Citizen-Counterterrorist Training Video

From the Michigan State Police. The seven signs, according to the video:



Tests of security

Acquiring supplies

Suspicious people who “don’t belong”

Dry runs/trial runs

Deploying assets or getting into position

I especially like the scenes of concerned citizens calling the police. Anyone care to guess what the false alarm rate would be if everyone started making phone calls like this?

Posted on April 19, 2007 at 2:15 PM44 Comments


Anonymous April 19, 2007 2:30 PM

We’ve already seen what happens when everyone starts dialing the cellphones at once.

Geoff Lane April 19, 2007 2:49 PM

OK, but if they reorder the list you can make the word “SADDEST” from the initial letters.

This is probably one of the best self describing
acronyms ever.

Mike Sherwood April 19, 2007 3:14 PM

Is this a psyop? Are they trying to gauge the level of paranoia proliferation through calls of suspicious behavior? If it spikes, they can enact an emergency anti-terrorism tax. =)

Police don’t respond seriously to calls of suspicious activity. I called in when there was a car parked across the street for more than 8 hours with the engine running and windows blocked. The police took their time to come out and when they did, they used no caution at all when approaching the vehicle. They also would not provide any information about why someone was there a few days in a row, except “they aren’t doing anything illegal”.

The part that is most disturbing about this video is that it assumes the public is so dumb that they will accept the premise that anyone doing anything is evidence of an impending terrorist attack. It’s sad to think that they might be right about the public.

ravuya April 19, 2007 3:18 PM

What this says to me is: you can act as suspicious as you want as long as there’s a camera crew around.

I like how the police officer responds almost immediately to the guy trying to trespass; you would’ve thought he’d have seen the cop within visual range and, you know, not approached.

But then again this is the guy apparently wearing body armour, driving a black SUV and walking around bridge supports looking over his shoulder.

Anonymous April 19, 2007 3:37 PM

The only important message here is that Michigan police got gobs of funding to make this video. They are happy.

Bill P April 19, 2007 3:37 PM

Sounds like a new theme for Jeff Foxworthy…

If you watch through an uncovered window, someone taking a shower, you might be a terrorist.

If you approach a stranger and ask for directions, you might be a terrorist.

If you think TSA stands for Terminally Stupid As!@#$es and love to hassle them as much as they hassle you (us), you might be a terrorist.

If you fill up more than one gas can, you might be a terrorist.

If you are waiting for friend or family to get home, to surprise them or other nefarious reason, you might be a terrorist.

If you do a dry run to the doctor’s office, hospital, new job, you might be a terrorist.

If you are putting on a prank or hiding Easter eggs, you might be a terrorist.

Sorry, Jeff is funny and none of this is really funny. In fact it is terrorizing. No, I am not refering to the sterio typical “terrorist”, I am refering to our government. Oh, yea, we’ll defeat terrorism by turning citizen against citizen.

erikj April 19, 2007 3:39 PM

I like the part where the terrorist parks just past the “No Parking” sign and in front of the fire hydrant. And as far as “elicitation” goes, I would be more suspicious of the landscaper who has no uniform or workers badge but has a cellphone in her toolbox and a perfect view of the target. Who is meant to see this, anyway?

Paul April 19, 2007 4:05 PM

On the first read-through I thought that the “seven signs” were referring to the apocalypse. Then I realized that this was a list provided by police, not describing police. Heh. I guess all the talk of terrorism makes us all a bit more paranoid, each in our own special way.

Mark April 19, 2007 4:07 PM

What strikes me about this video is that not a single one of the terrorist attacks in the US would have been detected in advance or deterred by the actions depicted in this video. It has a 100% failure rate designed in.

Stefan Wagner April 19, 2007 4:18 PM

OT: I’m a student writing an architecture homework.
Is there anybody out there, who can tell me details of the Port Huron bridge?
Blueprints someone?
Is it possible to get close to it without being watched?

Thank you.

Frank Ch. Eigler April 19, 2007 4:22 PM

I don’t get it, Bruce. In your opinion, just who is qualified to look for danger signs? Anyone other than an ACLU-certified open-source-only spook? Both of them?

Anyone care to guess what the false alarm
rate would be if everyone started making
phone calls like this?

