Exploding Baby Carriages in Subways

This is a great example of a movie-plot threat.

A terrorist plot to attack the subways with bomb-laden baby carriages and briefcases -- the most specific threat ever made against the city -- triggered a massive security crackdown yesterday.

This is not to say that there isn't a real plot that was uncovered, but the specificity of the threat seems a bit ridiculous.

And if we ban baby carriages from the subways, and the terrorists put their bombs in duffel bags instead, have we really won anything?

EDITED TO ADD: The threat was a hoax.

Posted on October 11, 2005 at 8:12 AM • 52 Comments

Comments

jayhOctober 11, 2005 8:36 AM

Baby carriages are prohibited (for 'security') in a number of places I've been to: Hoover Dam, and astonishingly Mammoth Cave.

Perhaps this was intended as an answer to those who keep saying 'why waste time searching '

LeeOctober 11, 2005 8:44 AM

Short of making everyone strip naked and go about their business in the nude, there's no way you can guarantee someone isnt carrying a concealed bomb. There are a million and one ways to smuggle a bomb in something other than a baby carriage, so banning them isnt really improving security at all.

BoydOctober 11, 2005 8:47 AM

This is another indicator that part of our response to terrorism is a certain amount of stoicism in the face of threats. It's unreasonable to believe that we can screen or ban all possible bomb containers, so we have to go about our daily business accepting a certain amount of risk of a terrorist attack, just as we accept the risk that we could encounter a drunk driver who might plow into our car, killing us. The same for a myriad other risks.

We can't respond with a knee-jerk to every possible threat. We have to accept some risk as the natural course of living our lives.

Roy OwensOctober 11, 2005 9:35 AM

Why would the terrorists schedule their attacks on a Sunday when the ridership would be lightest and the impact the least? Or did security people simple seize on this flimsy excuse to rack up some Sunday overtime? Note that the authorities announced they were stepping down their alert level in advance of workday Monday. Publicly publishing who makes how much money in every 'terror response' would provide a lot of insight into what's really going on.

UnixroninOctober 11, 2005 9:41 AM

Every time I read this kind of nonsense, I have a mental image of our government -- from city level on up -- as a strung-out derelict curled up in a fetal position in a corner, screaming about the spiders all over him as he clutches a bottle of cheap fortified wine cut with paint thinner.

fitterpillOctober 11, 2005 9:42 AM

You're quite correct that there's no way to keep a determined terrorist from carrying a bomb into a subway station. But if this is a real threat, the fact that it's a "movie-plot" scenario means that the terrorists plotting it know, when the government reveals the baby carriage threat, that it's their plot the government is warning people of. And if said terrorists decide the jig is up, they may well flee the country instead of picking another bomb-toting modality. Which is very helpful indeed.

So, you're right about the futility of focusing on movie-plot scenarios as a means of preventing terrorism, but (I humbly submit) wrong to suggest there's no value in revealing them, I humbly submit.

StephenOctober 11, 2005 9:50 AM

Thanks to the movies and mass paranoia, I can't carry my pressed aluminum briefcase anywhere without getting looks from people who assume, I gather, it must be filled with drugs, money, or a bomb.

Nicholas WeaverOctober 11, 2005 10:02 AM

And its not like the search responses are any good. Taking the port authority transfer train from the subway to JFK airport, port authority police (3 of em!) were conducting bag searches.

I zip-tie my huge bag closed. I put it on the table. I tell the officer HE has to break the seal. (I'm not removing the seal myself. He wants to search it, its his job. I was NOT going to tell him I had a leatherman in a hidden pocket so I could get back into my bag, just in case their paranoia was at Stupid Insane levels). He just had me open the unsealed laptop case and waved me through.

Gah. Can't even deal with the movie plots properly.

Colin YoungOctober 11, 2005 10:21 AM

@jayh:

Regarding Mammoth Cave, I suspect any ban on baby carriages would be more of a safety and convenience than security issue. Trying to manoeuver a baby carriage through the cave would seriously impede the progress of tour groups. The Hoover Dam may also simply be a congestion issue.

Jonathan QuirkOctober 11, 2005 10:24 AM

Didn't Paul Simon write a song about this in 1986?

