Shoot-to-Kill Revisited

I've already written about the police "shoot-to-kill" policy in the UK in response to the terrorist bombings last month, explaining why it's a bad security trade-off. Now the International Association of Chiefs of Police have issued new guidelines that also recommend a shoot-to-kill policy.

What might cause a police officer to think you're a suicide bomber, and then shoot you in the head?

The police organization's behavioral profile says such a person might exhibit "multiple anomalies," including wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather or carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires. The person might display nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact or excessive sweating. There might be chemical burns on the clothing or stains on the hands. The person might mumble prayers or be "pacing back and forth in front of a venue."

Is that all that's required?

The police group's guidelines also say the threat to officers does not have to be "imminent," as police training traditionally teaches. Officers do not have to wait until a suspected bomber makes a move, another traditional requirement for police to use deadly force. An officer just needs to have a "reasonable basis" to believe that the suspect can detonate a bomb, the guidelines say.

Does anyone actually think they're safer if a policy like this is put into effect?

EDITED TO ADD: For reference:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

But what does a 215-year-old document know?

Posted on August 4, 2005 at 3:08 PM • 125 Comments

Comments

Mark J.August 4, 2005 3:34 PM

iPod thieves may display enough of those signs to warrant executio...er, the use of deadly force. Those pesky wires can be lethal.

A. C.August 4, 2005 3:40 PM

I don't feel safer as I carry a bag of tools, which may also have the leads to my multimeter protruding, to my sons house to make repairs.

Bruce SchneierAugust 4, 2005 3:42 PM

"So if they're wearing a heavy jacket in summer and sweating it's okay to shoot-to-kill?"

Only if they're listening to an iPod.

Although seriously, I would expect terrorists would learn from this and make their wires white and thin, like iPod earbuds.

Glauber RibeiroAugust 4, 2005 3:47 PM

Vary bad. If i remember right, all of the telltale "signs of a suicide bomber" given out by the Brazilian who got murdered in London were later found out to be figments of the imagination: no backpack, no heavy coat, no belt with wires sticking from it, not a dark-skinned Asian, etc.

I still think that particular case was more of a show-killing. They thought they had the man that was caught in the security camera, and decided to show the population how serious they were about protecting them. After they found out it was a mistake, they came up with the "shoot him before he blows himself up" angle.

Bruce SchneierAugust 4, 2005 3:51 PM

"If i remember right, all of the telltale "signs of a suicide bomber" given out by the Brazilian who got murdered in London were later found out to be figments of the imagination: no backpack, no heavy coat, no belt with wires sticking from it, not a dark-skinned Asian, etc."

I don't think that matters. The police officer needs to have a "reasonable basis" to believe that the suspect is wearing a heavy coat, carrying a backpack, etc. Whether or not the suspect is actually wearing or carrying those things is less relevant.

KevinAugust 4, 2005 4:01 PM

from original story...

"I can guarantee you that if we have, God forbid, a suicide bomber in a big city in the United States, 'shoot to kill' will be the inevitable policy," said Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney in an interview. "It's not a policy we choose lightly, but it's the only policy."

YIKES!

MikeAugust 4, 2005 4:12 PM

"I still think that particular case was more of a show-killing. They thought they had the man that was caught in the security camera, and decided to show the population how serious they were about protecting them. After they found out it was a mistake, they came up with the "shoot him before he blows himself up" angle."

I cant believe you actually wrote that. Your cynicism is actually quite sickening.

ConcernedAugust 4, 2005 4:16 PM

Maybe sounds a little drastic but what's the alternative? Wait until the bomb detonates and then shoot them? Drastic times call for...

I'm more concerned with "shoot-to-kill" being used as a common term. Deadly force is deadly force, there is no such thing as "shoot-to-wound". If you are firing a gun at someone the intent is to kill them. Which may sound like symantics but can have a negative result.

Police in the United States are trained to shoot center of availble mass. Meaning, what ever part of the target's body is showing, you shoot at the middle. Even with this training, in live shooting incidents they average a 20-25% hit ratio. You start throwing around terms like "shoot-to-kill" and everyone starts aim for the head, you'll see that drop down quite a bit. Making already dangerous situations worse.

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 4:17 PM

Yep, if this policy comes the law, I am sure the number of political (or corporate) dissidents will start to decrease fast. After all, who is never a bit nervous and sweating, or pacing up and down? So, there will always be an excuse to shoot anyone.

Also, I am sure that most of the private prisons will go out of business as potential criminals will never reach the court, not to speak of prisons.

We truly live in dangerous times.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 4:18 PM

Safer or not with a polciy like this, as said what else can be done given a situation like this arrising?

Shout the constitution at them to see if they stop?

MikeAugust 4, 2005 4:22 PM

"Yep, if this policy comes the law, I am sure the number of political (or corporate) dissidents will start to decrease fast. After all, who is never a bit nervous and sweating, or pacing up and down? So, there will always be an excuse to shoot anyone."

I'm puzzled by some of these comments. The world is not this bad, neither is it like a hollywood conspiracy. I think you need to take your tin hat off.

Gregory TuckerAugust 4, 2005 4:45 PM

The policy question is whether more innocent people will be killed or saved by a "shoot to kill" policy.

In theory, public perception of safety should rationally follow the best actual policy. But as Schneier had said: In theory there is no difference between theory and reality. In reality there is.

I personally would feel more at risk having 100,000 police officers running around with the ability to kill me at will with no justification and no due dilligence, where the officer can justify his actions by saying I was "acting hinkey". I feel more threatened by that than a couple dozen terrorists, regardless of the actual probabilities involved.

RvnPhnxAugust 4, 2005 4:47 PM

@Mike
He can wear as many tin hats as he wants. This is an authoritarian move--which of course means that it is unconstitutional. Granted, much of what Lincoln (the first republican president) did to keep things under the control of the central government were also unconstitutional, but at he wasn't just giving the local on the street the right to shoot and kill others without a trial and at will.

AxelAugust 4, 2005 4:49 PM

Mike, wake up to the real world. We're getting there Real Fast Now™.
The only thing I'm still wondering about is whether the Orwellian version will be faster or the Huxleyan or the Gibsonian.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 4:59 PM

@Gregory, it’s personal preference but I’d rather thousands of highly trained armed police were running around than a few suicide bombers. After all, who’s killed more people in London so far? And average people have nothing to worry about armed police as long as you don’t run away and listen to people that say “stop or we will shoot��?.

@RvnPhnx, sorry I should have said I’m from the UK .. but I still think you’re blowing it far, far out of proportion. The police officers are trained, and at the end of the day more people are killed by weapons in the hands of untrained civilians.

@Alex, you ask me to wake up to the real world then wonder which world from works of fiction it will be. I can’t accept you telling me to wake up.

Mark J.August 4, 2005 4:59 PM

So far this shoot-to-kill policy has a 100% failure rate. The one person they shot was innocent. What innocent bystander-to-terrorist kill rate is acceptable? If we kill 25 innocents and bag one suicide bomber will the policy be considered a success?

MikeAugust 4, 2005 5:03 PM

I agree Mark, but what else can be done? Do you have any ideas of how to stop a potential suicide bombers?

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 5:05 PM

> The policy question is whether more innocent people will be killed or saved by a "shoot to kill" policy.

This is the utilitarian argument as its simpliest. I do not think it hold. First of all, how do you know which way case it? If someone just behaves strangly, but is just a bit disturbed or intoxinated, the right thing is shoot him/her? Just in case that he might be the next bomber? How many innocent can be killed per each bomber? If there are no bombers shot even? If the bombers are clever enough to read the rules and change their behaviour?

I think allowing shoot-to-kill (meaning assasination on the streets by the government), is really moving our societies in the wrong direction. It is the same policy as a mob stoning nonconformists to death in some countries, which most of us still detest.

What next? Public whipping of "terrorist symphatizers"? Random stripping and body cavity searches on the street by the police? (the latter would certainly come into effect if someone would place a bomb in a body cavity).

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 5:12 PM

> The policy question is whether more innocent people will be killed or saved by a "shoot to kill" policy.

Let me express myself more clearly.

Assume the following. A suicide bomber is roaming the streets. We know, that it he detonated the bomb, 100 people would get killed.

Now, how many innocent people can be shot in the search of the bomber? If you hold to your argument, your answer would be 99, provided that the next one shot would be the bomber. And that after shooting 100 innocents, you must stop shooting, I assume? Or would you still continue shooting? How many more would you shoot?

