Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Recognizing a Suicide Bomber |
| Security Analysis of Windows Vista »
February 1, 2007
Non-Terrorist Embarrassment in Boston
The story is almost too funny to write about seriously. To advertise the Cartoon Network show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," the network put up 38 blinking signs (kind of like Lite Brites) around the Boston area. The Boston police decided -- with absolutely no supporting evidence -- that these were bombs and shut down parts of the city.
Now the police look stupid, but they're trying really not hard not to act humiliated:
Governor Deval Patrick told the Associated Press: "It's a hoax -- and it's not funny."
Unfortunately, it is funny. What isn't funny is now the Boston government is trying to prosecute the artist and the network instead of owning up to their own stupidity. The police now claim that they were "hoax" explosive devices. I don't think you can claim they are hoax explosive devices unless they were intended to look like explosive devices, which merely a cursory look at any of them shows that they weren't.
But it's much easier to blame others than to admit that you were wrong:
"It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," Mayor Thomas Menino said. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred."
Rep. Ed Markey, a Boston-area congressman, said, "Whoever thought this up needs to find another job."
"Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok," Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement. "It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt."
"It had a very sinister appearance," [Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley told reporters. "It had a battery behind it, and wires."
For heavens sake, don't let her inside a Radio Shack.
I like this comment:
They consisted of magnetic signs with blinking lights in the shape of a cartoon character.
And everyone knows that bombs have blinking lights on ‘em. Every single movie bomb you’ve ever seen has a blinking light.
Triumph for Homeland Security, guys.
And this one:
"It's almost too easy to be a terrorist these days," said Jennifer Mason, 26. "You stick a box on a corner and you can shut down a city."
And this one, by one of the artists who installed the signs:
"I find it kind of ridiculous that they're making these statements on TV that we must not be safe from terrorism, because they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed. It's pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation," he said.
Right. If this wasn't a ridiculous overreaction to a non-existent threat, then how come the devices were in place for weeks without anyone noticing them? What does that say about the Boston police?
Maybe if the Boston police stopped wasting time and money searching bags on subways....
Of the 2,449 inspections between Oct. 10 and Dec. 31, the bags of 27 riders tested positive in the initial screening for explosives, prompting further searches, the Globe found in an analysis of daily inspection reports obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
In the additional screening, 11 passengers had their bags checked by explosive-sniffing dogs, and 16 underwent a physical search. Nothing was found.
These blinking signs have been up for weeks in ten cities -- Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia -- and no one else has managed to panic so completely. Refuse to be terrorized, people!
EDITED TO ADD (2/2): Here's some good information about whether the stunt broke the law or not.
EDITED TO ADD (2/3): This is 100% right:
Let's get a few facts straight on the Aqua Teen Hunger Force sign fiasco:
1. Attorney General Martha Coakley needs to shut up and stop using the word "hoax." There was no hoax. Hoax implies Turner Networks and the ATHF people were trying to defraud or confuse people as to what they were doing. Hoax implies they were trying to make their signs look like bombs. They weren't. They made Lite-Brite signs of a cartoon character giving the finger.
2. It bears repeating again that Turner, and especially Berdovsky, did absolutely nothing illegal. The devices were not bombs. They did not look like bombs. They were all placed in public spaces and caused no obstruction to traffic or commerce. At most, Berdovsky is guilty of littering or illegal flyering.
3. The "devices" were placed in ten cities, and have been there for over two weeks. No other city managed to freak out and commit an entire platoon of police officers to scaring their own city claiming they might be bombs. No other mayor agreed to talk to Fox News with any statement beyond "no comment" when spending the day asking if this was a "terrorist dry run."
4. There is nothing, not a single thing, remotely suggesting that Turner or the guerilla marketing firm they hired intended to cause a public disturbance. Many have claimed the signs were "like saying 'fire' in a crowded theater." Wrong. This was like taping a picture of a fire to the wall of a theater and someone freaked out and called the fire department.
And this is also worth reading.
EDITED TO ADD (2/6): More info.
Posted on February 1, 2007 at 1:08 PM
• 245 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
Imagine that these were also placed in other cities, Oregon and Phili, and no one got excited.
Dont forget this one:
"It had a very sinister appearance," [Attorney General Martha] Coakley told reporters. "It had a battery behind it, and wires."
For heavens sake don't take Martha into Radioshack.....
Exactly. From my perspective, the worst part of this whole mess is that the city is persecuting people who can't conceivably be guilty of anything worse than graffiti because they're embarrassed. The overreaction was foolish and naive, but attacking the innocent artists and further diluting the meaning of a "terrorism" charge is outright shameful. Unfortunately I don't see Boston's backing down in the near future.
So what does this mean for our freedoms now? Can one be a terrorist *by accident* if someone else gets scared by something we do or say while intending no harm?
I live and work in the Greater Boston area, and as I listened to the radio on the way home yesterday I wondered how anyone could be so stupid as to place what were being described as 'boxes with batteries and curcuitry' around the city infrastructure, for whatever reason.
Now, having seen pictures, I can only wonder how these things can have been considered threatening. Of course, given that I can't see the legal system giving them any support in their quest to place blame and extract expenses (the judge already told them during the arraignment that intent was required for the perpetrators to be guilty of the charges), I'll even get to pay for it with my tax dollars.
But the really worrying part is this whole notion that's been getting more and more prominent that a minor smoke screen could potentially cover up a major threat - the real bad guys must be salivating over all the ideas they're picking up from our regular overreactions.
The whole idea that systems, from software through municipalities, can be manipulated at minimal cost into effectively not keeping their attention where it's supposed to be has very, very dire implications across the board.
Remember this is the city of origin for some of the 9/11 planes and the city where the FBI and local pols protected the local mob boss for decades. The latter ran an IRA gun-running operation among other murderous activities. Yes, this is a city that takes terrorism really seriously!
A government agency blames everyone else but itself - what else is new?
So threatening there was a three week delay in reacting...
From the Boston Globe.
"April James , 32, said she saw one of the devices in a sandy area under the Longfellow Bridge about three weeks ago. "I kicked it first, then I picked it up," said James, a hairdresser who says she walks and jogs over the bridge nearly everyday. "It looked like a bomb. I picked it up, pulled the tape off it, and there were batteries, two on the top and three on the bottom." James said she was not frightened by the device, which she said she returned to its spot near the sidewalk in front of the bridge, before continuing her walk."
Fortunately, the judge doesn't seem to be fooled. From CNN:
"Judge Paul K. Leary told Grossman [the AAG] that, according to law, the suspects must intend to create a panic to be charged with placing hoax devices.
It appears the suspects had no such intent, the judge said, but the question should be discussed in a later hearing."
I suspect the judge didn't want to throw the case out on the spot under the media glare, but I don't expect the charges to last long.
While I do think the Mass government is being a bunch of idiots about this (as if they aren't mostly idiots already), I do have to wonder whether it occured to the ad guys to let someone in authority know before they put the things up.
"It had a battery behind it, and wires."
So does my bedside alarm clock.
At least the judge seems to have a clue. The Boston Globe has nice pictures of the two 'terrorists' laughing and smiling in court. They apparently put on a performance art show for the media after they were released on bail--a discourse on hair. They are obviously treating the whole affair with the degree of seriousness that it deserves.
From the Globe:
Judge Paul K. Leary seemed skeptical of the state's case, telling Grossman [Assistant Attorney General] that the law requires that people must intend to create a panic to be charged with placing hoax devices. This case, the judge said, seemed to involve two men who relatives say were paid to place unorthodox advertisements throughout the city.
Sadly, I think that this kind of behavior (i.e. the overreaction) is almost unstoppable. It's potentially tied in with federal funding.
Suppose the authorities (police, etc.) recognized that the devices were harmless or at least "quietly" sent someone to look up-close before shutting anything down. All it takes is one or two frightened citizens to mention to the media. If the Boston government didn't respond "seriously" enough, how many of the bureaucrats in Mass. gov't would be afraid of losing their anti-terrorism funding because they appeared not to care enough about the citizens?
There are too many people that get off on "what if it *had* been a [insert bad thing] and the police didn't immediately protect ME?"
I had thought the same thing, but I believe I read or heard somewhere in the deluge of local coverage that they may have obtained some sort of permit to place advertising.
If that turns out to be the case, it seems that the city/state case should collapse on the spot and *maybe* the news organizations will actually put some tough questions to the authorities responsible for the overreaction.
My wife and i were chuckling about this quote:
"It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires."
She sent me this scary picture of a similar device:
I dunno. According to what I've read (and heard from people in Bahston) the things weren't turned on, thus weren't blinking. So what you had was things with batteries and wires attached to them hanging off of various bits of infrastructure. So I can see overreacting to the first one, but once it was found to be harmless the others could be ignored.
OTOH, there's this: http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/...
According to CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/02/01/... "in New York, a street was shut down for 45 minutes after two of the devices were found on an overpass, " That's the proper reaction.
"Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok," Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
OMG, no. It is hard to think of a more pathetic over reaction. What are they going to "defuse" next? Those blinking LED "Open" signs in shop windows?
I don't know much about terrorists but I'm guessing they don't put blinking lights on their devices like the ones on TV shows--let alone a lite bright cartoon character.
It's great that the judge doesn't buy the "hoax" stuff -- but it doesn't fix the government's lashing out over nothing. Unless Boston either admits its error and offers and apology or is sufficiently and publicly rebuked for pursuing the artists despite knowing that the project was innocent, we can expect this kind of reaction to any future mistakes that call out the "counterterrorists." Given that more daily life is slipping into that twilight zone covered by terrorism defence, this is a very bad thing.
If someone freaks out calls the bomb squad in some other city next month, the government there is going to have to balance admitting a false alarm against going on the warpath against an innocent party. Even if the artists here get off free (as hopefully they will), without a clear awareness amongst the general public that this situation has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with petty city officials, the tendancy will be towards false prosecution.
What I want to know is who in the city government first went along with the "we're under attack" story in public? Presumably the role of officials who think there might be a "situation" is to keep the public calm and address the issues -- not fan the flames in the media to such a point that they're later forced to pin the chaos on some scapegoat.
>For heavens sake don't take Martha into Radioshack.....
Don't take her to a toy store, either. A lot of toys have HIDDEN wires and batteries. And even CIRCUIT BOARDS. Oh, the horror...
>> "It had a battery behind it, and wires."
> So does my bedside alarm clock.
And most of the bombs I've seen in movies incorporate alarm clocks!
Quick! Pass a BroadLaw™!:
"In the interest of public safety, any company engaging or planning to engage in public 'marketing' of any type shall be required to apply for and receive a 'marketing campaign permit', whose issuance shall include the detail and description of all planned marketing events, stunts, gags, or any activity designed with the primary purpose of attracting attention to the company, its products, services, or to the campaign itself. Failure to obtain such permit shall result in a $5,000 fine per incident, to be adjudicated by local ordinance."
Maybe we could even create a new public agency funded to handle administration of the permits!
"Legislation. The Only Solution."™
I live in Worcester, MA and work in Marlborough, MA - not far from Boston - and I think this is absolutely hilarious. Except for the part where they're charging the artists as criminals - if I were on the jury I'd acquit them immediately.
My first thought was that anyone can shut down a city with a 9v battery, some LEDs, and a 555 timer from RadioShack. Spay paint a cardboard box black, stick some LEDs in it, and just leave it laying around. You can get wiring diagrams all over the net - like this one: http://www.electronic-circuits-diagrams.com/...
I'm sure no bored college kids would EVER do this.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Number One in the Hood, G.
