Schneier on Security
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December 9, 2005
Sky Marshal Shooting in Miami
I have heretofore refrained from writing about the Miami false-alarm terrorist incident. For those of you who have spent the last few days in an isolation chamber, sky marshals shot and killed a mentally ill man they believed to be a terrorist. The shooting happened on the ground, in the jetway. The man claimed he had a bomb and wouldn't stop when ordered to by sky marshals. At least, that's the story.
I've read the reports, the claims of the sky marshals and the counterclaims of some witnesses. Whatever happened -- and it's possible that we'll never know -- it does seem that this incident isn't the same as the British shooting of a Brazilian man on July 22.
I do want to make two points, though.
One, any time you have an officer making split-second life and death decisions, you're going to have mistakes. I hesitate to second-guess the sky marshals on the ground; they were in a very difficult position. But the way to minimize mistakes is through training. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this sort of thing read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Two, I'm not convinced the sky marshals' threat model matches reality. Mentally ill people are far more common than terrorists. People who claim to have a bomb and don't are far more common than people who actually do. The real question we should be asking here is: what should the appropriate response be to this low-probability threat?
EDITED TO ADD (12/11): Good Salon article on the topic.
Posted on December 9, 2005 at 1:28 PM
• 177 Comments
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The only good news that I have started to see from this is mainstream news asking a very similar question, albeit with a slightly different spin.
Essentially - do we have to accept that some innocent Americans will occasionally die through no fault of their own in the interests of air safety?
Honestly, I really can't say the sky martials did anything wrong here. The man said he had a bomb. Stupid, perhaps, and not indicative of a terrorist, but do we expect them to do nothing? I'm assuming the man was not obviously joking about it.
One could make the argument that because he was mentally ill he didn't know better, and that is certainly viable to an extent. But does mental illness excuse a person from responsibility? If he killed someone, it would be clear that he was guilty and there would be little sympathy. Here he fakes an act that (if real) would endanger others, and then we are expected to be sympathetic. I'm sorry, but I think the sky martials did the right thing.
On the Janus proxy issue, I'd like to get in touch with William K F...if you're out there, could you raise your hand? I am looking for some details on the leak you reported.
I agreed with Mike. If you say: "I have a bomb" - be ready be killed. And marshalls have no right to be mistaken... they protect...
Bomb or weapon, make a sudden move to something concealed after being told to hold still by a LEO is going to get you shot.
This might have been the same result if it happened in a bank or a supermarket. If the officers who did the shooting had been uniformed city police officers the hype might have been a lot lower.
Yes there are more mentaly ill people that "terrorists". But mentaly ill people have commited some horrible acts (http://18.104.22.168/kudzu/sep01/inferno.html) so should their threat be ignored due to their illness?
I also find it strange that only his wife seems to have known about his condition. Others who knew him for years were suprised by this knowledge. Was he bi-polar or was this suicide by air-cop?
@ Chris S
"do we have to accept that some innocent Americans will occasionally die through no fault of their own in the interests of air safety?"
Of course not! If sky marshals are the only ones killing passengers now-a-days how could this possibly be a good security trade-off?
If security on the ground is doing its job AND we have well-placed confidence in said security (admittedly neither of which is presently the case) terrorists won't be utilizing airplanes as a means of terror anymore. Even with on-the-ground security lacking, terrorists still don’t seem to be targeting airplanes anymore.
We have to stop terrorizing ourselves by guarding against yesterdays threats and start implementing rational policies properly balancing security with civil liberties. Taking a man’s life for *maybe* saying bomb after he has passed security without considering mental handicap doesn’t seem rational to me.
I think Air Marshals should shoot anyone dumb enough to claim they have a bomb... and decrease the surplus population.
It is very difficult to see the rationale behind the sky marshals' action. What that guy did - running and shouting "I have a bomb" - is precisely what a terrorist would never have done. And even if he had been a terrorist, what harm could he have done in that jetway? They didn't have to shoot him dead just to stop him. It seems likely that they panicked. This is exactly one of the reasons why many of us have said we don't want armed agents on planes.
"It is very difficult to see the rationale behind the sky marshals' action. What that guy did - running and shouting 'I have a bomb' - is precisely what a terrorist would never have done."
Well, that's what a rational terrorist would never have done. There are irrational people with bombs. But this is a split-second decision, and it all comes down to training.
"And even if he had been a terrorist, what harm could he have done in that jetway? They didn't have to shoot him dead just to stop him. It seems likely that they panicked. This is exactly one of the reasons why many of us have said we don't want armed agents on planes."
This is plausible.
"Honestly, I really can't say the sky martials did anything wrong here."
At this point, neither can I.
Training is obviously valuable, and I would argue that someone in that role can never be trained enough. But it seems unlikely that you can train marshalls to instantly identify and distinguish HARMLESS mentally ill people - you can't just look for signs of mental illness, since certainly at least some "movie-plot" terrorists as well as suicidal or sociopathic killers have delusional and other mental disfunctions - so the challenge includes determining that their mental illness is a harmless form.
As a passenger, especially one who flies with his family on occasion, I would hope that any air marshall in my vicinity would err on the side of the safety of my family. I don't mean to be especially harsh to those with mental disabilities - but the marshalls' primary role is to protect the safety of the public, not of individuals who for various reasons present a false positive.
"Bomb or weapon, make a sudden move to something concealed after being told to hold still by a LEO is going to get you shot."
"Training is obviously valuable, and I would argue that someone in that role can never be trained enough."
Please read Gladwell's book. I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I want you to read the book before you expand on what you're saying.
"But does mental illness excuse a person from responsibility? "
Yes it does. If his mind is gone then he will make poor choices. I don't blame him for the problem, nor do I blame the air marshals.
I understand why the air marshals ended up shooting him. This would have been a great situation to have a Tazer available in additon to the handguns.
"And even if he had been a terrorist, what harm could he have done in that jetway? "
Depending on how far away they were at the moment a very small bomb could have killed several people, the air marshals included. If you have ever seen what a real grenade (a very small device) does you will understand.
umm, using a tazer on somebody who might have a bomb is not the greatest idea i've heard lately.
"Here he fakes an act that (if real) would endanger others, and then we are expected to be sympathetic." "But does mental illness excuse a person from responsibility?" "But mentaly ill people have commited some horrible acts"
Some of the comments here are nothing short of insane. You are saying: "don't be sorry for the death of an innocent psycho. Don't care!" How does such an attitude help us fight terrorism? Every single life lost is a victory for those who don't care for human life. The question to be asked is what was the justification for killing him. Killing can be justified if and only if it is necessary to avert an immediate mortal danger. You can't reasonably claim that in this case.
It is not at all surprising only his wife would be apprised of his condition. Bipolar disorder can often be kept in check very effectively with medication, and this is precisely the kind of information about yourself you would *not* want generally known.
This tragic incident is unfortunately not so surprising for anyone who has a loved one diagnosed as bipolar and knows how they can lose control of themselves when off medication. The surprising thing is that it hasn't occurred sooner.
After enough mentally ill and bomb jokesters get shot by air marshals, their hypothetically dominant numbers will fall.
For those who think all terrorists are rational, I have two words: Zacarias Moussaoui
Shocking someone with a tazer does not electrify the entire body into an ignitor for things they touch. Maybe if they had an explosive that *could be triggered electronically* (metallic, found by metal detectors) and the trigger was somehow grounded. Maybe.
I would think it just as plausible for a bullet to set of an unstable explosive compound (which are cheaper to make) by a massive shock or heat change.
Tazers non-lethal. Tazers typically have less collateral damage when they miss. The discussion on whether Air Marshals should carry guns was made a while ago. It was discussed after they made that policy decision. Perhaps the results of that discussion can be re-examined with more creedance.
Is this really a new philosophical dilemma, or just a different slant on an old issue to "never yell 'fire' in crowded room"?
It is odd to note that CSI (the TV show, for those not in the USA) covered this issue from a slightly different standpoint a while back. In fact this "TV plot" was a much more complete and realistic scenario than a lot of those being thrown around to explain this--very odd.
Basic plot was as follows:
Man gets on airplane for a regular trip home. Man starts acting irrationally. Other occupants of plane passenger cabin kill man.
I don't like to spoil plots, but look up cranial edema and encephalitis and you will find out what was wrong with the actions of the passengers in the big picture of things (including a doctor)--even if most of us would likely have done the same thing.
Remember, people don't often do things because they are the right thing to do....
Quote from the following news article:
Air marshal kills man claiming to have bomb
A witness said the man frantically ran down the aisle of the Boeing 757, while his wife tried to explain that he was mentally ill and had not taken his medication.
The man indicated he had a bomb in his bag and was confronted by air marshals but ran off the aircraft, Doyle said. The marshals went after him and ordered him to the ground, but he did not comply and was shot when he apparently reached into the bag, Doyle said.
The following misquote from "speed"
Harry Temple: All right, pop quiz. Airplane. Gunman with one bag. He claims to have a bomb in the bag; he's almost reached into the bag. Your 15 feet away. Jack?
Jack: Shoot yourself, becuase everyone's going doubt you made the right move and your career is over.
Jack: Shoot the wife. She didn't help him keep up with his meds.
I find it interesting that in this case, keeping up with your meds could have maintained his health in more ways than one.
The threat may be low probability, but it is a high impact threat. This will be investigated and if there were mistakes, hopefully those will come out.
If someone says they have a bomb, I think it's reasonable for someone to act as if they do. This is very different from someone else saying "I think that guy might have a bomb" and shooting him.
The model may not match the most probable explanation, but in this case I don't think it's reasonable to expect people to act as if a specified threat is nonexistent. Just as called in bomb threats are rarely true, evacuation is a reasonable course of action based on the potential for harm in the rare case that the threat is exactly as advertised.
@Arl: That's not the point. Obviously, *if* he had had a bomb, he could have done harm. But then he could have blown up the plane any time he wanted. Why should he pose a danger while running away? Why should he run away if he posed a danger?
@Andy: "I would hope that any air marshall in my vicinity would err on the side of the safety of my family. I don't mean to be especially harsh to those with mental disabilities - but the marshalls' primary role is to protect the safety of the public, not of individuals who for various reasons present a false positive." You don't get it: the man had already left the plane. He didn't pose a threat to the passengers. What you should understand is that "to err on the side of safety" is not necessarily good for safety. It may be exactly what the terrorists want us to do.
It seems that whether the man was saying "I've got a bomb" is not established. From what I've read of the case, it is quite possible that the man was saying "I've got to go" -- which is very consistent with his mental state and actions -- and the air marshals misheard it (or decided to mishear it) as "I've go a bomb".
Also, there was no threat of hijacking a plane, was there? He was running *away* from the plane which was on the ground...
>>What that guy did - running and shouting "I have a bomb"
This is not confirmed. There are apparently passengers who say the victim said no such thing.
"The threat may be low probability, but it is a high impact threat."
Not really: *the man had left the plane.*
The air marshals did nothing wrong, given their training and options. What we see here is what we could have foretold before all this ever happened: their options are not that great.
What if a real (but irrational) terrorist sets the bomb such that it goes off only if he's dead? At that split second they have to make a choice but they don't know if he has a bomb, under what circumstances it will go off, etc. It's a goal line save attempt. The results are not always pretty.
Also, @ Andy ("As a passenger, especially one who flies with his family on occasion, I would hope that any air marshall in my vicinity would err on the side of the safety of my family.")
That's a bit logically inconsistent. What you must have meant to say was "...I would hope that any air marshall in my vicinity would err on the side of the safety of the general public, even if it involves shooting a member of my family who might make sudden movements and not listen to cops..." -- right?
