Stupid Band Names

Be careful what you write in your journal:

An airline passenger with the words "suicide bomber" written in his journal was arrested when his plane arrived in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, but the words appeared to refer to music and he was later released, officials said.

..."Preliminary, what we believe is that that was the name of either a band or a song," Quy said.

I'm not sure I want "Suicide Bombers" displayed on my iPod. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a band with that name, flying around the country with crates of gear marked "Suicide Bombers." That would be asking for trouble.

On the other hand, it's pretty sad what is enough to get you arrested these days:

"A male was observed by his fellow passengers as having a journal and handwritten on the journal were the words 'suicide bomber,'" FBI spokeswoman LaRae Quy said.

"That, combined with the fact that he was clutching a backpack, and then finally he was acting a little suspiciously" prompted law enforcement to act.

My guess is that it wouldn't matter how he held his backpack; once the jittery passenger saw the words everything else was interpreted suspiciously.

Posted on January 6, 2006 at 12:00 PM • 75 Comments

Comments

RaindeerJanuary 6, 2006 2:13 AM

If you take this a bit further, it would be wise not to read anything security related or talk about it on an airplane. Bruce should most definitely not work on any of his columns or Cryptogram in a plane or airport.

It does remind me of two Belgian ladies who got arrested at JFK for using the abbreviation B.O.M. somewhere at the airport. They happened to meet eachother at JFK after not having seen eachother for ages and gossiped about a mutual acquintance who had a willingly got pregnant without being in a relationship, the abbreviation in Dutch being B.O.M. (Zij is een B.O.M. "NEE, echt?" --> you're under arrest)

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 6, 2006 2:39 AM

Well, first the other passengers used data mining techniques to analyze the man's preference in in-flight baggage and clothes, compared it with his hair, smell, and behavior, and then coupled that with the odd combination of letters he was writing...and presto, clearly a threat.

"My guess is that it wouldn't matter how he held his backpack; once the jittery passenger saw the words everything else was interpreted suspiciously"

I disagree. There actually is a parody of one of Tim McGraw's songs floating around that is about suicide bombers. I can almost guarantee that if this passenger dressed in Wranglers with a giant belt buckle, shiny boots, etc. was writing the same exact words in a journal the other passengers would have been more inclined to think he was on their side fighting for the cause, rather than a threat. Even more so if he was wearing one of those "sky posse" badges.

It also might be interesting to know what the other words in his journal were, as I pondered earlier. Context (like appearances) can be everything:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/01/data_mining_and.html#c33371

I still wonder if it wasn't a "suicidial tendencies" sticker on his notebook, and somehow the story became slightly twisted.

ArikJanuary 6, 2006 3:28 AM

Terrorists have a very easy time DOS-ing the US airline system... All they have to do is go on many planes simultaneously and leave a note that says 'B.O.B.' in the toilet. They only need to do a certain percentage of concurrent flights, and that day would be a net loss for the airliners.

If you're an optimist, security is about balance. If you're pessimistic, it's about compromises.

-- Arik

Clive RobinsonJanuary 6, 2006 5:14 AM

Is it me or has paranoia become a desirable trait in people post 9/11 & 7/7, if you are any kind of government agency.

In the UK we have a series of Radio adds running pointing out it's good to report anybody who looks suspicious...

Have these people not heard of DOS attacks, just imagine what would happen if people phoned in and said "Theres a young man with a beard behaving strangly with wires hanging out of their pocket at the XXXX". Where XXXX is any method of transportation with a public access point. The point is that there is almost gaurenteed to be one even in "downtown nowhere" so you would not even be making a crank call...

Rafael HashimotoJanuary 6, 2006 6:17 AM

That shows the state of the Intelligence community!
Them think that's quite easy to find terrorists: just look for those with a badge from their anti-democratic organization!
For terrorists a tip: Dress a nice suit and write the words "Very Rich Capitalist" in your journal! ;-)

Rafael HashimotoJanuary 6, 2006 6:26 AM

Clive,

Now that you mentioned, a few weeks ago there was a very strange man, with a long white beard, with a red costume and carrying a bag, just a few yards from my house. ;-)

eindgebruikerJanuary 6, 2006 7:55 AM

The real question is: how does a suicide bomber look like?

Can anyone please tell me? I'm confused.

