Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 24, 2011

[Repost] Security Theater Lessons From Utøya

Filed under: Events — by Christopher Bellavita on July 24, 2011

I saw the following commentary on a Swedish blog called Falkvinge & Co. on Infopolicy.  The author is Rick Falkvinge.

I thought his ideas were worth republishing since the implications of his argument extend beyond Utøya.  What would happen if a multi-event like Oslo and Utøya happened in the United States, and if the person or people who committed the act were not affiliated with our usual ideological suspects?  Does our political genetic code allow us to see through the ideologies that mask terrorism’s explicit goal: to create fear.  Fear, and a profoundly deep sadness that lures us to abandon who we are as a nation.

Falkvinge’s post has been lightly edited; the original, along with links, can be found here.


As the shock passes into reflection of the Utøya massacre — could anything have been different? — and the grief for and honoring of  the missed and wounded, people will start asking questions as to how this could possibly happen.

Having gone through the methodology used … we can examine one step after another of Breivik’s plan.

I frequently say that power in society is about information advantage. If you know more about your opponent than your opponent knows about you, then you will have the advantage. In this case, Breivik knew how to not look like the nutjob he was.

It’s not even particularly hard. As long as you do whatever horrible deed you plan to do alone, you will evade all wiretapping and data retention. The largest civilian spy program in history is useless against people like Breivik.

It’s a matter of knowing what sets off red flags in the system, and taking active steps to not have them pop up.

Breivik had guns. Three of them: a Glock handgun, a scoped hunter rifle and a shotgun.

Well, yes. So maybe you should have gun controls and strict background checks.

Except Norway has that already. Strictest on the planet, even; same as Sweden. You need to be a flawless, regular and standing member of a licensed shooting club for a full year to get a 9mm handgun license, with a spotless criminal record (Breivik had just a ten-year-old traffic ticket). A hunting license is separate, with extensive and different tests, and apparently Breivik had that too. This doesn’t redflag in itself.

Nobody would imagine that the handgun was planned to be used for point-blank executions with the scoped hunter rifle being planned for teenagers who tried to swim to safety. No program would catch it. Doing so would require mind reading.

Breivik could make tons of explosives. Metric tons.

Well, yes. The nutjob literally bought an entire farm to stay under the radar on this one. Nobody is surprised that farms buy tons of fertilizer; ammonium nitrate, specifically. Nor is anybody surprised that farms need diesel fuel. This was all that was needed, and with a minimum of 8th grade chemistry.

If you are going to prevent either one of these, where do you want your food to come from in the future? Or should we ban the knowledge of chemistry, or perhaps license it? Remove the books on basic chemistry from libraries and censor web pages that mention that knowledge?

Again, it is a matter of information advantage. If you know how to blend in, you will survive in an environment hostile to your intentions.

Which brings us to the last part:

Breivik intended to kill — no, execute — people.


As despicable as that is, how would you like to catch it, the key word being “intend”? He didn’t speak to anybody about it. Even his parents were caught completely off guard. He planned it alone; for nine full years, according to some sources. We have neither mindreading nor precrime technology.

And yet.

We now have wanton en-masse ubiquitous wiretapping in Europe (specifically Sweden), explicitly for national security purposes, which would pick up a lot of what is said and spoken in Norway as well. We have individual location tracking of all citizens. Still, for all this surveillance which is the most extensive in human history, it was utterly and totally useless.

If we cannot prevent an event like Utøya, the worst killing spree ever in world history and the worst terrorist act in entire Europe in two decades, by any means conceivable — why are we playing this security theater and giving up hard-won civil liberties one after another?

The only thing that would have caught Breivik would have been frequent police raids turning his farm inside out, leaving no room to hide his experiments in chemistry. Turning all industries and homes inside out with sharp regularity might have prevented this. Even still, a person as determined as Breivik would likely have been able to blend in even under such circumstances.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, that “a people who gives up its freedom to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither”.  But now that it has been shown in the most gruesome, in-your-face way that we don’t even gain a little security by giving up these freedoms, then why are we doing so?

Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is absolutely right when he says we must fight antidemocratic lunacy with more democracy and more humanity. His quote from one of the young on Utøya, “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together,” is one of the most statesmanworthy I have seen in my entire life. Both when it came from the young surviving lady right off the island, and from Stoltenberg on repeating it in his official capacity.