Note that in this case we know that there is a bomber roaming the street. In reality, we do not know; at most, we can assume that there could be a bomber.

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 5:16 PM

> Do you have any ideas of how to stop a potential suicide bombers?

What about trying to change the world in such a way, that nobody would be desperate enough to become a suicide bomber? What about using 90% of the military budgets in preventing the crisis? I am sure that the remaining 10% would be enough for defence and attack as needed. But there would not be so much need anymore.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 5:20 PM

Ok, I should have guessed that people would fantasise about some ideal world and miss the point.

Given the way the world is today, you being one person can not change the entire world.

What other way do propose as an effective means of stopping a suspected potential suicide bomber running away after being challanged?

Pat CahalanAugust 4, 2005 5:21 PM

@ Mike

> Do you have any ideas of how to stop potential suicide bombers?

You can't. Or, more accurately, if your target is "people who are currently carrying bombs", any method you choose is going to have a failure rate that is unacceptable -> no matter what search method you use, you're going to wind up with an enormous amount of false positives for every correct "this is a suicide bomber" identification. Shooting the false positives is unacceptable.

I don't accept utilitarian arguments here, myself -> if you kill 10 innocent people but get 1 suicide bomber (who may have killed 50 or 100 people), that's *still* unacceptable. Aside from all of the ambiguities about measuring effectiveness, I'm willing to accept the fact that J Random dude on the street might blow himself up, I'm unwilling to give law enforcement officials the authority to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Unless of course you make everyone walk around naked and submit to random body cavity searches (and one out of every 100 or so people is a cop), which obviously isn't going to work out, Americans at least are too prudish.

I posted quite a bit about this on the profiling thread:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/07/...

This is not an authority we want law enforcement officials to have.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 5:30 PM

As such I agree, but what I'm trying to highlight to some other people is that their comments just comletely miss the point.

Currently in London, because of the climate, there were and are unreported stops and searches at gun point quite often.

Despite being given the orders allowing them to shoot to kill, this hasn't happened because only one I can think of has ran away and not responded to the commands "stop or I will shoot".

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 5:30 PM

@Mike.

What make you think, that shooting a potential suicide bomber is an effective solution?

And still, even if you think so, how many innocents are you willing to get shot when hunting those "potentia" suicide bombers?

And no, I am adult enough to know, that the world in not ideal, and that there will always be wars. I am also adult enough to know, that we can change the world with the policies we choose to employ. I think it is clear, that the policies USA and other western countries are employing are not exactly helping us to get rid of potential suicide bombers. Rather many other people, even those with much more political clout than I, agree with me on this.

And fundamenttally, I think that shoot-to-kill policies are against the open societies which we have in the Western world. Defending freedom by shooting innocents in fundamentally wrong and evil, and must not be done ever.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 5:35 PM

@Matti

"What make you think, that shooting a potential suicide bomber is an effective solution?"

I must admit to playing the agent provocatuer here slightly, but I'm not for shoot first and shout "stop or i'll shoot" later.

I'm not saying whether it's effective or not, I'm asking what you propose instead. Please just answer my question.

Ari HeikkinenAugust 4, 2005 5:37 PM

It's as idiotic as it could possibly get and exactly why terrorism works. Actually, it works even better. In situations like these (terrorist attacks) you'd normally expect citizens to demand stupid security measures from their government and the government evaluating the tradeoffs and acting sensibly. But no. Instead, we have stupid governments implementing stupid security measures against wishes of their citizens.

Ian MasonAugust 4, 2005 5:37 PM

@Mike

"After all, who’s killed more people in London so far?"

In the last four weeks, or since there were both police and terrorists on the lose in London?

If the latter, then I suspect the police have the lead on dead bodies generated. Hint - London has had terrorists for much longer than you might think - 1894 is the first recorded 'anarchist' bombing I can find quickly. Just guesstimating from what I know from previous research I doubt terrorists have clocked up much more than 100-200 deaths in London in that period, lets settle on 1-2 a year. Since merely 1998, 98 people have died in Metropolitan police custody. I don't have time just now to dig into the detailed statistics, but the norm is for the police to be somehow culpable in about half of such deaths. (Others are acts of god such as natural deaths purely coincident with custody).

Lally SinghAugust 4, 2005 5:39 PM

Ugh. The only way to really kill a democracy is by making its people abandon it. It doesn't need to be the goal of a terrorist, but it's clearly the effect.

MikeAugust 4, 2005 5:47 PM

@Ari: I think you mean against the wishes of ‘some’ (probably the few) of their citizens.

@Ian: You do have a good point, but then what if we brought gangs into it or Irish sectarian/terrorist violence? We would be going off topic. I should have been more specific and said within the last 4 weeks.

JoshAugust 4, 2005 6:11 PM

As someone with a relative with schizoprenia, and another relative with a seizure disorder, I'm frightened by this sort of policy. Can police tell the difference between someone who is ill and harmless, but acting strangly and afraid of the police, from a suicide bomber?

I predict the occasional murder of schizoprenics. One guy I sometimes speak to nearly fits the description. Of necessity, he carries all his stuff with him, and a coat is valuable possession when you're homeless. The only difference is that he switches from intelligent conversation to reciting german poetry, not prayers.

Ari HeikkinenAugust 4, 2005 6:21 PM

"I'm asking what you propose instead."

Well, if you've read say any of Bruce's rants lately he's been writing about stupid security measures (and what should be done instead) about daily.

It goes without saying that giving shoot-to-kill-on-merely-suspicion powers to police will certainly cause more harm than good. I mean, think about it. We live in modern developed cities. It's unlikely those terrorists are stupid enough to be carrying a suicide belt and an assault rifre with a typical terrorist outfit around in a busy city. Anyone ever figured they might try to fit in the crowd? How about wearing a suit, hiding the explosives in a business briefcase and the "detonation button" on say mobile phone? I'm skeptical that stupid policy could catch even one real suicide bomber in 10 years time.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 4, 2005 6:26 PM

@ Josh

That reminds me of the Derek Bentley and Chris Craig case:

http://www.stephen-stratford.co.uk/...

"In an unprecedented and very damning attack, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, ruled that his predecessor and Bentley's trial judge, Lord Chief Justice Goddard, had denied Bentley 'that fair trial that is the birthright of every British citizen.'"

Elvis Costello did a nice recap in a song called "Let Him Dangle"

Even harder to claim your birthright under a shoot-to-kill doctrine...

Ari HeikkinenAugust 4, 2005 6:26 PM

"I think you mean against the wishes of ‘some’ (probably the few) of their citizens."

It'd be interesting to see results of a public vote on this one.

Matti KinnunenAugust 4, 2005 6:29 PM

@Mike

If I agree on shoot-to-kill, will you agree on applyin it on each and every person, who explodes or orders to explode bombs amoung civilians in illegal wars? I see no difference in exploding a bomb in London and bombing civilians in Iraq. Should we promote shoot-to-kill as the final treatment for the latter bombers, too? Remember, the coalition forces have killed more people in Iraq that the terrorists, so stopping the coalition forces by shoot-and-kill their commanders would be OK according to the utilitarian model you propose. Furthermore, we are much more likely to find them than the potential bombers.

JimAugust 4, 2005 6:34 PM

@Mike: "I'm not saying whether it's effective or not, I'm asking what you propose instead. Please just answer my question." The only option that sounds reasonable to me is to engage in a strategy of prevention and emergency response. It is to be hoped that good policework and intelligence can find and stop larger and more organized terrorist groups and their fananciers. I would also consider it wise to take a hard look at the grievances that cause such extreme actions in the first place, and address them if legitimate. Lastly, focus on good emergency response to quickly and efficiently minimize the damage after an incident occurs. It seems that after someone has already strapped on a bomb and boarded a train it's a little late. If the only argument for shooting suspected terrorists is "What else can we do?", I reject it. It's already been quite graphically illustrated that we aren't very good at picking a terrorist out of a crowd of civilians, and even if you did, how does killing them ensure their bomb doesn't go off? Isn't that what a dead man switch is for? It's a hard thing to hear, but this may simply not be something we can stop on the spot. How do you stop one person from shooting another when you don't know anything about the shooter, victim and the location? You can't. And attempting to would bear an enourmous cost in terms of money, privacy and civil liberties.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 4, 2005 6:36 PM

"Does anyone actually think they're safer if a policy like this is put into effect?"