AnonymousJanuary 6, 2006 8:19 AM

There's an apropos Chinese proverb that goes something like this:

A man lost his axe, and became convinced that his neighbor had taken it. The neighbor had the look of a thief, he walked like a thief, and talked like a thief. The man found his axe, and discovered his neighbor no longer acted like a thief.

YanivJanuary 6, 2006 12:19 PM

@Bruce,

I have to totally disagree with the last comment: "On the other hand, it's pretty sad what is enough to get you arrested these days".

It is sad, true, in the sense that we live in a world where people are killed by terrorists, and where people who send or support terrorists still survive. Yes.
But the impression one can get from this comment is that the security services were in anyway wrong. They were not. I would arrest anyone with 'suicide bombers' text prominently displayed; and I would fire any security personnel who would not do the same. There is a price to safety, but it is much lower price than the price of unchecked terrorism.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 6, 2006 12:25 PM

"But the impression one can get from this comment is that the security services were in anyway wrong. They were not. I would arrest anyone with 'suicide bombers' text prominently displayed; and I would fire any security personnel who would not do the same. There is a price to safety, but it is much lower price than the price of unchecked terrorism."

Yes, there is a price for safety. And yes, there is a price unchecked terrorism. But I don't think that's the trade-off here. I don't feel safer if the police arrests everyone with the words "suicide bomber" prominently displayed, and I surely don't think that the alternative is "unchecked terrorism."

I am in favor of checked terrorism, but I would like the checking to be intelligent. Otherwise we end up with the police arresting everyone with the words "suicide bomber" prominently displayed instead of doing useful counterterrorism.

(Not that the police shouldn't poke their noses into anyone with the words "suicide bomber" prominently displayed, but it should be something short of arresting innocent people.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 6, 2006 12:27 PM

"I still wonder if it wasn't a 'suicidial tendencies' sticker on his notebook, and somehow the story became slightly twisted."

Interesting notion.

Clearly we need to examine the psychological records of everyone in the U.S., because people with suicidal tendencies are dangerous.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 6, 2006 12:29 PM

"'Arrested' = detained. Big difference."

Agreed. I mind less if the police stop the guy and ask: "What's with the 'suicide bomber' stuff?" But it should be easy to clear up.

This can be understood through the lens of economics. For the policeman, he has everything to lose and nothing to gain by arresting the man. If he lets an actual terrorist go, it could affect his career. If he arrests an innocent, no biggie. So he's going to err on the side of arresting people.

RunningScaredJanuary 6, 2006 12:37 PM

"Clearly we need to examine the psychological records of everyone in the U.S., because people with suicidal tendencies are dangerous."

I hope that was sarcasm. I would expect that most people with suicidal tendancies in the US are dangerous only to themselves. It is the terrorists that use suicide as part of implementing their terror plan that is dangerous (which is a bit of a difference).

ARLJanuary 6, 2006 12:38 PM

I guess there are limits to where you can go with this. Someone trying to get on an airplane with a "Hijacker" tee-shirt would seem to need some extra attention.

I wonder what the comments would be if a notepad belonging to a real suicide bomber were found and it was learned that (s)he got past a security point with the pad in hand? Some people might label such a thing as a 'clue'.

RunningScaredJanuary 6, 2006 12:48 PM

@Bruce

"For the policeman, he has everything to lose and nothing to gain by arresting the man"

Wouldn't this be "For the policeman, he has everything to lose and nothing to gain by NOT arresting the man"?

And isn't this part of the problem, people always look to someone to blame after the fact. In this case, if the policman doesn't arrest a suspected terrorist, and it turns out that person is a terrorist, woe to the policeman. However, arrest an innocent person and everyone is ok with it (of course except for the person wrongfully arrested).


SlitherJanuary 6, 2006 12:55 PM

Do we really think hijackers are brain dead enough to wear signs like this? These people want to achieve their goals, and not drawing attention to themselves helps increase their chances of success. Someone who wants to blend in won't be wearing clothes or writing words that draw more attention to themselves.


J.D. AbolinsJanuary 6, 2006 1:01 PM

Brand names colliding with security jitters is not all that new. Several years ago, when the anthrax contamination of US postal mail was happening, there were some speculations if rock band such as "Anthrax" would change their names. The band Anthrax retained its name but I wonder if anybody wearing their fan T-shirts ran into problems. If one is going to wear brand name that might be problematic, it helps if the brand name has traveled via global pop culture well enough.