In the paper this morning, first article I'd seen questioning whether he actually said "I have a bomb". Which would make this much more like the the London shooting, with the first official story making it seem like the marshal's did the only obvious thing (because he said he had a bomb), when that may not have been the actual scenario.
The more logical statement for him to have made is something like "I'm freaking out, I've got to get off this plane, I'm afraid there's a bomb!" Is the word "bomb" on an airplane regardless of context reason to kill?
"If someone says they have a bomb, I think it's reasonable for someone to act as if they do." Maybe if I had were an air marshal, I would too. But if we step back and try to understand what happened, we should ask whether the presence of those armed marshals is good for security. I doubt it. I doubt it for the following reason: if there really had been a bomb on board, those air marshals wouldn't have prevented a terrorist (whatever his mental state) from exploding it. Airport security is supposed to prevent bombs or weapons from getting on a plane. If it fails, there's nothing air marshals could do about it.
Planes aren't the only places that bombs pose a threat. Someone moving towards an area (the rest of the airport) where there are more people than on the plane would still pose a credible threat.
If someone with a bomb had been discovered prior to being able to put their plan into effect, it's not unreasonable to presume they would want to detonate the bomb in the place with the highest damage potential. Keep in mind, we're not talking about people leaving bombs places, blowing themselves up is a very common practice.
I don't know, but would suspect the man was shot with a handgun, which means there was a very high probability that the Sky Marshal was close enough to be affected by a bomb. That puts more than just the alleged bomber in danger. If any law enforcement officer believes they are in grave, immediate danger, they are justified in using whatever force is necessary to neutralize that threat.
The point of contention is whether or not the person claimed to have a bomb. Again, hopefully this is a high enough profile incident that there will be a serious investigation as to whether or not the actions taken were reasonable.
I'm surprised to see any readers of this blog falling into the trap of not understanding the reality of the terrorist threat.
The reality is, it is impossible to completely protect anyone against an attacker who is willing to die in the process of his attack.
The best you can do is try to mitigate the damage that the attack can cause. The rest of it is merely to instill a psychological feeling of 'security' for the masses.
This concept is so foreign to most of the public that they just can't digest how effective this mental state is for an attacker or the reality of the threat.
You can't second guess anything in the heat of the moment. Either you act or you die...or someone else does.
The air marshalls performed amazingly well here with the information that we have so far. Hope that there will be equally skilled air marshalls for the next time as well.
I have a background in physical security and an extensive background in firearms use and training. I'm glad I'm not an air marshall, and glad someone else who is capable is.
"The threat may be low probability, but it is a high impact threat."
Not really: *the man had left the plane.*
Just because he left the plane, does not lower the impact of a bomb. There are other people inside the airport.
>>What that guy did - running and shouting "I have a bomb"<<
This is not confirmed. There are apparently passengers who say the victim said no such thing.
I have read three news articles on this. In none of them are mentioned that others passengers had a conflicting story. Please provide a link to a news article that shows this.
Really two questions here, what the policy is and what actually happened. There's no way to know what actually happened without an investigation, but we can talk about the policy.
The policy as I understand it is, "if someone claims to have a bomb and they reach for it, shoot to kill." Bruce correctly points out that mentally ill persons are more common than terrorists, but even a mentally ill person can have a bomb. A policeman faced with a gun pointed at him has the same issue--he doesn't know if the gun is loaded or even if it is a real gun. Put terrorism and air safety both aside; are we seriously asking an air marshal not to protect himself if someone makes a credible threat that he's about to blow them both up? I wouldn't ask that of anyone.
Air marshals are trained to deal with all sorts of situations with methods from using verbal skills, immobiliazation and deadly force. But in the case of some reaching for what they say is a concealed bomb, there's no alternative to deadly force that I can think of.
"It is very difficult to see the rationale behind the sky marshals' action. What that guy did - running and shouting 'I have a bomb' - is precisely what a terrorist would never have done."
Exactly. So far, none of those whose been shot were real terrorists - all false alarms. The real ones always managed to blow people, and themselves, up. The government's idea is to kill the terrorist before they detonate anything. Sorry, their death is part of their plan so they'll make sure people die with them. Did it ever occur to anyone that they could just press a button, hold on to it then detonate when released? That way whether they get to their target or get shot in the head by an officer more than a few other people would still end up dead.
"Well, that's what a rational terrorist would never have done. There are irrational people with bombs. But this is a split-second decision, and it all comes down to training."
No amount of training would prepare anyone for something they don't understand. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir understood this and has said that people who blow themselves up don't do so just to scare you but are fighting for a cause. They are fighting against US gov't meddling and abuse. Countless lives have been lost so what's some more as long as they're sending a dreadful message back.
"Honestly, I really can't say the sky martials did anything wrong here."
Gee... They killed the wrong man, that's what.
If the plane had taken off and there were air marshals on the flight and the man had lost it while the plane was in the air? The risk to other passengers would have been quite large.
The truly negligent person here is the man's wife, who thought she would try to put him in the air while we was clearly losing any semblance of control. She should have asked for assistance, gotten medical aid, and then, if necessary, done the haul from Miami home by ground transport (with restraints, if necessary).
HAHAHAHAHAHA air marshal-owned
Expect this story to change. Maybe not as much as the story in London changed, but it will change. The first version of an explosive story like this is never right.
I don't think that that comment is very appropriate for this serious discussion.
But what is the cost/benefit analysis say?
The cost is very obvious:
A (apparently confused) human being was killed by accident.
Based on the available public information, one hardly can put
blame on the air-marshal.
Having more air marshals with loaded guns means more possibilities
for error (not to mention the increase in stress while flying,
knowing that one wrong move can potentially get you killed).
The benefit side is not that obvious:
Are there any documented cases of air marshals drawing
their guns and shooting, where those actions saved lives?
Aren't terrorists *by definition* acting irrationally? As far as I'm concerned they're mentally ill too. It's tough to distinguish the finer points of mental illness in milliseconds (and, yes, I have read Blink)
"If someone with a bomb had been discovered prior to being able to put their plan into effect, it's not unreasonable to presume they would want to detonate the bomb in the place with the highest damage potential."
Mike, this rationale hardly applies here. Nothing was "discovered" by those air marshals. To restate what I said before: those air marshals were only "effective" because *there was no threat*. Had there been a real threat, they probably couldn't have done anything. Much of this discussion misses the point because you are trying to answer the wrong questions.
Beyond several of the points made already, about shooting passengers and the general observation of how much overreaction that was involved I think the most interesting question right now is:
Was the story with the bomb a cover-up?
I remember how the excellent British policemen doing their duty shot an ��?obvious terrorist��? that ran into a train to detonate his bomb. Here we already have several people claiming that there really wasn’t any talk of a bomb. I think it will be interesting to see what will come out of the investigation. If it isn’t all classified that is.
I would not be surprised if it turns out that the air marshals turned the airplane into a shooting range to stop a sick man because they had no idea how to handle a mentally ill person. It can be a very scary experience to meet somebody that is obviously crazy and aggressive.
Another interesting question is if it would be more efficient to spend money on medication and mental hospitals instead of armed guards.
I can't see anything different with what the air marshal did from what a cop walking the beat would have done. If you have someone threatening to blow up a bunch of people, no matter if it's in an airport, an airplane, a shopping mall, or a crowded city street, you will be told to get down on the ground and submit to LEOs. If you were told to submit, and reached for something concealed, you will positively get shot dead. LEOs aren't psychiatrists, nor should they attempt to discover the rationale of what is reasonably clear to any average person there to be an imminently deadly threat. Their job it to protect the people around them, and I don't want cops second guessing life or death situations.
On the flip side, what if the guy really did have a bomb and they failed to shoot because they figured it was a bluff?
-- "low-probability threat" --
As is often the case, people get caught up in the "probablility" of something, when they shoud be considering the "expected-value". If the odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 10 million, but the prize is 30 million, the the expected value of your $1 ticket is $2.
Same thing on the negative side. The odds of him having a bomb may have been ridiculously low, but the negative impact is huge.
The immediate negative impact to the air marshal, and the passengers is obvious -- they would be dead or injured. Even from the JetWay a couple of kilos of C4 would have done tremendous damage to the plane, the terminal gate, and any nearby grounds crew.
Longer impacts would have been a temporary closing of the airport, some job losses in the security staff, and some ridiculous congressional review of the TSA.
This is why we evacuate buildings for bomb threats and fire alarms. (When was the last time the fire alarm went off and there really WAS a fire?) The phrase "err opn the side of caution" is completly valid here. The air marshal may have made an error in judgment, but I believe it was the right error to make.
"Gee... They killed the wrong man, that's what."
No, they got the man threatening the lives of innocents.
Maybe we should seperate flights, everyone who doesn't want Marshalls aboard their flight can go to gate B. Those of who will risk being shot by an nervous guard will board at gate A.
"I would not be surprised if it turns out that the air marshals turned the airplane into a shooting range to stop a sick man because they had no idea how to handle a mentally ill person." It didn't happen in a plane. "It can be a very scary experience to meet somebody that is obviously crazy and aggressive." Doubtless, and that's why those people absolutely need training on how to deal with this kind of experience. This is not only a matter of "sympathy" with the victim but a matter of security. After all, air marshals are supposed to deal with difficult situations.
"I understand why the air marshals ended up shooting him. This would have been a great situation to have a Tazer available in additon to the handguns."
The problem there is that bombs are often initiated by an electrical pulse. Shooting with a Tazer could well set it off in spite of the actions to disable. Even if it didn't, the convulsions experienced by target could cause the very action that would set off the bomb. Shooting with a conventional pistol helps to minimize that, at the cost of an increased risk of death to the target.
"Gee... They killed the wrong man, that's what."
It's tragic, but based on the current descriptions that are generally accepted (the man was agitated, yelling, and refused to listen to instructions, and apparently made a sudden move), the Air Marshal may have felt that he had no choice in the matter but to shoot. The fact that this appears to be the first time in the 37 years of existence of the Federal Air Marshal Service that an Air Marshal has fired a weapon in the immediate vicinity of an aircraft, let alone killed a suspect. They've been called on numerous times to assist in dealing with problematic passengers while in flight, and have generally shown a great deal of restraint.
"No, they got the man threatening the lives of innocents."
Was he? It seems only the air martials are claiming that. It's suspicious to have someone "running and shouting" and only those who heard are the ones with guns.
If he was your loved one you would instantly see everything is wrong.
For the love of god it's "Taser"
Ryan: "No, they got the man threatening the lives of innocents." This isn't true, even by the account of the air marshals he didn't threaten anybody. Moreover, we know quite well that real terrorists wouldn't threaten in such a situation, they would just act. On that account also, your argument is wrong. It's incredible but at least some here seem actually to find consolation in the fact that air marshals killed somebody. You probably believe something like "this shows that they are ready to be tough on terrorists", to "err on the side of safety" as some have put it. *You are not using your brains!* Those air marshals are not making us any safer, neither you nor me. They deserve pity, not praise.
No doubt the marshals followed their training.
From CNN.com: "The marshals train in New Jersey, learning to abide by the principle: 'Dominate. Intimidate. Control.'"
They are trained to takeover the aircraft, to dominate, intimidate, and control -- not the troublemakers, but everyone, including each and every passenger. This is exactly the training terrorists get. These are terroristic acts.
Threatening the innocents with murder unless they immediately and totally submit without hesitation to the will of an armed unidentified attacker is a criminal offense everywhere in this country.
If I were a passenger and anybody stuck a gun in my face and ordered me to cower with my hands on my head, it would be my civic duty to kill him outright. Nobody who is pretending to protect me gets to threaten me, period.
