Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Cameras Catch Dry Run of 7/7 London Terrorists |
| Judge Roberts, Privacy, and the Future »
September 22, 2005
Terrorists and Hurricanes
More movie-plot threats at the Department of Homeland Security: "How Terrorists Might Exploit a Hurricane."
Posted on September 22, 2005 at 7:02 AM
• 39 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
These people have too much time on their hands.
This is a popural joke here in Greece: "Bush will blame Bin Laden for Katrina" ! Really !
Considering the author William M. Arkin is an ex military intel officer I'd probably give him a little bit more clout that just a "movie-plot threat."
HAHAHAHA@ Guess who is on the Board of Advisors who devised this crazy stuff.... G. Gordon Liddy.
Here's a movie plot terrorist attack that could never happen: 19 guys hijack planes and fly them into buildings. They dont want no ransom or deal of any kind. They just want to kill.
The point is not that a movie plot attack will never happen. WHENEVER a terrorist attack happens, it will almost always be a conceivable movie plot in its own right. The point is that there are SO MANY possible and distinct movie plots that you can't possibly defend against all of them. It would take tremendous costs that almost certainly exceed the costs of the attacks themselves - if you do indeed manage to defend against everything.
A much more sensible approach is to work against the problem in general, in strategic rather than reactive ways.
Contrary to movies most nuclear power plants are designed to withstand an airplane hit (btw, WTC was also designed to withstand it)
Or at least, that is what Bruce is trying to tell us.
Regardless of whether or not I think movie-plot threats are silly to protect against, this line destroys the credibility of the entire article, IMO:
"[Red Cell was established] to complement traditional intelligence-based threat projections by taking an 'out of the box' approach that is achieved by drawing on the talents of a broad range of individuals, such as best-selling authors, academics, the military, and pop musicians."
I don't see best-selling authors and pop musicians as good antiterror strategists. And I don't think throwing them into the mix makes anyone more secure.
Clarification: destroys the credibility of the study and anyone working on it, not the article about the study.
The WTC was designed to withstand a hit from a jet that was lost in fog or darkness, either just after takeoff or just before landing.
It was not designed to withstand a jet hitting it at 500 mph.
"Here's a movie plot terrorist attack that could never happen: 19 guys hijack planes and fly them into buildings. They dont want no ransom or deal of any kind. They just want to kill."
And your point is what exactly? I already know that hindsight is perfect. It's the next terrorist attack that I'm worried about.
Just one more redundant piece of proof that the incompetence and wastefulness of government grow geometrically with the complexity of the tasks it tries to accomplish. It seems not to matter which party is in power.
So don't blame Bush or Clinton or the next guy. Blame an electorate that still thinks bigger government can solve more problems than it creates.
You are mostly correct.
I was part of a review team going over the design bases of a nuclear plant I worked for, and one of them was that it was to withstand a direct hit by a fully-loaded DC-10 to the containment building. However, the auxilliary buildings (where the turbines do the actual generating of the electricity) have no such design basis.
So although nuclear meltdown should be prevented, such a hit would probably cause the plant to be shutdown for a very long time, perhaps permanently.
The WTC towers both withstood jets hitting them. The tower structures did not withstand the ensuing jet fuel fires.
@Justin: "I don't see best-selling authors and pop musicians as good antiterror strategists."
While I agree with you on pop musicians, novelists can have valuable input. Who thinks up these "movie plot" attacks? Writers, of course. They will tend to be creative folks, and if they can think of a way to implement a terrorist act, perhaps they can think of a reasonable way of defending against it. Still movie plot-based, I suppose, but better than doing things by committee.
OT: Footfall by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle saw elephant-ish aliens invading earth. The military eventually brought SF writers on board to discuss how to deal with the threat. Self serving, you could say, but they mostly honored other SF writers like Heinlein & not themselves.
Thinking about it, pop musicians might possibly have experience with crowd control & manipulation strategies from concert performances. Although I would think event organizers & facilities managers would be the better choice.
Given that RedCell is intended to bring "Creative types" in to encourage "out of the box" thinking about possible Terrorist Threats is it any surprise that they churn out "Movie Plot" threats? After all, that is what they are there for. The useful part would be if someone went along afterward and said "Here are a bunch of threats, and here are concrete things we can do about them... And the biggest thing that would work against all of them is...which is where we should spend our money"
Of course, we don't need the movie plots to know that intelligence and first responders are good places to spend money.
I liked the line from the pressure cooker warning that stated...
"Don't move the suspect item. Note: any pressure cooker that weighs more than expected may be suspect."
How are they going to know if it weighs more than expected if they don't move it?
Can I join a think tank and get paid for sitting around and thinking up what ifs?
Next week on WHEEL OF TERROR speculation news:
How terrorists may dress up as Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy and fly a hot air balloon over the North Pole and steal Santa's secret to his magic sled.
I don't quite understand the sneer at the pressure cooker warning. Yes, at first read it does sound too bizarre to be taken seriously, but there have been two foiled attacks and two successful attacks in which four people have died. This sounds like a pattern, and I think it is appropriate to issue a bulletin to inform security officials to be aware of this pattern.
@ bathroom germs etc. said "Can I join a think tank and get paid for sitting around and thinking up what ifs?"
I don't know about getting paid, but check this out:
@Betsy, nice url. Please tell me the site is a joke.