The only "security" reason I can think of for banning prams and baby buggies is if they would present a hazard in the event of an evacuation by blocking exit routes.

meOctober 11, 2005 10:29 AM

@Lee

Even having everyone go around naked wouldn't help the determined suicide bomber. Perhaps the Government would have to crack down on sales of lube.

RvnPhnxOctober 11, 2005 10:30 AM

@ Roy Owens
It isn't just money we need to worry about--its votes. Go back and read 1984 and some of Orwell's other works.

Owen BlackerOctober 11, 2005 10:51 AM

And, as if we hadn't guessed, CNN just emailed me: "Informant in Iraq admits information about a terror plot against New York subway was a hoax, sources tell CNN. Details soon."

Saar DrimerOctober 11, 2005 10:53 AM

Related:
If you go to CNN now it has breaking news:
"Informant in Iraq admits information about a terror plot against New York subway was a hoax, sources tell CNN. Details soon."

GMOctober 11, 2005 10:56 AM

@Jonathan Quirk

Yes, Paul Simon did write it in a song: "the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio ..."

And the next line is somewhat ironic:
"These are the days of miracle and wonder ..."

("The Boy in the Bubble", from Graceland)


Alexandre Carmel-VeilleuxOctober 11, 2005 11:00 AM

In the case of Mammoth Cave, I concur that the no baby carriage is probably a safety issue.

A few years ago I went on a cave tour in Austria and one of the couple in the tour group brought their baby along. It was an ice cave. Sure enough the father fell down (harmless enough) and the baby broke his leg. Needless to say, the tour guide was in a bit of a bind... If this were in the US, I could've seen the lawyers converging like vultures on that liability claim.

Hoover dam might have similar rules.

Here in Quebec, the Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor has tours visiting, but pregnant women and children under 12 are not admitted for safety reason. Certainly not because they're scared of exploding baby carriages.

Joe BuckOctober 11, 2005 11:04 AM

Cynics offer the following explanation (though I have no idea whether it is true):

The mayor was in considerable hot water for refusing to attend a debate in Harlem (I have no idea why). The debate went forward anyway, with his main opponent and some minor candidates. It was useful to the mayor to get this debate, and the issues surrounding it, out of the news.

David HarmonOctober 11, 2005 11:07 AM

@Lee: "Short of making everyone strip naked and go about their business in the nude,"

I immediately flashed on Heinlein's novel(la), _The_Puppet_Masters_. You want movie plots? Well, there's the ultimate paranoid fantasy for "homeland defenders" -- parasitic aliens (small enough to hide in a purse), taking over the citizenry by mere skin contact!

@Unixronin: "... a strung-out derelict curled up in a fetal position in a corner, screaming about the spiders all over him as he clutches a bottle of cheap fortified wine cut with paint thinner. "

LOL! Indeed, our government is going from one addiction to another... the "War on (some) Drugs" wasn't giving enough of a rush anymore, and the "War on Sex" couldn't find enough enablers... the "War for Oil" keeps getting us beat up... on to the "War on Terrorism"!

A bit less sardonically, it's important to remember that no matter what GWB wants you to believe, the terrorists are not just trying to "kill lots of Americans". They are trying to manipulate our government into doing what *they* want. I remember even some of the earlier Al Queda announcements were already bragging about how they'd convinced our government to start crushing our freedoms.

Now they've got us jumping at every noise. "Baby carriages and briefcases!" I bet AQ would just *love* to hear stories about our cops and soldiers blowing away a few young mothers and white-collar workers.

Jerome LacosteOctober 11, 2005 11:11 AM

@stephen

or a suitecase filled up with drugs to be sold against money to be used to build up a bomb :)

basic terrorrism economy.

SavikOctober 11, 2005 11:30 AM

The answer is to only allow naked people on the Subway and prohibit the carrying anything.

Of course taking a look at the average weight and figure of Americans today -- I think that might be considered terrorism too.

Tom WelshOctober 11, 2005 11:50 AM

"And if we ban baby carriages from the subways, and the terrorists put their bombs in duffel bags instead, have we really won anything?"

