Movie-Plot Threat Contest: Second Status Report

On April 1, I announced my (possibly First) Movie-Plot Threat Contest (update here).

The submission deadline was the end of April, and I had hoped to have picked winners by now. But there are just too many entrants to wade through.

I’ll announce winners by the next Crypto-Gram; that’s June 15.


(If any of you want to suggest a winner, please list your choices here.)

Posted on May 15, 2006 at 1:06 PM33 Comments


Erik V. Olson May 15, 2006 1:14 PM

I’m pretty certain it was your first Movie-Plot threat contest… 😉

camilo May 15, 2006 1:54 PM

I vote for napalm on superbowl, but modified: Hijack a zeppelin airship instead of using airplanes.

Andre LePlume May 15, 2006 2:07 PM


Can you list a small number of semi-finalists, and let us discuss/vote?

You, as benevolent blog despot, would have the final say, but we’d probably all have fun.

Taneli Huuskonen May 15, 2006 2:46 PM

I’d vote for Monta’s plot, posted on 18 April, involving bombs in shops as well as fake bomb squads, police officers and paramedics. The terror would be unbearable, as people wouldn’t be able to trust anyone.

David May 15, 2006 2:54 PM

Somehow I’m thinking the winning plot will involve squid…can’t think why…maybe putting Ebola in calamari?

LegalQuestion May 15, 2006 3:14 PM

Since there was no comment posted in the registration, what happens if the winner is one that doesn’t have an e-mail address associated with it?

Since the e-mail address is optional for the post 😉

quincunx May 15, 2006 4:11 PM

I still think that hyperinflation is the best one. It’s the cheapest, least effort, and you have the backing of the “guys” in charge. This method also enlists the citizens themselves into causing terrorism.

If you need a clear example of this, look at Hitler’s rise to power after a massive hyperinflation in Germany – caused by the reparations forced on them by the allies (mostly US). Yes indeed, the US is largely responsible for WWII.

Swiss Connection May 15, 2006 4:17 PM

I think some kind of extensive damage to the power grid. If power out is long enough, I would guess about 12 weeks, telecom and internet would be gone too. We would all die a slow death of hunger or at the hands of canibals.

Pat Cahalan May 15, 2006 4:24 PM

@ quincunx

caused by the reparations forced on them by the allies (mostly US). Yes
indeed, the US is largely responsible for WWII.

You need to retake your early 20th century history courses.

The US never ratified the Treaty of Versailles. Woodrow Wilson was against reparations in the treaty.

csrster May 16, 2006 1:55 AM

Terrorists pose as security expert. After spending years building up trust in this position, they issue a challenge to people to come up with an idea for the most horrifyingly imaginative terrorist attack they can think of. They then implement the contest winner.

Robin May 16, 2006 6:07 AM

A small ex-soviet nuclear device is smuggled to the beautiful, peaceful and above all, low security island of La Palma and planted in the sheer-line of the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

On detonation, the entire half-trillion tonne west flank of the volcano drops into the Atlantic sending a 650 yard-high tsunami heading towards the eastern seaboard of America at over 450 miles an hour.


bob May 16, 2006 7:51 AM

@csrster: Actually its worse than that. A contest is held by terrorists who then procure a small business grant to secure ALL the myriad ridiculous ways exhibited in the movie plots (which immediately makes them no longer eligible for SMALL business grants). They then use the money to buy 1,000 airliners. But in the process of training 1,000 teams to crash them into tall buildings while selling actual seats on the training flights, they underprice the REAL airlines by $5 per flight, putting them all out of business and simultaneously discovering they can do MORE net damage by torturing americans indefinitely with bad food (for a fee), lousy service, misdirected luggage and uncomfortable seats AND sell their private information (which the passengers are forced to give them by the government) to spammers.