No. I really do not see how the police can come to such a conclusion from current events alone. I suspect that the hawks in UK law enforcement have been trying to get something like this passed for some time and are now just seizing upon fear as an opportunity to overcome opposition within the rank and file.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 4, 2005 6:59 PM

@ Mike


"Given the way the world is today, you being one person can not change the entire world."

Hello, this is Earth to Mike. Have you heard of the Internet? I find it odd that you would be posting on a blog that you think individuals have less chance of effecting change today than in the past...

You may not realize it but your posting here IS having an impact on the world. Not some kind of dreamy pie-in-the-sky scenario, but real and down-to-earth problem solving. That's why people are responding to you. Bruce's blog has a vast readership and does in fact impact some aspect of the global picture. I have seen numerous quotes and references that seem to spread from these pages out into popular media sources and beyond. And finally, if you are lucky, like many of us you might even have your own opinion changed a bit by participating here.

Now, with regard to your search for easy solutions, you chose an extremely biased example. The point is not whether to shoot fish in a barrel (a known terrorist loaded with explosives with a broken leg and half blind but trying to run away). The point is how to address security concerns without vast and unnecessary reductions in liberties. There is no easy answer to this issue, just as there is no giant target painted on the back of your enemies.

Riding scaredAugust 4, 2005 7:01 PM

Looking over the "behavioral profile" I realized that often when I ride my motorcycle I fit almost all of the criteria.

heavy coat or jacket in warm weather:
I'm on a motorcycle, I wear a helmet, padded jacket, and gloves.

carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack:
I'm on a motorcycle, I have to put my stuff someplace. There aren't always wires or protusions, but I have ridden with a wire running from a notebook inside the backpack to a gps on the top of the backpack. Or maybe I'm now off the bike and have shoved my helmet in my bag, so it's nice and fat.

nervousness:
All it takes is one close call on a bike to get the nerves up.

unwillingness to make eye contact:
During the day I wear a helmet with a dark visor, does that count?

excessive sweating:
I'm wearing an armored jacket in the middle of summer, of course I'm sweating.

chemical burns on the clothing:
How about a gas smell? Particularly on hot days, a motorcycle can leave gas and oil smells on the rider.

Besides all that, if police are really going to start with a shoot first methodology, won't suicide bombers just start using deadman switches to set off their bombs?

Joe MasonAugust 4, 2005 7:09 PM

Why should the *London* police or the *International* Association of Chiefs of Police be bound by the *American* Constitution? I know in America "Constitutional"'s become a synonym for "moral", but when you're talking about an international situation to an international audience, you can't just quote the U.S. Constitution as an authority.

BryanAugust 4, 2005 7:11 PM

@Mike-

You've been asking over and over again 'what what you do' - apparently on the assumption that this shoot to kill scenario is the best alternative out there. You've also suggested that if a policeman yells 'stop or I'll shoot' and the person doesn't stop, then shoot to kill should be the next option. Please correct me if I have mis-stated your position.

The flaws in this are legion, as several have already pointed out. Here's another flaw: I'm hearing impaired. So, London is a VERY dangerous place for me! Also don't forget, the last dead guy had already been subdued. Police THEN proceded to kill him.

So what's my solution? You're gonna hate this: do nothing. More specifically, do nothing more than we did before 9/11. Terrorism, just like any other murder, isn't a crime you're going to have much luck preventing a determined person from carrying out. You have to wait until they've DONE it, and then you hunt them down using investigative techniques that have been honed for centuries.

OK, some investigations can be pro-active, keeping tabs on the people you think may be planning new acts of violence, but even the proto-terrorist has all the same rights and privileges of the NON-terrorist until he/she actually breaks a law. Only this way can you and I as NON-terrorists know that our own rights and privileges have meaning. We aren't going to stop terrorism by turning police into terrorists - that simply cannot work.

So-called 'shoot-to-kill' means YOUR privilege to go on living could be removed simply because you were wearing your iPod and didn't hear the policeman yell those fateful words "Stop or I'll kill you!"

Is this really the best solution you can think of, Mike?

Sure signAugust 4, 2005 7:14 PM

I had to go through London en-route from my trip to India from Scotland, UK. My train from Scotland stopped at King's cross station, the scene of one of the bombings. I had to walk out of the station to go to my hotel. I was "armed" with two suitcases (thanks to gifts/presents to friends & relatives back home). With thoughts in my mind about the Asian looks, the suitcases and excessive sweat due to all these reasons coughing up inside me, boy! I was really nervous about some mad policeman pointing his gun at me.
I was even mentally rehearsing how I would react to such a move -- it wasn't clear that any gesture or action was safer distinguising me from a suicide bomber. It was crazy!

I can't believe they have such a policy in effect even after killing the innocent Brazllian in the tube!

Gopi FlahertyAugust 4, 2005 7:14 PM

@Mike:
"I agree Mark, but what else can be done? Do you have any ideas of how to stop a potential suicide bombers?"

I'm not Mark, but...
If a suicide bomber has managed to:
1. Build a working bomb
2. Attach it to themselves
3. Get to a target location
...without the intelligence services or the police identifying them, then they've already won. It's (very, very likely) too late.

There are 2.67 million passenger journeys per day on the London Underground. In the 27 or so days since the first bombing (ignoring the likely decrease in passenger volume) we have about 72 million passenger journeys. Four, or maybe five, of them were suicide bombers.

With so many potential bombers, and so few actual bombers, even with an incredibly small false positive rate, there will be a significant number of false positives.

This is why it's important to ensure that false positives don't result in summary executions of innocent civilians.

There is no reliable way for a police officer walking down the street to tell if somebody is a suicide bomber or not. There just isn't. They can be suspicious and challenge people, but it's ridiculous to suggest they can look at somebody and decide to execute them on the spot.

This policy seems to be based on the assumption that there simply _must_ be some way to stop a bomber up until the moment they press the button. That assumption is incorrect, and any policy based on incorrect assumptions is going to be flawed.

Suicide bombers are a difficult challenge. There are many ways to try to deal with them. None of them are failsafe. None of them are guaranteed. This proposed strategy guarantees fear - now you have to be afraid of the police _and_ the terrorists.

Thomas SprinkmeierAugust 4, 2005 7:15 PM

@Bruce,

"Although seriously, I would expect terrorists would learn from this and make their wires white and thin, like iPod earbuds."

Bad idea.

iPod-ers are well advised to avoid the tell-tale white wires for fear of getting mugged.

Camuflaging yourself as a high-value target while on a critical mission does not seem to me to be a good strategy.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 4, 2005 7:19 PM

@ Joe Mason

Ok, how does the Declaration of Independence work for you? Just kidding. I do not see any problem with citing the Constitution as an historically relevant document to the concepts of liberty and freedom. The US is still part of the international situation, last time I checked at least, so what is wrong with considering its founding principles here? Perhaps you would like to add some other references for comparison/contrast?

JilaraAugust 4, 2005 7:51 PM

I read that description of potential suicide bombers and it fits people I see almost every day. Around here, we call them "homeless mental cases." Helps them to decrease the surplus population, I guess, to cynically paraphrase Dickens.

However, it might be expecting a lot from cops, shooting a suspect in the head, anyway. A lot of cops have trouble hitting the broad side of a barn, because they don't practice. In my city, we seem to get mostly one of two kinds: the kind who are so bad with their weapons that they kill fellow officers who are caught in the crossfire, and those who kill people at the drop of a perceived threat. We already get innocent victims of mistaken identity (looked like a wanted criminal) getting shot dead. And I say that having friends who are cops. The results of a policy like this are not going to be pretty.

Roy OwensAugust 4, 2005 8:15 PM

Given that 'reasonable-basis' has a dismal sensitivity and vanishingly small specificity, and the rarity of suicide bombers, the outcome of the reasonable-basis-shoot-to-kill policy is simple to predict: in round numbers, 100% of those killed will turn out to be innocents.

Terrorists will realize that there are targets the police will automatically exempt from such a policy. Costumed appropriately, suicide bombers could readily penetrate large crowds without being shot down, or even questioned, carrying a 10 kg bomb.

Several exemptions I can think of: SWAT officers, uniformed police officers, anyone with a bad attitude wearing black jackets saying FBI or CRASH or BOUNTY HUNTER or TASK FORCE or whatnot, security officers, firefighters in fire gear, uniformed delivery people carrying packages, lawyers in suits with briefcases, clowns in full costume, and nuns.

