Man Detained for Singing a Clash Song

I was going to ignore this one, but too many people sent it to me.

I was in New York yesterday, and I saw a sign at the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel that said: "See something? Say something." The problem with a nation of amateur spies is that it results in these sorts of results. "I know he's a terrorist because he's dressing funny and he always has white wires hanging out of his pocket." "They all talk in a funny language, and their cooking smells bad."

Amateur spies perform amateur spying. If everybody does it, the false alarms will overwhelm the police.

Posted on April 7, 2006 at 11:31 AM • 45 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonApril 7, 2006 11:58 AM

Bruce,

As I said on one of your earlier blogs "it's a self Denial of Service attack" on behalf of the authorities.

If everybody is reporting everybody else just because they have beards and hang around railway stations, the Police and other security personel will be about as effective as a chocolate fire gaurd.

The only thing this sort of thing achives is,

1, Increased numbers of bored poorly trained security personel
2, Public fear and loathing of the security personel
3, An increased climate of fear in the general populace
4, An easier time for terorists.

But I guess it gets the saber ratteling vote up and keeps the war hawks in power.

Clive RobinsonApril 7, 2006 12:01 PM

Oh I forgot to mention

5, wastes a large amount of tax money
6, Increased Fedaral spending
7, Increased Taxation

Of course all this extra money alows the incumberant government to buy favour with it's favourd suppliers. Who of course are gratefull enough to make party donations...

I am begining to sound very old and very cinical...

CrustyApril 7, 2006 12:15 PM

A Mr. Dave Osborne was detained by police outside of San Diego International airport after bystanders heard the suspect singing the words to Peter Schilling's 1983 hit "Major Tom" . Nearby listeners apparently became suspicious of iPod-toting Osborne when he pronounced the words "Earth below us, drifting falling, floating weightless, calling calling home."

"I thought he was planning to use a cell phone while on his flight, which we all know will instantly fry all the plane's electronics," said one of the witnesses. "I'm sure I heard him say he was gonna call home."

As police approached the suspected terrorist from behind, Osborne began chanting aloud "4,3,2,1" .

"That was all we needed. We swarmed him," explained Bill "Buck" Mulroney, head of the local anti-terrorist S.W.A.T. commando division. "He tried to act real surprised, and started to try talk his way out of it. But we've been trained for that."

Osborne was later taken to a local hospital where he was treated for cuts and bruises, after surgeons removed the iPod from his rectum.

"It was still playing," commented Drake Remore, trauma surgeon at San Diego General. "I love that song. Four, three, two, one..."

Michael AshApril 7, 2006 12:22 PM

This opens up an interesting avenue for civil disobedience.

Just hang around public places and call in odd-looking people. Be sure to make it plausible but ridiculous, much like this story. Do it from a payphone so the police don't start recognizing you after you've done it a few times.

Of course, this is rather mean because you're involving somebody without his consent. To do it more properly, you should go in with a friend. One of you dresses up funny, the other one calls it in. Do it enough and maybe the police will stop responding to such silly calls in the first place.

Not that I'm going to try it.

Clive RobinsonApril 7, 2006 12:30 PM

@Michael Ash

Many many years ago I worked at Kingston Polytechnic (now University) in the UK.

Every year it had a "Student Rag Week" where students dressed up and did silly things for charity (raft races on the river and the like) as wll as consuming various quantities of intoxicating beverages.

One student who remains nameless noticed that the local Council had started digging up the pavement outside the Polytechnic.

As a joke he phoned up the police and said a group of students had started digging up the road as a protest. He then went out to the council workmen and told them that a bunch of students where planning to dress up as police men and come along and stop them working.

The student told a number of his friends who all retired to the library that overlooked the road where the workmen where working and watched the ensuing mayhem that followed when the police arived...

Life was oh so much more fun in the early 1980's

bobApril 7, 2006 1:08 PM

You dont think this is a good tactic? But terrorist union rules require them to sing songs with hijacking clues in the lyrics as a "fair play" code to let people know what is going to happen if they are paying attention.