And just as rhetorically, anyone care to guess the beneficial cultural effects of many individuals starting to take steps toward responsibility for the security of their own environment?

Drwg April 19, 2007 4:30 PM

The part I hate that most about these things is they always tell you to report things that are out of the ordinary or aren’t normal?

Isn’t diversity thought to be a good thing. Just like we don’t want to cut down the rainforest because we might find something useful there? We don’t want to call the cops on every bird-watcher, just in case we happen to need an ornithologist to tell whether the dead bird in your pool died of the avian flu.

Captain Moroni April 19, 2007 4:37 PM

An important aspect of living in a free society, one that I’ve failed to hear you advocate, is that every citizen has a duty to uphold the law. When we “go about our business” with blinders on, oblivious to the fellow-citizens (and aliens) around us, we give up a bit of our freedom. The reason that this follows, is that (by not taking personal responsibility for arresting and reporting lawbreakers we see around us) we voluntarily assign that responsibility to a special class of citizenry: the police. Added responsibility needs added authority, hopefully you see where it all leads.

I’m not advocating that we go about with spy-glasses, looking for things our neighbors are doing wrong. But, we should be re-committing ourselves to upholding the law (even the ones we think are petty) and expecting those around us to do the same.

I understand, it’s not exactly the same thing the Michigan State Police video is advocating, but it is closely-enough related, and IMO more important to our ongoing freedom and security, that I wanted to mention it here.

Thanks again for the public service you perform by publishing this blog.

Sammy the Surfer April 19, 2007 4:43 PM

Remember the days when the Nazis recruited kids to spy on their parents and ‘encouraged’ the parents to spy on each other? Remember the days when us westerners were ‘encouraged’ to spy on and report about our neighbours in case they were communists? Of course not, nobody studies history anymore.

Duck and cover, kids.

Brandioch Conner April 19, 2007 4:43 PM

@Frank Ch. Eigler

Think about it for just one moment. How many of the actions portrayed in the video are COMPLETELY NORMAL?

Then think about how many cops we have and how long it will take them to investigate each call.

The cops would have no time for anything other than investigating completely normal activities.

Now, think about the past terrorist activities in this country. How many of them met even 4 of the 7 criteria in that video?


Those criteria seem to be taken from movies. No one steals a cop uniform from a dry cleaners. No one asks what the building is used for. Why would they?

Stephan Samuel April 19, 2007 4:59 PM

@Captain Moroni,

I both agree and disagree with you. There is one huge problem that we need to overcome, which is probably what the video should have been about: worldliness.

Citizens should uphold the law — we can still detain and arrest — but Americans need to stop believing that Moslem equals terrorist. Certainly, this is a generalization and there are those who know better. But I have met too many people who see a dark-skinned family move into a neighborhood and immediately assume they’re terrorists. An average American doesn’t have the scientific background know the difference between multiple gas cans and bomb-making supplies. An average American also doesn’t have the courage or objectivity to get to know their Moslem neighbors and find out if they’re outlandishly radical or just another family trying to make it in the burbs. Professional American psychologists apparently don’t even have the insight to determine that a 23-year-old who doesn’t look people in the eye and writes plays about death is a threat to more than just himself.

Therefore, we hire police and train them in stuff. Sure, not all police officers have a scientific background, courage, objectivity and insight, but at least we’re trying.

Maybe we should start teaching people about what’s required to make effective bombs, a little about Moslem culture and how to spot a weirdo. This may be better than teaching them about the Pilgrims, cosines, and how to dissect frogs.

Andrew April 19, 2007 5:12 PM

I am seriously bothered by this kind of training.

We are not teaching counter-terrorism.

We are teaching fear at best, and how to be a terrorist at worst.

I love the latter, because by teaching as many people as possible about how to be a terrorist, we at least guarantee that future terrorists will use predictable surveillance techniques and attack modalities.


kiwano April 19, 2007 5:15 PM

@Frank Ch. Eigler

Isn’t the whole open-source-only thing that you used pejoratively actually about allowing people to take responsibility for the security of their (computing) environment?

The more you can see, the more you can fix/protect, and that’s just as true for government processes and policies as it is for computer programs.