Joe BuckAugust 4, 2005 9:27 PM

The description of "multiple anomolies" applies to a significant fraction of the homeless population of San Francisco, specifically the part about unseasonably heavy coats and duffel bags (since they've got to carry everything they own), as well as nervous behavior or mumbling (since a sizable fraction have mental health issues).

LesAugust 4, 2005 9:35 PM

Even if you could identify suicide bombers with 100% certainty, what if the bomb has a backup trigger based on a heart monitor (like ones you get for monitoring your heartrate during exercise) ? Killing the bomber, just sets the bomb off !

Jo_AvaAugust 4, 2005 10:36 PM

' The person might display nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact or excessive sweating. There might be chemical burns on the clothing or stains on the hands. The person might mumble prayers or be "pacing back and forth in front of a venue." '

Well, congratulations. Apparently they've just figured out a way to rid the streets of the homeless, the mentally ill, and the just plain downright oddball and get fear-manipulated citizens to support it.

Bruce SchneierAugust 4, 2005 10:59 PM

"So Matti, what do you suggest to stop any potential suicide bomber?"

Be careful. That's the wrong question. It's not "what do you do to stop a suicide bomber?" It's: "what do you do to a person who you think might be a suicide bomber?" When you ask the wrong question, you get very muddled answers.

The first question is more general, and I've written a lot about that. The second question is what concerns us here.

Thomas SprinkmeierAugust 4, 2005 11:06 PM

"... what do you suggest to stop any potential suicide bomber?"

I'd prefer if we answered this question instead:

"... what do you suggest to minimise the harm of suicide bombing?"

I don't think this "shoot-to-kill" policy is effective harm-minimisation. Not to individuals, and certainly not to society.

SHAugust 5, 2005 1:05 AM

@Sure sign:

You were foolish to risk walking through King's Cross. You should have taken a cab. Then, two of you could have been brown skinned Asians, close to suitcases, sweating underneath your coats. Immediately, it would have halved the chance of you being shot. Hmm or would it have doubled the chance? Darn.

hankAugust 5, 2005 1:13 AM

"They hate us because of our freedom."

They like us more now than they did a year ago. As we progress along our current path, they will come to love us, because we will no longer be a tempting alternative for people who want to leave where they are now in hope of a better future.

Live poor, or be shot in the head by the rich, choose.

ZaardAugust 5, 2005 1:35 AM

Time was, we were told the police were here to make us safe. Somehow, the notion that I could be murdered by a cop for looking nervous does not give me a great feeling of safety. How, exactly, are you going to be calm and collected when you see someone who's been authorized to blow your brains out if he doesn't like your looks?

hectorAugust 5, 2005 1:40 AM

(1) What makes you think if a cop shouts "stop or I'll shoot" in a crowded subway station the person will know he's the one being shouted at? If he's innocent, he may assume someone else is the target, and since the cops are threatening to shoot someone, the best thing is to get out of the way — fast. Not to mention the bad acoustics in tunnels, people with hearing problems (which can be anyone who's gone to a lot of rock concerts), any of a number of reasons why, in a crowded place, you might not correctly identify that you're being singled out. Another example — I once knew a guy who was really, really good at math. When he was working on a problem in his head, you could shout at him and he wouldn't hear you. To get his attention, you had to physically grab him.

(2) A decade or so, in Ontario, Guy Paul Morin was arrested and convicted of murdering a young girl, only to be released after DNA evidence proved he was innocent. One of the chief reasons cited for arresting him in the first place was that when a police officer interviewed him (he lived near the missing girl's home), he got very nervous. Some people just get nervous around authority figures. Some people get nervous and sweaty around people, period.

Put simply, this policy says that officers of the state can shoot to death people who, in their opinion, might be about to commit a crime. In other words, it's a form of martial law. Forget for a minute individual safety — what about the safety and survival of civilian rule?

ColinAugust 5, 2005 1:41 AM

Josh makes a good point about schizophrenics. The people most likely to end up shot are the mentally ill, the deaf, foreigners, and people listening to loud music on headphones.

MJAugust 5, 2005 1:46 AM

Just wait for the bombers to switch to "detonate upon loss of lifesign" plan, and the shoot-to-kill would be pointless.

Anonymoust Coward Who Frequents SlashdotAugust 5, 2005 1:51 AM

Before I make this obvious point, I'll have you know that I did due diligence by searching the page for "Speed" and "Dennis."

Nope, nobody made the point. Which means I get to make it. Good for me.

The shoot-to-kill policy is stupid; and here's why:

Now that the police have advertised their shoot-to-kill policy, what will the "real" terrorists do? I'm not talking about patsies, nervous sweaty types who give off the terrorist vibe, or errant gang members. I'm talking about the proverbial, "real," suicide bomber.

You know what they'll do? They'll make like Dennis Hopper in "Speed." Anyone who possesses enough technical expertise to create a suicide bomb, or any bomb for that matter, could easily rig up a failsafe, or killswitch, to be triggered in the event of their death.

Therefore, not only will the police will kill innocent people, by getting the itchy trigger from the profiling, and the prevalence of non-terrorists who fit the profile; but the deaths they are "trying" to stop will still remain, provided the suicide bombers make a slight modification to their tactics.

Additionally, the terrorists should send the police a thank-you note for reminding them what NOT to do. Now they know to where business suits, take tranquilizers, stifle the prayers, and use antiperspirant.

But seriously folks, this is most likely yet another step in the police state erosion of civil liberties and due process rights.

They're trying to make it so they can execute anyone on the street at the slightest provocation, which can always be "invented" afterwards.

parentAugust 5, 2005 1:57 AM

Is there an age limit to this policy?

Imagine the scenario of a lost child:
Nervous, sweating.
Dressed overly warm (parents worry about catching cold).
Pacing up and down in front of a venu, unwilling to walk too far for fear of getting more lost.
Scared, unwilling to make eyecontact.
Perhaps a long way from home, therefore perhaps carrying a bag.
Mumbling "Mum is going to kill me...."

rigelAugust 5, 2005 2:07 AM

mj,it's called a "dead man's switch."

like a button that detonates the bomb when you release it. like when you're shot in the head, for example.

Ann NonymousAugust 5, 2005 2:10 AM

Whenever the police shoot an innocent in the head, the terrorists win.

echodawgAugust 5, 2005 2:40 AM

Terrorism...
Terror...

I'm afraid of you!!!
Your afraid of me!!!

Get it?

THEY ARE WINNING!?!?!?

hibernatusAugust 5, 2005 3:04 AM

i should remember:
- never go to a LAN party with a bag and lots of wires
- don't be a scatterbrained professor of chemistry
- never mumble
- never date with a girl - to avoid pacing

or i'll be shot in my head...

B-ConAugust 5, 2005 3:21 AM

The solution is not to kill people who look like terrorists, the solution is to filter out and stop the terrorists before they get the chance to commit an act of terror. The terrorists should never even make it to the point where they're standing around pacing in a heavy jacket.

Fighting international terrorists is not a job for the local police force. Theoretically, if the terrorists are smart enough to evade international intelligence, how could they be stupid enough to blow their cover once they've reached their target?

Obviously, police should be vigilant and watch for obvious signs of terrorists, but the burden of preventing attacks should not lie on them, and policies like this should never even be considered.

MJAugust 5, 2005 3:30 AM

@rigel
A person can hold onto the "dead-man's switch" for only some time. How are those devices called, that monitors heart-beats ?

Perhaps we should outlaw athlete's watch with heart-beat monitoring capabilities.

frankieAugust 5, 2005 3:36 AM

You don't need to be a security expert to understand that this so-called "shoot-to-kill policy" is effective only against people who are NOT terrorists (for "Mike", in the unlikely case he's not a troll: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... So the real questions are:
1) what were the REAL reasons to come up with it?
2) have any of you read or heard such obvious observations in the big media? If not, why?

Anyway, so long folks. It's been a pleasure to read from you all, but now I'm off to go by public means of transport to pick up my motorcycle at the repair shop, and it's so hot here in Rome that I'm already sweating under my armored jacket! Hope that Italian cops are as bad marksmen as they are said to be...

LKFAugust 5, 2005 3:38 AM

People who support shooting potential terrorists and thereby accept the death of innocent people are potentially responsible for the death of innocent people. We should shoot them.