AnonymousApril 7, 2006 1:14 PM

@Clive Robinson

"incumberant government", ha.
Consider that stolen.

A

AGApril 7, 2006 1:14 PM

Isn't listening to bad music in public a terrorism offense?
It should be.

lol... all is jest I like punk myself

MilanApril 7, 2006 1:16 PM

When I saw "Man Detained for Singing a Clash Song" I thought the RIAA had finally gone to full mobilization in defending their copyrights. Looks like we may have a few months, yet.

Moshe YudkowskyApril 7, 2006 2:06 PM

"Amateur spies perform amateur spying. If everybody does it, the false alarms will overwhelm the police."

Sorry, but that statement is complete nonsense, based on a few outlying cases on the bell curve. Yes, there will be stupidity and over-reaction, but that will pass as people settle into the task.

So far the US has been spared widespread terrorist activity. But even for ordinary crime, the police in Chicago still do rely on citizens calling the police when they see someone acting in a suspicious manner.

I have years of experience living in Israel where terrorist bombs were very real, where entering a cinema meant getting friskes, where "security pits" outside large public buildings were available to toss suspicious packages. The police relied on ordinary citizens to report suspicious packages or suspicious activities.

Were there false alarms? Certainly. Were they bothersome? Yes. Did the benefits outweigh the burdens? Absolutely.

Talk to Amy P about her similar experiences in Italy during the heights of Red Brigade actiivtiy. She had to check under her automobile every morning with a mirror, looking for bombs.

As far as I can tell, you simply don't believe there's a threat, despite what happened on Sept 11th in American, in Spain, and on the London subways. After the terrorists attack a major US commuter transit system, I expect you'll see the benefits of citizen awareness a bit differently.

David DonahueApril 7, 2006 2:13 PM

Clive,

In regards to your point, I think this policy achieves several goals you have identified, namely:

1, Increased numbers security personnel (the fact that they are bored and poorly trained is not relevant)
3, An increased climate of fear in the general populace (thus garnering support for the politicians that profess to protect us)
6, Increased Federal spending (thus rewarding the corporate sponsors of the politicians that profess to protect us)
7, Increased Taxation (providing more resources for #1 & #6)

The others are just side effects and since they don't directly harm the politician who passed the policy, they aren't worth committing resources to avoid them.

Andrew2April 7, 2006 2:30 PM

@ Moshe

"major US commuter transit system"

What, the automobile factories?

Nick LancasterApril 7, 2006 3:14 PM

@Moshe:

The existence of a threat is irrelevant when the 'civilian observers' lack the critical thinking skills to appraise television commercials and newspaper editorials.

Consequently, the flood of false positives submitted by well-intentioned citizens becomes a detriment as responders start to 'tune out' the dross - not because of any inherent laziness or ineptitude, but because it's like sifting through your mailbox to purge spam. You start ignoring stuff, and even the 'filters' aren't 100% effective.

There may eventually be a balance, where civilian alerts become useful, but I'd expect a lot of embarassing stuff like this to pop up first, especially when the American government is busy chasing down movie-plot threats and yesterday's threats.

AnonymousApril 7, 2006 3:19 PM

Michael Ash

This isn't funny.

A couple of years ago, someone phoned in a report of an Irishman (suspicious) with a shotgun in a plastic bag in a bar.

Actually he was a midlle aged Scotsman with a table leg that he had been repairing.

Two Police arrived and promptly shot him dead in the back.

No consequences - when there was a threeat of prosecution, police gunmen went on strike.

Harraj Mann was lucky, although his nam sounds aisian = guilty

VickiApril 7, 2006 3:21 PM

Moshe--The thing is, for this to work at all well, the average person has to have a realistic idea of what is and is not a danger. You can't run a sane response system if a large number of the people who are making reports don't know the differences between a music fan, a harmless crazy, and a terrorist.

The Chicago police, I think and hope, would not send a SWAT team if someone called them and said "My neighbor is playing loud rock music." They might send an officer out to say "turn it down," but it shouldn't be their first priority, and they shouldn't treat it as a terrorist threat.