If brand names are causing problems, will some name names come up next. Baum? Peter Gunn? And there's the old joke about caution in greeting a person named Jack on a aircraft: "Hi Jack,...."

Finally, some words have drastically different meaning across languages. E.g. "gift" in German means "poison" but I surmise that German authorities are well aware of this English-German quirk.

BrowserJanuary 6, 2006 1:06 PM

Reminds me of a popular audio company and their t-shirts. You couldn't carry their software or wear their t-shirt on a plane today. Hell, I bet their employees would have trouble just showing their corp cards. The companies name was 'Bomb Factory'!

Kevin DavidsonJanuary 6, 2006 1:30 PM

So now in addition to teaching our children how to use a knife and fork, we need to teach them now to not act suspiciously.

What a world, what a world.

CamiloJanuary 6, 2006 1:35 PM

"It is sad, true, in the sense that we live in a world where people are killed by terrorists, and where people who send or support terrorists still survive. Yes."

I don't think those measures work at all. ¿How many terroris attacks have been prevented in the USA (or any other country) by those paranoic arrests? I think that a true positive would take a lot of media coverage because they would justfy the false positives.

AnonymousJanuary 6, 2006 1:52 PM

@Yaniv

"I would arrest anyone with 'suicide bombers' text prominently displayed; and I would fire any security personnel who would not do the same."

While the term "suicide bomber" can raise an eyebrow, I agree with Mr. Schneier that it should not be enough to get arrested.

In a previous blog entry, he also talked about a plane flying back to its point of departure after someone found something written in arabic in a magazine. When this is enough to reroute a plane, then it's a sad world. It's a sad world because the terrorists have won.

ARLJanuary 6, 2006 2:00 PM

"Do we really think hijackers are brain dead enough to wear signs like this?"

Some people are more than willing to wear shirts that describe acts of violence they are willing to take part in.

How much more "in your face" would such an act be?

Pat CahalanJanuary 6, 2006 2:16 PM

I'm imagining two 18-30 year old males discussing any of the following video games: Vice City, America's Army, Rainbow Six, Battlefield 1942, Counterstrike (there's a good one, even "terrorists" and "bombs" would come up frequently in a brief conversation), etc. etc. etc.

Throw in a backback and an iPod with a wire and a little bit of teenage attitude towards authority and I'm astonished arrests and accidental shootings aren't much more common...

Steve L.January 6, 2006 2:16 PM

The scary thing is that some people think that this level of "security" is a good thing. I have a friend who is a Cook County Sheriff (The County in Illinois that Chicago Resides) who says we should always error on the side of security and that the current administration hasn't gone far enough. Then he usually goes and spouts off some statistics he learned in some class he had to take. How can people be this dumb and naive, thinking that giving up rights to live (freely) is a good thing in the name of security? Leave it to law enforcement to like this stuff as it makes their jobs easier, so to speak. Not only that but they think they're above the laws so why should they have to worry.

RvnPhnxJanuary 6, 2006 3:38 PM

@Steve L.
Yeah, put an end to "professional courtesy" and see how long it takes off duty police and fire department officials to stop running you--the mere civilian citizen--off the road. Good Luck.

JilaraJanuary 6, 2006 4:08 PM

When I was 4, I was detained by an employee of the corner drug store because he believed I had swiped a stuffed animal. My mother, on the next aisle, came over and explained that yes, her daughter really did have a toy identical to the one he had just taken away from a bitterly-weeping child who was being called a "little thief." He didn't want to believe it, but eventually my mother prevailed. She explained to me afterwards that sometimes the suspicion can be just as bad as actual guilt, and that I must always be cautious. I have never forgotten the incident.

And yes, I feel much less safe in today's world, because of actions like this. I go to the airport wondering if today is the day I somehow find myself on the no-fly list, because they have me confused with someone else, or if I will do something that will cause them to detain me at length for reasons ill-understood by myself. Because you can't know what someone might find suspicious. You can take precautions, but you never know. I love my country, but I fear my government.

pigletJanuary 6, 2006 4:45 PM

Another example of how "suspicion" is triggered by completely irrelevant incidents. Do people really believe that suicide bombers have the words "suicide bombers" written in a journal? It's as stupid as that other story when the word "bomb" was believed to have been scribbled somewhere on a plane.