No, but the terrorists (or hoaxers) have. Enough restrictions like that and civilization will slowly grind to a halt without any bombs.

Glauber RibeiroOctober 11, 2005 12:05 PM

This is a movie-plot threat with real movie-plot potential. Can't you see it? The scene from Potenkim that was re-used in the Untouchables, when the baby carriage slowly descends the subway stairs, oblivious to all the mayhem happening around it? But in the new version, everybody is shooting *at* the baby carriage! :-)

BrettOctober 11, 2005 12:20 PM

It's not just subways! This past weekend I went to an Air Show in Houston (where I live). At the gate their was a sign, No coolers, No large bags, etc. Not even thinking about it, up me an my son (4 years old) walk to the gate, with my camera bag. It's pretty small but it kinda looks like a back pack. I start to open it for the security check and they say "You can't carry a back back in". To which I say "It's a camera bag" and open it up to show them. They say "Sorry, it looks like a back pack, you can't bring it in". After a little attitude from me, I take it back and only bring in the camera and one lens.

Walking around, what do I see but lots of backpacks and even worse. Camera bags the size of coolers. If someone wanted, they could have brought in some serious explosives in those camera bags.

It just doesn't make sense anymore.

Mark J.October 11, 2005 12:25 PM

And now it appears the whole threat was a hoax. If you listen to Iraqi prisoners (who are hardly pillars of integrity) and launch unnecessary precautions, you're damned. If you don't listen to them and they turn out to be telling the truth, you're damned. Seems to me they have us just where they want us. A dozen more episodes of crying wolf and we won't be listening at all. Then it won't matter what evidence arises; we'll studiously ignore it.

Paul OOctober 11, 2005 12:35 PM

So the consensus here is that if a plot is uncovered, as little as possible should be done while it is thoroughly investigated first, right? That we shouldn't try to disrupt the plans or anything - that might inconvenience people.

Or - here's a thought: if a plot is uncovered to, say, plant bombs in baby carriages, we could take a closer look at baby carriages while the credibility of the plot is investigated. That way, if it is true, just maybe the would-be bombers would miss their planned deadlines while they were in Wal-Mart asking where they can find four duffel bags big enough for their bombs. And, if it is true, just maybe the extra planning they would need to do would raise further attention and scrutiny before they can carry out their plot.

But maybe the consensus here is right: better to let the bombers carry on if the plot is true than to disturb others if it's false.

AnonymousOctober 11, 2005 1:25 PM

@Colin Young

>>Regarding Mammoth Cave, I suspect any ban on baby carriages would be more of a safety and convenience than security issue. Trying to manoeuver a baby carriage through the cave would seriously impede the progress of tour groups. The Hoover Dam may also simply be a congestion issue.

Actually it was explicity listed as a SECURITY issue, along with prohibitions on ANY camera bags (cameras, lenses, had to be carried in the open), purses, diaper bags, packs of any kind, etc etc (for both locations). It applied not only to the cave but to all the buidings in the installation. (And several of the cave tours had very large, big flat floors which would pose no obstacle to a stroller)

Interestingly this was BEFORE 9/11


Davi OttenheimerOctober 11, 2005 2:01 PM

Well, the road to better intelligence gathering always starts with the gathering. Perhaps someday soon US intelligence will get better as well, although if you look at some of the recent Special Forces reports on how the Army is losing the war you might think the Administration is headed in reverse.

AnonymousOctober 11, 2005 2:47 PM

@Davi Ottenheimer

>although if you look at some of the recent Special Forces reports on how the Army is losing the war

Can you provide the source for these reports so I can read them?

E-mail is optional and will not be displayed on the site.October 11, 2005 3:06 PM

More psyop propoganda to keep consumers in fear

I wonder what the scary news will be next week?

I've stopped watching TV news, internet news will be soon to follow since most of it is just FUD.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 11, 2005 3:47 PM

@ Anonymous

Sorry, as much as I support anti-spam filtering to keep the log clean, I was getting tired of my comments from blocked. It started to feel like the more citations and quotes I added to my comments the more likely they would get flagged and disappear into a black hole of false-positives; that seems the obverse of what a spam rule should do to a dialogue -- apparently the less source material you provide than the less your comment has in common with spam.