Los Angeles and its environs has had this same problem for decades with the LAPD (and all departments imitating them) who are trained to dominate, intimidate, and control in every situation, and at the least hint of plausible threat of harm to themselves -- even if it takes a real stretch -- to then summarily execute people. The LAPD trains their officers to commit crimes which they have every right to expect to escape being punished.
It is easy to predict one obvious consequence of the Florida execution: When the first post-9/11 skyjacking occurs, all the passengers can be counted on to without hesitation fall into a swoon, being instantly meek, docile, compliant, obedient, utterly accepting, and eager to please.
"Moreover, we know quite well that real terrorists wouldn't threaten in such a situation, they would just act." Right and terrorists are the only people threatening our safety.
If the marshals acted according to their training, they did nothing "wrong." Questions of right or wrong are the wrong questions. The right question to be asking is -- Which way leads to fewer deaths of bystanders?
Hypothetically, if marshals end up killing 100 innocent passengers every 10 years, and it prevents a terrorist from killing 200 passengers every 10 years, then the current training is productive. OTOH, if marshals end up killing 100 innocent passengers every 10 years and it prevents a terrorist from killing 100 passengers every 20 years, then the training is unproductive.
Get out of the moral/immoral mindset. Think productive/unproductive.
Comparing the Miami shooting to the London electrician shooting, the one thing that really strikes me is the media's immediate conclusion that law enforcement must be right. Their reporters (forget their ex-law enforcement experts) opine about how well air marshals (or whatever agency happens to be involved) are trained and how the suspect "must have" been sufficiently threatening to warrant the use of deadly force.
Law enforcement officers must meet certain requirements for the use of deadly force. They are not the wild-eyed killers that some would like to portray them as. This is evidenced in that this is the first air marshal shooting post-9/11 that I am aware of. (Correct me if I am wrong.) According to the story I heard on the news, the subject commented that he had a bomb, refused to obey law enforcement, ran from officers, and then reached into a bag, again disobeying orders from officers. Based on these circumstances, there is probable cause to reasonably believe that there was an immiment threat to the officers/public. This justifies the use of deadly force to stop the threat. I believe the officer acted reasonably.
Let's assume we are going to train LEOs to accept that anybody claiming to have a bomb is, in liklikhood bluffing. Now I know that, as a bomb carrying terrorist, the best way to get them to give me plenty of latitude is to claim I have a bomb and have an accomplice tell them I am depressed. Then I will have all the time in the world to position myself in a way to cause maximum carnage while the marshalls stand by waiting for the counselors to show up.
It is a sad fact of life that we will, indeed, have casualties of war. Some. like the Brasilian electrician in London, are entirely avoidable and inexcusable. Other, such as this one, are probably inevitabe, though no less tragic.
Just once, I'd like to have a discussion on an issue of security where people don't make assumptions about this being a liberal thing or a conservative thing, or even a terrorism thing.
If the security measures emplaced do not properly protect the guarded commodity, or if the consequences of false flags become unacceptable, then the process must be evaluated. It cannot remain static and be an effective deterrent against terrorism.
It's easy to say bomb=terrorism, but there was only the perception of a bomb. If we've already determined, irrespective of physical reality, that there is a bomb, our decision-making process is skewed.
The Air Marshals did not do anything wrong per se - it cannot be said, thus far, that they acted precipitously or improperly. They shouted orders for the man to halt, to drop the bag - and he refused to comply. (I question, however, the wisdom of assuming that your suspect is going to know English.)
Who, exactly, was the wife speaking to, and what issues were involved in NOT getting this information into the loop?
I agree with Bruce, reading "Blink" may provide additional insights. The air marshals did not know WHAT to edit, and their intuitive response was therefore wrong.
While we are discussing differing reports of what happened, I'm not at all sure I have seen a report that made it clear that the wife was able to tell the Air Marshals that he was bi-polar and off his meds before the shooting started. In the absence of this sort of explanation, it seems more clear that the shooting was justified.
"Killing can be justified if and only if it is necessary to avert an immediate mortal danger. You can't reasonably claim that in this case."
In the absence of knowledge of his mental condition, then I would claim, reasonably, that there was an immediate mortal danger.
@Stan "If he was your loved one you would instantly see everything is wrong."
Why? Because we all somehow have this understanding that people WE love can't lose control to the point that they become a believable threat? That's what this is really all about - was this poor sod acting in a way that would have lead a reasonable person to risk killing him to save the lives of others. I have worked with mentally ill people, and have some in my family, and I know how scary it can be to have them suddenly completely lose it. I've found myself planning how I would defend myself against people that I've been very close to, and dealing with the possibility that I could seriously injure or even kill them.
We have to separate the discussion of the security policies that lead to this man's death from the discussion of whether or not the Air Marshalls were acting out of incompetence, overzealousness or malice. The fact that they turned out, in hindsight, to have have made the wrong call does not, in and of itself, mean the policy was a bad one, even if it turns out that the implementation was poor.
If marshals end up killing 1 innocent passenger, and it prevents a terrorist from killing 200 passengers every 10 years, and this innocent passenger is your sister/mother/wife/daughter, what then?
Death by terrorist or by mistake, it's terrible both ways, right? We're paying the price for somebody else's meddling.
"and it prevents a terrorist from killing 200 passengers every 10 years"
Can you please list your references?
I am desperately trying to find data on how many times terrorist activities have been prevented by marshals. No success so far.
I have a feeling that such information definitely would be published, since it has a strong political benefit to those implementing these policies.
For you youngsters out there, there is a reliable technology, old school, for immediately talking somebody out of action without killing him: use a sap.
The first coverage of this story I saw on TV ended with a statement to the effect that this incident demonstrated the effectiveness of the new security measures. I just about screamed. The death of an innocent man proves that these measure are effective!?!? Makes me feel safer about getting on a plane.
Obviously sky marshals were in a difficult situation. Not an easy call.
This makes me think:
What if air marshals overhear some folks speaking in a language (not english) and who keep using the term "bomb" repeatedly which could mean something else in that language?
@ Stan "[...] and this innocent passenger is your sister/mother/wife/daughter, what then?"
Then I'm out one sister/mother/wife/daughter, whom, presumably, was acting at least somewhat erratically. Not to say that I wouldn't be very sad. But I like to think of myself as bright enough to realize that not everyone knows my family as well as I do - so just because I know that they'll calm down in ten minutes doesn't mean that everyone knows that. (And besides, if I'm travelling with a person who's so ill that missing their meds that morning makes them irrational enough that they frighten those unfamiliar with them - I bloody well better make sure that, one way or another, they take those meds before I go anywhere that puts hundreds of unfamiliar people into the same place with them.) We're not talking about Federal agents randomly gunning down passers-by on the street here. We're talking about people responding to a perceived threat.
This was my point exactly when I referenced the historic "fire" example.
At the heart of the debate seems to be how to define acceptable speech (including nonverbal communication), and what is be considered a reasonable response to that speech.
The two complicating factors in this case are the speed with which the Air Marshalls were expected to respond, and the mental state of the victim.
Well speaking personally as a person who is Bipolar and who suffers occasional anxiety attacks, I have a feeling that this is all just a cover up for for an error in judgement by the Sky Marshals responible for the shooting death of the US citizen. I highly doubt that the victim said "I have a bomb", it appears to me he was having an anxiety attack and had one thing on his mind and that was to get out as quickly as possible. At this point the Sky Marshals decided because they could not subdue the victim was to shoot and ask questions later. I wouldn't be surprised if the passengers were debriefed after the shooting. Next on the No-Fly-List anyone who is mentally ill.
"Why? Because we all somehow have this understanding that people WE love can't lose control to the point that they become a believable threat?"
Of course they can. And I know how scary it can be, too. I had work on some volunteer missions and had one in our family, too. So I agree. What's wrong, among many others, is that we have additional reasons to be scared... that we and our loved ones, disabled or otherwise, have an additional unacceptable way to die.
"Can you please list your references?"
Sorry, I have none. I was just quoting an earlier post. I know it was hypthetical.
So generally, I don't feel safer. And the horrible possibility that your surname would match an entry on their hotlist doesn't make me feel better. How could anybody possibly avoid that?
Anyway, it's been nice sharing with all you guys. Wish I had more time but I gotta go. Thanks, Bruce, for a place for discussion and the book tip. I'll read it soon.
@ Bill Johanson
Let's not forget wifey here... she's the one who decided that putting an unmedicated manic-depressive on an airplane was a good idea. They're covering for HER error is judgement as well.
- - - - - - -
"And even if he had been a terrorist, what harm could he have done in that jetway? They didn't have to shoot him dead just to stop him."
- - - - - - -
What? You are suggesting they should have waited to see if they were subject to a bomb blast and killed first?
I've no love whatsover for TSA and airline security in general, (see my post in the thread here the other day on 30,000 people mistakenly put on watch list) but c'mon!
I rage against the system, but any idiot should know better than to run amok in what is basically a high security, low tolerance location. If an individual is of such mental capacity that they cannot understand that, then they have no right to be in such a location without proper escort and precautions.
Air marshalls are not mind readers. Act dangerous, and you'll be treated as such. Sad, but even for all the hassles I have flying, I wouldn't have it any other way.
1. What possible damage would a bomb have done to passengers, had the person who was shot been a terrorist in an otherwise-empty jetway?
2. Are there really no less-than-lethal weapons that could be used in situations like this?
If the air marshals guess wrong, they should be punished for their mistakes, the exact same way as if civilians committed the exact same acts for the exact same reason with the exact same results.
Also, it is not a 'split-second decision' if they have many seconds to think about it and act on it. If they let the guy get out of view of witnesses, and then held back all potential witnesses, and then went to kill him, the prosecution has all it needs to charge them with premeditated murder.
Imagine two seated Frenchmen excitedly talking together about something, and the sky marshals repeatedly hear a word that sounds like 'bon'. Then one of the Frenchmen grabs his shaving kit and heads for the can.
The marshals would go on a killing spree.
Before the plane made it to the ground the White House would announce that the air marshals acted properly and according to their training. And the French government would never get an apology.
"At this point the Sky Marshals decided because they could not subdue the victim was to shoot and ask questions later."
His wife went to 'subdue' him. The air marshals stopped her, not with moral authority, but with the threat of deadly force.
A barroom brawler could have subdued Alpizar empty-handed. I bet I could have taken him.
But there was no help available: all the passengers were cowing in their seats with their hands on their heads, terrorized by the unidentified gunmen.
Clearly, if the passenger claimed to have a bomb, the Marshalls had no choice. I have read many news accounts of this tragic event. However, I have yet to read a news account that quotes a witness, by name, who claims to have heard him make this statement. Given the high level of secrecy around all aspects of TSA, we will never know the truth.
Pre 9/11, this story probably would have had a different ending--but our need to have a higher level of security and armed response changes everything.
Alleged claim, "I have a bomb." = BOMB.
Man behaving erratically = TERRORIST
Refusal to stop = TRYING TO ESCAPE
Refusal to drop bag = BOMB IS IN BAG
Perhaps it should be pointed out that, since he'd already gone through screening, that if the victim DID, in fact, have a bomb ... it was completely MISSED.
And - this is conjecture - is it possible the victim said, 'There's a bomb!' - evocating his fear that there might have been a device on the plane he was fleeing? If you thought you were running away from a mortal threat, would you stop when men drew guns and shouted at you, or would that only contribute to your agitated state?
Might he even have been misunderstood when he mumbled, "I have a problem"?
It's easy to say, 'well, if marshals shouted at me, I'd be on the deck!' - would you do the same if you were bipolar and had missed your meds? Do you ever forget to take medicine and believe that you did, in fact, take it?