John B. May 16, 2006 10:50 AM

An evil chemical engineering megalomaniac in a Liechtenstein denture factory begins building dentures with a secret compartment containing explosive material. Also included is a remote control detonator. The new dentures are undetectable by airport security personnel or any other security groups. The dentures fit so well and the price, subsidized by the evil genius’s terrorist backers, is so low that the all other denture manufactures go out of business. With the specially equipped dentures in the mouths of increasing numbers of people the evil genius only has to wait until suitable numbers of elderly — the preponderance of denture wearers are elderly — has assembled and he can create multiple suicide bombings. In fact by approximating how many denture wearers are at any single event, for example the Super Bowl, terrorists can create scalable suicide bombing events. Eventually, it is noticed that the elderly form the vast majority of the suiciders and the world comes to despise the old. Then, much like in the film “Logan’s Run” people are expired. This takes place either through technical or administrative means … it doesn’t matter. Now everyone is terrified of growing old. The terrorists have won.

another_bruce May 16, 2006 11:01 AM

“yes indeed, the u.s. is largely responsible for ww two.”
i nominate this as the dumbest comment i have ever seen on this blog. it’s the dumbest comment i’ve seen on the internet in quite some time.

sidelobe May 16, 2006 12:18 PM

Very few of these, though imaginative, are nearly as far-reaching as the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks were big, noisy, embarassing, and left a lasting fear of our transportation system. They continue to deprive us of liberty, which is one of our most deeply-held values. And they accomplished this by using our own infrastructure and without inventing anything new or exotic.

The only thing that comes close in my mind is Robert Heinlein’s book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” where the secessionists (terrorists?) threw rocks at the Earth from the Moon, delivering them with the destructive power of nuclear bombs and many times the speed of ICBMs.

Jeff Johnson May 16, 2006 2:50 PM

The post about two cargo planes with four terrorists taking out all the dams on the Columbia river, the City of Portland, and taking down the whole West Coast power grid for months put goosebumps on my arms. Any idea what would happen if the West went dark for 6 months?

It could be decades before the USA returned to “normalcy”.

That one gets my vote.

hggdh May 16, 2006 5:13 PM

OK, here is one — actually proposed by Frank Herbert in a book he wrote long ago (don’t remember the name, but I think it was “The White Plague”). It is not pyroplastic in apperance, but would hit us were we really mind.

Coat a series of dollar bills with a pathogen, the worse the better, like pneumonic plage. You would probably have to weaponise it for better effect (so now you also have a hot zone thrown in, with negative pressure areas, space suits, etc).

Then spread them around. Buy some mail lists somewhere, and mail everybody there a dollar bill. Have a group of bad guys do that in many different cities.

Make sure you pay postage with money at the Post office, and use only $1 bills — it is going to be expensive, and you can start the ball right there. This, of course, will be a suicide mission.

Explore the consequences — everybody using credit cards only, nobody accepting greenies anymore, etc, etc.

Private Coward May 16, 2006 7:21 PM

How about this one?

A shadowy goverment organization tracks all phone calls in the entire country with a big computer database. They then use that database to see who is calling news reporters, and if any of the callers are government employees or contractors they are brought in for detention and questioning. Anyone suspected of whistleblowing is ‘disappeared’ in a secret trial by a military tribunal.

Roger May 17, 2006 4:04 AM

Could I please request that if you want to submit more ideas, please do it at the thread for that purpose, here:
If people keep submitting more ideas to this thread, it will soon become impossible to read the votes.

Also, if you do want to submit more ideas, please read the submission rules! There are some 830 submissions already, but by my reading only ~8 % actually qualify according to Bruce’s criteria.