Anyway, a good start might be the October issue of the Atlantic monthly. Also, review the transition from early special forces action in Afghanistan where they served as spotters for bombers to subsequent missions that entailed cooperation with afghan militias and gathering information to generate "native" support for US missions.

Another way of looking at it is that some forces are accused of actually just escalating IED effectiveness by focusing on technology/countermeasures (trying to reduce vulnerabilities), and not also emphasizing enough advanced/native intelligence gathering and political maneuvering to also reduce threats...

It's like adding more and more sophisticated spam filters without doing anything to figure who/what generates the spam and how to attack the source rather than the symptoms.

rhandirOctober 11, 2005 3:57 PM

@stepehen
You wrote: "Thanks to the movies and mass paranoia, I can't carry my pressed aluminum briefcase anywhere without getting looks from people who assume, I gather, it must be filled with drugs, money, or a bomb."

Actually, I have coveted one of those aluminum briefcases for years for precisely that very reason.

Needless to say, I have retired the mortar shell transport case* that I used for carrying architechtural drawings to class.
-R.
*Ideal form factor for rolled paper. 36" long by 4" diameter. It looked pretty cool. Watertight, too. Matched my ammo-box art supply bin. Only disadvantage was that anything put in it quickly picked up the smell of its origninal contents.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 11, 2005 4:04 PM

Hey Bruce, howabout a spelling/grammar-checker along with the anti-spam filter(s)? ;)

I realize there's a credible and real threat of spam (compared to the vapor of baby bombs), but I couldn't resist the comparison of vulnerability countermeasures versus threat mitigation.

Eric K.October 11, 2005 4:36 PM

"E-mail is optional" said:
More psyop propoganda to keep consumers in fear

The consumers aren't that terrified of terrorist threats. To most all of them, it's an abstract concept that happens to the proverbial "other guy". More often than not, it's poor Mr. Otherguy that gets it, too.

What *doesn't* happen only to Mr. Otherguy is the harassment and continual inconvenience by literal-minded paranoiacs who envision only one way they could be threatened and only one response to this one imagined threat.

Such narrowmindedness in our security 'professionals' is what scares me. I'm not worried about people in bulky jackets or baby carriages on subways. I'm primarily worried about what happens to the poor innocent individuals wearing those jackets or wheeling those babies or carrying laptops and camerabags without the slightest trace of malice.

Secondarily, I'm worried about what the terrorists are up to during the time that our security 'professionals' are busying themselves making the world safe from exploding babies.

Ari HeikkinenOctober 11, 2005 4:58 PM

Does it really matter if it's hoax or not? In a whole nation scale there's infinite number of possible plots and even though a finite number of those will be the ones terrorists are going to use it's still impossible to pick those terrorists will actually use. And even though some of them would be more likely than others there's still infinite number of the equally likely ones in the list. It's impossible unless you have a time machine and can actually look into the futute.

please give us something to call youOctober 11, 2005 5:40 PM

Eric K. said:

[...] "I'm primarily worried about what happens to the poor innocent individuals" [...] "Secondarily, I'm worried about what the terrorists are up to" [...]

Notice a trend? Worry, worry, worry.

As the monkey grinds the machine to generate propoganda, so the listeners worry.

It all affects us on some subconscious level

Which is why I'd rather opt out of listening to media

That will work well for awhile

Until it becomes mandatory to watch news and/or some form of media which carries these fear mongering frequencies

Which is only a matter of time

Would you care for a nice cup of RFID tea?

RalphOctober 11, 2005 6:08 PM

The challenge here is that fear isn't rational.

I feel IT solutions are so much easier because the problems and solutions are examined largely without fear driving the process.

It is easy to criticise or poke fun at irrational decisions in this environment, but how do you project reason into a storm of fear?

Davi OttenheimerOctober 11, 2005 6:55 PM

"Does it really matter if it's hoax or not"

Yes, of course it does. Just like predicting the weather, which also has infinite possibilities, the reliability and relevance of intelligence sources are required to make appropriate safety/security preparations.