And, frankly, if you're going to argue that a man on medication to control moods or other personality disorders shouldn't fly, then they shouldn't be allowed in public. A terrorist can strike on a crowded street just as easily as in an airport terminal, and law enforcement ignored the wife's attempt at explanation. (Heck, for that matter, alcoholic beverages should be banned on flights and in terminals, as they can also contribute to odd behavior.)
What if I shot someone and said I did it because he claimed to have a bomb? What if other people who were there claim he didn't say it? What if I did it while travelling in disguise? What if the man I shot had just come through a screening process--not a perfect process, but one designed to ensure that he did not have a bomb? What if I did it while he was trying to leave a very crowded area to get to a less crowded area--not necessarily an empty area, but an area much less packed than the one he was leaving? What if I refused to make public a detailed description of what happened?
How many of you would leap to my defense, call it justified, and scold anyone who criticized me?
Or do you first need to know whether I have a badge?
I think the points have been missed. It is more probable that the day ended with than man's wife and a couple of air marshals feeling like crap, wishing things had went differently. A mistake was made. The outcome was a tragedy.
News reports make poor evidence to determine if air marshalls or the wife was negligient. More likely this was not the case.
What this incident does show is that there is a security risk in allowing people with guns on an airplane! Is this risk reasonable? Does it serve a value that outweighs the risk? Does the air mashall's screening and training appropriately mitigate those risks? If not then this security policy needs to be adjusted.
My take is that given the majority of air marshall's were hired in the context of securing against terrorism, there is going to be a bias of seeing odd behaviors as terrorist activities. Given that the majority of bizarre and dangerous behaviors seen on airplanes (especially with the holidays) are more mundane (air rage anyone?) this probably should be adjusted to make things more secure.
Giving the authorities the presumption of innocence, the benefit of the doubt, and the presumption of good faith, while the authorities give their citizens the exact opposites, is blind allegiance to authority.
We are the paying customers. They are the service providers. When they make mistakes, they, just like we, must pay the penalties.
Why would a real terrorist (who already managed to get a bomb in a plane) shout to everyone "I have a bomb" ? That makes no sense at all. Most people would agree that the odds of someone doing that and being a real terrorist (with actual bomb) would be near zero.
A real terrorist who already managed to get a bomb in a plane with a trigger in his hand would already have won. There's no way any armed undercover "Bruce Willis" could stop that.
Now, I think the real question to ask would be wether or not it makes sense to have armed undercover officials in a plane in the first place (I happen to think it only increases the odds of getting someone innocent shot while not doing anything to stop actual terrorists, thus making everyone less secure).
Oh, and add to that the risk of shooting bystanders in a crowded place.
"Bomb or weapon, make a sudden move to something concealed after being told to hold still by a LEO is going to get you shot."
I think that you have become desensitised to the use of lethal force. It seems to me you have to "raise the bar" of percieved threat which justifies the killing of an individual.
I live in the UK were the cop in the street does not carry a gun. However there are more and more incidents of the police shooting dead people in circumstances where alternatives were available.
Maybe similar to the story mentioned above about a naked, unarmed, man being shot dead.
Of course we recently had the shooting on the undeground of the Brazilian man. When I first heard this on the radio I thought good, 3 bullets through the head is a good tactic ONCE YOU DECIDED THAT THE TARGET IS A REAL AND PRESENT DANGER.
It really comes down in every circumstance to the LEO, as you call him (a bit too flashy a title for my taste), making a split second judgement. And sure that is a tough job, but I think you have to err on the side off caution before pulling the trigger.
The desirable outcome is that no-one, including the "suspect" is killed.
This requires that you don't shoot someone because they make a sudden move, you shoot them when you see that they are drawing/have drawn a gun.
In a certain percentage of cases the person might get a shot of before the LEO shoots them.
In a proportion of those cases the "suspects" first bullet might actually hit a person.
And in a proportion of those cases the victim might die.
But overall you probably end up with a lot less bodies in the morgue.
From a statistical point of view, there should be a certain level of incidents where the LEO had the opportunity to "take the shot" but didn't and a by-stander died. Otherwise you know that the system is lop-sided.
Any ex-soldier (or ex-cop) can tell you what will happen when all the gunners have their fingers on the trigger and the guns pointed at people.
Now and then, a gun goes off. It's an accident. A 9mm, .40, or 12-gauge pointing at somebody's head when the accident happens means an accidental death.
And a coverup, a story to hide the accidental discharge, which is seen as a serious failure. The service has a vital stake in the pretense that accidental discharges never occur -- because if they don't hold that line, critics will start questioning pointing guns at innocents. And once the rules of engagement start to tighten, they tend to creep ever tighter.
how's someone to know who is and isn't a sky marshal? i thought they were plain-clothes.
I grasp the importance of split-second decision-making: it has saved my life several times.
I also know that a split-second is smaller than a unit second. If the authorities do their thinking over a matter of many seconds, or over many minutes, the decision to execute someone is not a split-second decision: it is a rash decision.
We have a long legal history of dealing with people making rash decisions of consequence to other people (and even to themselves). Let's hold all of the authorities to the same body of law we are held to.
They are identical in appearance and demeanor to skyjackers.
My problems with the issue of the armed sky marshals:
a) Identification - I cannot tell an armed "blackhat" from an armed "whitehat", save the assumption that anyone that's armed and claims to be a "whitehat", is a "whitehat".
b) Handguns are rather powerfull weapons, but consider the environment. A plane is a cramped location, lots of bodies in a small space. Your worries are that a shot will cause a hole in the hull (not the problem made out to be by movies, but still not a good thing), or hit someone else/in addition to the suspected target.
c) what does shooting the person gain you?
d) if you're in close enough range to be sure of a shot with a handgun, in those kinds of cramped quarters, if they're carrying explosive, you're WELL within the blast range.
e) Dead bodies don't make good informants.
Basically, I think plainclothes agents, armed with handguns, is just the wrong way to protect a cabin/jetway/concourse.
In the concourses, I have no problem with fully armed, uniformed police.
On the jetways/planes, if someone is going to be armed, they'd better be in uniform. Consider the chaos that would ensue if two people on a flight both stood up at the same time and claimed to be TSA agents, and telling the other the back down/under arrest.
Handguns just aren't the best weapon in a plane. This whole thing really did remind me of the UKs beat cops, who carry batons/saps instead of firearms. But they also appear to be quickly backed up by their equivalent of our swat teams.
If you're going to put agents on planes, then they'd better be easy to identify, trained primarily in hand-to-hand combat, within the kinds of quarters that a plane uses, and also with melee weapons both storebought and fashioned. Forget firearms.
It seems to me that at some point you have to rely on perimeter security, which is in effect what the TSA primarily provides (and we who travel on business hate to deal with). And then within that border, you can either have a fragile system that requires "enforcers" running around in it, or you can have a robust system in which people are expected to think/act for themselves.
In a lot of ways, this seems like an extension of the "government will protect me from anything". Which turns everyone into a victim waiting-to-be, instead of people that are capable of actually thinking and acting in a situation to preserve their and everyone else's safety.
Good examples of that were the reception that the shoe-bomber received, and the plane that crashed in pennsylvania on 9/11. In both those cases, people took charge of their own future, instead of waiting to be protected by someone else.
Of what I've been reading so far, suggests the guy was probably having a panic attack thinking there's a bomb in the plane, running and trying to get off the plane, in panic.
That makes much more sense than someone running around shouting "I have a bomb". It all makes sense if he was shouting "there's a bomb".
I hope there's a full PUBLIC investigation of this incident (it honestly smells like a coverup) and some real debate wether or not these so called "security measures" in the name of counterterrorism really make any sense at all.
This is just one more thing to make flying less attractive than a long wearying drive.
1) The planes are more cramped than ever.
2) Security is such a painful hassle.
3) Airports are an increasingly miserable place to spend time. Everybody there seems totally stressed out.
4) Now, you have to worry about getting shot by an overzealous air marshal.
I used to like flying.
Honey, let's get on the plane now. What's that? You don't want to take your medicine? Oh, okay, what harm can come of that?
normally bruce links to articles on both sides of the story along with his opinion, not this time.
he's always been against the shoot to kill policy on the bombers because of a dead mans trigger that goes off if they release the button.
the guy was probably having a panic attack. one witness said the wife said he has a disorder and never said bipolar.
witnesses said they never heard the word bomb.
he said "ive got to get off the plane." again and again before he ran off. his wife kept saying calm down.
the witness said the guy was wearing a fanny pack and backback, when he was ordered to lay on flat on the ground he tried to but couldn't because the fanny pack was in the way and tried to move it out of the way to comply. and they shot him approx five times.
here is a link from a mainstream source that says it.
now no one is even talking about it on the tv news .
the use of shock rounds less lethal rubber bullets would be more effectifve and better for use on a plane and would incapacitate immediately, if it hit anywhere on the body. and do not penetrate the skin. can be used at long ranges
"normally bruce links to articles on both sides of the story along with his opinion, not this time."
Yeah, I was too lazy to find links. I figured that everyone could find them themselves. And the various "speculation" links seemed, well, too speculative.
update: they just showed surveillance video on tv showing that he had his backpack on backwards on his chest. so that is what he was moving out of the way so he could lay down when they shot him.
The pilot keeps a list of who is an Air Marshal and where they are sitting. They are meant to be hidden to the passengers.
However, if you read the (public) application process you can tell that they will likely be under 37 and fit enough to pass a class II commercial pilot medical test...ah, profiling. They're not terribly hard to pick out on an average flight in the US.
In other words, if the pilot wasn't wearin a uniform, could you pick him/her out of a lineup?
More info, including some interesting history, can be found here:
I was just curious if anyone has documented how easy it is to profile the Air Marshals...and believe it or not the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association made an open complaint about this to the US Government in 2004 after they "exhausted every other option in attempting to address the
Here's an excerpt:
· The obvious “business attire��? that FAMs must wear to maintain a “professional appearance��?;
· The military like grooming standards (note that no other nonuniformed agency follows these standards throughout federal law enforcement with the exception of the very public U.S. Secret Service protection detail personnel) that the “discreet��? FAM must follow in order to “blend in with the flying public��?;
· How the FAM presents his/her credentials to the airline gate personnel;
· The fact that the airline gate personnel know the FAMs’ identity;
· How the FAM is escorted and boarded on the airplane prior to departure;
· The FAMs meet with and brief the flight crew. This at one time was unknown to the public and as a result a man was caught posing as a FAM at the Ontario airport in California when a pilot became suspicious when the suspect stated he had no brief and was flying alone;
· The fact that the crew knows the FAMs’ identity making them a target for terrorists to reveal whether or not a FAM is on the flight (if they could not already figure it out by watching these TV shows) and who they are;
· FAM seating configuration;
· What FAMs look for on a flight;
· The type and model of PDA FAMs use to communicate on the mission;
· The type and model of weapon FAMs use; and
· The specific way FAMs handle and deploy during hijacking situations allowing any terrorist to mimic and pose as FAMs.
Just to second guess those of you suggesting that the plane is the only possible target, and that leaving the plane is leaving the realm of possible targets, consider the number of soft targets present at an airport, accessible by running down a jetway.
Consider that bombs have indeed passed security before, and now we remove our shoes in security, but that doesn't mean all possible methods of concealment have been covered. Consider that many airports do not 'sniff' for plasticizers, or only sniff randomly.