It brings me to tears, and to something more important: hope.


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Comment by Jason

July 24, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

I take the poster’s lament about this disgruntled killer being so clever as to fly under the radar. I would suggest that he was a classic “Black Swan,” in that this was a singular catastrophic incident that was impossible to predict. You can’t plan for these things, all you can do is think about them and anticipate what kind of a response might be necessary. I would think that this was the real “lesson learned,” that even if no one saw this coming, there is no need to change the laws as much as more careful thinking about how the response might have been quicker or saved more lives.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 25, 2011 @ 5:50 am

Were there no persons who had knowledge of the killer’s personality and desires? Until it is proved to me that this guy was a complete social isolate that had virtually no substantive contact with the outside world then I believe it reflects the social anomie and isolation resulting from the destruction of the sense of community and social norms that protect the community. I refuse to believe that signals were not given off by this guy to even the untrained eye.

Know your family, know your friends, know your neighbors, know your community, know your leaders. Of course this is what scares me now as a length trip to New England revealed to me that I might be one of the closest friends for persons I don’t see more than once a decade. WOW!

Is the competition often falsely promoted through sports analogies in American society so great that we as a people no longer have empathy, sympathy, concerns about each other?

The fact that my understanding of modern NORWAY as a functioning community is the place where this occurred just makes it more important that we all work hard to break down the barriers between us.

One of my major concerns is that the US military seems to be building an alternative system to our democracy not the least is the creation of over 50 college and university programs to keep from full interchange with our civilian society and its problems and well as democratic norms. This system has so far stayed below the horizon by not granting PhD but only “accredited” masters degrees. And the military has stood by while allowing many soldiers, sailors and airmen and women to be ripped off by the profit making Higher Ed sector.

Obviously more education is better no matter what the source. But what is education and what is training? How is critical thinking promoted and by who?

What organizations are producing the educated citizens needed in our democracy and what organizations do all within their power to defeat the education of our citizenry?

We are currently witness to almost 2 billion people being indoctrinated into the belief that reason is unimportant because of its failure to answer the questions basic to why mankind exists other than the answer that mankind must be here for some reason usually argued based on religion.

Two catastrophic failures in recent years indicate that any concept of HELL could well include Darfur or Haiti or the Balkans. Is civilization a single system now or various systems now in collision course?

Do the Norwegian schools teach we do not all look alike or live alike and that is a social good not a social evil?

Perhaps deeper minds than mine can provide analysis and answers.

I for one wonder why the long delay to getting policing in place for a large scale gathering of political activists? Is not such an activity a magnet for those who might wish to kill any alternatives to the existing systems or even maintain the current system?

Did this guy not believe Freedom to Assemble is one of the basic human rights?

And now of course let’s find out which groups or individuals think this guy is some kind of HERO?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 25, 2011 @ 5:58 am

It is amazing to me how much of western history has been shaped by northern Europeans and their migrations much of which has been premised on individual and organized violence. As a blond (when young) blue eyed individual I find that for whatever reason that group of individuals seems to often attract and involve those whose own identity is wrapped up in person insecurities often approaching neuroses or psychoses.

Perhaps profiling by the state security services would not be unreasonable given history? Being facetious of course.

Comment by Donald Quixote

July 25, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

Europol Plans Task Force for Norway

By: Paisley Aisley Dodds, Associated Press

07/25/2011 (12:00am)

LONDON (AP) — In the wake of Norway’s terrorist attack, the European police agency is setting up a task force of more than 50 experts to help investigate non-Islamist threats in Scandinavian countries, its spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Soeren Pedersen said the group, based in The Hague, hopes to help Norway in the coming weeks and to aid other countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden in assessing non-Islamist threats. Norway has not yet requested forensic experts but Europol stands ready to assist, Pedersen said.