For example, you shouldn't need a crystal ball to know that the direct impact of the sun will be more harsh in a desert than the jungle. More to the point, you need to evaluate the trustworthiness of someone who says "beware the direct sun in the jungle" if you do not want to end up chosing the wrong protection needed to survive.

JilaraOctober 11, 2005 7:15 PM

I suspect that the ban on bags, carriages, etc. at Mammoth Cave was to keep tourists from trying to smuggle out "souveniers" from the cave.

With regard to movie plots, the CIA has had its people reading books and watching movies for possible useful info for decades. Why shouldn't everyone else? And for all we know, there might be people in the middle east who think transporters are real, and have a plan for trying to hijack one and beam bombs into subways. And no, I'm not being facetious.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 11, 2005 7:43 PM

"The challenge here is that fear isn't rational"

Good point, a rationalist approach to terrorism might actually help arrive at realistic trade-offs, rather than play into the kind of extremes that puritains and fundamentalists thrive upon.

As David Lake wrote in "Rational Extremism: Understanding Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century":

"The rationalist approach to war can help us understand terrorism. It shows that the purpose of extremist violence is to provoke the target into a disproportionate response, radicalize moderates, and build support for its ambitious goals over the long term. It reveals a dynamic process that still, at its core, is about bargaining over ends. It also suggests that moderation by the target can be not only virtuous but also good policy."

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=149064&jid=DIO&volumeId=1&issueId=01&aid=149063

AnonymousOctober 11, 2005 8:20 PM

"Yes, of course it does. Just like predicting the weather, which also has infinite possibilities, the reliability and relevance of intelligence sources are required to make appropriate safety/security preparations."

The point I was trying to make was about that new trend that tries to write plots terrorists might use for their next attacks and then wasting lots of money trying to secure each of those plot's targets. It's ridiculous ofcourse (as I explained in my previous post).

When they get a plot from an informant that's been reliable before that say it's real they obviously need to take it seriously and check it.

Ari HeikkinenOctober 11, 2005 8:23 PM

I wrote that last post, just forgot to put my name on it before hitting "post".

Ari HeikkinenOctober 11, 2005 8:31 PM

Oh, and lets hope no one comes up with an idea of shoot-to-kill on those suspected terrorist-moms and terrorist-babies "before they get a chance to detonate their bombs".

deidentifiedOctober 12, 2005 10:42 AM

Politians will continue to burn trillions of your money on useless wars, actions, laws, policy & worst practices which do not make you any more safe then you were previously by submitting to arbitrary measures and because you allow them to take away your freedoms and liberties too easily in the name of fear, uncertainty & doubt aka FUD.

Michael SommermeyerDecember 1, 2005 8:31 PM

What are they really looking for at Hoover Dam?

Coming home from Texas after Thanksgiving with a small trailer load of furniture I left Kingman wondering if I should drive through Laughlin or cross Hoover Dam. The signs and the radio messages in Kingman made it clear my trailer would be inspected. Since past inspections were cursory I decided we could move across the dam as usual and put an end to our 1,100 mile journey.

Approaching the dam we stopped at the security checkpoint and were directed to pull over to have our trailer inspected. The Wackenhut guard instructed me to untarp the load, which I did. However, he went further to state that we needed to unload the trailer so he could look in the drawers of the dressers. As he put it, “we’re looking for everything,��? and then proceeded to brag about how he had seized 200 pounds of marijuana last month. So I asked him if he intended to conduct a drug search and if so then he needed to send out a Bureau of Reclamation police officer to explain why they were looking for drugs, not explosives, and to inform me of my rights.

Eventually the officer arrived. He took objection to my questions about the proposed drug search and indicated they were only looking for explosives. I told him we were bringing furniture back and that if he looked he could clearly see the bed’s headboard in the trailer. No dice; we had to unload the trailer. After 20 minutes of pulling down the rope ties and preparing to unload the furniture, we were told to stop.

In what seemed a surreal moment, the police officer and security guard each picked up an end of a dresser and shook it. Satisfied we did not bring in explosives in either dresser, and nothing went off, we were instructed to retarp the trailer and leave. Mad and physically sick, my wife and I tied down our trailer filled with our new bedroom suite and left for home. We drove the next 40 miles in silence with my wife and children crying. I felt like the most dishonored person in America.