Consider that the present climate of air security exacerbates the hair trigger responsiveness of enforcement personnel everywhere, when it comes to hot-button words like bomb, and that the high brisance and low profile of modern explosives leaves very little room for second-guessing if you're wrong and don't disable the target. It's like running onto the White House lawn while reaching into your jacket. And then not responding when the Secret Service issues your one warning. Unusual behavior doesn't get you consideration once you've crossed the line into "potential threat"; it decreases your predictability and escalates the situation.
And yes, Virginia, we use handguns. Clubs and saps are nice, if you can afford to close on the target. And they sure are effective, when you're dealing with someone less well equipped than yourself. But don't bring a knife to a gunfight. Only close with a better-armed target if you have no other choice. Don't be an "officer down" if you can help it. Engage from a greater distance than your target can; hold them there if you can; stop them if you can't.
And if you think you hear "bomb", from a man acting irrationally, are you going to walk up and ask him, "I'm sorry, sir, but could you say that thing you said once more, and enunciate this time?" Or are you going to direct him to hold position and stand down? What happens when he doesn't hold position? What happens when he runs? What happens when he doesn't stand down? What happens when he reaches where you can't see, and for something you can't predict, except on what you think you heard? Will we say it was nice to know you, or will we go with you to get a beer, afterwards? This guy doesn't seem to have died through no fault of his own. That he wasn't making accurate statements merely makes it a regrettable incident, instead of a triumph of law enforcement. But don't think that the air marshall is glad about it, in any event. He just wants to get home at night without having had to draw his weapon.
For the love of God, learn to behave sensibly around law enforcement and security personnel. They aren't trained to rationalize your behavior, they're trained to protect and serve the greater good. And live to do it tomorrow.
"But does mental illness excuse a person from responsibility? "
Insanity might absolve responsibility in a court of law, but it does not absolve responsibility in reality. If an insane person walks in front of a bus, he cannot claim insanity - he's run over.
I think the officers did exactly what they were supposed to do. I would be troubled if they had not killed him in those circumstances. One unwritten law of this society (or any conceivable society where firearms and explosives are available) is - when ordered by police to stop, you comply, or die. Later on, you will have the chance to sue for damages or what have you.
"Yeah, I was too lazy to find links. I figured that everyone could find them themselves. And the various "speculation" links seemed, well, too speculative."
It all seems like speculation to me, but the "he said bomb" story is starting to sound like a real stretch.
I take back what I said earlier about speech, since it may be that nothing was said clearly enough to justify a response and therefore it's irrelevant to the threat/countermeasure debate.
I mean the victim may have said "I do not have a bomb" or "I want my mom" or "Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm" (in a panic), etc.. I usually have a hard time understanding what someone more than one row away is saying on an airplane, so it's probably critical to know when/where the "bomb" statement was heard and by whom.
And that's not to mention another reason given for the fatal shooting was that the victim was "reaching" for his backpack after the Air Marshals told him to lie face-down on the ground. The only problem there, as others have pointed out above, is that he had to reach for his backpack to move it and be able to lay face-down on the ground. Damned if you do...
The investigation will probably mean a dearth of good info for a while, but I thought this was an odd statement:
"David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, said he thinks the shooting may prove more 'reassuring than disturbing' to the traveling public his organization represents. 'This is a reminder they are there and are protecting the passengers and that it is a seriously deadly business,' he said."
Yes, because I always feel better when someone innocent is shot dead and *everyone* else in the proximity is told to put their hands on their head while they are held at gunpoint by law enforcement. By that logic if federal agents shot and killed random suspected illegal drivers we should feel more "reassured" about driving. Please...
"They aren't trained to rationalize your behavior, they're trained to protect and serve the greater good. And live to do it tomorrow."
I think that takes us back to Bruce's point about the book "blink" by Gladwell. The author seems to say people can tap into the subconscious and achieve higher awareness of how to accurately recognize/predict behavior. It probably depends on how often you have witnessed or even experienced the behavior before, which reminds me of the theory of Kung Fu (skill acquired through application of time and effort) -- reactions are best performed when they can be done second-nature.
The Air Marshals are undoubtedly experts with weapon-handling, but are they as comfortable with identifying and profiling the source(s) of erratic human behavior? I mean if they do not have a fair and broad definition of "sensible" behavior then woe be the people who get caught in their cross-hairs.
Why don't these "expertly trained" armed people ever shoot to disable, say in the legs? Of course, someone will say that they want to stop him from pushing the bomb trigger. But what if the bomb triggered when he released his hold? Methinks these guys are too trigger happy.
Then in the video on TV, they show that his baggage has somehow gotten moved to the runway where they decide to shoot at it to see if it blows up. Huh? How did these supposedly dangerous bags make their way out to the runway? Did they walk? Did someone carry them out there? Did they use a robot? Why not have the robot open the bag and see if it blows up then? Or what if the bomb in the bag was defective? Wouldn't it be easier to trace back its components if you didn't take target practice on the bags first?
Along with the theme of "blink", here is another case to consider:
"Mr Sales told a court in the northern Brazilian city of Belem that he shot Sister Dorothy because he feared she had a gun in her bag.
He told the court she reached into her bag with the words: 'The weapon I have is this'.
Instead of a gun, however, he said she produced a Bible.
Many landowners in the area have openly argued that Sister Dorothy's murder was in legitimate defence of property."
regarding split-second decisionmaking, there's a concept in japanese samurai culture "the blank mind of the warrior" holding that samurai are more effective when they don't know what they're going to do next. back when i practiced law i noticed this was also occasionally true for lawyers too, not recommended for everyday practice.
the issue in miami is did he say he had a bomb or not, and this is empirically unknowable here in the blogosphere; in 2005 all we can count on are lies and spin from both sides. i have only limited, finite compassion for unmedicated wackos yelling about bombs in airports "everybody has a tale of woe that would bring tears to the eyes of a sphinx." i was struck by the account of the marshals then boarding the plane and ordering passengers at gunpoint to put their hands on their heads. plainclothes guy points a gun at me, the safest thing for him is to shoot me because i'll shoot him first if i can, i don't know who he is.
The lesson of "Blink" is that we can interfere with our intuitive abilities - even believe we are making correct snap judgments - but have, in fact, selected the wrong criteria to make an effective/correct one. As Gladwell puts it, we don't know what to edit, we edit the wrong thing, or we refuse to edit.
Unless we're willing to consider this shooting as one of those cases, then we're going to continue making bad 'snap' decisions.
The victim may have spoken with an accent, and/or speech may have been affected by his medication status.
I think the important question here is the utility of a five-hundred-million-dollars-a-year law enforcement investment where this case is their biggest triumph to date.
"I think the important question here is the utility of a five-hundred-million-dollars-a-year law enforcement investment where this case is their biggest triumph to date."
I don't think that is fair. After all, it may be that the presence of the sky marshals is detering terrorists.
That said, I don't support the idea in general and the points made above about how easy it is to identify the marshals need to be addressed.
I am very interested in the idea that the passengers "should not let" terrorists take over a plane, i.e. they should be willing to sacrifice their lives to stop a hijacking in progress.
I actually think this sounds like a good idea.
Since, once demonstrated, it would probably deter any future would-be hijackers.
However, to convince me to undertake this course of action, should I be unfortunate enough to find myself in that situation, I would require confidence that if I grabbed one of the hijackers and poked his eyes out with my thumbs, then other passengers would follow through and overcome the remaining hijackers.
Without trusting in that scenario I would not be willing to do it. Such a level of confidence would have to be based on a wide-spread understanding that this is the correct thing to do in such circumstances. And this would require the government and the airlines to 'educate' the public that this is expected of them.
Of course they will never do this since they would be afraid of being sued by my family after I am shot by hijacker no. 2.
In other countries it seems like a lot of Americans are very influenced by the movies they see. Like a bad terrorist (and with black hairs of course, he has to come from a dangerous country) shouting "I have a bomb!". This is the LAST thing you would do to for a successful bombing! Every stupid in the world know they are marshalls in the US airliners! But in an Hollywood movie, the guy would have to make a 10 min. speech... Get back to the reality!
For me this is the proof that 9.11 was successful for a terrorist point of view. Very sad to say but they succeeded at terrorizing America.
PS: Actually there were one time a representation of a bus bombing in "The Interpreter"; the bomber of course did not shout that he had a bomb, he simply exploded!
From Salon's "Ask the Pilot" series:
http://www.salon.com/tech/col/smith/2005/12/09/... or http://tinyurl.com/7497z
Wednesday's incident fulfills what many
of us predicted ever since the Federal
Air Marshals Service was widely
expanded following the 2001 terror
attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and
Washington: The first person killed by a
sky marshal, whether through accident
or misunderstanding, would not be a
terrorist. In a lot of ways, Alpizar is the
latest casualty of Sept. 11. He is not the
victim of a trigger-happy federal
marshal but of our own, now fully
metastasized security mania.
Do we really want to live in a society where government agents can kill innocent people without compunction?
What is the difference between the government killing innocents 'tragic mistake' by 'tragic mistake' and terrorists killing people? They are both equally dead. A well known first century moral philosopher suggested that 'turning the other cheek' was the correct response to violence, so why is the approach 'get them before they get you' now in vogue?
"For the love of God, learn to behave sensibly around law enforcement and security personnel."
I demand that law enforcement and security personnel learn to obey the law.
Every innocent person on that aircraft who had a gun pointed at him is the victim of a felony committed by air marshals.
People with badges and guns like to think anything they do is lawful.
People without badges but with guns who get in trouble are often surprised that the police think they have done something wrong when they were merely doing what the police do.
Read the penal code. When a badgeholder commits acts defined as felonies, his acts are felonies. He needs to be punished with fines and imprisonment.
Anyone who points a gun in my face -- hijacker, skyjacker, carjacker, or other kind of jacker -- is committing a crime. Under the law, it makes no difference if he might have a badge hidden somewhere on him. Nobody has police authority unless he has identified himself as a police officer. That's what the badge is for. Anyone claiming to be the police but refusing to prove it, has no authority under the law. Period. He's just a criminal with a gun.
If everyone else on that aircraft, except the air marshals, had been wearing police uniforms, including Alpizar and his wife, the air marshals would never have drawn their weapons. We all know this.
If a law enforcement officer cannot do his job without breaking the law, he should resign. If he breaks the law he should be punished.
What would it take to force law enforcement to become law abiding citizens? That's a tough one.
I think we seem to have forgotten what the terrorists real goal was - to cause fear and undermine our faith in our systems.
Seems they were very accurate in their appraisal of our response. Instead of a tighter feeling of society and shared humanity - we shoot, invade and kill. Have we really made the world safer with the subsequent actions since 9-11? Somebody will always manage a terrorist act if hell bent on it (literally) - over reacting to the last one is not the answer.
And I am tired of people who hear this saying it is weak. It is simply common sense. Are we adding these numbers and the people and soldiers dying around the world onto the Trade Center casualty list.
I believe our actions have prolonged the terror campaign and we had a huge world concensus which has been completely shredded.
"Get out of the moral/immoral mindset. Think productive/unproductive."
Can everyone go back and read that comment again? The question is not "was the man wise not to take his meds" or "did he deserve to be shot". It's "is the cost worth the benefit?"
No matter how unwisely they act, shooting innocent people is a bad thing. It's a cost. The question is, do the benefits outweigh the costs on average?
How do we know he was mentaly ill? How do we know he said he had a bomb? How do we know the marshall wasn't mentally ill or upset or intoxicated?
All we know for certain at this point is a man was shot and killed by law enforcement. What we can hope for is a complete and transparent investigation not tainted by politics or career maneuvering. Good luck.
this article makes some interesting points about what happned and how it may relate to the critisism of the new miami sheild program. or maybe it was to condition people to accept the shoot to kill policy in the US
there is a growing problem in the us of cops killing innocent people and facing nothing. cops get away with almost anything unless its caught on a camera that the cop cant destroy.
