Fear and the use of resources

Excellent blog post by Schneier this morning on the issue of allocating resources. Basically, FBI resources have been taken off of counter-terrorism to work on the Madoff case.

A major question is: have we helped create a worse situation in the financial markets by putting too many resources on a rarer problem, terrorism, at the expense of protecting people from other threats?

I have certainly seen this myself. When talking to FBI agents about malware issues (including very severe issues involving keyloggers stealing personal data), I’ve heard them speak of the fact that terrorism is a higher priority in the agency, leaving them fewer resources to combat other issues like malware. And it’s not like they don’t want to help — I’ve never met a federal agent who wasn’t absolutely committed to putting bad guys away and fighting the good fight. They themselves feel helpless in these situations — good people in a tough situation. They do what they can, but there’s only so much they can do.

This is more than sad, especially when you’re sitting on a pile of stolen personal data, and the feds can’t deal with it adequately for lack of resources.

What we’ve done is scare the crap out of people, over-allocate resources, created a monstrous bureaucracy, and lost sight of the fact that these agencies only have so many resources, so much time, and they can’t spend it all on terrorism.

And for many years, anyone who pointed this blindingly obvious fact was labeled themselves as some sort of weak-kneed, pacifist, terrorist sympathizer who didn’t somehow “get it”.

Ridiculous.