Terrorist acts have inspired enough "patriots" to sniff the potential for terror in everything. In turn, these brainiacs support policy and administration that caters public funds for their fantasies. Typically, these funds are misdirected with the charade of making us safer. In time, it drains the economy. The initial acts spawn some grassroot economic terrorism nurtured by the very victims.
Aren't the bad guys already exploiting a hurricane? I have this strange belief that being secure from any bad guy is the same as being secure from terrorists. Aren't terrorists the same as bad guys, or am I missing something?
Well, Cockeyed.com is full of humor, but I wouldn't call the site a joke. If the 9/11 Commission thought the attacks were the result of a "failure of imagination" then I think it is totally appropriate for someone to say "OK then, let's use our imagination." That whole list of "Terrorists and their Plans" is a testimony to the fact that lack of imagination isn't the problem. We have lots of imagination, we just don't know what to DO with it.
Terrorists can use butterflies to their advantage. According to Chaos Theory, a flap of a butterfly's wings in Japan can create a tornado in Texas.
Do you think they'll be able to exploit butterflies?
Next thing you know, Bush says: "We will hunt down and kill the butterflies!"
Fortunately there appears to be no way terrorists can exploit the butterfly effect. However, the idea of killing butterflies as a means of preventing tornadoes is hardly crazier than other notions promoted by politicians and media, for example, that the Kyoto Treaty would have a beneficial effect on Earth's climate 50-100 years from now.....
That the DHS program is called 'Red Cell' does not mean it is the same as Richard Marcinko's group. It's common to call the opposition in any exercise the 'Red Team,' and 'Red Cell' was likely chosen because the concept is to think like a terrorist cell.
I'm sure that IEDs can be crafted out of a whole slew of 'common household items' ... but the bulletin says brilliant things like 'don't move it, but if it's heavier than normal ...'
1. Is it plugged in?
2. Is it turned on?
3. Is the location strategically placed? (That is, would an explosion at the location be of significant value?)
4. Would reducing the pressure (by cracking the seal) eliminate or reduce the danger of explosion?
But, clearly, this 'Red Cell' group didn't identify the target - the existing vulnerability in the levee/flood wall system surrounding New Orleans - but focused on fantastic scenarios involving hurricanes and acting under cover of same.
It does not seem they are even doing a proper job of evaluating movie-plot threats - there were no screenwriters in the Red Cell.
"It's common to call the opposition in any exercise the 'Red Team"
Actually I think "Red Team" is more often a group that does penetration or vulnerability assessments, similar to a "Tiger Team", like the IDART:
You're probably right about the mix of names:
terror cell + red team = red cell
Although it looks like no one was actually testing any of the hypothesis/threats, just "whiteboarding" and releasing reports that end up being something similar to Toles' caricature:
I get the humor about the pressure-cooker, but it seems that if you try to lift it carefully, and find it rather heavy, then you can choose not to lift it at all and instead leave it be. In addition, something tells me pressure-cookers are more likely to be a problem in cultures that actually use them fairly frequently. When was the last time you saw a pressure-cooker in the US. I would sooner expect a crock-pot alert.
Wow!!! Sounds like someone took Patrick Robinson's terrorists-and-submarine-stories too serious... or even Patrick Robinson is engaged by DHS to invent such scenarios.
pop musicians and pressure cookers, we're sure covering all the bases here. pressure cookers aren't that dangerous, all the ones i've seen have a safety port covered with a dense rubber seal which will blow open when the pressure gets too high, long before the pot itself explodes. in one of my earliest childhood memories, the pressure got too high in my mom's cooker and the most amazing geyser of superheated split pea soup shot ceilingward, peeling off all the paint. don't let this happen in your kitchen.
What a bunch of bunk. It is hard to fathom the money that gets wasted on this nonsense. Common sense dictates that if a terrorist group, say al-Qaeda, wanted to exploit the recent hurricanes, all they have to do is hit oil refineries in other countries. That will do far more damage to the US than a what is suggested in that "analysis".
It would be somewhat silly to assume that terrorists would bomb a city that's already evacuated because of an approaching hurricane. Not to mention, a powerful hurricane would likely ruin terrorists plans too.
"I would sooner expect a crock-pot alert."
Don't you watch Steven Segal movies? It's going to be a cup full of chemicals in the microwave! ;)
And the points I raised about the pressure cooker warning still apply:
- Is it plugged in?
- Is it turned on?
- Can you reduce the pressure without creating an explosion?
Otherwise, the bulletin is the worst kind of fear-mongering. It's about what you THINK might be happening, not the actuality of things. In which case, every single home appliance becomes a potential death trap:
"Sarge, look - that Swiffer leaning in the corner ... do you think ...?"
"Good call, Smith. Could be a trap. We'll have to be careful."
There was a cartoon in the paper the other day: A couple in the kitchen with a newspaper on the table showing the headline "Hurricane Katrina". Caption: "Al-qaeda are claiming responsibility."
I don't think terrorists will exploit hurricanes directly. However, Katrina and Rita have clearly illustrated exploitable weaknesses in the government's response to catastrophic events and its ability to quickly evacuate large urban areas.
My biggest problem is that i don't even know who's on what team anymore. I would love to meet with the "leaderz in charge" (all of them).
Of course, once my new MDD, GAD and SAD medicine kicks in.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.