NU Online News Service, May 2, 12:02 p.m. EDT
*Updated May 3, 9:05 a.m. EDT with David Guest Comment
The death of Osama bin Laden is good news to insurers—and to the U.S.—due to the manner in which operatives cornered the Al Qaeda leader, but by no means should it promote a dropping of the guard in the industry, says Gordon Woo, a catastrophist with Risk Management Solutions (RMS).
“Insurers should be able to understand that the process is working. There is a method to it. There is no luck involved,” says Woo from the catastrophic-risk-management firm's London office.
Last year during RMS’s annual terrorism seminar in New York, Woo outlined a formula he developed to calculate terrorism success rates, and therefore insurance loss likelihood, based on social-networking analysis—a method used by federal investigators and intelligence agencies.
“What is of particular interest is how he [bin Laden] met his downfall,” Woo explains. “No one today lives entirely on their own.”
Woo says bin Laden tried diligently to avoid the Internet and electronic communication, but the Central Intelligence Agency zeroed in on those who communicated with the outside world for the mastermind of the World Trade Center attack nearly 10 years ago.
Reportedly, operatives focused on one particular courier. Four years ago they learned of his name, and two years ago the courier was tracked to the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was hiding. On Sunday U.S. forces killed bin Laden during a 45-minute firefight.
The criticism of calculating terrorism risk was the perception that analysts could not predict human behavior. As it turns out, no one needed to.
Social-networking analysis has been “very effective” since 9/11, Woo says, in foiling numerous terrorism attacks. In addition to its first priority of keeping America safe, the tactic has “protected insurers from paying large losses,” he adds.
Business in the U.S.—insurers included—need to stay on the alert following the death of bin Laden, Woo says.
“The key is vigilance,” he says. “We cannot predict the inspirational value he’s had. Clearly this is a blow to [terrorists], but there can be a continuation of plots—a number attempting to get revenge in some way.”
Woo points to statements made by President Obama immediately after he confirmed bin Laden was killed.
Bin Laden’s death “does not mark the end of our effort,” the president said. “We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
As for business owners asking themselves what bin Laden's death means for their companies, the answer is that it's not likely to change much here, either.
"Al Qaeda is an idealogical franchise, and has become much more decentralized over the last decade," says David Guest, war terrorism and political violence underwriter for Hiscox. "So while the effect of bin Laden's demise might provide some emotional closure, from the war on terror angle and in terms of the day-to-day impact on companies around the world and the risks they are facing, I don't see any change. There are still a lot of people who wish the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. ill will, and I don't see that changing, at least in the short term."