I have a multimeter with a battery and wires sticking out of it. Should I call the bomb squad and have them blow it up just in case?
Come to think of it, police cars have batteries and wires hidden under the hood.
Can anyone give me advise on how to destroy my kids' Lite-Brite before the Authorities come around?
You and many of the articles mention that nobody noticed the devices for weeks. Surely that's incorrect; if they were in fact *turned on*, lights shining, seems like thousands of people will have noticed them. People *noticed* them -- and knew that they were not threats, not something to be reported to the police.
Calling in hoax attacks was one of the classic tactics of the IRA. Why invest the time and risk of planting 17 bombs when you can plant one and make 17 phone calls, all with the keyword used to imply this is an official IRA warning. The result: chaos. They managed to shut down the UK motorways, train stations, towns. Because the government has to overreact.
At least in those circumstances they were authenticated as the IRA, not some random LED things that werent even called in as a threat.
Wasn't the guy that got shot in the London subway carrying a bag with wires hanging out? Of course, he was an electrician on his way to work, I believe, but nevertheless.
The Bush administration has been crying "War on Terror!!! War on Terror!!" at every opportunity with increased fervor around election time. Is it any surprise that people have it on their mind?
This reminds me of a comment I made after an incident a few years ago (massive disruption of an air travel after a stewardess found a couple of notes written in Arabic laying on the floor at an airport):
"Before, if terrorists wanted to completely shut down air transportation across the entire country, they had to drive a couple of airplanes into a major landmark. Now, thanks to our improved security, all they need is a pad of Post-It notes. Why doesn't this feel like an improvement?"
I kind of wish I were still living in Boston, so I could start recall petitions targeting every elected official involved with this or has defended the "response"; Menino, Coakley, Patrick, Markey, the whole lot of them. This overreaction is a symptom of their gross incompetence and signals their complete loss of credibility; thus they are clearly no longer qualified to hold office.
Strike one: Reacting without even attempting to determine the facts first.
Strike two: Failing to admit "yeah, we screwed up" and instead hitting these two with charges they know will never stick.
Strike three: Failure to notice them for three weeks. If they were nefarious devices, Boston would have been converted to a biohazard or radiation quarantine zone long ago.
Three strikes, you're out. Tee time with Mike Nifong is 2:00.
"In a news conference, Rich told reporters he had advised his clients not to discuss the incident. Stevens and Berdovsky took the podium and said they were taking questions only about haircuts in the 1970s.
When a reporter accused them of not taking the situation seriously, Stevens responded, "We're taking it very seriously." Asked another question about the case, Stevens reiterated they were answering questions only about hair and accused the reporter of not taking him and Berdovsky seriously.
Reporters did not relent and as they continued, Berdovsky disregarded their queries, saying, "That's not a hair question. I'm sorry.""
THis "Ed Markey guys is also famous for other great quotes..
""Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wants the federal government to arrest security researcher Christopher Soghoian for creating the Northwest Airline Boarding Pass Generator, a site which lets anyone create a facsimile of a Northwest Airlines boarding pass. Soghoian hoped to spur Congress to look closely at the nation's aviation security policies, which he calls "security theater." Instead, Markey, a member of the House Homeland Security committee, wants the site shut down and Soghoian arrested. "
but then he wanted him not proscuted.. no he voted for it before he voted against it.. sounds like Boston has a trend going on.
Of course! In _ALL_ the movies the lights only start blinking when the bomb is armed!
The devices were obviously harmless until they started blinking.
I blame all parties.
It's an ill-advised marketing idea that involves disruption of traffic, zoning violations and apparently trespassing (reporting indicates some of the toys were placed on private property without permission).
Its strains credulity that the marketing company, if not Time-Warner itself, did not know the marketing plan. They let it pass and did not verify coordination with local authorities. Worse, neither organization spoke up early in the process, when most of the fuss could have been averted.
The Boston Police's faults have been covered in detail. What remains unexplained is why, after determining that one of the devices wasn't a bomb, that they didn't apply this knowledge to the other devices.
Ok,Ok, please somebody explain why anybody would possible want to blow off anything (a bridge?!?) in Boston? New York I probably buy (Manhattan only), London also, Madrid too, but Boston. C'mon, people from Boston, get your heads fixed. Any suicide terrorist will blow himself up for not to travel to Boston...
"Scaring an entire region, tying up the T and major roadways, and forcing first responders to spend 12 hours chasing down trinkets instead of terrorists is marketing run amok," Markey, a Democrat, said in a written statement. "It would be hard to dream up a more appalling publicity stunt."
Wait, is he talking about Turner Broadcasting or Boston P.D.??? :)
Remember: If Lite Brites are outlawed, only outlaws will have Lite Brites !
Seriously, this is the greatest example of security theater EVER.
The truly scary thing, from a security standpoint, is that this illustrates we have truly made ourselves more insecure. Five or six years ago it took long-term planning and a determined team to execute an attack that would effectively shut down a city and disrupt its economy for $1 million+.
Today, with our great new security measures? One or two people with a stack of broken VCRs (as a source of fancy-looking circuits and batteries) can bring a city to its knees. How sad.
This is the result of politicians and the media creating and then exploiting a culture of fear in America.
Politicians use it to grab power and silence dissent, and the media use it to drive up ratings.
In either case, it's sickening exploitation.
In Bruce's words, the advertisers who
installed these devices were doing
something "hinky." And in this post-9/11
world, doing something hinky should
indeed be criminal. It distracts the
authorities from pursuing the real
terrorists. It's precisely akin to turning
in a false fire alarm. People need to
act normal at all times because
acting in a suspicious manner costs
society these shutdowns.
Moreover, reporting them in this
flippant tone is seditious libel. How
will we ever have the rule of law
if people are allowed to go around
criticizing the government all the time?
Anything that anyone in authority
thinks looks like a bomb is a terror
weapon. People shouldn't be allowed
to have them.
The governrment needs to post agents
in the homes and offices of people
who pull these kind of pranks to make
sure they don't do them again.
The government needs to search far
and wide for these sorts of devices
to make sure that this sort of
incident never happens again. Anyone
who has one of them is a criminal;
those that aren't criminals have
nothing to fear.
Anyone who has one of these devices
and doesn't come forward immediately
should be punished doubly. Everyone
should be required to swear that they
have no such thing.
Anyone who violates this sort of
law should just be slammed in Gitmo.
Any lawyer who defends a terrorist
is a terrorist himself.
Terrorists shouldn't be entitled to a
jury, who might be swayed by a
clever defense lawyer. They should
just rot in jail.
Torture is necessary to fight
terrorism. Without torturing terrorists,
we'll never find their accomplices.
What the Government says, goes.
There isn't anything in the Constitution
to protect terrorists.
The Federal government knows best.
If the liberals take power in one of
those namby-pamby blue states, Uncle
Sam should just overrule them.
Have I correctly stated our leadership's
interpretation of the first ten
amendments? I'ts just a god-damned
piece of paper!
These are the same people that brought you the "Big Dig". Say no more.
Actually, I think this is all the fault of the Pats. The major was looking forward to tying up the streets with another huge Superbowl parade but the pats all got the flu and the colts walked all over them. Bad news for Tom (Menino not Brady) and a slow news week for the local media so those funny little signs people have been ignoring for three weeks suddenly become a big news item.
Hollywood does wonders. Show explosives in movies, now everybody thinks they know what a bomb looks like. Show exploding cars in movies, and people drag crash victims out of their cars, adding injury to injury.
Police must have some kind of training about bombs (at least after 9/11). Apparently, it sucked.
Terrorists to USA: "Mission Accomplished"
Clearly the war on terror has been as successful as the wars on poverty, cancer and drugs.
I call for a new "War on Stupidity!"
All I've got to say, is fire the head of the bomb squad, or whichever superior of his made the call. It's his job to say, NOT a bomb, instead of not A BOMB. This is just one giant CYA, causing massive economic loss. And in the end, all the security theatre is CYA in place of competence.
Judgement calls must be judged.
There may be a connection between yesterday's Boston Globe article about MBTA random searches and yesterday's panic. It could be that the person who called in the initial bomb threat had read the article, and it reminded them that they were supposed to be on the lookout for strange things. A large exposed circuit board is for most people a strange thing.
Terrorists 1, America 0.
It's worrying how much fear there is out there.
The continued over-reaction is *ri*diculous, and I'm trying to decide how likely I think it is that the judge will produce a decision that admonishes the city's actions. Experience has taught me not to be optimistic, but the judge at least sounded to be more level headed than the city officials from the articles.
And now the results are in on the "Should Turner Boadasting be fined poll" (same web site).
Over 3 to 1 of voters say they SHOULD be fined.
The home of the brave? Ha ha ha ha ha!
Poor Bruce, you've still got your work cut out for you this year.
Stupidity coming from the home of Harvard and MIT. Say it isn't so. :(
While I find this whole thing amusing, I'm not goign to come on here and profess to know exactly what is an appropriate reaction to devices with exposed wiring being discovered in places such as these.
I find it silly that so many on here are fixating on the lights, when even the "perps" admit that the lights were not visibly on during the daylight hours, when all this chaos occurred.
One final note: had the first responders NOT taken these things seriously until they were cleared, there could have been serious repercussions. As silly as it may seem to smart-alecks casting opinions the the Internet cheap seats, these guys don't have the luxury of assuming things are safe just because they look innocuous.
Um, I hate to be a buzzkill after all the laffs I had yesterday but here is some stuff from bpdnews.com:
At 12:54 p.m. the Boston Police Bomb squad receives a call for a suspicious device at the intersection of Stuart and Charles Street. That device appears similar to the first device containing batteries, wires, magnets and other components similar to the device in Sullivan Square. Using approved procedures the item is photographed, X-rayed and eventually rendered safe.
Six minutes later at 1:02 p.m. Boston Police received a call from New England Medical Center Security that they had uncovered a pipe bomb in their building in a desk drawer. Shortly thereafter Hospital Security reported that a suspect had been seen leaving the area of the pipe bomb in an agitated state stating “God is warning you that today is going to be a sad Day��?. The suspect was reported to have fled the hospital. Boston Police continue to investigate this incident. No further details at this time.
At 1:08 p.m. the Boston Police Bomb Squad arrived and confirmed the existence of an item which appeared to be a pipe bomb inside the hospital.
Bob and mkb,
Y'all are missing the point. Yes the sign was mistaken for a possible bomb. Yes the police had to respond. But, and it's a big but, they should have properly identified the "device." The bomb squad is supposed to be composed of experts at this sort of thing. If they can't differentiate between a lite-brite and a bomb, FIRE 'em.
On any given day in a major city, how many pipe bombs are placed? How many random threats are made? The professionals are supposed to be just that --- professionals. Not covering their asses, over-responding as the safe thing to do. If they're incompetent to do so, scare 'em the other way -- make some look for a new job.
Think about this from the perspective of the police though.
They have a few bogus devices and one likely pipe bomb handed out WITH A THREAT.
All of a sudden they get calls about "devices" all over the city! How are they supposed to know what the device is from a phone call?
Maybe they should have followed the British example.
Find an innocent person who COULD be - MIGHT be thinking thinking terror thoughts.
And shoot them seven times in the head.
I was right (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/recognizing_a_s.html#c142866)... Bruce *was* waiting to compile a list of dumb quotes...
I think the winner of the 2nd annual "Terrorist Movie Plot" contest should go to the greatest hoax that disrupts 'our way of life'.