Fortunately, it's no more than stupid. That guy's lucky not to have been killed. Were there no airmarshals on the plane?

John MooreJanuary 6, 2006 4:48 PM

Bruce,

The media and government sow fear and psychological terror for the last 4.5 years and you're surprised at the result. The Russians did this for years, and probably still do. Won't be too long before the Thought Police come and arrest us for having improper and suspicious thoughts not approved of by the authorities. Things will most likely get worse before they get better. Institutional paranoia promotes personal paranoia and leads to much suffering. Sooner or later, the sufferers will wake up and realize the nightmare foisted on them and then they'll either correct the issue with the Institution or an outside entity will.

John

pigletJanuary 6, 2006 4:52 PM

"Some people might label such a thing as a 'clue'." That's exactly what I mean, ARL. Just plain irrational. There might be a terrorist out there who's initials are ARL, wouldn't that be a clue that needs to be followed? We don't want to take any chances, do we?

Nick LancasterJanuary 6, 2006 5:24 PM

Regarding video games ... I believe Remington underwrote a target shooting game which included skeet shooting sims, game hunting, and 'hogan's alley' police sims ... one of which was on an airplane. Your goal was to shoot the terrorists and not the passengers or the plane itself.

But, heck, I would think you could frame a well-dressed businessman with a briefcase as being suspicious (in a hurry, rude, watching the clock).

The 'suspect' in this case merely seems to have been absorbed in his work/writing. If it was music related, he might have been murmuring lyrics under his breath as he tried them out, or tapping out a rhythym on his leg.

People see bombs and terrorists because they expect to and are told to.

pigletJanuary 6, 2006 5:49 PM

I think there is also an aspect of superstition. People read the word "bomb" and think there must be a bomb, or they take the written words "suicide bomber" as a clue that there must be a real suicide bomber. Words are magic, they have the power to conjure up the real thing...

Chris WalshJanuary 6, 2006 6:16 PM

At times like this, I wish I liked the band "Bush" enough to own a T-shirt

SteveJanuary 6, 2006 7:19 PM

When I fly these days, I carefully censor my reading material so as not to arouse any undue attention from TSA. Anything counter-culture gets left home.

jammitJanuary 6, 2006 8:14 PM

This is silly. Just because I'm wearing a tee shirt of the band "The Circle Jerks", doesn't mean... Wait, bad analogy.
Why didn't a cop (or other official) simply engage the kid in polite "I'm your buddy" cop talk? This would have stopped any silliness immediately. I suppose if I want to blow up a plane I should wear a "proud to be an American" shirt, and carry a notebook with pictures of "dubya" on it encircled with pretty hearts.

Pat CahalanJanuary 6, 2006 8:24 PM

@ jammit

> I should wear a "proud to be an American" shirt,
> and carry a notebook with pictures of "dubya" on it
> encircled with pretty hearts.

Watch out, if someone does that you're going to get a visit from the men in black suits.

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 6, 2006 9:41 PM

"The man found his axe, and discovered his neighbor no longer acted like a thief."

I like that. Here's an old joke that is slightly related to both your comment and the danger of misplacing priorities with regard to risk:

A light goes out in the cockpit. The pilot argues with the co-pilot about the meaning and they fiddle and poke and prod and test for a while until they finally discover that nothing is actually wrong. Fortunately the bulb has simply burned out. But then the plane, with the more important controls unattended, crashes.

LongwalkerJanuary 7, 2006 12:01 AM

@Davi:

Many air crashes have been caused by very similar occurances. A minor problem distracts the pilots, which causes them not to notice a major problem which ultimately brings down the aircraft. As a result, a lot of effort in aviation training and systems design has been put into reducing the risks of mental tunnel vision during emergencies. There are most likely lessons learned from the tunnel vision battle in aviation safety that can be applied to aviation security and security in general.