“There is no doubt that the threat from Islamist terrorism is still valid,” he said, adding that the task force could be expanded in the future to include even more European nations. “But there have actually been warnings that (right-wing groups) are getting more professional, more aggressive in the way they attract others to their cause.”……………



As all too often, we plan and prepare for the past. Do they (we) really need another task force for “non-Islamist threats”? Should they (we) not have more comprehensive plans and studies for all threats, regardless of race, religion, color or creed? Or on the other hand, a new task force may employ additional people in a lack-luster world economy and generate another after-action report for the expanding shelf.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

July 26, 2011 @ 9:05 am

In some of my thoughts I have shared with others in the past I have often asked what happens when we have an unattributable attack? What if there is no group, ideology, movement, etc to pin the attack to? What if one guy just decided to do something? Well, now we have one.

Why would we or how could we know what was afoot in this individuals mind? We cannot.

Quite frankly, to assume this could be prevented is BS. Going out on a limb here, but to assume we can stop lone actors from doing societal harm trickles from the tributary of the entitlement river that is crippling society.

We have come to believe that we are entitled to safety, health, and risk free living. News flash; life is messy and freedom is inherently risky. And, if you have not noticed, freedom is becoming a commodity that is slowly being eroded by legislation in the name of security. Agree with Chris’ Franklin quote on this one…What we do on the name of and pursuit of security is counterintuitive to reality.

We have convinced ourselves that task forces, working groups, and legislation will make us safer.

Again, BS. Life is unfair, does not favor anyone, and deals its own cards. We have spent the better part of 50 years trying to accommodate and legislate away all our transgressions as humans against humans, in the name of humans. Our risk aversion has grown into a religion of sorts. Not prevention or mitigation, but aversion; aversion to the realities of our decisions, relationships, and responsibilities.

Everything costs something…and yet, we believe rules or constraints do not apply to us. We have the capability to live long, healthy lives but not the capacity to deliver that care. Is that unfair? Of course it is, but to assume we can give all things to all people, at all times at no cost is ludicrous. Our priorities are out of balance.

We lack the honesty to lay out the facts; our way of life that we have come not to simply enjoy as a privilege but as a right was earned on the backs of others and exploiting others. Why was the immigration boom so big in the turn of the 20th century? We needed cheap abundant labor to build a nation…the people were expendable. We want cheap clothes, cheap energy, cheap food, and abundant returns on investments. We grow astonished as the collective leadership of this Nation continues to fumble fairly significant issues on economic planning, manufacturing, and job loss but do not have the collective memory or desire to hold them accountable for creating this in the first place. And we deserve this way of life because??

Almost 26 million people have immigrated to the United States legally in the last twenty years. In 1900 86% of them were European. In 2004 86% were other than European…mostly Latin American, Asian, and African. So we are changing demographically very, very quickly. What does that have to do with Breivik? His rants and ultimately actions were taken because of change to his culture, demographic, and comfort zone…or so he says.

How many people have died in the name of culture and tribalism in Darfur, Sudan, Rhwanda, and the Congo? More people have died at the hands of a machete than a gun? so should we ban those? How come we aren’t mourning them? Is it because they are insignificant or because they didn’t get CNN to cover their massacres? Look at the history of Western civilization and the United States. Genocide, death, destruction, and exploitation in the name of God, manifest Destiny, etc. The self righteous tend to be lined up right next to the wicked.

It is tragic what took place in Norway, but not unexpected. Is violence increasing or merely the reporting of it?

Finally, “Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is absolutely right when he says we must fight antidemocratic lunacy with more democracy and more humanity. His quote from one of the young on Utøya, “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together,” is one of the most statesmanworthy I have seen in my entire life. Both when it came from the young surviving lady right off the island, and from Stoltenberg on repeating it in his official capacity.”

If we are to love one another we must choose to put others before our own interests. We must elevate others above our own needs, and we must not be pious, but humble servants. In philosophical context, love is the highest virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection for and to one another. That context is in direct contrast to our national behavior and leadership activities. We are capable of so many wonderful things and so many diabolical things, at the same time.

What a piece of work is a man…How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel…capable of exterminating of its own kind in fear and paranoia, exterminating them in the name of purity and supremacy. Empowering them to create all that is good and enslaving them for all that is evil. What a piece of work indeed. We are the makers of our joy and our demise. Infinite capacity with finite resources…
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
New International Version (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Security does not come from isolation, aversion, and legislation but from freedom, trust, and common need. Perhaps a bit cheesy, but do you feel any more secure than you did, 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years ago? Think about it. Thanks for posting Chris.

Comment by geoge

July 28, 2011 @ 9:19 am

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