Bruce Schneier is a self-proclaimed “public interest technologist” and a harvard fellow at the Kennedy school of Government. He coined the term security theater to mean when governments and businesses earn public trust by investing in theatrical security measures rather than more expensive alternatives that are actually effective.
“The best defences against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response… However, our elected leaders don’t think this way: they are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats.”
2003 - Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World
Other noteworthy points:
terrorism is hard and very, very rare. Movies make it seem simple, but actually pulling off a massive coordinated effort takes a lot of continued effort to plan and orchestrate. Our best bet is to catch things in the early planning phases. Guessing the methods is pointless– guess the intent through good old-fashioned reporting.
society pulls itself out of security theater by being less fearful. Trust in longer-term, less visible counter measures and understand that the power of a terrorist is in seeing that destroying a few people, a building, a monument, etc is a crippling blow to the soul of a nation.