Bob, I'm sorry, but the "perps" were the police, fire, and the government of Boston, et al, who went utterly and completely apesh*t for no rational reason. Perhaps on the first package taking no chances was called for. After that, though, everyone involved was devoid of any adaptability whatsoever.
Your protectors, failing to protect.
When it mattered the most -- according to them.
Make no mistake: had this been a real attack, no one would have been any safer, secure. Whatever death toll, damage, etc, would have been exactly as it was had all the cops stayed at home and watched CNN instead. Which is arguably what they should have done yesterday...
I'll call this the #2 government sponsored "charlie foxtrot" (I'll break decorum and give you a link: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/clusterfuck). #1 being, of course, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
These bozos need no support.
Now then, do you have any questions about 1970's haircuts?
This has been such a non-story in Portland that it took some real digging to find this one story on how one person reacted to finding one of the signs locally:
(I'm sure the description of the device as "cool" just confirms in someone's mind that Portland is a hotbed of liberal terrorists.)
I think the police were foolish, but so were the people that put the devices up. No, the obviously weren't bombs, but geeze even the dimmest bulb should know better than to put stuff like that where they did.
The stupidest statement though - "It's pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation." Art? Art? Is he kidding us? What a f'ing idiot to use the word art to describe something like those boxes.
Ten years ago people would of ignored the things. We just had a bomb threat and the response was huge. They called it a multi-agency response. They found nothing. It could of been terrorism, except chance are they aren't going to call to say there is a bomb, make threats or use highly visible devices that are designed to be noticed.
DO NOT TRY THIS:
Get old soup cans.
Paint cans red.
Tape a wire to cans.
Put all over town.
I hope someone will be so kind as to post the plans online, because I don't want to have to pay inflated eBay prices.
Why should "even the dumbest fool know better" than to put harmless signs in public places. While it's against most cities' ordinances to post signs without permits, that's a relatively minor administrative thing that often goes ignored.
I certainly would never imagine that a LAMP would be considered dangerous, by anyone. It's simply inconcievable that anyone could be dim enough to shut down a city over this. Check it out, sure. Read the box, sure. But cry wolf? I had no idea the depths of human stupidity.
Novelties need not be threats, and also need not be discounted as below the level of art. In this case, the art was paid for by a corporation, but I hardly think that necessarily removes the artfulness of the item.
Perhaps your view of art is not sufficently broad as to incorporate the cartoon format from which the signs were derived. If so, I think you'll find yourself in the minority.
All of a sudden they get calls about "devices" all over the city! How are they supposed to know what the device is from a phone call?
Of course they can't identify the objects from a phone call. But they should be able to identify the first object they deal with. What you had is a half-hour event, as the bomb squad was called out to id the object, turning into a full day psychosis, because no one had the competence and will to properly differentiate between lite-brite and bomb.
Stop excusing incompetence. Stop excusing CYA. Demand that public officials take responsibility for their actions. If something is a bomb, and they call it a lite-brite, fire 'em. If something is a lite-brite and they call it a bomb, fire 'em.
You missed the best/worst quote, Bruce, from
"MBTA Lt. Sal Venturelli said police were told about the first package by a transit passenger who spotted it on a column that supports I-93. The parcel was located on an elevated structure above the bus way and below I-93 in the Charlestown section of Boston at about 8 a.m.
"This is a perfect example of our passengers taking part in Homeland Security," Venturelli said."
If this is a perfect example, I don't want to know what an imperfect example is.
I can't blame the bomb squad or the police for acting with caution in detonating the first few devices, but they went overboard. Especially when they shutdown the whole city. That's partially their fault, but a mistake I think most of us could forgive.
What is inexcusable is the deception and attempts to cover their own mistakes by putting the blame on the artists. To misrepresent a Lite Brite for a dangerous object of terror. To ignore a cartoon character image and claim it was a threat.
I live in MA and I am disgusted in my government today.
"I was right (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/recognizing_a_s.html#c142866)... Bruce *was* waiting to compile a list of dumb quotes..."
And they just keep coming. I've since given up compling a list of them all.
If the authorities had truly taken it seriously, they would have denied anything was happening and urged people to continue shopping, until it was no longer impossible to ignor the carnage.
In twenty years time, somebody is going to publish a ghost-written autobiography snickering about how they planned to take advantage of Turner's cartoon signs.
"And they just keep coming. I've since given up compling a list of them all."
Reminds me of how you gave up compiling a list of defaced websites after only two weeks, in prep for "Secrets and Lies".
You must not have much patience with stupidity :-)
What we have here is the increasing trend of people being unwilling or incapable of critical thinking, and instead turning to authorities who are just as ill-prepared to face the reality of terrorism.
Which is simply not the pervasive, horrible threat that President Bush and others would have us believe. Mr. Bush cited four foiled plots in his State of the Union Address, and none of them were credible threats. In fact, if those plots *were* real, it soundly disproves the, 'We're fighting them over there ..." line we keep getting fed.
Seriously, let's consider this. Imagine that there are fully trained and capable terrorist cells within America (not just loose screws like the bunch who had to be coached through a loyalty oath by an undercover FBI agent). It's been over five years since 9/11, and we haven't addressed security at our ports or other important facilities, haven't looked at threats to our food supply or water supply. And we're to believe these guys are waiting for the right moment? Certainly, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi put out the call to attack America ... so why haven't these terrorists-in-place done anything?
Is it possible they don't exist? (It's certainly not because we've increased security to such a point where they're completely hobbled. There had to be *other* plans and *other* methods to carry out a campaign of terror.)
I'm not arguing against the existence of terrorists, or the possibility that there may be cells based in America … but that we are, literally, stupid with fear.
And we are not going to properly address our national security, nor the challenges of confronting terrorist ideology, if a box with some LEDs in the pattern of a cartoon figure flipping the bird sets off a regional panic.
We need to be smart, and safe will follow.
Reminds me of Alice's restaurant:
- He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?"
- And I said, "Littering." And they all moved away from me on the bench there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, "And threatening terrorism." And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench....
Oh, and "What!!!": Harvard and MIT are in Cambridge, which is on the other side of the river and basically could be 100 miles away. Cambridge isn't part of this kind of stupidity; Cambridge has its _own_ breed of stupidity, thank you very much!
At first, I had trouble figuring out where one might have put the explosives in such a device. They are just a board with some LEDs and batteries. Then- my wife pointed out- each LED consists of explosive liquid - and less than 3.5 ounces each! Maybe if each was in a zip-loc 1qt baggy?
"Ten years ago people would of ignored the things."
No they wouldn't have. I know plenty of engineers who have had unattended field measurement devices blown up by bomb squads all over the U.S. prior to 9/11. That's why you either 1) ask permissions or failing that 2) put contact information on the device.
Fun fact: adding "in a post-9/11 world"
to any sentence makes it twice as effective.
"In a post-9/11 world, why is it so hard for me to find a good philly cheesesteak sandwich?"
Remember, Remember the Aqua Teen Two!
I'm sure that no self respecting terrorist would need my help in figuring this out, but if I were them (which I am not), I'd be trying to figure out how to hide a bomb in a Lite-Brite right about now...
I love this blog! But this is one case in which I disagree. First off, two suspected pipe bombs were called in around the same time as the moonites were called in. Next, having lived in Israel, I watched police robots explode a kid's backpack that was left at a bus stop. No one snickered after the fact, "That was clearly a Sponge Bob lunchbox." In that country, awareness of suspicious objects and vigilence has saved many lives.
Perhaps people are right that if every piece of art attached to a support beam of a bridge is suspected to be a bomb, the terrorists will have won. But I think if every piece of art attached to a support beam of a bridge is considered a marketing campaign, the terrorists may, in fact, win in the end.
This is what the Boston police had to say on their blog:
Oh my! How could those artists have been so incredibly irresponsible as to shut down a whole city like that? Now that they've demonstrated how to panic a major us metropolis, it's only a matter of time before somebody tries it in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
Commentary on this kind of let me down, but I think its because there's a shortage of facts. These devices are obviously non threatening when seen with their lights on at a reasonably close distance. Great. And we also all know now what the right answer was, so we can swing our dicks around safely and from the comfort of our computers.
The only thing I'll say besides the fact that the BPD obviously overreacted, is that I'm annoyed that nearly all the commenters simply said OMG DUMB COPS LOL, and didn't do that much careful thinking themselves.
The calls came during the day, when the devices (I hate using that scaremongering word but just know that I use it generically) were off . So the fact that they were moonites wasn't obvious, and furthermore they were hanging up, and people were in cars driving by. So I think it's fair to say they weren't that easy to ID. The facts seem to suggest this, unless you think Bostoners are just retards (no).
So the call goes something like this:
"Hi 911 I'm on X bridge and I see some sort of device hanging over it by one of the support posts. No, I can't really tell what it is all I see are some circuits. No, I can't really tell how big it is it's hanging and it's fairly far away from me as I drive by."
To the extent we can agree on the reasonableness of that (and remember Boston really isn't a city of morons), I hope we can agree that while the police and the mayor did some very stupid things (and maybe someone needs to resign), the advertisers put authorities in a very uncomfortable decision. And I'm stunned that no one here had the balls to say, yeah, the police were in a shitty situation, even had they behaved competently and calmly. Placing a hard to see (lights off during the day), hard to reach electronic device on critical, target-like infrastructure is a no-no, and I hope the state hammers these guys. I'm not scared of terrorists, what with me being more likely to die in my tub than by their hand, but comeon. Don't fuck with government buildings, don't fuck with nuclear plants, and don't fuck with bridges.
Seems to me that putting signs up displaying a cartoon figure flipping the bird isn't funny and probably violates obscenity laws. I also fail to see how anyone doesn't have a problem with someone attaching wired devices in cities in this age of suicides bombers. Everyone involved deserves the harshest punishment allowed by law for being stupid.
The police in any reasonable country are put in a shitty situation all the time pretty much by definition. Their job is theoretically crime prevention but we don't allow them to do almost everything they would need to do to actually prevent crime. We force them to go through troublesome, time-wasting things like due process, proper collection of evidence, presumption of innocence, etc. The reason is because ultimately we fear the police more than our follow citizen, and so because of that we intentionally put our police in a tough spot. In my opinion this is a good thing.
As far as the state hammering these guys, exactly what charges do you propose to bring? What crime was committed? You may believe this was stupid and mean, but neither of those are against the law.
Gawd forbit the Boston Police should go bowling - everyone, even Daffy Duck, KNOWS that bombs are big, round and heavy.
And what about churches! They have loads of things that look just like sticks of dynamite - and the fuse is often lit !
Synagogues have 7 such IEDs in a customised 'bomb holder', obviously for maximum kill-spread.
"I also fail to see how anyone doesn't have a problem with someone attaching wired devices in cities in this age of suicides bombers."
I'm about to sound like I'm talking down to you, and that's because I am.
There are thousands, no, millions of electric devices in any city, pick a city. Most of them are probably installed by underpaid, undertrained, underscreened city employees who could quite easily be an extremist, a terrorist, a sociopath or even an ATHF fan, Lord forbid. Any one of the electrical appliances in a city could easily be an explosive.
For that matter, shoes can contain explosives. Wasn't there something about that in the news five years ago? And coats! Suicide bombers hide their bombs under big coats! Holy crap, what should we do? Should we call the cops every time we see a guy in a trenchcoat, or wearing shoes, or installing a new lamp?
Danger is omnipresent. I learned that when I was two, I think it's about time that you do the same.
I totally think that a new Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode should have Shake putting up a lite-brite and bring the entire planet to a security standstill =)
Let's just hope it doesn't actually happen...