Its the UK, EuropeAugust 5, 2005 3:40 AM

Since when did the US Constitution have anything to do with UK Law (modern?). And you yanks are too busy shooting yourselves in the head, let alone, the police, to see what's going on in the wrest of the world.

Its the UK, EuropeAugust 5, 2005 3:41 AM

Since when did the US Constitution have anything to with UK Law (modern?). And you yanks are too busy shooting yourselves in the head, let alone, the police, to see what's going on in the wrest of the world.

SebastianAugust 5, 2005 3:43 AM

"wearing a heavy coat and sweating"... sounds like a hard time for Santa Claus in Miami this year...

ChristianAugust 5, 2005 4:19 AM

You're a suicide-bomber. You're at the station. You're getting yelled at. You stop. You get arrested. You're no suicide-bomber.

You're a suicide-bomber. You're at the station. You're getting yelled at. You get shot. You're no suicide-bomber.

You're a suicide-bomber. You're at the station. You're getting yelled at. You explode. You're a suicide-bomber.

If you ar a suicide-bomber, why let them stop you? Why not take the chance and take 'em with you?

What makes the police so sure, a stopping suicide-bomber is safe for them?

Even if you believe in "shoot-to-kill", I think this makes you look stupid.

EssamAugust 5, 2005 5:39 AM

Two main loopholes of the policy.

1- The bombers can start using new detonater. In which they need to hold it all the time, and once released, the bomb will be detonated.

2- The bomber don't care to be arrested. They plan to kill themselves anyway. So, even if they don't use the (auto detonater). They can just obey the orders of the police. And stop walking when they are asked to. And once the time is proper, they will detonate the bomb.

FridzAugust 5, 2005 5:45 AM

I believe one of the best things that democratic societies can do in order to minimize the effect of terrorism is to teach better mathematical literacy to the general population!

The chances of being injured or killed by a terrorist attack are very small indeed. You probably stand a better chance of winning your typical national lottery, not to mention the fact that a lot of other things have a far greater chance of hurting you (car accidents, heart attacks, falling through a hole in the street etc.).

If people would relize the odds, they would not be so terrified and therefore would minimize the real effects of terrorism, the terror it causes to those that learn about attacks.

Unfortunatly, this would also drive the big lotteries out of business...

deltaAugust 5, 2005 5:56 AM

^Excellent comment above by Fridz. I strongly feel that it is at least partially the responsibility of the news agencies to tone down hysteria. The people who took to bicycles following the London Subway bombings were more than likely unaware they had just made their lives exponentially more dangerous.

Clive RobinsonAugust 5, 2005 6:01 AM

@Mike

I also live and work in London, and I have also received wepons training whilst wearing the green, and for my sins shot for my regiment at a number of competitions.

Having had a look at the Police officers around London carrying guns, I would say that a fair number of them show extreamly bad wepons handeling. So much so that I would consider them to be at beast extreamly negligent at worst extreamly dangerous.

To make this worse the London Police have spent something like 28 days working 12 hour shifts without a break, so the state of their mind is now very much in question.

Given the above can you seriously consider that armed police on Londons streets make us safer???

GrainneAugust 5, 2005 6:27 AM

Consider a scenario:

One suicide bomber, one police man and no civilians. The aim of the police is to prevent the bomb exploding. There are a few outcomes:

1) The bomber does not see the police. The police man shoots and kills. The bomb does not explode = sucess.
2) Same as above, except the death triggers the bomb = fail
3) The police man misses, the bomber becomes aware of police presense and detonates the bomb = fail
4) The bombers sees the police before being shot and detonates the bomb = fail

Now add civilians to this equation. My guess-timate is that the success ratio of this is less than 10% seeing as an acurate hit is unlikely even in a controlled situation.

My point is: When the bomber is in the station it is pretty much too late.

The only solution is prevention.

Student carrying a laptop and lots of stuff aroundAugust 5, 2005 6:27 AM

This is scary. My mp3 player has visible wires, buttons I keep pressing while on the bus... My mobile usually stays in my trousers or in my shirt pocket and I carry a laptop with plenty of wires and electronics in my backpack. Sure hope I don't scare the hell out of a police officer.

Steve LeighAugust 5, 2005 6:41 AM

While at the train platform in the Paris airport, I was exhibiting three of the cited qualities: I was carrying a backpack, I was pacing on the train platform as we waited for the train (because I couldn't sit still), and I had wires coming out of my jacket for my iPod. And I was nervous, because I wasn't certain we had the right train, so I might have been sweating a bit, too...

I suppose I was lucky I wasn't gunned down.

Alberto GonzalesAugust 5, 2005 6:52 AM

Notions of rights are quaint.

The shoot to kill doesn't go far enough. It needs to be turned into a random shoot to kill based on ethnicity. So, a few Sikhs and Hispanics might get killed. If we start shooting every 5th middle eastern looking man at random that will really put the fear of God and Jesus into the heathens.

We are in a generational war that Bush is on record as saying can't be won. We have the civillian population right where we want them.

The Regan/Bush plan to empower 3rd world thugs like Osama and Saddam has worked well. We got the Pearl Harbor type event we needed to move our agenda forward and an excuse to invade Iraq allowing us to establish a forward base with oil supplies to launch our next invasions from.

Remember to keep to the plan.

http://newamericancentury.org/...

Jesus loves you.

- Al

Anonymous CowardAugust 5, 2005 6:52 AM

@Clive:

"Having had a look at the Police officers around London carrying guns, I would say that a fair number of them show extreamly bad wepons handeling. So much so that I would consider them to be at beast extreamly negligent at worst extreamly dangerous."

Well, seven hits out of eight shots isn't too bad, particularly when compared to the ratio over on the US side of the pond, such as when 42 were fired at the innocent in NYC (and less than half hit), or about 20-or-so years ago when some drunk running from the Cincinnati Police drove his automobile onto Fountain Square...over 100 shots fired, no hits at all (except on a couple of windows). Regardless, this is an absolutely insane policy for all the reasons submitted so far.

NitpickerAugust 5, 2005 6:55 AM

>EDITED TO ADD: For reference:
>
> The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
> against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants
> shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly
> describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
>
>But what does a 215-year-old document know?

IMHO amendment IV does not fit. It protects against unreasonable searches not bullets.
Amendment V *might* help:

[...]nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[...]

KEHAugust 5, 2005 7:00 AM

What can one say. People want their governments and law enforcement to do something to the terrorist threat. It's no good to tell the public that if we increase taxes and give more resources to the police and/or to other instances that could deter terrorism, we might see the outcome in the next year or decade or century. People want to now they are safe today. So governments and law enforcement officials get "bright" ideas and start to act before considering the ramifications of their actions.

I loved the post above about mathematical literacy. People are just irrational with respect to how to die. It is not acceptable that we lose x people in bombings, but it's reasonable to lose 1000x people in traffic related accidents, or 10x people in "ordinary" criminal killings.

gareisAugust 5, 2005 7:13 AM

> Do you have any ideas of how to stop potential suicide bombers?

Prevent them from becoming actual suicide bombers. Propaganda helps.

Once someone has an explosive, it's pretty much impossible to stop them from using it. And it's relatively easy to make explosives--you can always resort to fertilizer, or steal, or make a household lab. Heck, I could probably make dynamite if I put my mind to it.

Basically, once someone wants to be a suicide bomber, the only thing you can do to stop them is wait for them to mess up and do something clearly worth noting. Such as stealing C4.

Unless, of course, you install cameras everywhere. (This includes random bits of forest, deserts, uninhabitable mountains, and possibly the moon.) And have enough personnel to watch every one (probably tied to motion detectors). And can keep snow and trash from accumulating over them. And have a system to ensure that the watchers are trustworthy.

Question, though: why didn't terrorists target Saddam Hussein? Because he didn't ally himself with the West and he wasn't half-arsed about freedom. You didn't have any, as far as government was concerned.

And why aren't terrorists targetting France? Because France isn't antagonizing anyone and it isn't half-arsed about freedom -- you generally have it.

The US, on the other hand, is antagonizing Middle Eastern countries and is rather half-assed about freedom. You're getting less and less all the time, though, so we really won't have anything to fear in twenty years. Except for whatever the government says is scary.