GibsonistJanuary 7, 2006 10:08 AM

I believe that the main problem is that we underestimate the "terrorists" and in our fit of paranoia and panic suspect one in every stranger we meet.
Let me ask you this - if you were a terrorist how would you dress if you were to go onto a "mission"? Perhaps in a traditional arabic get up? Or would you rather try to blend in with your "fellow passangers"?
Also look at the "security theatre" at airports - the long haired guy with combat boots and a heavy metal studed belt is asked to "please remove both" while the dressed up "chick" wearing stillettos with metal heals and a similar belt is just let through (might have to do with the lenght of skirt and legs)

Bruce SchneierJanuary 7, 2006 10:45 AM

"Why didn't a cop (or other official) simply engage the kid in polite 'I'm your buddy' cop talk?"

Think about the trade-off from the policeman's perspective. He's better off just arresting the guy, then using his own intelligence and -- maybe, just maybe -- being wrong.

I spend a lot of time on this in the last chapters of Beyond Fear. I think understanding it central to understanding how security works in practice.

JakeSJanuary 7, 2006 11:33 AM

"Arrested" or "detained"?

It doesn't matter very much what word they use when they handcuff you in public, frogmarch you away and lock you up incommunicado.  The guy was just lucky that his flight was en route before some fool misunderstood what he was doing, otherwise he wouldn't have made it home.  The story says the police released him "later" - doesn't say after how many hours.

It seems that in any public place, there may now be people watching for terrorists.  Most of these people are unofficial, "concerned citizens" (or "vigilantes", or "nutters" if you prefer).  Because they are eager to spot terrorists, they will interpret as potential terrorism anything that doesn't fit their preconceived norms.  This syndrome has got at least two people shot dead in the past year, many others unneccessarily detained, and many hours of police time wasted.  Be very, very careful - you may be the next victim.

Hadi HaririJanuary 7, 2006 2:27 PM

You said it right. It didn't matter if he was just sitting tightly in his seat, everything would be suspicious

Sad...

Wonder how long more we have to deal with this stuff

raoufJanuary 7, 2006 4:52 PM

There was a TV interview with that individual yesterday in San Jose. The phrase "suicide bomber" referrers to his sport of extreme skateboarding. These words were handwritten in large font on the cover of a red notebook. The young man had a black wool cap.
He said that sometimes he should look at himself in the mirror, and he apologized for giving the wrong impression.

This is a case of mistaken profiling but the fact that these circumstances raised a red flag, is the correct response in this case.


@STEVE

"I carefully censor my reading material so as not to arouse any undue attention from TSA."

This is truly sad,
Can't say that I blame you.

And to think that all this is done supposedly in defense of freedom!

pvckJanuary 7, 2006 5:45 PM

There is a band named "Decipher Machine" whose artwork includes a wheel from an enigma machine. I look forward to flying wearing their shirt.

HobbesJanuary 7, 2006 7:33 PM

(1) "I still wonder if it wasn't a 'suicidial tendencies' sticker on his notebook, and somehow the story became slightly twisted."

(2) "Interesting notion.

Clearly we need to examine the psychological records of everyone in the U.S., because people with suicidal tendencies are dangerous."

-------

Or, is it that we need to be wary of fans of the 80s rock group "Suicidal Tendencies" who have stickers of one of their favourite bands on their notebook?

Given that there are probably more of these people than actual terrorists in the U.S., I'm understandably scared.

David MeryJanuary 7, 2006 8:07 PM

@Bruce

You comment on the economics of arrest applies to the decisions of an individual police officer. If you consider the economics at the level of the police force, then the cost of all the wrongful arrests is huge in both purely financial cost and loss of good will toward the police. See http://gizmonaut.net/bits/propaganda.html for more on this.

@eindgebruiker

See http://gizmonaut.net/bits/profiling.html for how a suicide bomber is supposed to behave. It seems that most profiling is based on Israelian techniques. The fact that the situation may be different at a border crossing and in the tube has apparently escaped a few.