No, LEDs are solid state and do not contain liquid. Are you thinking of LCDs (liquid crystal displays)? I've never heard liquid crystal is hazardous, but perhaps "that's what they WANT me to think." :-)
In any case, the Mooninites were not going to explode.
As you day, "a cartoon figure flipping the bird isn't funny and probably violates obscenity laws."
With a steel-trap legal mind like yours, I'm betting you probably work for the prosecutor's office in Boston, or maybe the Massachusetts Attorney General, right? In any case I'm relieved now that you have an airtight legal theory that some liberal activist court will not dismiss on a loophole technicality, that the evildoers will be brought to justice.
Keep on keepin' on, man. Oh, btw- do you have a haircut from the seventies? I mean, I'm just wondering.
@ Dave Alpert,
In Israel, as you should know, nobody shuts down entire city to explode a forgotten bag. And people neither get arrested nor accused by public servants for forgetting the bag.
Taggers better watch out, or they'll fall under the category of terrorists too. Any one of these LED Throwies could be a bomb. After all, they blink!
But in your example you already make my point. Due process makes a cop's job harder, but it's a trade off and there are benefits; i.e. protecting our freedoms, like you pointed out. The difference here is that there are no benefits, except perhaps to the bottom line of a corp. (not a good public sacrifice in my book). Me welding the doors shut on all police cars I find makes their job harder too. But you would hardly argue that it would be a good thing. Same here.
Oh, and by "hammer these guys" I didn't mean the kids that actually put these things up. They're obviously harmless. So I'd slap them with a fine (I'm sure 5-10k would send a pretty strong message but clearly not in a life or even year ruining way). I meant hammer the suits that ordered this. They're the ones who were knowledgeable enough to know what they were doing, and they're the ones that an "example setting" will really be useful for. Besides, "guerilla marketing" is stupid and shameful anyway.
This is unfair; you're writing from hindsight, which is always perfect.
But based on your article, if I ever decide to bomb Minneapolis, I'll be sure to include a blinking light on the bomb. We all know that police should automatically treat any box with blinking lights as completely innocuous.
My point was that police are in a bad situation anyway, so saying "they're in a bad situation" is not an excuse for bad behavior. These circumstances were not special. Police are forced to make good decisions under pressure and with inadequate information constantly.
As far as "hammer these guys", it's interesting that you assumed I meant the "hair kids". These are who I was actually thinking about when I wrote that, but my questions could just as easily apply to the "suits" you refer to. So again, what would you charge them with?
Also, you want to take $5-10,000 away from the "hair kids". Once again, what is the justification for this? What actual crime are you going to charge them with in order to get this fine?
Your wording seems to imply that the government can just take people they don't like and impose arbitrary penalties upon them just because they think that's the best idea. Fortunately, our criminal justice system does not work that way.
I want one of these, anyone know where I can buey one?
"I also fail to see how anyone doesn't have a problem with someone attaching wired devices in cities in this age of suicides bombers."
Oh come off it. Just how many suicide bombers have attacked Boston recently? How about your state? The entire U.S.? North America, maybe? Sure, if we were under the ebb and flow danger of suicide bombers that Isreal is, then maybe it makes sense to blow up backpacks and Sponge Bob lunch boxes.
There's reaction, and there's overreaction. This is overreaction, meaning "they" have "won." They have your liberty. And all it takes is some wires and batteries.
In your last article you praise an Israeli driver for recognizing a "hinky' passenger who turned out to be a suicide bomber. In this post, a number of Bostonians thought an electronic device was "hinky" and the bomb squad acted with caution and destroyed the device in question - incidentally incapacitating a city.
My question for you: should "hinkiness" in itself be a crime? It obviously diverts the attention of emergency workers from their more important duties, and causes collateral damage in incidents like this. Should it, as the anonymous poster suggested, be considered comparable to turning in a false fire alarm?
If so, do we still have freedom to be nonconformists? But if not, who bears the cost burden of investigating the "hinky" and of the closed roads, disrupted businesses, and such?
All I can say is that the next time I see something I think is suspicious attached to a bridge, I'm just going to ignore it -- I don't think I could handle the ridicule from you know-it-alls should it prove to be some piece of "popular culture" that I don't happen to be familiar with.
In my city, Davenport, IA there are numerous boxes with LEDs that flash and blink at times and electrical wires protruding out of the boxes. Locally they are called traffic lights. There are also flat metal plates with flashing LEDs that obviously have solar cells attached. These are known as stop signs. Recently we have found a number of boxes around town that are known to emit electromagnetic radiation in several spectra, specifically in the microwave and visible light spectrums. These are said to be speed cameras. I hope the release of this information will not cause widespread panic.
Well, the thing is, in Boston, there's an increasing problem with corporate vandalism. Microsoft spray paints MSN butterflies all over Boston. IBM spray paints "Love, Peace, Linux" all over Boston. The vandalism laws are targeted at teenagers, for whom a few hundred dollars is a huge sum of money, and a few thousand is almost unthinkable. As a result, corporations view it as cheap advertising, and vandalize with impunity. It's a real problem. The MIT campus regularly gets vandalized by Kaplan test prep, and other organizations wishing to target MIT students. I've seen posters taped over emergency signs, writing on stairs, and all sorts of other things. It gets to be a real mess. Boston is finally prosecuting the perpetrators. The vandalism laws don't fit the bill, so they found laws that do. If a media company has to pay a $10,000 fine, it's a drop in the bucket. If they get billed a million, they might think twice before vandalizing Boston yet again.
I don't think the problem is as severe in the other cities yet -- I don't know why -- I suspect it has lower ROI, since most people in Boston walk or take the subway, is if you vandalize a major subway station, you get huge exposure. People are moving slowly enough to see it and think about it. If you vandalize by a major highway in Austin, no one will notice.
Prosecuting this as a bomb hoax, while publicly stating that the goal is to go after vandalism doesn't make much sense, so you see the announcements about bomb threats. But what the city is doing is actually really reasonable in the context of Boston.
Yes- I was being sarcastic. Adjust sarcasm/comedy filter before correcting others.
"a cartoon figure flipping the bird isn't funny and probably violates obscenity laws."
Oh No! Writing about a about a cartoon figure flipping the bird probably violates some indecency statues. Watch out for the troopers!
Boston. The same area which got suckered into that "Big Dig" project, right?
We're surprised about this ... why?
@Alan: "All I can say is that the next time I see something I think is suspicious attached to a bridge, I'm just going to ignore it"
Go ahead. I bet you haven't seen anything worth reporting before and this event wasn't a threat either. There is absolutely no reason to raise your twitchiness, unless you want to waste people's time.
(Or is that what *THEY* want you to think? [On the other hand, isn't the point of *real* terrorism to want you to be all twitchy?...])
Gotta love this comment on the Flickr page linked in the third comment above:
"What really gets me is that all the so-called "officials" are saying "Our response was fantastic." It took you two goddamned weeks to even spot the things. If they were actual bombs, there'd be a bay near Albany by now."
Says it all.
"And everyone knows that bombs have blinking lights on ‘em. Every single movie bomb you’ve ever seen has a blinking light."
Who the hell in this world told them a "real" bomb must have a blinking light? Are they all trained by watching Hollywood movies?
Now I was thinking about making some throwies to put around my town. I live in Sault Ste Marie, MI which is right across the river from Canada. We have this nice bridge and a nice border patrol station(newly built!) I have recently seen signs near the building that read "Homeland Security Zone report suspicious activity by calling 911". After seeing those signs and hearing about all this stuff, I think I will decline. All I need is to miss a few days of college because I'm 'detained'.
@ Another Kevin:
"Hinky" is not the same as different. It's a particular kind of different, one not readily quantifiable.
"So what does this mean for our freedoms now? Can one be a terrorist *by accident* if someone else gets scared by something we do or say while intending no harm?"
The short answer is "Yes". Havnt you been reading these pages? Robert Johnson cant fly, Ipod in the toilet guy, Granma's frozen Lasagne is a liquid... the list goes on.
Its not just the TSA, they're just the most memorable for me.
I waiting for them(Boston ???) to decide that vending machines, and mail boxes are a public danger and force everyone to move them inside.
I was thinking about going around and putting up signs that say, "This sign is not a bomb." I'm afraid I might be arrested for that, though.
My only response is this:
>Remember this is the city of origin for some of the 9/11 planes
Three years later, a truck driver told the press that when he drove into Logan airport for a construction project nobody ever checked that he was supposed to be there. Theater on the inside, unguarded perimeter on the outside, trucks full of unknown contents allowed on the runways.
Confronted about that, airport officials said it was OK because it was compliant with their security policy.
"if I ever decide to bomb Minneapolis, I'll be sure to include a blinking light on the bomb. We all know that police should automatically treat any box with blinking lights as completely innocuous."
But surely, a competent terrorist would prefer that his device not be treated *at all* by the police. After all, they might get lucky and decide it's not innocuous! So, no lights. Make the device look like it's part of the surroundings. Unless you're trying to make a booby trap, that is, and blow up the first person to handle it.
It is not the 'Hey, I saw something suspicious on the bridge,' that is the focus. That's perfectly sensible.
It is not the first responders coming out and detonating a device of unknown origin. That, too, is perfectly sensible.
What makes the story a commentary on post-9/11 idiocy are the comments by public officials, including the mayor, attorney general, and a congressman. The system fails if undue panic is the result of a reported threat, and the fuss about terrorist this-and-that simply gives Turner tons of free publicity. (Because it was a false alarm, and public officials are falling over themselves trying to be serious and only succeeding in looking like fools, it's not negative publicity, either.)
But perhaps next time, Turner should just put in for a blinking billboard …
Incidentally, regarding the 'some of the 9/11 planes flew out of Boston' - wouldn't you think that would inspire authorities to make sure their security procedures are thorough and effective? And why does it matter WHAT airport they flew out of?
I find this article most infuriating! My father who was a British officer and his troops in Tunisia in the second World war were blown up by bombs set on them by American bomber pilots. They didn't take the time to see that they were killing thousands of allied troops!! Now we have a similar government doing what they did then being stupid. Without thorough investigation they jump to conclusions. This is a simple case of the innocent fun loving nature of some good hearted Americans to capture an innocent audience of TV viewers. And the police jump in and destroy all that is good. Just how much of this type of blundering are the American troops and police up to? Its time we stood up and asked for a more educated bunch to look after us!
My father lost his legs due to this ignorant behaviour of shoot first ask questions later. Then claim all sorts of hideous weak excuses of how they felt they were right. I hope this costs the government a wack of money and inriches the artists and Network!!!!!
“In this day and age, whenever anything remotely suspicious shows up, people get concerned — and that’s good,��? King County sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart said.
John this is the typical mentality of shoot first ask questions later!! Why did you not investigate this even for a few seconds to see the innocence of such an item?
Oh, its not the people who get concerned its the dumb ass police that should know better.
Yes, you are a relative of Col Urquhart of the British army 1944 research this to validate my point.
Does anyone else remember a certain fable by Aesop? Something about the boy who cried "Wolf"???? The over-reaction by public safety "professionals?" in Boston was total incompetence. Morons. Bring up charges against the Boston Keystone Cops ... They were the ones who incited terror!!!
Anyone who seriously tries to defend the Boston overreaction to what are obviously NOT bombs is an idiot. Plain and simple. This is another case of the government not being able to do their job properly...and in order to shift attention away from their stupidity and incompetence, they change the subject and create a false "crisis". Absolutely ridiculous and shameful of the City of Boston. Pretty damn pathetic on their part. The Mayor, Chief of Police, and every other head of departments involved in this calamity should be fired and summarily kicked in the nuts or cooter.