My lawyer told me that if you sue the cops for anything you have to move out of the county or city limits, sometimes the state. its just a fact in suing the cops. Thats why my friend decided not to sue. they will make your life hell.
Being in a foreign country and going though airports. Its pretty easy to beleive he ran out of medicine. I think they are trying to put out that he was bipolar and manic depressive, so that it would look like the man or his wife are to blame for not taking it. Obviously he ran out, and it was probably xanax or some other anxiety medicine for panic attacks.
I Don't believe the guy said he had a bomb. If you've ever had a panic attack, you might be able to understand what this guy was going though. Like immediately having to get off the plane.
It really seems like some kind of heart attack to the person having it. being stuck on a plane thats about to take off when your having a panic attack is not a good situation. People frequently get taken to the emergency room for a heart attack when its really just a panic attack. Its a horrible feeling.
Where are the security cameras in that airport?
Or is everything on the screened-passenger side a black hole?
Since I wasn't there, it's impossible for me to judge the actions. It does seem that there are already questions about whether he even said that he had a bomb.
For now, let's assume he did. It is very odd that a terrorist would announce his bomb, at least until he was prepared to take some action, like take over the cockpit or grab a flight attendant or something. It's odd to make a declaration when you are not in a position of power or about to lose a battle.
Second, why would a bomber fly the entire flight and only on landing declare he had the bomb. If he had a bomb, wouldn't he have detonated it by then?
And if he had a bomb and LEFT the airplane, wouldn't that be a good thing? Is the idea he smuggled a bomb on board an airplane, flew it the entire flight, left the plane saying he had a bomb, and then try to blow up the destination airport's terminal? Most odd indeed, especially since he likely looked nuts and his wife was saying he was ill.
But, with all of that oddity, a person who says he has a bomb on an airplane and then acts erratically is likely going to be harmed.
It seems that the guys almost deserved to be killed. If he was so mentally ill that he couldn't control himself, he should have not have been on the plane without restraints or medications or whatever. Being mentally ill is not an excuse to misbehave as it's impossible in a life and death situation to balance crazy and harmless from crazy and dangerous. Ask John Lennon how safe a crazy guy can be. Ask the Unabomer victims how we need to protect a crazy bomber.
I think the sky marshalls should practice shooting at the first amendment.
"Why don't these "expertly trained" armed people ever shoot to disable, say in the legs?"
Because expertly trained armed people are trained to shoot at the center of mass; i.e. the chest. If the person is really expertly trained s/he will usually do a 'double tap', one shot to the chest followed by a second (slower) shot aimed at the head.
The rationale here is that the chest presents the largest hit area and the head-shot should take out anyone who survives the chest-shot.
If you shoot to disable (i.e aim for leg or such) you might miss. If you shoot for the largest area you have a higher probability of hitting and therefore stopping the person. If you follow up with a head-shot the probability of stopping only increases.
Shooting to disable is a nice film scenario. In reality when you are in a shooting situation you tremble so much from the adrenalin rush that even a double tap is hard work.
When I am on the shooting range punching holes in paper I can usually hit what I aim for one-handed with enough time to properly use the sights. Do a lot of very fast push-ups to simulate stress and you're lucky to hit the wall even with the gun held two-handed. A double tap on a man-sized target at 8 meters (yards) suddenly becomes a lot harder. Shooting something with the diameter of the average leg is then almost impossible.
The first amendment doesn't protect shouting fire in a movie theater, so it's unlikely to protect declarations of a bomb on an airplane.
Yes, it's very hard to shoot just to disable unless there is a lot of time to be calm and assess the situation. In the end, if someone has a bomb, shooting them is always trouble since you don't what sort of trigger is being used. Killing them can cause it to explode, but a serious wounding would likely do the same. And if you miss or fail to incapacitate and then a bomb does go off, you may wonder why you tried to save the life of someone who presented themselves as so threatening.
The real bit on this story is what is true and what is not. Was he running wildly? What exactly did he say? Witnesses are incredibly bad at giving us a good story about what really transpired. I suppose we'll have cameras on planes soon enough to record it all.
If this was an unusual event I might agree with some of the posters above along the lines of "what do you expect if a person shouts "I have a bomb"". But law enforcement come in contact with people who are mentally ill every day. It's a big part of their job. Unfortunately this is just the latest case in a long line of cases of mentaly ill people who have been shot and killed. It's tough on the family and it's tough on the law enforcement officers involved as well. There are training programs to help police to recognize these situations and handle them better but they are not universal. It would be interesting to know if the air marshall training covers this issue. They are many times more likely to encounter a disturbed person that someone who is a terrorist.
I don't think there are any national statistics but based on newpaper reports there are hundreds of incidents like this every year.
So do you think the mentaly ill get the health care and support they need? Or is mental illness criminalized in this country?
There was another heavily publicized episode back in 2001 in which another bipolar person shot at the Whitehouse. He was trying to commit suicide. He was wounded and prosecuted.
It seems that various reliable media sources now indicate that witnesses didn't even hear anyone saying the word "bomb". It seems most likely that those armed "007"'s chased him and ordered him to the ground, the guy then reached to his backpack to pull it out of the way to which those heroes responded by firing multiple shots at him.
They not only killed an innocent man and put bystanders at risk, but there's also reports that a group of armed officials entered the plane and pointed loaded ready-to-fire firearms at already frightened passengers.
Now that's what I call excessive stupidity and incompetence!
In an earlier comment, Chris S posted a very revealing article (at http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/... The content makes it clear that "witnesses differ" because the marshals disagree with the passengers. The marshals claim that Alpizar shouted about a bomb, but the passengers say they heard nothing at all from Alpizar. All they heard was his wife explaining he was sick, the marshals shouting "Stop," and then gunshots. Several passengers thought he was sick or on the wrong plane.
Alpizar was not a threat. No one perceived him as a threat except the air marshals. They were wrong. They drew the wrong conclusions when every passenger who's been interviewed (seven in that article) drew the right conclusions in the same amount of time on the same evidence. As soon as the marshals followed Alpizar off the plane waving guns, they made a mistake that none of those passengers would have made.
That's a hard mistake to excuse.
Well, I see we're already up to a hundred-odd comments, so this will be lost in the hubbub, but my .02 anyway:
1. As a few people have commented, it's pointless to argue minutiae on these sorts of things until the facts have come out. Early news reports rarely constitute "the facts".
2. For example, when I first heard that Rigoberto's wife had allegedly shouted out that her husband was mentally ill and hadn't taken his medication, my first thought was "My God! What a stupid thing to say! -- or was she _TRYING_ to get him shot?!? A murder scheme straight out of Agatha Christie!", but now it seems probable that THAT report also was false, and in fact she didn't mention mental illness until after Rigoberto was shot.
3. Whether or not passengers on the plane heard Rigoberto referring to a bomb is not especially relevant; the only report I've heard that said _where_ marshals claim to have heard him say that, referred to the _jetway_. That doesn't mean he did, of course, it still needs to be thoroughly investigated. Yet it's curious to see how quickly and vitriolically some people attacked the marshals as soon as they found even the tiniest scrap that seemed to support their preconceived notions.
4. Yes, US Federal Air Marshals do receive training on how to recognise, avoid, or calm drunk, drugged, insane or otherwise ornery persons. In fact if I read the curriculum correctly it seems to be one of the largest components of the regimen. However, now I've looked up their curriculum, I'm surprised at how short it is: at ~11 weeks from civilian recruitment to graduation, it's shorter than a military boot camp. Other countries which have used sky marshals regarded it as an especially difficult task for an elite law enforcement unit, and give a lot of additional training to already highly experienced personnel. Please tell me if I'm mistaken, but it looks like the US is giving them only basic training and then sending rookies onto planes!
5. No, regrettably there are no safe, reliable ways to quickly incapacitate a person -- although research continues apace to develop one! Yes there is a risk that a shot suicide bomber may still detonate a bomb, but it is less than with any other alternative. In particular, Tasers are totally unsuitable for this application, for several reasons. Firstly, even their manufacturers claim it takes 3~5 seconds continuous tasering to incapacitate someone (many critics claim it usually takes much longer). This is an order of magnitude too slow even for a knife wielder, never mind a suicide bomber. (Indeed, many police departments have a policy that tasering should only be attempted if there is another officer standing by with a drawn pistol in case the taser doesn't work.) Secondly, safety tests have indicated that the sparks they generate most definitely can start fires in nearby flammable materials (including the solvents used in tear gas sprays!), so it is actually quite likely to ignite and detonate acetone peroxide, the quite flammable and unstable explosive most commonly used by Islamist suicide bombers. (Note that for commonly used secondary explosives there is a big difference between "igniting" and "detonating", but this is not true for primary explosives like AP.) Another problem is that the electric shock devices that actually work reasonably well are quite bulky, as deep and broad as the largest common handguns but even thicker, and so cannot be carried undercover. (The miniature units sold for carriage in e.g. a handbag are of very doubtful efficacy, with at least one police department describing them as "worthless junk".)
6. Whether or not you agree with it, there is a fairly obvious reason for immediately guarding the rest of the passengers: as has been previously pointed out on this blog, one obvious terrorist tactic would be to have one attacker identify himself as a terrorist in order to draw out the air marshals so the other attackers can identify them.
"Whether or not passengers on the plane heard Rigoberto referring to a bomb is not especially relevant; the only report I've heard that said _where_ marshals claim to have heard him say that, referred to the _jetway_."
The jetway. Where they went when they chased after him. Which they did because they supposedly thought he was a terrorist. Because he supposedly said something about a bomb.
The marshals' story doesn't fit together in order.
"Yet it's curious to see how quickly and vitriolically some people attacked the marshals as soon as they found even the tiniest scrap that seemed to support their preconceived notions."
My "preconceived notion" is that air marshals are dangerous to innocent people. The body of an innocent man killed by air marshals is more than a tiny scrap supporting it. If you want to know why there's vitriol, check the Newsday article posted by Chris S that I mentioned above. In fact, check it for that detail about where the bomb threat was supposedly made.
Heaven forbid we be vitriolic with people who produce dead bodies with no consistent or detailed explanations.
Alpizar was not a threat. No one perceived him as a threat except the air marshals. They were wrong.
They were only wrong if he didn't claim to have a bomb.
They drew the wrong conclusions when every passenger who's been interviewed (seven in that article) drew the right conclusions in the same amount of time on the same evidence. As soon as the marshals followed Alpizar off the plane waving guns, they made a mistake that none of those passengers would have made.
That's a hard mistake to excuse."
When the LAPD kills somebody, the authorities ask only if the officers followed their training. The question to ask is whether the officers committed crimes.
If the answers are both yes, then the officers need to be put in prison along with the people who trained them to commit crimes.
Note that in the UK four months after the authorities cleared the July killers of Jean Charles de Menezes of any misconduct, they are now addresssing the question of crime.
Prompt action by the White House gave the killing the official sanction of 'a righteous kill' (in LAPD parlance). Yet the UK's reluctant reality check is grounds for hope, although I admit, scant hope.
"Where are the security cameras in that airport?"
This all seemed to occur on the jetbridge and the airplane, where there are no cameras.
A handgun, a baton, and handcuffs ARE badges of sorts. They are what all police carry. Saps are not carried by police, so they appear thuggish. Someone with a sap or brass knuckles is not to be trusted, but somebody with a 'police style' batton is much more convincing as a plain-clothes LEO.
The fact that somebody has a handgun on an airplane, actually gives them some credibility I think. Especially if it's the same type of full-sized automatic that policemen would carry, and not a small Saturday night special that looks like the sort of thing a terrorist would try and smuggle aboard.