@anonymous

Unfortunately, the difference between "arrested" and "detained" is eroding in the UK as since Jan 1st, every offence is now arrestable (more in the links at http://gizmonaut.net/bits/police_state.html )

@Pat Cahalan

Arrests in relation to terrorism are increasing, and with any error rate ratio you'd care to name the number of wrongful arrests is bound to have seriously increased. In the UK, in the 2003/4 financial year - 2 persons were arrested in London in connection with terrorism. The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was recently quoted as saying there had been 130 such arrests in the 5 months following July 7. To my knowledge I have been the only one to have gone public ( http://gizmonaut.net/bits/suspect.html ) and the figures of how many of the other 129 have been released without being charged have not been released so it is not possible to establish the number of wrongful arrests - but listening to lawyers such as Clive Stafford Smith (http://www.ggsl.strath.ac.uk/staffordsmith/lecture.htm) it would seem that error rates above 70% are not uncommon in the judicial system (he looked specifically at the error rate for people on muder charge in New Orleans and also about Gantanamo Bay - so admittedly not for the Met)

@Steve
I have also started to self censor my reading material when going abroad. I specifically took out of my bag an article on spotting video cameras that I had found out in the links of an earlier Cryptogram. (I had it in my rucksack when I was arrested, however it's not one of the item the police showed a special interest into).

br -d

Davi OttenheimerJanuary 7, 2006 10:31 PM

Hey, the guy turns out to be from Santa Cruz:

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/the_valley/13551154.htm?source=rss&channel=mercurynews_the_valley

Special Agent LaRae K. Quy, spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco office "noted, there was 'no reason to believe there was any sort of terrorist activity going on there.''"

Well someone is clearly nervous about what goes on in sleepy little California towns. First the students at UCSC get themselves listed as some kind of "credible threat" by the Defense Department, and then a guy who looks like a typical skater gets detained as a possible terrorist for doing what he was told (don't let that bag out of your sight) and having notebook art?

Anyway, since the paper mentioned west coast skating I couldn't help but dig around and find a possible candidate for the "Suicide Bomber" reference (this is from an art show, not a band):
http://www.impatientyouth.com/suicide_bomber.jpg

Maybe to avoid confusion like this in the future the planes should adopt an informal seating policy similar to school buses -- nerds in the front, skaters in the middle, jocks in the back.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 7, 2006 10:31 PM

"You comment on the economics of arrest applies to the decisions of an individual police officer. If you consider the economics at the level of the police force, then the cost of all the wrongful arrests is huge in both purely financial cost and loss of good will toward the police."

I believe this is true, but there's always a problem when the trade-offs for the organization as a whole are not the same as the trade-offs for the individuals inside the organization.

Jeff BJanuary 8, 2006 3:22 AM

People here might think this is a BS story but it's absolutely the truth. Shortly after the post-9/11 ban on flying was lifted I had to travel from the NE US to the SE. Got tp Pittsburgh International way early, had all my "papers" in order, no nail clippers in my carryon backpack, etc...

I got selected for a random "screening" I guess you'd call it, where I was taken out of the line at the boarding area and had my backpack looked through, got scanned with the hand held metal detectors, had to turn my cell phone on to make sure it wasn't a small explosive device I suppose. Stuff like that.

Everything checked out OK except for in my backpack I had a copy of Applied Cryptography. The two people doing the seaching saw it, stopped, looked at each other, then when I was through one of them boarded the plane ahead of me.

My seat was changed to one nowhere near an exit or a wing. I was seated right over the left wing originally. A guy in pilot's garb that I can only describe as "reserved" sat in the aisle seat, and I was put next to the window. The seat between us was empty.

Ok... now I'm not real sure if the "controversial reading material" had anything at all to do with it, but other than that nothing about me even raised anyone's eyebrow that I know of. And the story the "pilot" told me about taking a hop back to wherever could have been legit, right?

But I thought those guys always flew first class??


SquadbusterJanuary 8, 2006 9:30 AM

When I was in high school, my friends and I played paintball. To save on shipping costs, we would order our supplies in a pool, split them up at school, and bring them home. We didn't see anything wrong with this - after all, we weren't paintballing the school, we weren't doing drugs, we weren't hurting anyone.

One day, I ordered some "paint grenades". They are essentially glorified water ballons: there are no explosives, just a rubber tube with paint in it under pressure. Well, the mistake I made was to show another paintball fan on the bus home. We discussed them in the paintball context: "Throw this into a group of people and they're all dead!" Some other student overheard.

Two hours later, the police come screaming into my driveway, demanding to know where I got a grenade. Now, the way they were talking, I couldn't understand why they would think I might have a grenade. The difference in my mind between a paint grenade and a grenade was quite large. When the police officers explained that someone on the bus said I had a grenade, I immediately understood what was going on. I, stupid and young as I was, offered to show the police officers the "grenades", which they promptly confiscated.