Mayhaps the Boston authorities have read one issue too many of Detective Comics and think they're the GCPD. There are too many real-world demons to worry about rather than this nonsense.
Hans: "Oh come off it. Just how many suicide bombers have attacked Boston recently? How about your state? The entire U.S.? North America, maybe?"
Maybe they just don't see any point in it now that the americans are so good at creating terror all by themselves...
From a security POV it was a big over-reaction, but I do kinda object to advertisers taking over public spaces with graffiti or with "installations" like this.
Somebody in Boston has some sense...
Joe Keohane from the Weekly Dig
"If I see a scary looking tree out my bedroom window, think it’s a monster, and then discover upon closer inspection that it isn’t, it doesn’t mean the tree has perpetrated a hoax against me. What it means is that for a moment I took leave of my senses. And just because I’m embarrassed about it doesn’t give me the right to go cut down the tree."
Terrorism has evolved.
They dont just blow you up.
First they give you the finger, then they blow you up!
This incident serves as a perfect example of why security planning/design and security implementation need to be carried out by two different entities. And the specifics of the Boston location should not be ignored.
One thing missing from the commentary about the incident is: how did the local police manage to run up $750,000 dollars in costs during the four hours the incident lasted? (This morning, the news is saying that the costs exceeded $1 million.) And something that was on the local Fox news Wednesday night, but I haven’t seen mentioned again, is that a local official was caught on tape at 4:30PM saying that “We are going to get Turner,��? while the stand-down didn’t occur until half an hour later at 5PM. If others are going to pay the price for “hoaxes,��? what mechanism will keep authorities from running up the tab?
Boston managed to spend $60 million on security for the Democratic Convention in 2004. At one point, the plan called for most of the police in eastern Massachusetts to receive 24/7 overtime pay for the duration of the convention, in case they were needed for an emergency. The Boston police also took advantage of the convention, threatening to picket events attended by delegates, unless they received major concessions from the city in their next contract. And this wasn’t an empty threat, the State Police had actually shut down the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention during the Dukakis years over a contract dispute. Massachusetts does not allow “flag men��? at construction sites. Every road work site must have a paid duty cop on hand. The US government took the unprecedented step of requiring all Big Dig contracts to ban making payments to the State Police for security purposes. Every other state is simply given a lump sum to spend as they see fit for security.
The large stores of weapons and materials left over from that event have had tragic consequences already. Emerson student Victoria Snelgrove was killed by “less than lethal��? weapon purchased for the convention. A police officer who was not certified on the weapon fired it into a crowd after a Red Sox game. Watching the news reports on this week’s events, the amount of high-tech equipment on hand is astonishing.
Who’s to blame for shutting down the city? As always, follow the money. (And overtime – one million dollars in overtime.)
Actually this is deadly serious, almost to the extent of saying "the terrorists have won". The "land of the free and the home of the brave" is being turned into a nation where people are being enslaved by so-called "security" measures enacted by bureaucrats who are scared of their own shadows.
Americans be free! Be brave!
By being free and being brave you will be more secure!
Update – Turner has apparently agreed to reimburse Boston for their costs on the incident. Will they ask for an audit?
@Martin: It's "The land of the free Corporations and brave Venture Capital" now ;)
I failed to see information whether they had permits and all for the advertising.
If they did, shouldn't they sue the police for destroying their ads?
Security experts need to broaden the scope of their advisors. The best places for advertising visibility seem to be prime target areas for violence. The security experts are busy working at yesterday's target areas.
From the Boston Globe.
"April James , 32, said she saw ..snip.. about three weeks ago. "I kicked it first, then I picked it up," said James, a ..snip.. everyday. "It looked like a bomb. I picked it up, pulled the tape off it, and there were batteries, two on the top and three on the bottom." "
She thought it looked like a bomb so she kicked it. Thats consistent with the rest of Boston's level of thought processes.
Now the terrorists know they can bring the US to its knees WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL OR REQUIRING ANY CONTROLLED ITEMS. Wonderful.
I wish a few businesses in the area got together and sued the government for overreacting and causing them to lose business and incur other costs. Maybe they should even push the case that the government's overreaction actually was an act of terrorism itself. Let's face the facts, there was no "threat" until the government decided to "create" one.
I live in Boston. Maybe they overreacted, but how much reaction is too much?
What people seem to forget is that these devices were not spotted at night lit up as cartoon characters. They were spotted in the day from a distance. A bag with batteries and wires and whatelse???
If a bomb had gone off who among you would congratulate the Boston Police for their underreaction?
As for the panic, the advertisers knew at 1:30 that the jig was up, but they waited until 4:30 to confess. Right at rush hour. Gee, thanks fellas. So funny. My daughter called me at work to tell me to check the traffic reports before leaving.
I guess now that we have a good model for urban camouflage. Just make it look silly and then ... detonate.
Frankly I think that much of the crap we go through to get on an airplane is worthless for security purposes. But I don't call this response overreaction.
Coming soon, Osama Bob Jihad Pants...
I guess very few of the graduates of all those colleges & universities in the Boston area go on to work in local government and/or law enforcement?
It’s easy to be a Friday morning QB, but common sense needs to come into play here at some point.
Most of the time I agree with Bruce, but not this time!
That "marketing campaign" was clearly wrong. Fixing *anything* "just for marketing" on the bridges is clearly wrong. I really don't blame the police. Put yourself in their position. Whenever you get a report about a possible bomb, you're not going to just walk there, take it in the hands and disassemble just like that. You'd have to take some measures first. And of course you'd also block the traffic.
I think we're all missing the big picture here. The Moonenites pose a huge threat to our way of life. They have no respect for our laws. They consisenty try to bilk our welfare system. They are involved in a war with the Plutonians. They appear to exist only in 2 dimensions, but come from a place with five... thousand dimensions! Clearly they are massive threat to our way of life.
Right on Bruce for calling b.s. on Boston city's response. If these devices were such a threat, why did it take so long for them to be noticed. In Indianapolis, we had a bunch of lightboard art go up this past Summer in some of our prime downtown locations. I didn't see Indy flipping out like this. It's overblown incidents like these that fuel the "let's give up more of our freedom" nuts. They're the real threat
"Now the terrorists know they can bring the US to its knees WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL OR REQUIRING ANY CONTROLLED ITEMS. Wonderful."
Well, the smart terrorists probably already knew that. But placing Lite-Brite Mooninites around America's cities is probably not the sort of world-shaking splash they are hoping for. Who knew how much terror such a thing could induce?
Fortunately for us, a fair number of the truly bad guys are still thinking in terms of movie-plot threats. Sadly, it appears, so are most of the good guys. They just differ as to what kind of movie.
I don't know if this is still true, but once upon a time, in every car of the London Tube there was a red button for passengers to push if they suspected a bomb in the car. Pushing this button would stop the train and summon the police. Next to the button, a small sign informed passengers of the draconian criminal penalties for a false alarm (i.e. there was no reason to suspect that a forgotten bag was actually just a bag and not a bomb). Presumably some similar penalty would be levied on law enforcement, first responders, etc. who likewise overreacted.
Perhaps those involved in reporting suspicious items in Boston, and those responding to said reports, lack the proper disincentives for going overboard.
Perhaps this is true of US society as a whole.
Your statement: "If a bomb had gone off who among you would congratulate the Boston Police for their underreaction?"
A "what if" argument holds no water in this case, because it DIDN'T HAPPEN.
This place has become way too weird. I going back to my home planet.
For those who are claiming that this was a reasoned response to a possible threat, all I can say is - You're not in Baghdad, the West Bank or Beirut. The street you live on is not called Haifa Street.
I don't understand why people wish to fantasize they're living in a war-torn country where a bomb can go off any time, but it appears that we have more than a few who do. Fear and paranoia are their primary motivations. They also don't seem to notice or care what the consequences of their beliefs will do to our country. I'd rather live in the America I grew up in than some twisted version of an old Talking Heads song (e.g. "Life during Wartime").
Stick to computer security Bruce. Yeah, the police were embarrasing themselves, but the idea of putting up flashing anything under bridges, esp. in Boston, is really not good of an idea. Idiots.
Yes, sometimes bombs look like teddy bears! Or bushes!
Something I create in a college electrical engineering lab looks very scary to these people, but would be a clear false positive. Meanwhile, someone with a little technical knowhow could put it in an unmarked box that would be unlikely to raise suspicion. Or a teddy bear.
Getting all bent out of shape because "it has omg wires and batteries" is not the right approach.
The office had a great laugh about those idiots in Boston. Um, the signs have been up in SF for weeks.
Mooninites should be the official logo of "enough of this fear mongering B.S."
I want to print bumper stickers, with the mooninites and "1/31/07 Never Forget"
"Especially in Boston?" Why's that -- because of the particularly gullible and sensationalist nature of the population?
Somehow these little things were considered dangerous -- because everything on or under a bridge is a potential threat -- but I don't see the police shutting down the city every time they find a homeless encampment filled with (potentially explosive) crap.
There's merit in investigating odd situations, but once one of these things turned out to be no threat Boston should have immediately told everyone to calm down.
The idiots here are those who spread panic and fear, not those whose actions were blown out of proportion by an irresponsible government response. And really, this siutations' nothing more than that.
From the Yahoo News story: "police also [...] had a confirmed report of a man walking down the hallways of New England Medical Center making a rambling speech about 'God getting us today'".
I totally think that the police should shut down Manhattan whenever someone walks around Times Square with a "The End Is Near" sign. After all, what if he/she was right? Can we afford to take the risk? Certainly not!
@wiredog mentioned http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/...
Apparently there were two fake pipe bombs found around the same areas as well, the police know they aren't part of the AHTF marketing.
The interesting bit:
"investigators believe a former hospital employee planted the phony bomb in an office at 185 Harrison Ave. He has been identified but has not been charged, the sources said."
So... a guy who *actually planted* a fake bomb has not been charged, but two artists who hung electronic signs around the city *have* been.
Way to prioritize, Boston.
@ac: "Fixing *anything* "just for marketing" on the bridges is clearly wrong."
Thus, political posters, lost-cat/dog/child leaflets, and special-event advertisements should all be banned, eh? After all, there must be explosives/corrosives that can be made to look like a harmless piece of paper. And besides, many of these postings are clearly incitements to the general populace against the ruling government.
@Nick Lancaster: "But perhaps next time, Turner should just put in for a blinking billboard …"
I feel a premise for a new "reality show": How municipalities react to advertising campaigns.
To "X the Unknown":
This "art piece" was clearly not a piece of paper. "Anything that can't be immediately identified as not dangerous" would be a more detailed description. And please note that even a "gigantic teddy bear" affixed to the bridge would fail to be considered as "not dangerous" once somebody reports that the bomb is in the toy.
"We, the jury have reached a verdict"
"The verdict is GUILTY. Guilty of incredible, contemptible stupidity. The sentence is 'public humiliation', starting with an immediate public bitch-slapping."
"Not the defendents, of course. They're innocent. It's the Mayor and his pack of morons that are guilty. The bitch-slap line starts on the right, please wait your turn."
Where I live the cops did not panic and just told people who called about them "we know what they are".
Cops who panic while doing their job should be fired. They obviously do not have the temperment for the job.
Considering that these IEDs (Illuminatory Expressive Devices) were in clear display, I have to wonder how many police cruisers drove by them during the weeks preceeding the scare.
I also have to wonder why they'd think that terrorists would 'hide' actual bombs in plain sight.