A. ReaderAugust 5, 2005 7:48 AM

The most disturbing thing about the whole issue is that, as Bruce has aluded to in other posts, all this policy will really do is to force the bombers to incorporate "dead man" switches into their devices so that the munition detonates automatically if the carrier is incapacitated. Unfortunately, in a war, both sides innovate based on the tactics of the other.

Brian CarnellAugust 5, 2005 8:32 AM

Its kind of odd just how evidence-free this discussion is given that we have a country -- namely Israel -- that has had this shoot-to-kill policy in place for a long time. How well does the policy work there? How frequently do Israeli police get it wrong and kill a completely innocent suspect? How often do they actually prevent suicide attacks by killing someone who fits a behavioral profile like this?

It seems like the thrashing back and forth about how such a policy might be implemented and the potential utilitarian equation here is kind of silly given that there should be real-world data available from the Israeli experience.

Brian CarnellAugust 5, 2005 8:54 AM

"The most disturbing thing about the whole issue is that, as Bruce has aluded to in other posts, all this policy will really do is to force the bombers to incorporate "dead man" switches into their devices so that the munition detonates automatically if the carrier is incapacitated. Unfortunately, in a war, both sides innovate based on the tactics of the other."

Again, Israel has been using such a policy for awhile. Have suicide bombers there switched to using "dead man" switches?

Frankly, I doubt this is a real problem as incorporating this would add a whole other layer of complexity to the bomb device. Surely suicide bombers are aware of cases where even relatively simple devices fail to detonate for one reason or another and likely weigh performance issues like this.

A much better solution would be to use bombs or techniques which allow one to avoid the profile. Do dry runs to overcome the nervousness. Use devices that are easier to conceal. Carry out bombings when wearing heavy coats is not out of the norm.

In contrast, switching to complicated devices like dead man switches seems like a lot of effort for relatively minimal payoff.

chuAugust 5, 2005 9:31 AM

@ mike

You might want to consider that the Brazilian victim's mother said that police had told her that he was wearing a denim jacket and had not jumped over the barriers but used his travelcard to go through. Also, in all official accounts I have seen, we are told only that the police 'challenged' him. This has not been defined at all as far as I know. Nowhere does it say that they identified themselves or said anything like 'stop or we'll shoot'. In the circumstances, you would expect that we would be told that police identified themselves and repeatedly warned him if anything like that had happened.

Regarding stopping a suicide bomber, in this case it seems that handcuffing may have been possible as he was pinned on the ground by 3 men.

Eric BlairAugust 5, 2005 9:46 AM

@Joe Mason

"Why should the *London* police or the *International* Association of Chiefs of Police be bound by the *American* Constitution? "

The IACP is another one of those America institutions, like the "world" series, that is a tad overreaching in its nomenclature. Admittedly the IACP is now slightly international in scope but its membership is solidly North American. Because of the unique structure of the Police across the USA - lots of one town police forces - that there are police "chiefs" of remarkably small police forces.

frankieAugust 5, 2005 10:46 AM

@Brian:
"we have a country -- namely Israel -- that has had this shoot-to-kill policy in place for a long time. How well does the policy work there?"

I've never seen any data (have you?), and I'm not sure there's a lot being published, but my guesses are:

- At checkpoints, with the lone suicide bomber surrounded by military personnel at safe standoff distance: very good

- At crowded places downtown: very bad

TomAugust 5, 2005 10:56 AM

I think that we should all thank Mike for his fine portrayal of The Contrarian, the inevitable devil's advocate who shows up on every blog discussion and sets up nice big straw men at point blank range. Personally, I'd recommend Pepto-Bismol for his feelings of nausea at the presence of cynicism; in this day and age, he might as well head to the nearest warehouse-discount store and pick up a crate.

MnMAugust 5, 2005 11:12 AM

I was under the impression that they were following this particular guy for a reason. What the media (and those who don't agree with the policy) doesn't emphasize is that this guy was under survailance for several days and was seen entering and leaving a house they know was tied to the bombings. Everybody wants everyone to have a fair trial and so do I, but those same people are very quick to condemn practices of the law even when they don't have all the information.

Sure maybe he wasn't armed this time... but he was connected in some way and not completely innocent. I'm not saying that warrants his death, but keep in mind that they didn't just pick a guy on the street and shoot him.

As far as my opinion on the policy I am really not sure what to think. With the right training and a better excuse than clothing I think it would work. Base it on clothing and the terrorists will just find another way to blend in.

RemyAugust 5, 2005 11:16 AM

@ Anonymous Coward:

"Well, seven hits out of eight shots isn't too bad..."

At point blank, while restraint by two other cops, it should have been 8/8.

MarkAugust 5, 2005 11:23 AM

"I was under the impression that they were following this particular guy for a reason."

All the reports I've read said the _building_ was under survellience. The reports say that he was followed mistakenly thinking the brown guy was muslim, to see who he would take them to. The police were OK with this 'dangerous' person getting on a bus. The plains clothed police later decided to shoot him instead of letting him use the tubes.

Matti KinnunenAugust 5, 2005 11:28 AM

@MnM

So, being investigated by the intelligence and going in and out a building, is good enough reason for murdering someone?

What if the intelligence makes a mistake and starts to follow your movements for several weeks. Maybe someone tipped them off, or maybe they confuse you with someone else? What if a building you visit everyday happens to be the nest of the terrorists, or at least the police thinks so? Would you be willing to get killed for the sake of a greater good in this situation?

But of course, the police and the intelligence never make any mistake. Iraq is still full of WMDs, Saddam had link to al-Qaida, etc.
And not a single innocent person has never been executed in USA.

jammitAugust 5, 2005 12:17 PM

Since I'm an American, I can only comment how this would apply to me. I, too, carry my electronics repair stuff with me. I also carry it in an old Army ammo case. Sweet jebus I'm asking for trouble. Anyway, as far as a dead mans switch is concerened, don't even bother. Use no switch whatsoever. Instead, make the explosives impact sensitive and run from the cops. Try to look as conspicuous as possible. Even go as far as getting a tan, adding a fake beard, and wrapping a towel around your head (I know, most don't wear turbans anymore. It's just for panache)

GustavoAugust 5, 2005 12:22 PM

Bad news: there's nothing to do to stop suicide bombers.

Good news: they're a dying species.

Now, seriously: shouldn't we think in the long term, find out what turns a person into a suicide terrorist and then do something to prevent it?

------------------------------------
[kinda off-topic...]

Shouldn't we use anti-terrorism money to fight AIDS, Cancer, ebola? How about world hunger? It kills lots of people, but apparently nobody cares cause they're poor and don't deserve our concern...

BryanAugust 5, 2005 1:01 PM

One of the recurring refrains in the ongoing thinking about terrorism is "let's put an end to the hunger/disease/poor education/{whatever conditions} that foster terrorism".

It's a still a really big world. As nice as that sentiment is, it's your basic pipe dream. Just not feasible over the long run. Every such attempt you do make will help convince someone that you actually are responsible for their problems!

Fridz has already outlined the best personal solution: understand the math and realize that you're really unlikely to actually have a personal encounter with terrorism. Once you've done that and realized that terrorism is actually one of your smallest life-threatening worries, you can examine the long telephoto lense our media and polititians have used to focus so narrowly (and for so *long*)on this tiny threat and ask: why are they working so hard to turn a molehill into a mountain?

chuAugust 5, 2005 1:40 PM

@ MnM

We're wandering off-topic but from what I have read, he wasn't under surveillance previously. He simply came out of a large block of council flats which was under surveillance.

The whole thing is odd and there seem to be 3 competing explanations:

- Conspiracy: he was hired as a freelance electrician to install the 7/7 bombs which were on the tracks and somehow set off by the electrical surge that was first reported. Sounds like this one was made up by a non-scientist.

- National security: he was probably an innocent victim in the wrong place at the wrong time but the police were in no way at fault. However, they can't clarify any details as it would compromise operational security. Basically it's a 'trust us' argument identical to the one Tony Blair used on WMD.

- Incompetence: the set of people who apply for jobs as police will inevitably contain some who are not ruled by their own heads. Add this to the nervous climate of fear irresponsibly stoked up by the government/media and asking officers to start making their own (split-second) decisions is guaranteed to get bad results.