The next day, the newspaper runs a story about how a ring of rogue paintballers going under the name "The Squadbuster Brigade" had been broken up after making threats on a school bus. "The Squadbuster Brigade" was the brand name of the paint grenade.

So, the moral of the story is, don't believe everything you read, and apparently don't discuss your favorite harmless hobby on a school bus.

AleksJanuary 8, 2006 11:15 PM

Ask yourself, would you have issued an apology for "giving the wrong impression" had it been you arrested for a equivalent misunderstanding?

I don't think I would, but I guess I was taught to only apologize when I thought I did something wrong. Let's be clear, be it bad taste or not, those words in that context are no crime. Perhaps the misguided youth who sport "CCCP" brand tshirts should be similarly detained for being commies.

I think the authorities came off looking quite foolish with 0th-order profiling! Since half of security is the image thereof, they did themselves a real disservice in acting so naively.


RogerJanuary 9, 2006 1:00 AM

Obviously suicide bombers, or indeed any other type of criminal, rarely label themselves, so arresting someone for having such a label is complete idiocy. However, on the basis of the news report linked, that is NOT what happened! He was _reported_ to security -- presumably by a naif -- for having those words written on his notebook, but he was _arrested_ for public drunkenness, which is a misdemeanour in many places and certainly can be very unpleasant if you have to fly with him.

@Bruce:
> For the policeman,... If he arrests an innocent, no biggie.

Well, it is a crime for the policeman to arrest someone without reasonable suspicion of an arrestable offence. If they had in fact arrested him as a terrorism suspect on such paper thin grounds, I would think there would be a pretty good chance of an expensive civil liberties lawsuit.

On a totally different note, an interesting, erm, corollary is prison uniforms. Criminals on the street may not label themselves but many prisoners, at least high security ones, ARE labelled: they dress prisoners in distinctive uniforms so that if they escape, they can be easily detected, avoided by the public, and recaptured (at least until they get a chance to change clothes). But some fashion labels are now producing "fashion" garments identical to such uniforms, so certain citizens are effectively labelling themselves "I am an escaped convict". So, what happens the first time some fashion conscious young hipster gets arrested on suspicion of being an escaped convict? What if they were picked up in the vicinity of a genuine mass breakout? In some jurisdictions it is lawful to use lethal force to stop a fleeing felon; what if our fashionable hipster is shot resisting arrest?

RogerJanuary 9, 2006 1:01 AM

@Jeff B:
> My seat was changed to one nowhere near an exit or a wing.

A sad little tale. I hope it wasn't your copy of AC that resulted in that change, although I recall someone joking that cryptography is that branch of mathematics that will get you death threats (just after the Jim Bidzos car park incident.) Anyway, it's surprising the number of folks, including airline employees, who don't realise that in modern passenger jet aircraft it is impossible to open the doors in flight.

@Squadbuster:
I'm not really sure of your point. If you think the police response was unreasonable, I disagree. On the basis of what you were overheard saying, there was a reasonable fear that you meant a live grenade (it wouldn't be the first time a kid stole an unexploded grenade from an old Army range). The response -- to ask to see it -- was also reasonable. And then instead of explaining, "Oh no officer, we don't mean real grenades! It's just a game!", you showed him a device he didn't recognise, which to a non-expert looked like it might be a grenade. Incidentally, paintballing equipment isn't entirely harmless (people have been blinded), and in my state it is illegal for juveniles to possess it except under adult supervision. So depending on your local state law, he might even have recognised it an seized it intentionally.

But I agree with you about the newspapers, although I would amend it to "don't COMPLETELY believe ANYthing you read", as EVERY news report I have ever read whilst knowing the true story, I've found at least one significant error.

> ...and apparently don't discuss your favorite harmless hobby on a school bus.

Make that, "be careful how you say something any time someone might misunderstand you". That applies to everything from talking about grenades on the school bus, to making "locker room jokes" somewhere your girlfriend might overhear you!

Colin HartJanuary 9, 2006 1:13 AM

Reminds me of a global telecoms company I worked for that had a whole lot of networking kit impounded in Saudi Arabia a few years ago. It was only when they realised the acronym for the project name, emblazoned on the crates, was what caused the problem ("Global Unified Network System").