There was so little reasonableness in their response that I'm stunned.
What's next? Joint operations with the TSA to arrest all of the juveniles who wear shoes with blinking LEDs? http://www.skechers.com/catalog/browse.do?... After all, when you consider the shoe bomber and the blinking lights, well, those kids are obviously terrorists!
The worst punishment I personally would inflict on Turner & Co is a small fine and potentially a misdemeanor trespass/vandalism charge if they didn't have permits.
@Reader X: "I don't know if this is still true, but once upon a time, in every car of the London Tube there was a red button for passengers to push if they suspected a bomb in the car. "
No, as a native Londoner I can tell you it is not true. Tube trains have always had a emergency button/lever in several locations in each carriage but it's for all the usual emergencies: medical, fire etc. It'll also do for suspect packages but that isn't why it was put there.
As I say, I'm a Londoner. I've had the IRA try to blow me up. I've had post Iraq invasion home-grown Islamist terrorists try to blow me up. I am NOT scared of being blown up. I am scared of the terrorist reactions of:
The Home Office
The Metroplitan Police
Sun and Daily Mail readers (two national tabloids)
In other words the people who ought to be protecting me make me feel threatened, and the people who are trying to threaten me scare me not a jot. America REALLY scares me (present company mostly excepted.)*
It really, really does look like the terrorists have won.
* Those of you over there who are worth a candle, and you know who you are, just quietly leave the country. Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights. You'd all be welcome here in Britain.
"Massachusetts does not allow “flag men��? at construction sites. Every road work site must have a paid duty cop on hand. The US government took the unprecedented step of requiring all Big Dig contracts to ban making payments to the State Police for security purposes. Every other state is simply given a lump sum to spend as they see fit for security."
Some poor Boston Edison employee got arrested the other year during a power outage. He decided he had more important things to do that wait for the cop to show up. As you say, this is Boston, follow the money.
There's an angle to this story that I haven't seen reported yet. After three weeks, what was it that prompted the Boston Police into action? What was the decisionmaking process that lead up to this massive overreaction?
Otherwise, there are a few clear lessons from this circus:
1. Don't panic
2. A measured response can be appropriate.
3. Put your name and telephone number on anything installed for the public.
The local government in Boston, like other government bodies, will NEVER accept looking foolish. They'll always try to save face by putting up a patsy.
If all the sensible people leave, then we really are left with the kooks in charge. Unfortunately, I don't think the status quo will let us take the guns and bombs and nukes with us when we leave :)
Sure, it's mind-numbingly wearying to read these stories, but the cycle of hysteria/reasonable behavior seems to be very slowly reaching an inflection.
The *good* news about stories like this is the more ridiculous they get, the easier it is for people to recognize how ridiculous they are...
Most of the responses here are the same old pseudo-liberal crap.
Here are the facts. Electronic devices depicting very little known cartoon characters, meant to be only truly visible as cartoon characters at night, are placed on train platforms, stanchions, and utility poles. Of course people are going to panic. If you don’t know what you are looking at, have no idea of what ATHF is, and you see “something��? with a big electric tape box, and some blinking lights…. WTF!... you should call the authorities.
All of those responsible for this should be punished. Now is not the time for poorly planned marketing stunts like this.
Pass the word:
Peter Berdovsky Legal Defense Fund
Law Office of Michael L. Rich
74 Newport Street
Arlington MA 02476
"I think they should be made examples of. We gave them a break but when they got in the courtroom, the way they acted and what they did on television....they should be punished," said Menino."
Gawd, what a bunch of morons. I'm just sad that Turner and the installers are caving to the pressure. I'd love to hear a defiant speech, like:
"Menino, Patrick, and the police have all acted like morons. You're the cause of the panic, not me, and I'll rot in jail before kissing your paranoid, santimonious butts."
Your point has already been raised and addressed about a dozen times in this thread. If you found the responses wanting, feel free to explain why. Or did you not bother to actually read the thread?
What I'm curious about is what you find "pseudo-liberal" about most of the comments here. Do you have reasons for applying such a label? Or are you one of those folks who simply think "liberal == bad"?
"And everyone knows that DVD players have blinking lights on ‘em. Every single DVD player you’ve ever seen has a blinking light."
OK, let's pretend I'm a "terrorist" and I want to blow up a bridge. Do I:
a) Hang up a lite-bright sized device that could theoretically kill a couple of pigeons if they strayed too close
b) Fill up a full-size van with explosives and park it against one of the bridges major support structures
Now that I've pointed this out - will the police now be arresting anyone that parks near a bridge because it "looks sinister"? Will all parked cars now be given the once-over by the bomb squad?
Sounds to me like the police need a bit more training in IED recognition. After all - these devices had blinking LEDs, but nothing marked as "C4", "Dynamite", or "TNT".
Is a ninja suit in a public place sufficiently suspicious to trigger a random search in Boston?
How about a burkini?
How can you observe a difference?
Great post, excellent analysis. I'm sending all nine of the people who read my blog to it.
Personally, I'm blaming
this on George Bush.
The boxy characters are named Err and Ignignokt and appear to be raising their middle fingers and giving obscene gestures. Err is described on the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" website as "rebellious and angry."
I have seen Err a lot in code, not to mention noErr.. this must a potential code bomb..
Ahh the truth comes out..
Let me see if I've got this right.
Suppose I think I see something I think looks suspicious, and I report it. If it turns out to be a bomb, then I'm a hero. and after the fact I can be proud of my advanced sense of "hinkyness". But if it turns out to be an advertising stunt, I'm a stupid fool, and I'll be subjected to national ridicule.
I'm not talking about the police response, I'm talking about the people who initially reported what they thought were bombs.
Just saw that the Feds are getting into the act in L A. Idiots abound.
This example of government produced security being counter-productive, showing poor judgement from top to bottom, wasting resources and generally creating chaos in an otherwise peaceful society should be enough to get intelligent people thinking about an alternative way to organize security. Like, oh maybe, a society free from institutions given a monopoly on the use of force within territorial boundaries. If you think that voting for the people in charge of these monopolies is helping the situation, then look again. The private production of security would be far superior if only for the reason that they wouldn't be wasting trillions of dollars creating terrorists all over the globe. When they screwed up like this then you could fire them. Further their job would be to protect property and persons, not enforce edicts from petty tyrants. The existing system is failing miserably and we need to start considering the future.
No, if you're an ordinary citizen & you see something that looks suspicious and report it, you're an ordinary citizen reporting something you see. If it was a bomb, you're a hero. If it wasn't a bomb, well, you're not trained to tell the difference between a bomb and something out of the ordinary but not a bomb. Of course, if it's an ordinary object that you have no reason to be suspicious of (an umbrella left behind on a subway train, for example) and you call it in and it turns out not to be a bomb, then I'd say you're deserving of a bit of ridicule.
It is one thing to report something as a bomb and it turns out not to be. People make mistakes all the time. It is another thing for the authorities to go into full-bore linear panic mode.
We are not talking about people reporting strange objects, we are talking about security forces coming unglued because they found an object they do not understand.
But then again, I believe that this proves that a high percentage of Americans are bat-shit INSANE.
"What really gets me, is how uninformed people are, particularly on the the cartoon. Does everyone need to know Aqua Teen Hunger Force? No, do parents? Yes. Im sure many kids watch this show, and the idea that not one parent (that I know) could Identify this character as one from a cartoon their kid may watch. This is not proof, but it could very well show that parents need to involve themselves more with their kids. Im 30, and my mom can tell what a mooninite looks like. "
The police and officials clearly over reacted and are trying to save face by twisting the story. The majority of the people here are just as amused as the rest of you but we're also pissed off that they (the officials)are causing this national embarrassment and making us a laughing stock.
Is Mayor Menino over reacting? Sure he is. Is he a lousy mayor? Definitely not.
Please, quit lumping the entire population of the city into this! Your attempts at insulting Boston and it's people just makes you sound as ignorant as those you try to mock.
I love my city regardless of it's f**k ups. Too bad I can't live in Fantasyland like the rest of you though. It sounds like where you live is perfect!
I just noticed every major intersection of my city has a number of large metal boxes hanging overhead, with wires going into them, and bright functioning lights, signalling red, green, yellow, red, green, yellow -- obviously counting down to their detonation time.
Call out the bomb squad! Evacuate the city! Run screaming into the streets (but avoid the intersections).
Normally, Bruce and I are peas-in-a-pod on things such as the excesses of the Bush Administration's data mining programs, but on this one we couldn't be farther apart: I'm the humorless critic saying this kind of activity just isn't justified post-9/11 (one of the packages couldn't be seen well, was so high up on an Interstate highway abuttment that it required a cherry-picker to remove it, and was above a mass transit stop: it would have been absolutely irresponsible NOT to have treated it as a possible bomb. Anyways, we'll be on "Weekend America" this weekend (airs at various times depending on location) debating the issue.
Embarrassed Bostonian: No, Turner is doing the right thing, businesswise.
They didn't create this situation, and they were thrust into it through IMO no fault of their own, but given the choices they have now, graciously offerring to pay the city's expenses is a win-win:
1) They got their money's worth. It was supposed to be advertising, and boy did it work - thanks to the hysterical overreaction, they got more advertising value than they would've had from buying every ad slot on the Superbowl.
2) Paying is an opportunity to expand on that. It'll diffuse the anger from some quarters, and keep them in the news for a bit longer, with a positive story that helps their brand.
3) Even though we all doubt a court case against them has any legs, it'd still be an expensive annoyance that they can avoid by doing this. Given the other benefits, why not?
As a business, Turner has nothing to gain from "not caving". Their goals are to protect & improve their brand and increase revenue. Paying these expenses serves their goals.
at what point did we surrender our public spaces to the caprice of corporate advertisers? this situation reminds me of the thing a year ago when the mission impossible movie was promoted with funny-looking boxes in the newsracks playing the theme music whenever somebody bought a paper.
i'm opposed to this trend, and i disagree with bruce scheier on this one. corporations do not have the right to take over public spaces whenever they want. these people aren't "artists", they're corporate marketing drones, and i think it would be a useful social tonic, as well as a deterrent, to put them in prison for the maximum five years, have them buggered in the ass by biker gangs every night, then see if they still want to talk about their hair when they get out.
@JK: "Sometimes bombs don't look like bombs."
No, sometimes they look like taped up tennis balls. Over in Iraq, they sometimes look like dead animals, recently repaired curbs, parked cars, or trash cans. Haven't heard of any that have flashing lights. Here's a video that shows a bomb. See if you can spot it before it goes.
And here's a deck of clues on bomb spotting:
BTW, that tennis ball that killed the dog was probably one of these (given it didn't kill the dog outright or hurt her walker):
Man, this is even funnier than the Tankers of Terror http://www.fredoneverything.net/... , mostly because this one isn't hypothetical.
Choice quote from that parable: "In law-enforcement, purpose is no substitute for thoroughness." More prophetic than Nostradamus.
The Boston police better not forget that in Hollywood movies, the bad guys ALWAYS wear black. Extra points if they have a scar across one eye.
Are you talking about Dick Cheney's heart, by any chance?
"It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires."
Obviously, it is very easy to create panic by not even doing anything wrong.
Terrorists don't waste our time and resources committing "faux attacks" though they'd be so easy to commit.
In the end, this most likely shows how small these groups are. Their ability to attack the US on such a simple scale likely means they have no capability to do so, probably no people who would take the time.
It would be easy to leave "suspcious" bags, boxes, backpacks, pipes and other things in areas that would cause just these sorts of panic, a true DoS attack that creates terror and costs money.