@ Bryan

I think the point is not that we need to end world poverty but rather that we need to stop doing things like recruiting, training and funding people like bin laden, as the US did in the 80's. If the US had simply sat on their hands it is arguable that we wouldn't face this problem. (Likewise it is also arguable that having made the mess, it is incumbent on us to clear it up and not necessarily pull out).

indirectionitisAugust 5, 2005 1:51 PM

well in good olde toronto, canada, the police, who are trained to use guns to destroy, have using the shoot-to-kill police-y for some time and are 100% successful at it whether your a thug-gang banger-thief-pyschotic-bad guy they're are also found 100% not guilty by way of necessity in that they were doing they're jobs. funny a new interventionist program in the same city is getting NO new attention, NOR funds which is 100% successful at preventing harm to persons (including the potential harmee). unfortunately shoot first (destroy without right awareness understanding or fart principles) is gaining momentum... the terrorists are winning... innocents are being killed.

MarkAugust 5, 2005 2:16 PM

"Iraq is still full of WMDs, Saddam had link to al-Qaida, etc. "

I get to talk to many people from different states in my work. Do realize that there are _many_ people out there who still believe that those things are true? They also believe that there was world wide consensus that Saddam had WMD and was a real threat.

They believe this because authority figures (the administration) keep repeating the lies and people have put their trust in them.

The poll figures on those things before the election showed an amazing trust in what people heard from our leaders. ...as well as a major lack of will to study the issues independently and apply critical thinking.

MarkAugust 5, 2005 2:40 PM

"They hate us because we are so good and righteous."

Egotistical, self rightous BS that plays to the ignorant masses.

"Poverty etc. is the reason."

Peripheral and a bit patronizing. Way do the many, many millions of other people who live in poverty not feel compelled to kill themselves to murder us?

We assasinated a moderate fundamentalist president in Iran and put our own bloody tyrant on the peacock throne. We promised muslims sanctuary in Beirut and Bosnia and then allowed christians to slaughter them. (The Dutch govt resigned en masse over their role in Bosnia) We back tyrants and thugs like Mubarak, and Hussein. Our leaders are business partners with oppresive fundamentalist scum like the house of Saud. ...and how much public discussion is there that the Sauds are the nexus and financiers of this movement?

These people have very real reasons to believe that we are bloody oppressors who do not value their lives. The photos from our prisons just re-enforce that view.

They are also hearing things that are overlooked or drowned out in the US press. How many of you have heard about the innocent cab driver in Afghanistan who was hung from hand cuffs for two days and literally had his legs beaten to jelly. By US forces. Or the two year attempt to suppress and hinder the investigation.

It is only recently that I have seen some real discussion that moves beyond self rightous egotisim and begins to discuss why so many people are so willing to kill themselves to get to us.

Brian CarnellAugust 5, 2005 2:42 PM

"@ Bryan

I think the point is not that we need to end world poverty but rather that we need to stop doing things like recruiting, training and funding people like bin laden, as the US did in the 80's. If the US had simply sat on their hands it is arguable that we wouldn't face this problem. (Likewise it is also arguable that having made the mess, it is incumbent on us to clear it up and not necessarily pull out)."

Hmmm...so we should assume all Muslims we cooperate with will later turn into terrorists? After all, Bin Laden returned to SA after the Afghanistan war and doesn't become a terrorist until the late 1980s.

This is a bit like saying that the way to avoid attack like the OKC bombing is to stop recruiting and training people like Timothy McVeigh.

Someone please pass the crystal ball.

Anonymous #64August 5, 2005 3:00 PM

So, if an undercover police officer in public wears a backpack that has an earphone coming out of it attached to a police radio, and is wearing a bulletproof vest under a heavy jacket and it's summer and he's sweating, and sees a crime so he runs after the perpetrator down into a subway entrace, does that mean that police inside the subway who didn't notice the perp can shoot him the undercover officer the head?

Gee, that's a reeeeaaaal smart idea - I'm sure undercover cops will just love that.

chuAugust 5, 2005 3:23 PM

@ Brian Carnell

Well of course the Russians (and Afghans for that matter) would have been of the opinion that bin laden was a terrorist from the start. I assume by comparing him to McVeigh you are implying that he suddenly went off his truck post US-funding. Maybe that's a question of perspective but the clearly stated grievance of all these extremist groups is the interventionist foreign policy of Western governments. You certainly didn't need a crystal ball to know that Iraq (for example) was a huge mistake - enough people in the West were on the streets about it, none of them clairvoyant but apparently showing more foresight than our intelligence services and governments.

NickAugust 5, 2005 3:51 PM


Let's consider the criteria offered and see how they stand up:

- Wearing a heavy jacket or coat in the wrong season.

We've already had people mention that they wear heavy garb for motorcycles; starter (warmup jackets worn by athletes) jackets are also status wear for teenagers. And, what happens during the rainy/winter season? This criteria becomes ineffective.

- Displaying nervousness or hesitance to make eye contact.

This is a crime? If an LEO is giving you a dose of cop eye, you're going to stare back? Why do we presume all suicide bombers are nervous? What is the basis for saying they tend not to make eye contact?

How do we establish nervousness? Pacing? People who are late pace. People who are distracted pace. Sweating? This can be triggered by diet (a good pepperoni makes sweat break out on my upper lip), heat (like that generated onboard a crowded subway train), and physical exertion (running to catch a train, wearing a backpack while walking). Again, everyone sweats, and there are numerous reasons to do so; this indicator must be linked to a secondary behavior to be useful.

- Dangling wires.

Numerous personal electronic devices have headsets where the wires could be seen to dangle. If we see someone with an earbud, does that mean the dangling wires MUST be a headphone?

- Refusal to comply with police orders.

Go watch people talking on cell phones. Heck, they can't drive, have been known to walk into intersections against the light, and so on. Why do we believe they will hear 'Stop, police!' and immediately comply? (And the converse is, if a bomber feigns being involved in a conversation on a phone, how far can he get?)

It is also ironic that these 'security' measures are also from the folks who tell us (in regards to cameras) 'if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.' So, if I'm doing nothing wrong, why would I even THINK that a cry of 'Stop, police!' is meant for me?

====

Does this mean we're powerless to stop the next bozo to board the B-Train with a bomb?

It seems the terrorists are winning by ensuring a public/security response that is rooted in fear. We're predicating our actions on the supposed 'unpredictability' of terrorists, yet proclaim that we won't let THEM change our way of life. (We'll adopt a police state on our own, thank you!)

It's almost like a Denial of Service attack on the concept of freedom. All the terrorists have to do is ping the server hard enough ... and nobody gets to use it.

SteveAugust 5, 2005 4:26 PM

To paraphrase someone (the origin of the exact quote is lost in a welter of paraphrases and reparaphrases), terrorism is the root password to the Bill of Rights.

In the UK, Tony Blair is proposing to deport anyone who "glorifies terrorism".

I wonder if this will include Zionists who hold Menachem Begin in high regard.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

On person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 5, 2005 5:34 PM

@ Steve

Interesting example. Perhaps we should also include the fact that Menachem Begin was awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize before we ask who holds him in high regard today. Non-Zionists are surely included in that group no so why single out Zionists? Or did you just want to make some random anti-Zionist message?

But more to the point, you left some details out regarding the incident itself. The British Military had actually forcibly invaded the Jewish Authority headquarters in"Operation Black Sabbath" on June 29, 1946. It might not have been as serious an issue if things were encrypted, but instead the British forces were able to confiscate sensitive documents. The Irgun (the National Military Organization) retaliated (on its own, without approval) by bombing the British military and police headquarters (the King David Hotel) AFTER an advance warning was sent warning the hotel to evacuate the building.

I know, minor details, but so many have split hairs about how the current spate of British suicide bombers differ from the IRA and others, I thought it might help clarify your message with some facts.

SteveAugust 6, 2005 12:23 AM

@ Davi

No, my purpose wasn't to make a "random anti-Zionist message" but to make the point, as I said in the final sentence, that the label "terrorist" is relative.

I'm not sure that the Nobel Peace Prize is all that good a measure of who should be held in high esteem. Consider that the prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger (with Le Duc Tho) in 1973 and Jimmy Carter in 2002, two gentlemen whose track records are hardly entirely exemplary. Carter, in effect, created the Al Qaeda mess by prodding the Afghanistan hornets nest at the behest of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Kissinger cannot travel to many countries in the world for fear of being served with a warrant for his arrest for crimes against humanity, but that's a discussion for another day and another forum.