Ed T.January 9, 2006 6:53 AM

"Authorities boarded the plane and detained the man on the Frontier Airlines plane on charges of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

Cripes, if they arrested everyone who was drunk on a commercial airline, the planes wouldn't have very many folks on them at all (including the pilots! ;-)

-EdT.

SquadbusterJanuary 9, 2006 12:36 PM

@Roger

I didn't say the police response was entirely unreasonable. I said don't believe everything you read. The description of the events in the newspaper are radically different from those that actually occurred.

Incidentally, regarding the police response, federal, state, and local law in this case did not prohibit me from owning a non-exposive paint grenade. Further, they do not in any way look like real grenades. Finally, after recognizing that I had committed no crime and possessed no contraband, the items should have been returned to me.

I do understand how our conversation was taken out of context, and I applaud the police for being concerned. I don't know who to blame about hyping up the events into fiction before printing them in a newspaper. Based on other experiences with police I have had (I posted previously here about being searched for weapons) I suspect the police embellished the story when presenting it to the newspaper, rather than presenting an embarrassing (for the police) "nothing really was wrong" story.

Frankly, I'm surprised there wasn't a large community uprage over those paintballing kids. Luckily, the article was small enough and far enough back in the paper in that small town to produce little notice.

For the record, I never was, am not, and never will be a member of the "Squadbuster Brigade".

AleksJanuary 9, 2006 1:34 PM

"For the record, I am not, a member of the Squadbuster Brigade, Posted by: Squadbuster."

Uh huh.

DerfJanuary 9, 2006 1:50 PM

Arresting people carrying items embossed with the text "suicide bomber" is almost as effective at stopping terrorists as feeling up old ladies and strip searching toddlers. The airlines and TSA should be commended for their excellent security work.

SquadbusterJanuary 9, 2006 3:23 PM

@Aleks:

I used the name "Squadbuster" as a handle. I figured it was a humorous way of referring to myself with an obviously fake name.

More humor: Maybe I'm just a lone "Squadbuster", not part of any "Brigade" Ever think about that?

RogerJanuary 9, 2006 6:11 PM

@Squadbuster:
> I didn't say the police response was entirely unreasonable. I said don't believe everything you read.

OK, I just wasn't sure which you meant. I agree absolutely about being careful believing what you read.

> Further, they do not in any way look like real grenades.

Ah, but what do real grenades look like? Most people probably have a mental image of the "Mills bomb" pineapple-like grenade, but actually there are many, many types which have been used over the years. Like this:
http://www.militaria-1914.net/grenades_tortues.htm

SquadbusterJanuary 9, 2006 10:01 PM

@Roger

Agreed, there are some pretty strange looking grenades. Very few of them are made of rubber and have a piece of paper attached to them with a picture of paint splashing on a guy and large text that says "Contains no explosives".

So, while the police response was not entirely unreasonable when acting in a cautious manner to ascertain the extent of any threat, the final result was quite unreasonable (IMHO).

Ari HeikkinenJanuary 10, 2006 5:37 PM

Yeah, surely a real terrorist would be wearing a t-shirt reading "suicide bomber". Wouldn't it be convenient if all terrorists wore signs?

Grunt MonkeyJanuary 10, 2006 7:55 PM

"how does a suicide bomber look like?"

That depends on whether you're looking at the Before or After photo...

AdrianJanuary 11, 2006 7:44 PM

Band names and song titles again and again....

During the bigger Bush's war against whatever it was in the middle east, the BBC had a list of songs and bands it wouldn't play.

Top scorer was "the Cure" who had a number of songs in the list including "Fire in Cairo" and "Killing an Arab".

Recently the Aussie band Shihad had to change its name to "Pacifier" because some idiots somewhere in the US thought it sounded too much like jihad. At least they've seen sense and changed their name back.

Now back to listening to Suicidal Tendencies on my iPod...

RetroJanuary 18, 2006 8:56 AM

>I would arrest anyone with 'suicide bombers' text prominently displayed;
>and I would fire any security personnel who would not do the same. There is
>a price to safety, but it is much lower price than the price of unchecked
>terrorism.

So what you're saying is the text "suicide bombers" is unchecked terrorism?

They've won.

Retro

DaveJanuary 19, 2006 7:00 PM

Your comment is irrelevant because The Suicide Bombers were a band long before terrorist bombers hit the mainstream.

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