require the collective efforts of the nation’s health machinery, and precision warfare is a highly orchestrated human activity. A key aspect in the effective deployment of any of the technologies discussed in this report is the ease and effectiveness of use of information and other technical outputs by the people they are intended to support. Thus design and deployment of the systems must take human, social, and organizational factors into account.

In efforts to counter terrorism, the human interface with technology appears at three junctures:

  • Those who are recruited to administer the technologies of detection, prevention, and response to attack not only have to be expert but also trustworthy and loyal. Few forms of sabotage are more effective than sabotage from within. Guaranteeing this side of security, however, can become a matter of government compulsivity and a potential source of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Some kind of equilibrium, which takes into account both the value of prudence and the dangers of overkill, is required.

  • All types of counterterrorism-related technological systems require the mobilization of organizational machinery. In many cases, their missions take place under crisis conditions, which multiply the probabilities of accidents, breakdowns of communication, lack of coordination, errors of judgment, and jurisdictional conflicts. There is no sure cure for such failures, but advanced training and instruction of agents, as well as comprehensive planning for contingencies and backup strategies, are essential.

  • Sometimes the applications of science and technology in the interests of security run counter to cherished individual and political values. Wholesale

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