My point is that for one person, glorification of terrorism is another's glorification of a national hero. Creating a form of thought-crime and implementing draconian measures, such as deportation or, even worse, shoot to kill, just drags us deeper into the muck.

Mark LAugust 6, 2005 1:39 AM

If a suspect being pursued by police is actually a suicide bomber, then yelling "stop, or I'll shoot" simply alerts the bomber to the fact that s/he has been detected. Given that the suspect is going to die anyway, it's only rational that they would immediately set off the explosives rather than be caught.

Therefore, it doesn't make sense to give the suspect any warning at all. If the police suspect someone of being a suicide bomber then, by their own logic, the only option is to kill the suspect immediately and without warning. Any other action gives the suspect time to detonate the explosives.

@Mike has asked many times for us to propose an alternative to this policy. This question is unanswerable, because many of us who are opposed to the policy believe that it is unnecessary in the first place, and that therefore no alternative is required.

Nevertheless, it's easy to think of an alternative policy that would probably work: accede to the demands of the terrorists. From what I understand, this would involve withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and removal of US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hardly a large price to pay for peace (I understand that some - though hardly all - Israelis may disagree).

Unfortunately, it's no coincidence that we both provide the label for these desparate people - "terrorists" - and then say that we "refuse to negotiate with terrorists". It's a clever tautology that means that negotiation with any party can be prevented simply by labelling them as "terrorists" regardless of their dispute. That the politicians promulgate this lie, and that the media continuously repeats it, is the thing that sickens me the most about the current situation.

MarioAugust 6, 2005 7:29 AM

Let's see, "heavy coats in the summertime," "avoiding eye contact," "mumbling prayers," -- doesn't this describe the adult male, Hasidic population of New York City? I'm not trying to be a wise guy, but it would seem like the next terrorist to attach New York needs only to dress up like a Hasidic Jew, and he'll slip right under the radar.

So much for profiling.

gladAugust 6, 2005 9:47 AM

Is it me and if I have missed this excuse me but there is more than one way to trigger a bomb, the shoot to kill policy works on the basis that the bomber will press the trigger, however if they have a release trigger then shooting them in the head is no deterrent because once they release the pressure on the trigger because they have been blasted in the head it's still BOOM and takes everyone in the vicinity with them.

chuAugust 6, 2005 11:00 AM

Much as I love the idea of applying computer security approaches to the wider world, I'd just like to point out the bleedin obvious and say that the whole ethos of terrorism is to use strategies a) that are largely insoluble by security measures and b) that cause public outcry so that something has to be done. Terrorism is a proven way that a group with no major capital can force political engagment. I think the best general approach to take is to minimise it by embracing political pluralism. (You will still get terrorists but there will be fewer and the public will see their grievances as more unreasonable). However, our policy makers are clearly terrified of a nuclear hard-line Islamic superstate emerging and seem to be engaged in a war on that possibility, which will inevitably create the side-effect of terrorism. I thought this stick without carrot total war approach was discredited in Vietnam (the whole thing seems to be a revival of the domino theory).

Davi OttenheimerAugust 6, 2005 11:56 AM

@ Steve

"the label "terrorist" is relative"

Well, yes, all labels (and prizes) are relative. But you sitll do not explain why you would specify "Zionists" in your question as opposed to the more powerful question "I wonder if this will include *people* who hold Menachem Begin in high regard." That has a much more significant meaning with regard to relativism since it includes an International delegation that awarded him a Prize for work towards Peace.

And from there you obviously miss the point entirely about the Peace Prize. I was merely pointing to the fact that if you ask who in the world could hold someone in high esteem, then you should probably do a better job of representing their achievements. You use an extremely shallow and selective approach to making your point. That makes it very provactative on its face, but weak without a great deal of additional explanation...

mntAugust 7, 2005 10:02 AM

As i'm a real-life-tron player, wearing a black helmet with some eletronics attached to it, a backpack with several wires hanging out of it, speeding thru the city, i can only hope the policemen in germany are more thoughtful when they decide to take lethal actions.

PhilAugust 8, 2005 8:58 AM

I just finished reading all the comments in this thread.
I see only one way to prevent a bomb from being triggered, it's to prevent it from being ASSEMBLED. To achieve that goal you just need to INVEST IN REAL AND EFFICIENT MEASURES such as long and boring undercover intelligence operations which are never known to the public. An efficient security measure is like an efficient special effect in a movie, it's something that fits in the picture and unseen by the public. Martial law is a denial of freedom.
Of course, like some other people I think this terrorist threat is just a good opportunity for some people to enforce these anti-freedom measures they had ready in their desks for years.
And now for some slightly off topic remark :
I still don't understand why so many American people trust their government knowing they lied about WMDs, Hussein supporting Al Qaeda and many other things. How can they accept their children are sent there to kill or be killed for no legitimate reason ?
I really hope Mike is a troll but I can't convince myself of it.
I'm French and whereas I generally disagree with president Chirac I entirely support him for refusing to fight in Iraq on the basis of these lies and I hope my boss won't need me to go to the US or Britain because here in France I can run, jump, shout, laugh and smile in the streets with my backpack stuffed with various heavy or noisy things, even with police officers or militaries passing by without fearing for my life (it may sound weird but I enjoy acting strange in the streets of Paris on sunny days and sometimes I even find some people who laugh with me).
I know terrorists can attack. I also know my food could be poisoned but the cook has no reason to kill me so I dare to eat it and enjoy its taste.
I enjoy every bit of my freedom being serious and cautious only when necessary. The only limits to my freedom are descency, politeness and respect to the others and their own freedom.

DarkFireAugust 8, 2005 11:04 AM

Hmm... This is of course a very emotive topic for everyone. Let's examine some of the facts surrounding the issue.

[SNIP]
The police organization's behavioral profile says such a person might exhibit "multiple anomalies," including wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather or carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires. The person might display nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact or excessive sweating. There might be chemical burns on the clothing or stains on the hands. The person might mumble prayers or be "pacing back and forth in front of a venue."
[SNIP]

Wherever this came from... It's simply not accurate. The policy *suggests* that these *might* be indicators of a suicide bomber. There are many other potential indicators. It certainly does not say "you-must-shoot-anyone-showing-any-of-these-charectaristscs" or anything of the like. Let's not forget that the officers concerned are able to think for themselves, and react in a way that they find appropriate to the given circumstances. They are also very highly trained. On this I will say no more.

However, it is extremely naive to believe that the terrorists are incapable of adapting their tactics to counter our methods. I would expect that future suicide bombers might wear light suits etc.

Whoever posted above that when the suicide bomber has entered the station they are largely impossible to stop - this is unfortunately true.

On another subject - there are actually several studies that show that Police (in the UK at least) are *very* good at determining if an individual is suffering from mental health problems. I don't know why this is the case, but it is true.

As far as tactics are concerned, I was bewildered to read in the press and on other blogs comments by civillians advocating the use of CS, cuffs, stun guns etc. etc. Gentlemen - news flash: unless the terroris's motor capability is instantly removed (this means cutting the brain stem) they *WILL* retain the ability to activate their bomb.

For reasons of operational security and to avoid pre-detonation the suicide bomber is historically very unlikely to use a dead-switch. Much more probable is the use of a 3rd-party activator. But this also introduces a level of sophistication into the bomb design which heightens the chances of the designer coming to notice with the security services.

And to the gentleman who suggested that the Police have no business fighting terrorism - with all due respect wake up, there are probably less than 5000 members of MI5 covering the entire UK. There are above 30,000 police officers in the Met. Need I say more?

crazy susanMarch 4, 2008 4:37 AM

right is right and wrong is wrong and no matter what age we are all know right from wrong

Irelands FinestAugust 5, 2008 8:36 AM

The RUC carried out a shoot to kill policy in Northern Ireland for years and didn't let on to this day that this was the case, everybody and their dog knew about it but it was never publicly acknowledged by the RUC or the British Government for that matter. there are still campaignes in motion to force the government to admit that there was a shoot to kill policy. Basically it comes down to the point that even if the police or government say there is no shoot to kill policy there could very well be one without people knowing about it.

Irelands FinestAugust 5, 2008 8:41 AM

What I'm trying to say is...a shoot to kill policy can and usually is implemented without the knowledge of the public or persons outside the loop in which case a hard stop or a shooting carried out within the boundaries of the shoot to kill policy can, and in the case of northern Ireland usually is, masked as just another self defence shooting by the RUC.

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