The MTA here in New York City is at least making some effort to give people an idea of what a suspicious package is, not saying "call us if you see anyone carrying a brown paper bag" and thus producing thousands of daily calls about people's lunch, groceries, and bookstore purchases.

linnenApril 7, 2006 3:23 PM

@ Moshe

I am sorry, but you are comparing apples and oranges. In Isreal, political leaders consider terrorism a matter of public safety and treat it as such, while leaders in the US consider terrorism a political matter and treat it as such. (Yes, this is a generalization and I am aware of counter-examples in both countries.)

Here in the US, we have had people arrested for looking like 'arabs'. (DWB is not a recent activity.) Airlines have refused service even after the police have cleared the individuals. One person was killed because of this hysteria.
There is also the matter of funding for security. Allocation is problematic, as an example in 2002 Wyoming got more Homeland Security funds than New York. Homeland Security is also considers inspecting only 5% of in-coming shipping containers to be just fine. Each time there was a terrorism alert (have not heard of any since the 2004 elections, eh?) the local and state police took a hit wrt budgets and overtime.

As for being spared, we have been spared attacks, not activities. Last the US saw the arrest of one man (a white supremist) who was stock-piling explosives and had the makings of a cyanide gas bomb. Also caught was Eric Rudolf, the fellow who bombed a park during the Altanta Olympics. I would say that the activities are still on-going. (Still no word on the Antrax mailer.)

AnonymousApril 7, 2006 3:23 PM

Moshe - Outliers aren't on the bell curve. That's why they're outliers. One attack – 19 attackers – out of the 2.5 million people in the United States in five years is the outlier.

If you want to argue for increased amateur spying I think you'd be better off avoiding statistics. In none of the attacks you cite was there any sign of alert authorities only minutes away from saving the day. Similarly, I've yet to hear about anyone I'd call a real terrorists being caught in the US or Europe as a result of a called in tip. If they succeeded in these things you'd think they'd be all over the news telling us about how they were winning the war against terrorism.

There does, however, seem to be about one national news story a week about someone having an encounter with federal agents regarding something "suspicious" that would only be suspicious to the very bored or a paranoid delusional.

The fact is, I think there is a threat, but I don’t think we’re doing anything that will seriously address it.

Erik V. OlsonApril 7, 2006 3:31 PM

You know, if he'd been singing along to "Rock the Casbah", he'd probably have a job at Fox by now.

BobApril 7, 2006 4:38 PM

A theme on this site is the problem with "movie plot threats". The term "amateur spies" evokes its own set of movie plots, but this time farcical comedy. The problem is it's a *long* *way* from that imagery to a sign that says "See something? Say something.". Bruce, you're employing the same hyperbole that you accuse others of employing.

The fact is most law enforcement officers are not chasing and arresting people from the start of their shift to the end of their shift. Following up on reports, even if there ends up being nothing to them, is not the huge cost that other posters are making it out to be.

Of course there is a danger that if too many of these reports come in, that they could overwhelm the system. And while previous commenters write as though we're at that point now, none has provided any data to show that it is the case.

But just as there is a danger of such reports overwhelming the system, there is also the danger of people deciding that "it's probably nothing" when it might be something. In fact, there are noticeable cases where no one called the police as a victim of violent crime was yelling "help" within earshot.

And while it's useful to catalog the extreme cases, such as this one, it's also important to keep them in perspective.

LongwalkerApril 7, 2006 5:08 PM

@Moshe

At risk of engaging in a pile-on here, it must be pointed out that the threat profile in Israel, or any other area where there is an ongoing terrorist bombing campaign is radically different than the threat profile in the US. In Israel, it's worth calling in unattended and suspicious packages because there's a fairly high risk of them actually being explosive. In contrast, there isn't an ongoing bombing campaign in the US and the typical supicious package is just going to be someone's forgotten lunch. Different threats; different responses.