Such DoS attacks further would tend to pollute our motivation over time (like a car alarm that triggers frequently) to respond, which would then give a real terrorist attack more chances to succeed in its nefarious mission.
How long do we have to live in a "post 9/11 era"? I mean, that's longer than WWII already. Can't we get over it?
How can the US (home of brave) be so afraid of EVERYTHING these days? How many attacks have we endured in the past year, past 2 years, past 3 years????? Surely if there were frequent attacks, being overly vigilant might be understandable. But shouldn't we save being scared for times when attacks are at least a little bit likely?
"This was like taping a picture of a fire to the wall of a theater and someone freaked out and called the fire department."
Even worse, it's like taping a picture of Heat Miser to the wall of a theater, and someone freaking out.
"Didn't these guys think to let the authorities know what they were up to?"
Are you f**king kidding me. You call up your citie's police headquarters and ask if they'll give you written permission to place signs all over the city, see how hard they laugh at you before they hang up. Now multiply that by the thousands of people a month that place signs.
As we all know, real bombs can look like anything, and a terrorist who really wants to blow something up (even the incompetent sort who is more likely to blow himself up unintentionally) will have no trouble making his bomb look like a nondescript box, a legitimate piece of infrastructure, or an appropriately-sized piece of rubbish.
But this is no help if you want a prop for your movie that the audience will recognize as a bomb. For that you need a convention - which by the nature of the problem has to be arbitrary, like language. The convention that filmmakers have collectively developed happens to be that a "bomb prop" looks like a random electronic gadget with its casing removed.
Once the convention exists it begins to matter in the real world. Terrorists who want to spread panic and confusion without actually killing anyone will plant inert devices that look like Hollywood bombs. More resourceful terrorists may, by planting actual bombs that look like Hollywood bombs, create a more credible and lasting scare, but still without getting real blood on their hands, because things that look like Hollywood bombs will be fairly reliably investigated by the authorities - because the convention exists.
It appears to me that police are not being wholly irrational when they treat things that look like Hollywood bombs more seriously than random pieces of rubbish - they are acting rationally on the fact that the convention that does exists, arbitrary as it might be. It is just a pity that we're stuck with a convention according to which so many useful things "look like bombs" once you remove their outer cover...
This was not like "someone taping a picture of a fire". This was like someone tapink some blinking lights, and some other guy shouting "fire!".
By the way, I find the snickering comments by AP (on Yahoo) absolutely disgusting. "Apparently amused by the publicity stunt"... What's their full name, again? Was it Antiterrorist Posse?
Kudos to the marketing dudes. I've heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force now, and probably never would have done had it not been for their work. The over-reaction of the Boston authorities has given Cartoon Network more exposure than it could *possibly* have bought; I mean, how else could they have got on this blog?
"this kind of activity just isn't justified post-9/11"
The death penalty just isn't justified, post-BC. One of them might turn out to be Jesus.
Get over it.
I was flying from Melbourne, Australia, to Los Angeles a couple years ago, with a layover in Japan. I had a bunch of guitar effects pedals in my carry-on and got stopped by the security folks. They were completely confused by this sack full of metal boxes with the knobs and wires and what-not. (Ever seen a Rat pedal go thru an X-ray machine? It looks verrry bomb-y.)
Anyway, I spoke no Japanese (uh ... gita .... bokkusu?), and the the three baggage screeners spoke no English. They were doing this totally hilarious Three Stooges routine with each other, trying to pantomime what they thought the pedals might be, and, of course, it wasn't long before the armed officers wandered over. Anyhoo, a light bulb went off over my head, and I pointed at the boxes and did my best Johnny Ramone air-guitar imitation and they totally got it. We all laughed, they handed me my stuff, and I was on my way.
If that happened in the States, though, the former-burger-flipper working the screening line would have instantly arrested me and I undoubtedly would have been charged with Attempting to Board an Airliner with a Hoax Device.
I think I'm going to stencil "This Is Not A Bomb, Dumbass" on all of my guitars and music gear.
"I think I'm going to stencil "This Is Not A Bomb, Dumbass" on all of my guitars and music gear."
Bad idea. Remember that guy who got arrested for bomb jokes because he put a "This is Not a Bomb" sign in his luggage? Or how about that guy with the pin that said that he wasn't a terrorist?
I just hope that on that one-way flight to Canada I'll take when I'm eighteen I don't get arrested or given a body-cavity search. (I have an advantage most suspected terrorists don't: I'm white.) Last time I'll have to deal with the home of the free and the land of the brave, at least.
The city of Boston is so embarassed, they've extorted $2M from Turner. It was probably cheaper to pay them off than to fight it legally. Wow.
In a way, it's sad that $2M can be extorted to pad bureaucratic budgets. After all, the press releases on the subject state clearly the money is going to be used for new funding and programs. The best part is when whatever new people are hired or new programs are started, the money will run out and the taxpayers will be asked to pony up more to save such precious programs. Hah!
Still, I suppose if a big company just wants to make it go away and has the pocket change to do so, why not let them?
As an IT Security Admin (and someone who watchs ATHF on occasion), the whole event is a fiasco. I'm glad that Bruce Schneier seems one of the few security experts who doesn't have his head up his *ss about this, unlike the phools they seem to have in Boston.
I'm involved in a activity/sport called "geocaching" that sometimes has to deal with this. For those not aware, geocaching is the activity of finding hidden caches using GPS systems. These caches can range from very small (size of your pinkie) to large ammo cans. These are hidden in various spots from urban areas to (what most prefer) parks and wilderness areas.
Now, there are rules about placements. Certain places are off-limits: schools, government buildings, bridges, National Parks, etc. You are also supposed to get permission from the owner to place them. Some do get permission, and some owners allow it, as they know this will bring people to their park or site or business.
Every so often, someone finds a cache and think they've found a bomb (again, 'suspecious' item found, so it MUST be a bomb). Sometimes its in the wrong place (ie a bridge, a big no-no), sometimes its out in the woods (which makes one wonder whats the value of placing a bomb in the wood to a terrorist since it would only, what, kill one person???). So every so often we get the 'geocaching mistaken for a bomb' nonsense, and sometimes we get the same 'head-up-*ss' responses from the PTB. Just sad.
This topic has actually been the subject of discussion on the main geocaching forum at www.geocaching.com. Dispite the usual idocy from a few ('this stuff can't fly in the post-911 world'), most seem to feel that PTB in Boston overreached.
The bottom line is both the gov't and the company should apologize. The company should have notified the cities that they were pulling this stunt and the gov't needs to apologize for jumping the gun, other than that, they are all spending too much time talking about it. It was a bad case of mis-communication and unfortunately the city of Boston had to pay for it. Take some responsibility people for your own actions
The story is ludicrous, but there is a serious lesson. False alarms happen, and you have to find a way to deal with them gracefully. Occasonally you perceive a threat where there is none. That is not the problem. That's life!
Bruce Schneier probably said as much in Beyond Fear.
The threat might be real, so you must respond, but you must also have a process or a system that limits your reaction when the threat proves false. This concept applies to an individual, to a police department, or to a society. The time needed to correct an over-reaction seems to be inversely proportional to the number of people involved.
Another Kevin wrote: "My question for you: should "hinkiness" in itself be a crime?"
To which you responded, Bruce: "'Hinky' is not the same as different. It's a particular kind of different, one not readily quantifiable."
Philip K. Dick described how "hinkiness" is criminalized in "A Scanner Darkly", and he also described who gets the sharp end of the stick as a result of the difficulty of quantification:
"When harness bulls, beat cops, or cops in general, any and all, for example, came cruising up slowly to the curb near him in an intimidating manner as he walked, scrutinized him at length with an intense, keen, metallic, blank stare, and then, often as not, evidently on whim, parked and beckoned him over.
"Okay, let's see your I.D.," the cop would say, reaching out; and then, as Arctor-Fred-Whatever-God-knew fumbled in his wallet pocket, the cop would yell at him, "Ever been ARRESTED?" Or, as a variant on that, adding, "BEFORE?" As if he were about to go into the bucket right then.
"What's the beef?" he usually said, if he said anything at all. A crowd naturally gathered. Most of them assumed he'd been nailed dealing on the corner. They grinned uneasily and waited to see what happened, although some of them, usually Chicanos or blacks or obvious heads, looked angry. And those that looked angry began after a short interval to be aware that they looked angry, and they changed that swiftly to impassive. Because everybody knew that anyone looking angry or uneasy--it didn't matter which--around cops must have something to hide. The cops especially knew that, legend had it, and they hassled such persons automatically."
Indeed, considering "hinkiness" as evil in itself leads to just the sort of uses that Dick describes. Nevertheless, it has been argued several times in this thread that "hinkiness" itself is costly to society; that the very act of calling undus suspicion on oneself diverts the resources of law enforcement away from catching the "real" bad guys. Certainly, our laws forbid turning in a false fire alarm, making a convincing dummy bomb with the intent of causing a panic, committing assault with a toy gun, and so on. But there is a difference only in degree between those offenses and going about with too much clothing on for the weather, carrying a backpack containing electronic devices, praying in the wrong language, wearing a beard or turban, or having the wrong color of skin. If the authorities are paranoid enough, those are also things that divert their attention from the "real" crimes and terrorist acts; hence, those things carry a social cost akin to that of turning in a false alarm.
Virtually everyone would agree that turning in a false fire alarm is a criminal act. (I recognize that there are extreme libertarians who would disagree.) Virtually everyone would also agree that going about with olive skin and Arabian features is an accident of birth, not a culpable misdeed. (Once again, I recognize that there are extreme nativists, probably more numerous than the extreme libertarians, who would disagree.) But I do have trouble drawing a bright line between the two extremes.
Perhaps the test of "intent" should govern; if there is no intent to harm others by suspicious behaviour, the behaviour remains suspicious, but not illegal. By that token, Turner is guilty at most of littering or the defacement of property; the aim was surely to get attention, not to cause a bomb scare and shut down a city! Yet, the Turner corporation has already in effect admitted its guilt, so the "intent" test fails here.
Perhaps a weaker test, then, should govern: that a "reasonable man" should foresee that a consequence of the action would be that panic might ensue. The latter test, though, is a mandate of absolute conformity: in a paranoid society such as the one that we appear to endure at the moment, anything the least out of the ordinary might cause a panic. Can an Arab-American, here legally and perhaps born here, be forced to place himself under house arrest simply because his very appearance might cause a panic?
Where does one draw the line?
anyone noticed the 2mn $ "settlement" ?
Ok,Ok, please somebody explain why anybody would possible want to blow off anything (a bridge?!?) in Boston?
Hi, I live in Japan. I'm American, but I may not be as "in the know" as the rest of you. Here's my question:
What about a bridge in Boston would be so appealing to international terrorists? I guess people forgot that the most typical targets for them will be symbols of America (I'm referring to the Islamic Extrimist anti-America terrorists...there are other types if you forgot). Let's think of past targets for a second. Twin Towers, White House, Pentagon.
The other popular target would be a heavily populated area such as a subway station. Blowing an overpass is not going to do very much damage in terms of death toll. It also seems a little small.
Now about the police in Boston. I agree that the only blame here should fall on the authorities and the news media (reporting without facts). No blame should fall on the artists, the company, or the individual that reported a suspicious item. Did it not occur to the BPD that going out quietly and identifying the items before releasing any information to the public would be a more appropriate course of action? Panic could have been avoided with this simple step. Also, please don't tell me that there is NOBODY in the entire Boston PD, FD, or any other involved gov't agency that has never seen ATHF or at least has a child that watches it. People over here in Japan know about it for heaven's sake! It mustn't be that obscure.