I downloaded the page and popped it in a text editor so I could sort through them one by one, and so far I am up to #390. So far, there are only 32 that I haven’t dismissed out of hand. Common reasons are:
* Many are just jokes, involve nonexistent alien super-technology or a “deus ex machina”. While some are hilarious (I particularly like jepler’s scenario #3 about terrorist spam!), this isn’t what we’re after.
* Many involve people speculating about engineering fields with which they are not familiar, and are in fact physically impossible. Conversely there are quite a lot where the risk is already known to engineers and already adequately safeguarded.
* Some scenarios — in fact most of the more serious ones — present a plausible scenario but don’t explain how they could “Inflict lasting damage on the U.S. economy. Change the political landscape, or the culture.” They just present a novel method for murdering people, for which the response would likely be a few days of heightened anxiety and a modification of SWAT tactics.
* A lot of scenarios go way, way over budget. You are supposed to have no more than 30 unskilled terrorists and a budget of $500,000. (You can buy specialist skills for your terrorists but Bruce explicitly said it must come out of your $500,000. Figure ~$150,000 for a science or engineering Ph.D., depending on school.) In fact a lot of posters just seem to have no idea what you can get for $500,000. People, you cannot buy Diebold or even a trucking company for $500,000. Think something more like a small general store/gas station — and even then only outside city limits.

Unfortunately, ~70% of the remaining plausible, on-budget scenarios centre around specific risks that some security expert has already tried to raise an alarm over. For example, there are a couple of good scenarios about attacking critical points of the electrical grid, oil pumping stations, or bulk fuel tankers, or hijacking trucks transporting dangerous goods. But those are all vulnerabilities which various security experts have already raised! Bruce’s point is to show that the possibilities are endless, so it is no use to focus on risks that have already been published. If you just repeat someone else’s scenario, you reinforce it instead of exposing its excessive specificity.

Roger May 17, 2006 4:38 AM

A note to Bruce:
If you present one scarily plausible scenario, the headlines may end up reading “Schneier’s blog readers identify terrorist risk to X !”

If the point is to illustrate the possible endless variations of scenarios, wouldn’t it be better to have more than one winner?

Victor Bogado May 17, 2006 1:35 PM

How about flying with a common plane trowing thousands and thousands of counterfit 100 dolar bills into busy streets? This would probably cause an economic problem to the US and would cause a lot of confusion that would probably make an oportunity to attack other economic targets.

Will May 17, 2006 1:57 PM

@ quincunx –

Blame Nevil – he forced the issue of reparations. Then tried to pacify that nice Mr. Hilter.

racerx May 17, 2006 5:57 PM

The contest is for “movie-plot” terrorist attacks, right? Not the kind to build national security around–the kind you want to watch while eating popcorn. So why can’t they be funny?

Roger May 17, 2006 11:37 PM


So why can’t they be funny?

They can be funny. Funny is good. But they can’t just be jokes, they must also be plausible enough for Bruce to use.

The contest is for “movie-plot” terrorist attacks, right? Not the kind to build national security around–the kind you want to watch while eating popcorn.

I think Bruce’s phrase “movie plot threats” is a little unfortunate, because many people think he is talking about implausibility.

In fact he refers to narrow focus or excessive specificity when a broad analysis is called for. See the following link for his essay where he introduced the term:

bob May 18, 2006 9:12 AM

@ quincunx, will: WWII was really WWI part deux. As such, it should be laid at the feet of either France for forcing the extreme terms of Versaille, or Britain for not pushing back when Hitler violated them. So who caused WWI? Seems to me like spontaneous lunacy in the royal families of (damn near every country in Europe, since they were all closely related [if not interberd]).

Roger May 24, 2006 4:44 AM

Well, I’m flattered. I guess!

Man, if only we had a secure voting system to select a winner. 😛

8^). Well, I have waded through the list, and oddly enough, my vote is about voting systems.

My vote for the winner is for Lizardo’s plot, which he called “Election Day”, and is linked from my name below (warning: big page!) This plot is well within budget (probably <$3000, and half a dozen people), requires no unusual skills and very little preparation, is quite likely to cause political changes (perhaps even alter the US Constitution), and TTBMK has never been proposed before.

Actually it is alarming enough that I feel quite uneasy talking about it, but, well, it has already been published…

Basically, in midterm elections a handful of gunmen or snipers shoot voters at random polling stations on the East Coast and early bird voters or election workers in the Midwest, so by the time the West Coast votes, attendance is way down. The election is called off, or invalidated.

Suggested minor variation: instead of random polling places, the terrorists murder only members a particular minority, so it is harder to avoid invalidating the results.

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