I would also hazard a guess that given compulsory military service and decades of ongoing terrorism, the average Israeli has a much better idea of what's a suicide bomber and what's a guy with an ipod than does the average American.

Nick LancasterApril 7, 2006 8:34 PM

@ Bob

The truth is, as you point out, that routine, professional police work is of more value in the long run than a bunch of wannabe heroes with secret decoder rings.

It is a mistake to encourage the amateur detective hour, as it leads us to make poor security decisions overall.

The next time someone sends you a urban panic e-mail urging you to 'tell everyone you know,' perhaps you'll reconsider whether or not the public is anywhere close to being useful in an 'alert citizen' (as opposed to 'citizen alerts') role.

For example, we know the value of neighborhood watch programs, because they're built around a very simple set of criteria - such as moving vans, unfamiliar vehicles, and so on.

Imagining that civilian detection is effective against terrorism, and the fact that we keep hearing this recommendation from government officials tells me they don't know what to look for any more than Joe Sixpack does.

Education, observation, and critical thinking skills have to be improved, otherwise we're lying to ourselves and creating an all-too easily burst bubble.

Clive RobinsonApril 8, 2006 12:05 AM

@bob

"The fact is most law enforcement officers are not chasing and arresting people from the start of their shift to the end of their shift. Following up on reports, even if there ends up being nothing to them, is not the huge cost that other posters are making it out to be."

I do not know about the U.S. but in the U.K. the Government has made sure that Police officers have so little time (due to needless target setting and the ensuing paperwork) That the avarage "beat copper" spends more than 75% of their on duty time away from patroling the streets and fighting crime.

This has led in many parts of the country to the Police prioratizing calls. In more than one case they have down prioratised "Crime in Progress" calls so that by the time a Police officer attends the suspects have had time to leave (in several cases by public transport).

SO your point is (certainly in the UK) not valid, even without taking into account the increased risk to the health and safety of the police officers and any other members of the public that may be on their route.

If you then take into consideration the incressed stress levels on the police officers that gives rise to snap decissions (that kill and harm), cause the officers to take early retirment (thus lossing a considerable investment of public money), or sue for compensation, I would say you are ignorring a considerable set of (not so well) "hidden costs".

I could go on with even more points, but it would only add "icing to the cake".

NeighborcatApril 8, 2006 6:20 AM

Moshe:

I'm not "piling on" you personally, but your post does give the opportunity to point out a few things:

"...simply don't believe there's a threat..." One of the basic concepts in Mr. Schneier's writing is the need for careful cost/benefit analysis of any given threat.


On the "Cost" side of the equation:

Is there a threat of attack in the US? Clearly, the answer is "yes", but how does the cost of successful attacks compare with the cost of other risks that we blithely accept as a part of daily life, such as the risk of being killed in an auto accident?

If measured in units of lives taken, per- capita deaths due to "terrorist" attacks get lost way to the right of the decimal point compared to preventable traffic deaths in both the US and Israel, yet, what would be the police response if you call in an observation of someone speeding or following too closely in traffic?

On the "Benefit" side:

You point out that aggresive response to the reports of alert observers prevent attacks/deaths, and this is true, but you won't catch them all, so perhaps it would be advisable to step back another level in the causal chain and look at the factors in the environment that elevate the risk of attack.

Perhaps Israelis have done a poor job of cost/benefit analysis of their political goals, and shouldn't expect to be free of attacks with such a large percentage of population that feels persecuted and powerless, with asymetric warfare as their only option.

To take the opposite tack, what is the best possible outcome we can hope for if we achieved the Israeli model of "terrorism" response here in the US? Barricades, checkpoints, pits, and almost daily attacks with no hope of resolution? Is this really the future you suggest we should work towards in the US?


Take a step back, re-evaluate your assumptions, and treat causes, not symptoms.


Neighborcat

AndyApril 8, 2006 9:28 AM

@Bruce -- So, given that I'm not a security professional, if I see someone walking around my building without an ID badge, I should just ignore them? If I notice a shoplifter, I should not notify the store manager?

