How can government and society make good decisions about science and technology homeland security programs and activities? How can the government manage the necessary science and technology programs?
To understand how science and technology might contribute to countering terrorism, we must evaluate the nature of the threat, the vulnerabilities of targets in civil society, and the availability of technical solutions to the vulnerabilities that are most likely to be exploited by terrorists.
The terrorists possess some advantages, despite their small numbers (relative to the security forces of a modern industrial nation). First, their actions are unpredictable, since their objectives are, at least those of ideological terrorists such as al Qaeda and Aum Shinrikyo, largely idiosyncratic and obscure.3 Second, we must assume that the terrorist group has some part of their number in covert residence within the society they plan to attack. There may also be domestic terrorists who are citizens of the target society. Third, terrorists may be very patient; they have the initiative in deciding when an attack may occur. As a result, those defending against terrorism must be alert at all times; the terrorists need be prepared only when they choose to strike.
Finally, terrorists may have international bases of operations, and quite possibly enjoy the sponsorship and assistance of a rogue state. This combination of stateless terrorists who infiltrate target societies, supported by the resources of an irresponsible government, is a particularly dangerous combination. The U.S. government was obviously concerned that the Baathist government of Iraq might represent such a state, although evidence indicating a link to the September 11, 2001, attack is substantively outweighed by data to the contrary.4
Modern industrial societies have some offsetting advantages to terrorism. Their global intelligence and military presence, especially when they cooperate with one another, may keep the terror networks off balance and may be able to damage some of them. Military action, or the threat of it, may discourage rogue states from supporting the terrorists.
Through the application of available or new technologies, states can make targets less vulnerable, thus less attractive. They can limit the damage that may result from an attack, increase the speed of recovery, and provide forensic tools to identify the perpetrators.