Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Responding to terrorism -- the limits of human nature

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | UK urges terrorist asset seizure

Humans are bad at prevention; natural selection has not given us the full cognitive architecture needed for anticipatory actions. We do better at this than other animals, but ultimately we run into our fundamental limitations.

There are many actions the EU was to have taken post 9/11 that they did not take, particularly with money laundering. These were requested by every post 9/11 commission and report. The reluctance to act is probably related to the use of those services by powerful individuals in the EU (and US) who are not directly connected to terrorism, but may wish to avoid taxes, leverage campaign donations, benefit from corruption, hide money from divorce lawyers, recycle drug money, etc.

Now that the long anticipated and highly probably London bombings have occurred, we humans may do post-tragedy the things that were needed pre-tragedy:
Among the measures in the EU action plan he wants pushed through are:

* Ensuring all member states can take action nationally to freeze terrorist assets - EU-wide mechanisms cannot currently be used to freeze accounts of EU citizens

* Making it compulsory for wire transfers of money to be accompanied by information about the identity of the sender

* Updating the EU money laundering rules to meet international standards

* Completing the European Commission-sponsored review of EU structures on tackling terrorists' finance

* Introducing a code of conduct to prevent abuse of charities by terrorists.
Sadly, being human, we may also do some things of uncertain risk/benefit ratio as well:
...On Wednesday, Home Secretary Charles Clarke will chair an emergency meeting with his European counterparts on co-operation on counter-terrorism operations.

Mr Clarke wants to force telephone and internet service firms across Europe to keep records of all private telephone calls, text messages and e-mails so they can be passed on to the police if necessary.

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