You have posted many stories here about the lack of professionalism of the security professionals. You have also pointed out that security begins at home. Surely you can't now be stating that people do nothing on their own, and just rely on others to keep them secure!

MApril 8, 2006 12:31 PM

@Moshe - The main reason why these signs and announcements are worse than useless is that the people with the skill set that would allow them to realize that something bad is going down, also have the instincts that will let them find the right authority to tell. Would anyone really think "Oh, look, a man just left the station after kicking a bag into the shadows under that bench. But there's no sign telling me to report it to the police, so I'll just go on my way."

Whenever there is a security alert with these sorts of "Report suspicious activity" announcements constantly being made, I am sorely tempted to go up to the large groups of police milling around and tell them that there are lots of cops around and that I find that suspicious. But I don't. I also ignore the secondary meaning (ugly, unkempt woman) when being asked to report unattended bags to subway officials.

Bruce SchneierApril 8, 2006 4:10 PM

"So, given that I'm not a security professional, if I see someone walking around my building without an ID badge, I should just ignore them? If I notice a shoplifter, I should not notify the store manager?"

Do you really need a sign telling you the answser to these questions? Isn't common sense enough?

Bruce SchneierApril 8, 2006 4:18 PM

"As far as I can tell, you simply don't believe there's a threat, despite what happened on Sept 11th in American, in Spain, and on the London subways. After the terrorists attack a major US commuter transit system, I expect you'll see the benefits of citizen awareness a bit differently."

Wow. As much as you occasionally spout inane Republican rhetoric, I never expected you to turn to the "You disagree with me, so obviously you love the terrorists/want the terrorists to win/don't believe in terrorists" line. You're usually better than that.

Anyway, you're making an amateur security mistake. It's not about the threat, it's about the trade-off. People will alert the police if they see a problem; they don't need a sign to tell them that. What the sign does is increase the general level of fear and paranoia, which in itself is a badness. The additional security the sign adds -- minimal, if any -- is not worth the enormous waste of time from the resultant false alarms.

StilgherrianApril 8, 2006 4:27 PM

Michael Ash's "civil disobedience" point was demonstrated beautifully by Australian ABC-TV satirical program "The Chaser's War on Everything" last month. The Chaser performer easily distracted police sniffer dogs at a major outdoor event by stuffing several kilograms of meat down his pants.

The video can be viewed online at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/chaser/war/video/...

Sam LowryApril 8, 2006 4:35 PM

Suspicion breeds confidence

Mind that parcel. Eagle eyes can save a life

Don't suspect a Friend: Report Him

RogerApril 10, 2006 12:49 AM

@Bruce:
> Amateur spies perform amateur spying.

When ordinary citizens pass information on possible crimes to the police, it's normally called "community based policing" rather than amateur spying. (Amateur spying is when you steal national secrets without getting paid. Most of the best spies are amateurs.) Most people think community based policing works well, in fact far better than the alternatives (which generally fall somewhere between the police not knowing what's going on, or a police state).

> If everybody does it, the false alarms will overwhelm the police.

They already get a lot of false alarms from the public, and have a lot of experience in filtering them. The ones from complete crackpots, they soon get to know and ignore. The rest aren't common enough to be a problem except in the immediate aftermath of particularly horrific crimes, and they have enough experience to put in place special procedures for handling those. Most of the time, police welcome more information from the public. I have _never_ heard them ask for less!

So what went wrong here? Allegedly, a taxi driver phoned in an absolutely ludicrous warning, and the police acted on it, despite it being patent nonsense. Were both the taxi driver and the Durham police complete loonies? The answer might lie in the fact that so far, we have only heard the story from the side of the man who was detained, who understandably may have been very annoyed at missing his plane and perhaps inclined to, well, spin the story a bit. From the Durham police, all we have heard is that the choice of music was _not_ the only reason Mann was detained.