What is wrong with putting up advertisements in a public space? I didn't think it was so bad. I saw posters and flyers all over my hometown. I even saw blinking signs (home-made). There is little wrong with it as far as I'm concerned. I'm certainly not offended or afraid of them. Also, for those of you that say it was an ill-concieved ad campaign and "post 9/11...should've known better...blah blah" you are thinking in hindsight. I would bet money that "looks like a bomb" NEVER crossed the mind of anybody at the Ad agency. I will admit that I wouldn't have. I have no reason to. My focus on advertising, not avoiding a crisis that in all honesty was so improbable I probably couldn't count the number of zeros that follow the decimal point.
Boston made a mistake, and you people back in the homeland need to lighten up. Nobody cares enough about you as an individual to blow you up. If you do get killed in a terrorist act, you are simply unlucky. You can't avoid it, and more than 98% of you will never even see a terrorist attack (in real life), let alone be injured by one. The motto is "always be prepared" not "jump at every shadow."
As a side note: the bridge installment was not very visible...that means that it likely appeared like a black box since the wires would be less visible than the un-lit lights at that distance. The "extruding wires" excuse is an exaggerated description...there are only a few wires and they don't really "protrude" all that much.
CN head has resigned after 13 years of wonderful work as a result of Boston's hysterics.
Meanwhile, Mayor Menino is still around and crowing over CN's loss in the article. Even after the $2mil payout.
I'm just speachless
These boxes could have contained deadly stinging Manta Rays. In this post-Steve Irwin world we live in today we can't be too careful and we must assume that anything suspicious or that we dont fully understand, has a deadly, lethal, stinging Manta Ray agenda behind it.
"It had a very sinister appearance,"
So does DIck Cheney.
[Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley told reporters. "It had a battery behind it, and wires."
So does Dick Cheney's heart.
Does this mean we can get the Boston Bomb Squad to blow up DIck Cheney?
"I hope someone will be so kind as to post the plans online, because I don't want to have to pay inflated eBay prices.I"
Egon, cheap LED Christmas lights from eBay, black spray paint and pegboard from Home Depot.
DIY TERRORISM! You can almost hear the distant sirens as the Proper Authorities respond to the Immenent Threat!
I live in the Boston area and voted for most of the people involved in ths debacle. I think people are forgetting one important fact though, which is the ages of the people involved.
Most of the folks who run the city and the state are in their 50's and 60's, which means that guerilla marketing is pretty foreign to them. I'm close to that age myself and I work in a Web boutique, so I see both sides of the equation pretty clearly.
Good placement = High traffic area
Clever use of electronics = potential threat
Big event visibility = intentional hoax
I have problems with the following:
1. The lack of notification of authorities, even while the mess was in flight. That was irresponsible.
2. The general sense that anyone who doesn't 'get it' about this kind of marketing is ignorant and deserves what they get.
Come on, folks! Nobody likes scary surprises all that much, and scariness is to a great degree in the eye of the beholder. We are all responsible adults and when someone else is scared by our activities we either act to defuse the situation or we are as guilty as the victim.
Yes, over-reaction accurately characterizes the city's response. No, we should not let Turner or their employees off easy at all.
Honestly I think the Boston Police should be held accountable for their incompetency in calling these things bombs, and should perhaps be prosecuted for perpetuating false terror claims. I never read that police were immune from the so-called PATRIOT ACT.
Police don't seem to understand that overreaction creates another security situation called "denial of service". The police essentially DoS their own city. Writing "BOB" on a bag and leaving it in the airplane lavatory can create a DoS attack on an airplane where no bomb or intention to place a "bomb on board" ever existed.
Given the rarity of genuine terror attacks, I suggest that we go back to a pre-9/11 security posture and let us true patriots take our chances with the terrorists. As a great Patriot once said, "Give me liberty, or give me death".
Thanks to Boston the police and mayor the terrorists will indeed use cartoon character bombs next time, and nothing will be done until they explode. After that all public marketing signs will be banned.
I think the folks who make the tv show "24" need to be held responsible. After all, they're the ones convincing people that anything blinking could blow up.
The thing is that if they were indeed bombs, everyone (including all the current blog's commenters) would accuse police for not preventing the event and detecting the devices soon enough. The fact that they were not bombs it doesnt mean that they couldnt be bombs!
Im not scared of terrorists and i dont belong to the group of people who think that any time at any place a bomb could blow me up.
But just give it a break and accept a mistake done by police whose only intention was to protect the citizens.
After all, dont forget that prevention is better than correction..
I think most people are sort of hit by two social or mental bombs here that could be less easy to see than a flashy explosion.
One is that most of us could not build a real bomb with wires and batteries if we wanted to, but we like to think we could.
We also don't like to admit we can not build signs with flashing lights either.
We don't have the guts to be cops or elected officials.
And we like to talk like just anybody on earth might get to be President or a mayor in this country, no matter how weird or strange they are.
Then we like to prove it.
I think this mostly proves..., that maybe Boston needs to take a day off once in a while.
I think the entire East Coast needs to take a couple months off, and relax, and try to remember what a neighbor looks like.
If you don't know who you can trust, then I guess you can't trust anybody.
From what i've seen from my country and i often hear and see in TV news pertaining to inernational crime etc, i've come to the colclusion: UNFORTUNATELY, whether police takes action or doesn't , the blame is put on them.
Simple, most common example:
If the police chases down a speeding-drunk driver and bumps him/her off the road (driver is seriously injured) , every tv channel, the very same day will be talking about the police's savageness.."he was only 20, he would have stopped the car if told so!".....
If they just chase him/her but couldnt stop him/her and the driver continued to drive like crazy, and had further on, crashed on another car or killed a pedestrian..then the blame would fall again on the police "why didnt they do something to stop him? Chase him and bump him off the road, shoot him or whatever!!!".....
So just stop accusing ALWAYS the policemen and think more....
Your example makes no sense given the situation. I'll go further and say anyone who blames the police here doesn't see the bigger picture. It is not really the police in and of themselves that is being blamed here. The way you give your example has little to do with issues of "homeland security", In fact, and this is just a guess, if you do live in another country, you would not understand the implications the new homeland security policies here, nor the impossibility of its ever becoming a success. The actions taken, not just too late, but too extreme to help anything underline this issue. Nobody who lives in the United States is able to really elevate themselves to actually imagine what true homeland security would imply. Not that the effort isn't being made by the Administration; i.e. phone tapping, and video surveillance being beginnings. However, with borders that just cannot be controlled, along with the influx of immigrants - the very foundation of the U.S., true homeland security will be impossible. A police state is a state that will eventually collapse but it is also a state that is centered around the idea of total homeland security.
That being said, the police in this case were obviously being directed from another authority. It is only the mayor, who on a city level, could give the authority to shut down major areas of business, communication, or transportation. The responsibility ultimately lies with him. In that respect, the police are following his orders and are seen as an extension of his bad judgment. In turn, his example is a reflection of the paranoid, useless and indeed, insane decisions many officials have made in our post 9/11 society. No one questions the value of the service police give the public 99% of the time. Their dedication and courage can save your life when you need it to.
In this case misdirected ridicule and anger at the police should be checked and pointed directly at those whose orders they follow, as high up as it may go.
I suppose we should thank the mayor for all of this hype if it helps others realize what is really going on and bring about a change for the better. If by itself it doesn't, have courage, at some point we'll see so many more bad decisions that we'll have had enough and be forced to oust the crazy people who bought their way in.
Random bag searches on subways. Massive police overraction to 'perceived' threat. Keeps up the FEAR - Ur living in a Police State.
Land of the free... not any more.
i agree with you although you are right at the point where you say that im not an american citizen. Im from Greece and obviously i dont have the unfirtunate terrorist experience you guys live very often there in states.
However, im not sure if the mayor is the one who should be 100% blamed for the mess. How much could the mayor on his own know about security? He is not an expert on the issue, how is it possible to accurately estimate the situation? In my opinion it's impossible. Authorities (and by that i mostly mean police) posing as more experience, i believe they did have a big influence on him (mayor). Anyway, on the overall i agree with what you said.
@ Steve overseas
Random bag searches on subways. I lived in London for a year so i can speak for my self cause i had this experience. I wouldnt say that such actions keep up the fear. Nor do the announcements in subways "If you find any unaccompanied bag please inform us".
All these just keep u alarmed and this is good, cause ok "we are not afraid of terrorists" but we could just have it in the back of our minds. A random bag check could (and i say COULD - giving a possibility of 1 in 10000) save your life!
This whole episode should demonstrate loud and clearly to Americans what a scam our present concept of "homeland security" is. We spend Billion$ of dollars for security related contracts and an endless war to pad the pockets of Rove, Cheney, Inc., but deliberately turn our backs on our returning wounded heroes.
All the BS at airports only increases our time wasted but would more than likely let the bad guys through on a first pass.
But hey, when our current 20 and 30-nothing "Generation Cheese" is more concerned about Lost, American Idol, and Anna Nicole's,..er, Brittany's bald "hoo-haw", anything's possible!
In Israel, school students get taught - "any object that is not in its usual location and whose ownership is unknown should be treated as a bomb". We don't prosecute people who leave such objects (except maybe for littering), but we can expect that if we forget a backpack or sleeping bag (happened to a friend of mine), or anything else which can contain an explosive it will get blown up (if not stolen first, there is at least one famous story of a thief who actually stole a ticking bomb this way), it happens and we don't pay to much attention to it (except when it's our bag, or when we are in the car where traffic is stopped for a few minutes). We simply know that this approach saves lives.
In hindsight, it was probably wise to rename Bombay as Mumbai...
Bruce Schneier is saying in his latest mailing that much of the 'security' is CYA reactive security. Perhaps true, except that those responsible for our security on 9/11 like David Frasca at FBI and Richard Meyers (in charge of US military response) were promoted instead of fired.
50lbs of tnt makes a hole just big enough for a 10 foot wide ditch. Planting numerous such charges can be used to make a ditch!! When Boston consulted MIT, ya right, and other prominent experts, someone should have done the math, less than a pint of explosive possible, hence it must be a bioterror weapon (scares people to death) possibly full of genital herpes or croup.
Aw I missed this one--here's a comment over a year later :)
In defense of the police, did you see the devices? Some looked like toys, other had really conspicuous rows of batteries completely wrapped in electrical tape hanging off the bottom that look a whole lot like taped-up explosive.
Captn. Dufus do you know what a shaped charge is? MIT people would have said it could be a shaped charge intended to penetrate bridge beams (but also would have pointed out you need one on almost every bream to collapse anything).
But, it's hard to argue that the authorities did not overreact. If they were REAL bombs I would expect less insane overreaction.
Once the first device is determined to be harmless, how many more do you have to check? Even assuming that all but one are decoys, since you have no idea how many there are, how could you know that 4 or 12 or 1000 hours later you found them all?
A circus, wrestling, concert, or other poster could be used to hide explosives. Are we gonna tear down every poster to check, just to be sure?
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, #1 in the 'Hood!
Where else but Boston? I mean, they tend to be red socks fans too, don't they?
@Ian Mason: You country wasn't (and hasn't) been any better, so cut out the bullshit sanctimoniousness about people leaving America to live elsewhere because of this incident. The same thing's been done in most countries and was even done in America before 9/11, as one person opined above. At least the Americans didn't have a football fan problem like you did (and probably still do), so lay off.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.