I think sky marshals having handguns may help them peacefully keep control of the situation, in part because people expect sky marshals to have guns, so it gives them some credibility as sky marshals. After-all, nobody but sky marshals or pilots should have guns inside an airplane.
I wouldn't trust someone who pulled out a big knife and claimed to be from the TSA.
Just something to consider when discussing alternatives to handguns.
I consider that most main to was human victims less
The "fully metastasized security mania" has convinced many of us living outside of the US to avoid US airlines at all cost. This is not only safer but also avoids the problem of our baggage being regularly broken into and being treated like potential terrorists by incompetent security officers. Not to mention the higly unlikely case of being "randomly" selected for additional searches on every single domestic flight in the US when connecting from overseas destinations. The end result is that we restrict our travel to absolutely necessary business travel to the US. A paranoid country is not a great family vacation destination.
As for not being sorry for the death of an innocent mentally disturbed peron you are on a very slippery slope here. Who knows who will be next. I'm sure we'll be able to rationalize other categories in the future including shooting of those who feel the action was justified (paranoia & stupidity come to mind as good justifications).
With regards to inconsistencies in the whole story there was an interview with a passenger on Fox News (!!) where the guy claimed he never heard the guy that was shot uttering the B-word. However, the FBI apparently tried to put words along those lines in his mouth when he was interviewed.
The US is definitely more endangered by all security zealots and fundamentalists in your midst than potential terrorists even though the current administration's policies appear to successfully fostering recruitment in their ranks.
"The fact that this appears to be the first time in the 37 years of existence of the Federal Air Marshal Service that an Air Marshal has fired a weapon in the immediate vicinity of an aircraft, let alone killed a suspect. They've been called on numerous times to assist in dealing with problematic passengers while in flight, and have generally shown a great deal of restraint."
Assuming that to be true (and I don't know enough about the program to determine that), then I think this is quite pertinent.
It is about balancing the costs and benefits.
If innocent (but not entirely faultless) travellers are killed at a rate of 1 every 37 years, then it looks like a fairly simple matter. The Air Marshalls are a reasonable trade-off, and this is just a terrible tragedy that occurs very infrequently.
However, it is also a reasonable (but untested) hypothesis to suggest that the current climate of fear, and the policies that have been introduced as a result of that, are causing mistakes to happen.
This can't be the first time a person with a mental illness behaved irrationally on a plane - why is it that they decided to kill him this time?
My estimate is that the cause is related to changes in the culture (and perhaps policy also) that occurred since September 11.
If that's the case, then you have to look at it and ask "are we any safer?" We /may/ have increased the possibility to stopping a terrorist threat, but at what cost?
Caught on NBC news just now: A passenger today acted strangely and rushed toward the cockpit. The passengers overwhelmed him and kept him under control until the plane landed.
My guess is there were no air marshals, or he would be dead.
If someone is not sane enough to know whether he's got a bomb in his bag, he should not be flying.
it's funny because I HAVE been in an isolation chamber for the last couple days! finals coming up at school and I haven't left my office building in 3 days, and since I have been trying not to distract myself with the internet too much, I hadn't heard of this...
Thank you for putting things so clearly.
I suffer from bipolar disorder. When I heard of the Apilzar shooting from a friend, I was stunned. Like many others who suffer from my disease, I identified with the dead man on the tarmac. We all asked "What if I lost my meds?"
ABC News did a surprisingly accurate and compassionate report on how air travel can upset a bipolar's clock and throw her or him into an episode. (I linked it through my first Apilzar article on my blog.) I've seen some pretty wild policy recommendations by bloggers and their commentators, including keeping bipolars off airplanes entirely.
One fact that very few people want to bring up is that we who suffer from mental illness are, on average, twelve times more likely to be victims of violence than those of you out there who are not.
I don't want the heads of these marshals but I do want a change in how they are trained. Thank you for helping to make it clear WHY this is important.
Interesting irony: the shooting took place two days before International Human Rights Day when the WHO put the emphasis on the Rights of the Mentally Ill.
I don't think it's enough to say that there are fewer terrorists than mentally ill people. You are needed to take into account the results of the two outcomes. If the person claiming to have a bomb actually *was* telling the truth, then more people might die. It's basic Decision Theory.
I don't mean that things don't need looking, just that it is more complex than "P(terrorist) < 0.5 therefore leave alone".
I've always as well considered shoot to kill a very bad policy, mechnical dead-mans trigger is a simple device and I'd guess it should be supposed a suicide bomber would have such a trigger (if someone has real intelligence pointing to the contrary it would be interesting to hear about it)
Incidentally shoot to incapasitate is not better in preventing detonation (for mechanical dead mans switch the two states are equal), but infinitely better than killing an innocent human being (not that any civilized state should have death penalty either, but that is more politics than security issue).
Also sudden movements while being told to freeze: The LEO has plenty of options other than putting multiple rounds to lethal areas, one or two at the legs should give at least a few more seconds of thinking time to determine the true threat level of the suspect. Again I restate that "shoot to kill/totally incapasitate" does not prevent a suicide bomber from detonating the bomb with some sort of dead mans switch and thus "preventing him from detonating" is just empty rationalizing.
And in this case the suspect was away of the plane already, so I'd guess even if he had a bomb and had manually detonated it while laying on the tarmac the damage the people inside the plane would have been limited at worst.
weenerdog: "Aren't terrorists *by definition* acting irrationally? As far as I'm concerned they're mentally ill too. It's tough to distinguish the finer points of mental illness in milliseconds (and, yes, I have read Blink)"
Not necessarily. They may be acting within a rational system whose axioms are fundamentally different from those you and I are used to.
@Matt: "Just to second guess those of you suggesting that the plane is the only possible target, and that leaving the plane is leaving the realm of possible targets, consider the number of soft targets present at an airport, accessible by running down a jetway."
Consider a bomber who wants to target the airport crowd, why would he go through security with his bomb (which is supposed to be impossible), board the plane, and then leave the plane to go back where he came from. Doesn't make sense.
@Roger: "Whether or not you agree with it, there is a fairly obvious reason for immediately guarding the rest of the passengers: as has been previously pointed out on this blog, one obvious terrorist tactic would be to have one attacker identify himself as a terrorist in order to draw out the air marshals so the other attackers can identify them."
Doesn't make any sense. The shooting had nothing to do with guarding the passengers, the passengers were safe.
@Davi: that story about the murmered nun activist (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4513874.stm) is really sickening. The excuse of the murderer is ridiculous but it also shows how easy it is to make up a "self defense" excuse, and this is very true for police shootings. Soembody in this thread said that whenever an LEO perceives a suspect movement, he will shoot to kill, and this policy seems to be ok for some. The truth is that anybody at any time can claim to have perceived some suspect movement. If this is all it takes to justify a killing, none of us is safe. And according to the courts, this is the case. It is extremely rare to see an LEO indicted and convicted for unlawful killing.
US courts have said that if an unarmed man standing in front of his home is more than 40 times by plain clothes agents, without the slightest provocation, the officers have done nothing wrong if they *believed* that the victim was dangerous (remember the Amadeo Diallo case?) Now try to prove the opposite in court. Consequence: whatever the circumstances, police killings are *always* "self-defense".
IIRC, the training is always "shoot to kill" rather than "shoot to incapacitate" - and there is a good reason for this. Shooters are taught to aim for center of mass (the torso), as it is the biggest target and thus the easiest to hit. Remember, we are not talking about snipers here -- the LEOs involved are at close range, with lots of adreneline flowing through their systems. It is far easier to hit the torso than the head (a cleaner kill shot) or a limb (great for incapacitation) -- and failing to hit the target may well cost the LEO, or some innocent bystander(s) their lives.
So, if you have to pull a gun -- be ready to kill someone.
if an unarmed man standing in front of his home is *shot* more than 40 times by plain clothes agents (sorry)
sorry again, the guy was called Amadou Diallo (if you want to look it up), and of course he was black.
In my opinion, seems to me that US law enforcement in particular are the type to shoot first and ask questions later and this follows the "Dominate, Intimidate, Control" mentality mentionned earlier and the gun culture found in the US.
RE: Air Marshals and their training....
The company that I took classes from and got my WFR (Wilderness First Responder) certification has done Air Marshall training (and various levels of police and fire deptarment training) in Professional Advanced First Aid.
These guys for the most part frightened the instructor of mine whom had dealt with them. He said that they were definitely "gung-ho" (a good thing in this case--considering the amount of boring training time they spend, and boring time on the job as well), but that it took them more than one attempt to pass the Red Cross Professional CPR exam (the paper part....yes there is one)--is definitely a sign of a lack of care and attention or a complete lack of comprehension of some pretty commonly described situations. Even state/local police often have the same problem. This being the case, we have a lot more to worry about than just this situation itself.
Also, after so many hours of being hyped-up to shoot some terrorist, it is possible that they [the Air Marshalls] could have been quickly convinced that what was happening was "exactly like the drill" and therefore that the guy was a terrorist before they should have come to that conclusion. In other words, they wanted it so bad that it became reality in their minds.
First of all, any discussion on the propriety of the air marshalls shooting the poor guy is not going to help. We do not know the full details -- they have not been made available. So this is pretty much second-guessing without the facts.
Second, on the false sense of security given by the "shoot to kill" directive: very, very soon -- I am actually amazed this has not yet happened -- real terrorists will pack with dead man switches -- you kill them, the bomb blows. And now what?
I've found this discussion interesting, particularly since I read the comments and not just Schneier's excellent article.
All I can say is that many of you have a lot to learn about mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder.
On the issue of mania and the knowledge of right and wrong from someone who has suffered it first hand: As Kay Jamison -- a Harvard-based clinical psychologist who is manic-depressive herself -- puts it, it is utterly hopeless to describe to nonsufferers what this disease looks like from the inside. When you fly off into an episode, you may find your rational mind watching helplessly as you act out your disease. Your thoughts are distorted, but even with self-awareness it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to distinguish between rational thoughts and irrational ones. (Well, I've seen this in the unafflicted, too. Just look at this thread for examples.)
Yes, you can often tell that breaking your computer monitor screen with your fist, for example, isn't a good thing but there goes your fist and here comes the blood from having cut yourself on the glass. The Sane You is back watching in a projection room, saying What the Hell?
Often the best you can do is reroute your mania so that you hit something else. And few of us think that a panic attack is going to hurt us.
I do not doubt if Apilzar was in that very state when he ran screaming from the plane. There are additional issues that affect sufferers -- sometimes the meds don't work, we find ourselves caged in our terrors, and we're surrounded by know-it-alls who think they know what mental illness is all about or worse deny that there is such a thing.
I'm willing to blame no one for what happened, except maybe the politicos who thought that a policy of shoot first, ask questions later would be a great deterrent to terrorists.
So far the count for the War by the Terrified is one dead bipolar and no terrorists.
As some have pointed out in this thread, there is a far greater risk of my being shot by law enforcement than of any of you ever meeting a terrorist. When we are talking tiny fractions to justify a bad policy, that's just -- irrational.
But they only shoot manics in panic attacks, not terrorists or people with dumb ideas.
For a good resource on mental illness visit http://www.mentalhealth.com
24 months ago the USA forced all airlines flying to the US to carry armed 'marshals'. British flight crews on UK airlines were deeply unhappy with this. I wrote to several US airlines to find out their policies. Here is a typical response from an airline "Customer Care Manager":
"I do understand your concerns, however if armed Air Marshalls [sic] are on your flight, they are employed by the U.S. Government, not us. Please understand we do not know what flights they will be on, nor do we have any control over if they are to be onboard.