NocturnApril 10, 2006 3:07 AM

@Moshe
"Sorry, but that statement is complete nonsense, based on a few outlying cases on the bell curve. Yes, there will be stupidity and over-reaction, but that will pass as people settle into the task."


I think you are confusing two things. In the past, the general population has been a passive network for information. You notice someone that is not your neighbour climbing to your neighbour's window and call the police.
This kind of thing will probably be reasonably accurate.

But what we are talking about is turning these people into active spies watching an environment for which they do not have a reasonable baseline.
First, you make them afraid of the 'terrorists', then you tell them to watch for them but you do not give any specifics about how to sniff them out, not to mention that the terrorists will probably be trained to 'blend in'.

Combine these two, and you will have a flood of non-issues while the real ones have a greater chance of going undetected (due to the fact that the security people are chasing ghosts).

This kind of security is useless and does nothing but invade innocent people.

Were there false alarms? Certainly. Were they bothersome? Yes. Did the benefits outweigh the burdens? Absolutely.


"As far as I can tell, you simply don't believe there's a threat, despite what happened on Sept 11th in American, in Spain, and on the London subways. After the terrorists attack a major US commuter transit system, I expect you'll see the benefits of citizen awareness a bit differently."

There is a threat, both to the US and some other nations. But the size of that threat is being exagerated to a point that is beyond belief. Secondly, the attacks are being used to justify just about anything from torture to spying on innocent citizens as to copyrights.

All this means that the attacks where a success, they struck so much terror in the US that the civil liberties that where once so important are being increasingly eroded. Mission accomplished.

ThomasApril 10, 2006 3:26 AM

Wow, this kind of sign (aka propaganda) was used by the Nazis against kommunists first an against jews lateron.
I am far away of comparing today governments with the german gorvernment from 1933 to 1945, but the methods of so called "homeland security" become very similar.

NocturnApril 10, 2006 3:31 AM

@Roger

"When ordinary citizens pass information on possible crimes to the police, it's normally called "community based policing" rather than amateur spying."

I find his description very accurate. Because you are not asking a population to passively watch out. You are asking them to spy on their fellow citizens without any training. Listening in on phone calls are music someones listens too.

But for the general population, simply looking arabic in a subway is enough to trigger an alert. Being left-wing or anti-bush is enough, wearing an anti-war T-shirt gets you shipped to Guantanamo bay...

Such a system will fail, and it will fail horribly, probably resulting in innocent deaths.

"They already get a lot of false alarms from the public, and have a lot of experience in filtering them."

They have experience in filtering false alarms from a normal population reporting things that go on in their familiar surrounding (like burglaries).

Now, they will have to deal with rather rational and normal people who have been scared out of their wits by the events that went on and the media hype about them.

Most people fear terrorism more then cancer, (passive) smoking, traffic accidents, ...
Their threat model in this respect is so screwed up that their observations are utterly useless.

They will report that arab man speaking in a foreign language over his cell phone with his wife but ignore the white male carrying a shotgun.

"So what went wrong here? Allegedly, a taxi driver phoned in an absolutely ludicrous warning, and the police acted on it, despite it being patent nonsense. Were both the taxi driver and the Durham police complete loonies?"

Off course they were, specially the police who responded to the crackpot call.
If you create a behavioral profile of real terrorists, it will not cite them as signing a merry 'we will bomb you' song just before commiting their acts. You could wish it was so easy to find them, but reality will contradict you.

The security net of amateur spies will always result in innocent but 'weird' citizens being reported, but organized criminals in getting through.

"From the Durham police, all we have heard is that the choice of music was _not_ the only reason Mann was detained."

He probably had a very suspicious skin color too. Which seems enough reason to suspect someone these days.

mnsApril 10, 2006 9:29 AM

It seems a little non-sequitur-ish to turn what happened in the UK into a chance for another shallowly-disguised series of rants about the US.

I guess anything that furthers your argument. Or what passes for your argument. Good luck with that.

