Bruce Schneier, a widely-read and respected author who writes lately about terrorism and related security issues, put together an excellent condemnation of the recent ban of all liquids from airline flights. I’ll quote a portion of his op-ed piece:

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11– no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews– had anything to do with last week’s arrests. And they wouldn’t have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn’t have made a difference, either.

Instead, the arrests are a victory for old-fashioned intelligence and investigation. Details are still secret, but police in at least two countries were watching the terrorists for a long time. They followed leads, figured out who was talking to whom, and slowly pieced together both the network and the plot.

The new airplane security measures focus on that plot… but only temporarily. Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won’t make us safer, either. It’s not just that there are ways around the rules, it’s that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It’s easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it’s short-sighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we’ve wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we’ve wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets– stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security– and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don’t work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It’s not security, it’s security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

This is what I’ve been saying for years, and is really the fundamental problem with the way our government– and, indeed, many of our citizens– view the terrorist threat. Security and the appearance of security are completely different things. We seem to have a lot of appearances, but very little real additional security.