I can assure you, that they are very discreet and you will never know who they are.
"I am glad I could address your concerns."
So that's all right then.
Suffice to say, that complacent attitude means I avoid US airlines nowdays.
"Aren't terrorists *by definition* acting irrationally? "
No they are not. In fact they have very much rationalised their position, and concluded it to be correct. Not only that, but they concluded that a suicide is a warranted and perfectly valid move.
The actions of a bipolar in crisis, for example, seem perfectly correct and rational -- for the bipolar. The fact that they might not be seem as correct and/or rational for a third party does not change the bipolar's (or the terrorist's) perception.
Labeling those acts as acts of "irrational people" is an egocentric simplification ("if you do not think like I do, then you are irrational").
There's a lot of comments about the meds. What wasn't brought into perspective at all is the availability of said medications.
The guy was traveling to the U.S. FROM Ecuador. Have you ever tried calling your primary care doctor (for you insurance-minded folks) and have them give you medication over the phone? Have you tried to get them to give you a prescription to be filled IN ECUADOR? Good luck! Certain medications REQUIRE a visit to the physician to be filled, bi-polar meds are probably one of those. Yet the guy could have "thought ahead" to make sure he has the right amount before leaving but what if you're only given a certain amount? What if he decided to stay some extra days? This was missions work and entirely possible that he wanted to stay to help.
Second: Planes have been done before. The real terrorists, like the ones who thought of hijacking planes are onto something bigger and better. While it doesn't mean airlines are "free and clear" it means the likely hood of another attack is extremely low. The only way they would even THINK about doing it again is if they had a better plan. They'd need more planes, better targets, and a lot more people to kill than just one airport. Yes I do realize there are still terrorists in Israel using the "tried and true" bus blow-up but they do that because it's easier for the "grunts". The grunt terrorists, the kind to do small amounts of damage in large quantities are apparently not deployed to the U.S., otherwise we'd see a lot more actual bombings and less "accidental" shootings. If they're going to strike here again, they have to make it big and apparently it doesn't seem far off base or we'd all be cowering in our bathrooms right about now.
Third: As others have said, this is exactly what terrorists want. They want to see the U.S. crumble under the weight of events like this. They figure if you get enough of these we'll become complacent enough for another attack to take place.
Fourth: Death is permanent. Is there a way to prevent the loss of life from a terrorist attack while also preventing the loss of life from a false positive? Certainly. The problem in this instance is it costs more to research this than to just shoot to kill. I suppose we'll need a couple more of these before we step back and re-evaluate the situation. Hopefully you or I won't be one of these false positives but this really could happen to anyone, mental illness or not.
Fifth: I remember them saying something about air marshals carrying guns on planes only AFTER 9/11. I believe they were putting the policy into effect then, which would be the reason there were no shootings BEFORE. I've not tried verifying this but it really doesn't matter to me personally.
Lastly: I see no right in any of this only wrong. There's the "possibility" of being right, only if there was an actual bomb. At the end of the day, murder is murder regardless of how justified it may seem at the time. The only solice one can receive is that the air marshall gets to live with the fact that he killed a perfectly innocent man (well not perfectly or innocent according to most's definition, yet without the actual bomb he is). Anyone with a conscious will have that eating away at them perhaps the rest of their life. Hopefully their family won't be directly affected by this but who knows.
I'm not suggesting removing security completely but I'm also not suggesting staying where we are in a state where killing people in this fashion is chalked up as justified. We need to take a step back after incidents like this and re-evaluate every point of failure. Those in computer security know the importance of this whenever a breach occurs yet apparently policy makers and those in power don't understand it when it comes to human life. If there is another "big one" the likelyhood of it happening in an unprotected area is high, producing another TSA and enforcing even greater restrictions on our freedom. I'm a little tired of being treated as a criminal first and a citizen second. The mentality is only going to get worse unless we cry "foul" in situations like this.
"The jetway. Where they went when they chased after him. Which they did because they supposedly thought he was a terrorist...."
Your words, not theirs. No-one has yet publicly said why they chased him initially, although there are several obvious possibilities.
"My "preconceived notion" is that air marshals are dangerous to innocent people."
Yes, that was obvious.
"If you want to know why there's vitriol,..."
I understand why there is vitriol. I am just trying to point out that hatred obstructs clear thinking.
"...check the Newsday article posted by Chris S that I mentioned above. In fact, check it for that detail about where the bomb threat was supposedly made."
I already had read that article, and it doesn't say what you apparently think it says. In fact it quite specifically says it doesn't know where the threat was allegedly made. The only information of that regard it gives is that one police detective claimed that as well as the air marshals, at least some passengers heard the threat. *IF* this is true (and remember, all early news reports are unreliable!), that means that either the threat was made on the plane (and for some reason several passengers didn't hear it), OR the threat was made on the jetway and the passengers who heard it were the ones closest to the exit, BUT a threat certainly was made.
"Doesn't make any sense. The shooting had nothing to do with guarding the passengers, the passengers were safe. "
You misread me. I was responding to the posters who complained about police coming on the plane and guarding the passengers after Rigoberto had been shot.
"No-one has yet publicly said why they chased him initially, although there are several obvious possibilities. . .
"I already had read that article, and it doesn't say what you apparently think it says. In fact it quite specifically says it doesn't know where the threat was allegedly made."
The point I was trying to make with that article is simple: The official story changed. First, they accused him of making a bomb threat as he walked down the aisle. Then that was contradicted by the passengers, and they accused him of making a threat after the marshals chased him. Essentially, they retracted their explanation for why Alpizar was chased down in the first place. But, since it was retracted indirectly by moving it to the jetway after the chase (as you noted earlier), they keep using it as justification.
By the way, watch out for "multiple witnesses say." Technically, the marshals themselves are witnesses. Some headlines have played the same game with "witnesses differ." You read the story and it turns out that the marshals differ with everyone else.
Me again, and wow, this is a long thread...
When you get into the arena of eyewitness testimony, it is important to understand some of the limitations of eyewitnesses.
1) They can only see what they can see.
2) They never see all that was there for them to see.
3) They will talk, and rationalize things they couldn't have seen from what they think they saw.
The mind will not differentiate between "Fair Witness"-style reporting of dry facts and reporting of things that the mind drew from the events as perceived. The mind doesn't know from facts. Short term memory works by iteration, and high-stress events are more likely to imprint, but everything that sits in working memory is eligible for retention. Give it two days, and you don't know what you did see and what you think you saw, and what you merely inferred; it all "happened". And God help you if you talk to other witnesses. You'll all start to agree with the loudest assertions, whether they agree with your initial observations or not.
> IIRC, the training is always "shoot to kill"
> rather than "shoot to incapacitate" - and
> there is a good reason for this. Shooters are
> taught to aim for center of mass (the torso),
> as it is the biggest target and thus the
> easiest to hit.
For some reason I have had the idea (maybe it's just the Finnish police force) that while there are situations where double-tap to the chest is the only sensible response (getting a gun drawn at you or being charged with a knife by someone who has any idea of how to fight with one [it should be fairly obvious to anyone with martial arts training to recognize those]) the third to the head is still just unneccessary (I'd guess combination of kevlar vest and PCP would mean it's neccessary aim for the head next but it's so unlikely that supposing this would always be the case is a gross injustice) they are trained to incapasitate as the main response, in fact in my lifetime (27) I recall only one police killing where there was any noticeable controversy: a man came running out unarmed (at that time, he had a shotgun earlier) from a house they had tear-gassed thoroughly and the swat team shot him in the head. In another case some intoxicated guy in his twenties pulled a rather realistic replica on the police, obviously they had little choice but to shoot to the chest (again, not to the head), the victim died in hospital but had at least a chance at survival.
And while Finland hasn't yet seen any real domestic terror attacks in peacetime, we've been through our share of wars on our soil and we're close enough to "real" europe (the nordic countries consider themselves somewhat separate from the other european countries) which in the eighties used to have terror attacks almost monthly (esp in britain).
The single case of "terror" attack was a case of stupid/disturbed chemistry student transporting a homemade bomb trough a shopping mall when it exploded (his true motives will forever remain unknown but there was no agenda of any kind, some suppose it was an "extended suicide")
On a political note: it could be very healthy for americans (as a general population) to experience war on their soil, maybe then they (and future generations for some time to come) would show more restraint about invading foreign countries and saber-rattling in general.
"For those of you who have spent the last few days in an isolation chamber..."
Don't forget you have a non-American readership. Although this story did make the news outside the US, it's not nearly such a big story and could have been missed by non-troglodytes.
"Don't forget you have a non-American readership. Although this story did make the news outside the US, it's not nearly such a big story and could have been missed by non-troglodytes."
I first read about it on BBC.com.
Martin, it's a pretty big story throughout the world. In the UK we had a parallel with another "foreign looking" latin-american who was shot. The story initially propogated was so far removed from the reality that Police officers may face charges after the investigation.
I get the bad smell around the "confused events" sarrounding this event I did back then.
Jeremy: A friendly addendum. You can't even ~get~ the psycho-pharmaceuticals that you need from your primary care doctor. Or, rather, s/he shouldn't be prescribing it because s/he often has no clue what s/he is playing with. There's a reason why there is a separate, longer residency for psychiatry: You're screwing with peoples' heads.
We have no idea exactly what Alpizar was on, but he probably used a cocktail of several medications -- some to keep him out of mania, some to keep him out of depression, something to help him sleep, and maybe an anti-psychotic or two to repress delusions and hallucinations. He would need his psychiatrist's help in getting them. Who knows if they were even available in Quito?
I've miscounted my meds before a trip, but fortunately I was able to go to a local Rite Aid and get what I needed. This is not a luxury to be had in Ecuador.
For this UK reader can somebody clarify the status of an Air Marshall? Are they police officers with the appropriate formal powers of arrest etc or are they jumped up security guards who are given a gun and some basic training?
Also who authorises their use and on what airlines?
Public Warnings need to be put out conspicuously as to how one must react in the face of Security Personnell, and what the consquences of disobeying might be.
There is really no point in training security personnell (order givers) if you don´t *also* train the public (order obeyers). This should be standard protocol (pun intended.)
Perhaps then, knowing the consequences of disobeying, the brazilian man would not have run.
Perhaps then, knowing the consequences of erratic behaviour, the Miami man´s wife would not have coaxed him onto the plane without the necessary medication and without alerting flight and security personnel as to the man´s condition.
I don't think you addressed the most important point. While your second point is true (there are probably more mentally ill people on airplanes, than terrorists), that's not what's important. What's important is to protect sane people, like you and me. If we accidentally kill 10 mentally unstable people, in order to not take any chances, then so be it!!
As you keep pointing out, most of life is about the intelligent management of risk. In this case, the intelligent thing to do was to shoot that guy.
Unfortunately, it's also intelligent to train our various police officers to shoot to kill. We can all wish that wasn't necessary; but it is.
My son keep my words....
...Thou shalt not kill.....
I need someone to settle an bet that myself and my man had..
He siad that CSI's are not allowed to carry weapons, and aren't there to assist in making arrests...I say he's wrong.
Please help up settle the bet...want to see him make dinner ever night for 2 weeks! (YUM)
Stop it, stop it. Anyone that says they have a bomb should be stopped. These guys did not have time to call a "Shrink"
If it had been a bomb and it killed a bunch of people--some of you bleeding hearts would be the first to criticize the Sky Marshalls. With Liberals-the cops are never right. What were they going to say Hey Mr.-are you crazy? If not, we are going to shoot you. Give us a break !
CSI can carry weapons. Usually not visable
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.