RogerApril 10, 2006 9:12 PM

@Nocturn:
> Because you are not asking a population to passively watch out. You are asking them to spy on their fellow citizens without any training. Listening in on phone calls

Erm, no they are NOT asking them to do stuff like that. Passive watching, in the normal, social, human manner, is all. Spying type things like listening in on phone calls, accessing computer files, B&E etc is absolutely NOT being suggested, in fact it is forbidden.

>are music someones listens too.

Mann was playing the music through the taxi's internal speakers. It was impossible for the cabbie to avoid hearing it.

> Now, they will have to deal with rather rational and normal people who have been
> scared out of their wits by the events that went on and the media hype about them.

You seem to have a lot of contempt for your fellow citizens.

> But for the general population, simply looking arabic in a subway is enough to trigger an alert.
> Being left-wing or anti-bush is enough, wearing an anti-war T-shirt gets you shipped to Guantanamo bay...

Really? Got any examples? Who is this person shipped to Guantanamo bay for wearing an anti-war T-shirt?

> Most people fear terrorism more then cancer, (passive) smoking, traffic accidents, ...

Really? Do you have any evidence for that, because I find it rather difficult to believe. In particular in Britain (where this incident took place), people seem to have a very measured response to terrorism. For example commuter traffic was back to normal within a few days of the 7th July underground railway and bus bombings. Not surprising when you consider that UK was subject to Fenian bombing campaigns in the 1880s, IRA in 1920s, 1939, and 1950s, and PIRA from 1974 through to 1996. (And that's not even counting the Luftwaffe).

>> Were both the taxi driver and the Durham police complete loonies?"
> Off course they were, specially the police who responded to the crackpot call.

The point of my rhetorical question is that in fact this is extremely unlikely. If you stop to think about the story instead of just going "yay, another amusing/horrifying story of terrorism related silliness!", you can see that it doesn't make any sense at all. Even if the police were worked up into a frenzy over terrorism, nothing in the cabbie's report in ANY WAY SUGGESTED that Mann might be a terrorist. So we stop, reread the story with our "written comprehension [1]" caps on, and realise that what is wrong with the story is that we have only heard Mann's spin on it (which clearly doesn't make sense); the only comment from the police is that Mann's version is false, which we already guessed from the fact that it doesn't make sense. In short, there is no story here, yet. Maybe something untoward happened, but as all we have is a distorted press release written out of anger, it isn't possible to say.

_____
1. A subject we had when I went to primary school. I don't know what it is called today, if they even still do it. It consisted of taking a short passage of text -- from a novel, screenplay, newspaper article, whatever -- and completely dissecting it, squeezing out every nuance of meaning.

Peter DowleyApril 11, 2006 1:21 AM

The "See something? Say something" slogan has been used on public transport in Australia for the last 6 months as well, and leaves the same bad taste in my mouth as in the NYC example. It's basically a political exercise, since in each case the incumbent party knows that they poll better on security than their opponents. Increase the general level of fear in the public implies that they're more likely to vote the conservatives back in again ...

Also somewhat similar to the anti-terrorism hotlines and home kits that have been rolled out in UK and Australia. Sure there are some terrorism risks, even in obscure places like Australia, but there are a number of observers who have commented about these type of government anti-terrorism responses being excessively alarmist (e.g. http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/detail.asp?...

JamesApril 11, 2006 12:39 PM

@Moshe
"Sorry, but that statement is complete nonsense, based on a few outlying cases on the bell curve. Yes, there will be stupidity and over-reaction, but that will pass as people settle into the task."

You are making an assumption that is not supported by the facts. You assume that people are smart enough to figure out what is serious and what is unimportant. If they were capable of doing that, they would see right through the "security theater" and go about dismantling the Patriot Act and other goofy laws we have passed.

Since this hasn't happened (repealing the Patriot Act), I contend that is proof that people (as a group) are too stupid to be trusted to determine what is suspicious activity and what is not.

Davi OttenheimerApril 13, 2006 12:33 AM

@ Roger

I agree with your assessment, for the most part. The section of the story that stood out to me was:

"Mann told newspapers the taxi had been fitted with a music system which allowed him to plug in his MP3 player and he had been playing The Clash, Procol Harum, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles to the driver."

