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A decentralized organizational structure works because it allows organisms to deal with uncertainty. Uncertainty that is created by variation lies at the core of a wide range of security concerns. Organisms in nature actively exploit uncertainty and turn it to their advantage by creating uncertainty for their adversaries and reducing uncertainty for themselves. Predators create uncertainty by stalking from hidden vantage points, but when possible, prey reduce this uncertainty by vocally or behaviorally signaling the presence of predators—a strategy that both warns fellow prey about the threat and indicates to the predator that the element of uncertainty has been removed.

To be effective the signaling must be directly tied to immediate threats. For example, ground squirrels will make vocal signals to bird and mammal predators (which can hear) but switch to “tail flagging” displays to deter snakes (which cannot hear), and will additionally heat their tails only when encountered by particular snakes (pit vipers) that can sense infrared signals


By contrast, when organisms in a community make constant alarm calls regardless of the immediacy of the threat they only increase uncertainty for other members of the group who must waste resources determining if the alarm is true or false.

Analogously, the U.S. National Threat Advisory which has remained at level “orange” since August, 2006 is not aimed at deterring a particular threat and does little to reduce uncertainty among innocent travelers.


We can vastly increase the uncertainty for our adversaries by just doing a small amount of random things every day in our security procedures. Currently we waste enormous resources to screen 100% of the people passing through security with little benefit. Laying aside the fact that this doesn’t even work to find the things we are looking for (knives, guns, explosive materials and 6 oz. tubs of strawberry yogurt, all have which have been brought through security in recent years without detection), it also gives us almost no extra protection from real attackers.

A low frequency of random screening (as opposed to a high level of screening equally applied to all) can deter someone who wants to evade detection.

This is particularly true in the case of a terrorist attack because there is a very high cost of failure in such a plot, as there is for any predator. A lioness hunting an antelope must have very little uncertainty that her attack will be successful because if she fails, she has not only wasted energy and gotten more hungry, but she has also left her pride more hungry as well. A terrorist who gets caught not only fails to achieve the goal, but also puts his entire organization at grave risk of being discovered or counter-attacked. Indeed, this aversion to uncertainty nearly drove the 9/11 attackers to abort their mission just days before it happened.

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