If the Bureau of Reclamation is looking for explosives in cars and trailers moving across Hoover Dam, why would their training allow them to shake the alleged bomb carrying boxes? Where were the bomb dogs or the equipment used to collect explosive residue? And if they weren’t looking for drugs why did they tell me unload my small trailer, which just happened to have a Texas license plate, while four other trailers and two utility trucks were given a cursory search and sent on their way?

If I wanted to blow up the dam I wouldn’t pack up a trailer of furniture with explosive material, drive it 1,100 miles, only to have a couple of law officers shake the furniture. I would make sure those dressers exploded when rattled.

It is clear to me after this experience that the Bureau of Reclamation is only stopping cars at Hoover Dam to make everyone feel better about their safety and not because they have any hopes of preventing terrorists from packing in explosive devices. And if my experience is any indication, we are one stop closer to a police state where no one can move across borders, or across the street, without fearing they will be found guilty by the police before they can prove their innocence. Finally, shame on those officers for terrorizing three young children who remain convinced police may come for their parents because they wanted to bring furniture across Hoover Dam.

Sincerely,

Michael Sommermeyer

Michael SommermeyerDecember 1, 2005 8:32 PM

What are they really looking for at Hoover Dam?

Coming home from Texas after Thanksgiving with a small trailer load of furniture I left Kingman wondering if I should drive through Laughlin or cross Hoover Dam. The signs and the radio messages in Kingman made it clear my trailer would be inspected. Since past inspections were cursory I decided we could move across the dam as usual and put an end to our 1,100 mile journey.

Approaching the dam we stopped at the security checkpoint and were directed to pull over to have our trailer inspected. The Wackenhut guard instructed me to untarp the load, which I did. However, he went further to state that we needed to unload the trailer so he could look in the drawers of the dressers. As he put it, “we’re looking for everything,��? and then proceeded to brag about how he had seized 200 pounds of marijuana last month. So I asked him if he intended to conduct a drug search and if so then he needed to send out a Bureau of Reclamation police officer to explain why they were looking for drugs, not explosives, and to inform me of my rights.

Eventually the officer arrived. He took objection to my questions about the proposed drug search and indicated they were only looking for explosives. I told him we were bringing furniture back and that if he looked he could clearly see the bed’s headboard in the trailer. No dice; we had to unload the trailer. After 20 minutes of pulling down the rope ties and preparing to unload the furniture, we were told to stop.

In what seemed a surreal moment, the police officer and security guard each picked up an end of a dresser and shook it. Satisfied we did not bring in explosives in either dresser, and nothing went off, we were instructed to retarp the trailer and leave. Mad and physically sick, my wife and I tied down our trailer filled with our new bedroom suite and left for home. We drove the next 40 miles in silence with my wife and children crying. I felt like the most dishonored person in America.

If the Bureau of Reclamation is looking for explosives in cars and trailers moving across Hoover Dam, why would their training allow them to shake the alleged bomb carrying boxes? Where were the bomb dogs or the equipment used to collect explosive residue? And if they weren’t looking for drugs why did they tell me unload my small trailer, which just happened to have a Texas license plate, while four other trailers and two utility trucks were given a cursory search and sent on their way?

If I wanted to blow up the dam I wouldn’t pack up a trailer of furniture with explosive material, drive it 1,100 miles, only to have a couple of law officers shake the furniture. I would make sure those dressers exploded when rattled.

It is clear to me after this experience that the Bureau of Reclamation is only stopping cars at Hoover Dam to make everyone feel better about their safety and not because they have any hopes of preventing terrorists from packing in explosive devices. And if my experience is any indication, we are one stop closer to a police state where no one can move across borders, or across the street, without fearing they will be found guilty by the police before they can prove their innocence. Finally, shame on those officers for terrorizing three young children who remain convinced police may come for their parents because they wanted to bring furniture across Hoover Dam.

Sincerely,

Michael Sommermeyer

TimothyMay 31, 2007 1:31 AM

offer the terrorists these ecards guys, let them understand the meaning of friendship, not enmity.

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