Mann probably had no idea his driver had never heard the Clash before and would consider it hinky...

Incidentally, here are some interesting statistics on people who take cabs:

http://www.cabvision.com/body_audience.htm

Makes me wonder if Mann was considered outside the "norm" because he didn't fit the target market.

NocturnApril 14, 2006 6:35 AM

@Roger

"Erm, no they are NOT asking them to do stuff like that. Passive watching, in the normal, social, human manner, is all. Spying type things like listening in on phone calls, accessing computer files, B&E etc is absolutely NOT being suggested, in fact it is forbidden."

We are discussing semantics here. I consider someone spying on me when he is listening in on my phone converstations deliberatly with the intend to report me to the authorities.

I don't wish to be arrested for telling a joke to my best friend over my cell that have the words bomb, allah and bush in it.

"Mann was playing the music through the taxi's internal speakers. It was impossible for the cabbie to avoid hearing it."

The issue is not wether the cabbie shoud have heard it or not. The issue is that just playing a song does not profile you as a criminal. What if I played 'I shot the sherif, but I didn't shoot his deputy' and tha cabbie didn't know the song...

In addition, there is no profile of terrorist that cite them as typically playing the 'bombing' song just befor commiting their acts. They tend to try to blend in...

Which makes my point of having people do surveilance that have absolutely no training in it.

"You seem to have a lot of contempt for your fellow citizens."

I don't have any contempt for them. But with the media trying to scare everyone by blowing every single thing out of proportion just to sell, it's no wonder that the average citizen is not able to asses different threats.

"Really? Got any examples? Who is this person shipped to Guantanamo bay for wearing an anti-war T-shirt?"

The shooting of the Brazilian man in London showed that having a darker skincolor is dangerous.

The fact that US law allows for detention without legal counsil and that Guantanamo bay even exists makes me fear the US government more then any terrorist organisation.

"Really? Do you have any evidence for that, because I find it rather difficult to believe. In particular in Britain (where this incident took place), people seem to have a very measured response to terrorism. For example commuter traffic was back to normal within a few days of the 7th July underground railway and bus bombings. Not surprising when you consider that UK was subject to Fenian bombing campaigns in the 1880s, IRA in 1920s, 1939, and 1950s, and PIRA from 1974 through to 1996. (And that's not even counting the Luftwaffe)."

I work at a scientific institute and I recently saw the results of a study that questioned people about their threat perception. I didn't like the results.

In the UK, the fact that that Brazilian got shot shows that the response is far from reasonable.

"The point of my rhetorical question is that in fact this is extremely unlikely. If you stop to think about the story instead of just going "yay, another amusing/horrifying story of terrorism related silliness!", you can see that it doesn't make any sense at all. Even if the police were worked up into a frenzy over terrorism, nothing in the cabbie's report in ANY WAY SUGGESTED that Mann might be a terrorist. So we stop, reread the story with our "written comprehension [1]" caps on, and realise that what is wrong with the story is that we have only heard Mann's spin on it (which clearly doesn't make sense); the only comment from the police is that Mann's version is false, which we already guessed from the fact that it doesn't make sense. In short, there is no story here, yet. Maybe something untoward happened, but as all we have is a distorted press release written out of anger, it isn't possible to say."

Your accusing the man of lying while he was actually released by the police because there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.

Do you have information that incriminates this guy?

NocturnApril 14, 2006 6:37 AM

"Makes me wonder if Mann was considered outside the "norm" because he didn't fit the target market."

This is exactly the point I was trying to make.

Mann was suspicious because his taste in music was *different*.
Which is exactly what this new fearfull society is heading at. Being different is getting more and more equal with being a criminal.

Jimmy HavokMarch 30, 2008 10:12 PM

@Moshe:
Some important questions come to mind. Did Amy P (whoever that is) ever find a bomb under her car? What reason did she have to think she was a target for a bombing? Should I start looking under my car with a mirror?

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