As for the video, having people report “hinky” behaviour is a good idea, provided these reports made and handled in a sane manner. The instant reporting is probably a bad idea unless there seems to be an imminent threat, and since the cellphone use suggests that, it could use editing. But by all means, get a good description of the suspect and the behaviour, call it in, and if the police get enough different reports to raise genuine concern, then they can take some appropriate action.

tcliu April 19, 2007 5:17 PM

The problem as I see it is that we expect people to report suspicious activities when the person doing the reporting knows nothing of the context in which they observe the activity.

For example, someone buys a lighter. Is it suspicious?

The corollary to this is that people tend to substitute their own, made up, context to what they observe. If the person buying the lighter is an attractive woman, then she’s buying it to light cigarettes at a party. (Not suspicious.) If it is a muslim-looking guy then he will surely use it to set fire to all of eastern US. (Suspicious.)

This is why soldiers are taught to just report anything that isn’t obviously worthless (and even then they miss tons of info because it isn’t practical to report even a sliver of what they see). The determination of what is important or suspicious is made at a higher level.

Matt from CT April 19, 2007 6:39 PM

The police took their time to come out
and when they did, they used no
caution at all when approaching the
vehicle. They also would not provide
any information about why someone
was there a few days in a row,
except “they aren’t doing anything

Ok, having finished ROFLMAO…from experience…

Because the cop in the patrol car can’t tell you, “He’s a detective conducting surveillance.”

jay April 19, 2007 7:14 PM

The videos is really informative. But the major concern for me is the safety of the person who attempts to contact the law enforce agency to inform about the dark figures. I think they shouldn’t dial out from the spot that is visible to the bad guys. If the bad guy sees the person phoning then he will suspect him and possible the person’s life may be in danger. Therefore I think the common sense is to go away from the visible space into a secure area and make the call. This will prevent any harm done to the person who is reporting as well as it will prevent an act of terror at the same time.

Curt Sampson April 19, 2007 8:05 PM

Yes, bird watchers are screwed. As are photographers.

But I’m almost getting a sense from this that “terrorism spotting” is a new American hobby.

Rich April 19, 2007 8:07 PM

@ FooDooHackedYou

Yes, if you go bird watching, you will get the cops called on you.

It seems to happen to my bird-watching son once a year. Once he saw a swat team go after a guy birdwatching on a point. On another occassion last summer I had driven my son and two friends to a swamp to look for a special bird. Someone called the cops so we had a pair of police cars pay us a visit. They asked a lot of questions. In both cases a spotting scope on a tripod was mistaken for a weapon.

The Anonymous Pilot April 19, 2007 8:17 PM

Do you, or anyone else you know, have or have been a member of the Communist Party.

mashed potato between ears April 19, 2007 8:52 PM

if you go bird watching, you will get the cops called on you.

astronomers too

pretty soon you’ll need a permit to do anything other than watch political TV broadcasts

aarrgghh April 19, 2007 9:24 PM

Reminds me of the quote from the movie Brazil: “Don’t suspect your neighbours, turn them in!”

me April 20, 2007 1:52 AM

If you have new muslim family moving in as your neighbors just go and talk to them and be friendly. Thus you will get new friends and if they are really terrorists you will sooner or later find out real facts about it. You don’t think that if someone who is going to plan terrorist activities will start by killing the neighbor, do you?
If you just call police on everybody you:
1) increase level of nationwide hatred against muslims, koreans, bird watcher or whoever they are, thus making ground for more socially destabilized country where children shoot others at school;
2) reducing effectiveness of police work even more, because they will be running 99% of the time on false alarm calls.

greg April 20, 2007 4:58 AM

You must be afraid. Afraid of the milkman. Afraid of the schoolgirl, afraid that impending doom is just around the corner!!

I hope we get sick of this soon, and ignore it.

It wasn’t all that long ago the same story was pushed about comunist.

Same S**t diferent Day.

Roy April 20, 2007 6:34 AM

What would the false alarm rate be?

Assume there won’t be any terrorists in the country until the next attack is underway.

In the meantime, every single positive will be a false positive. Every single one.

Perhaps this is just churning, the people in charge just trying to generate more business as a scam to extort a bigger budget.

Lesna Adams April 20, 2007 8:58 AM

@Curt Sampson
“Yes, bird watchers are screwed. As are photographers.”

This whole photography thing is getting out of hand. I supposed to accept a million new surveillance cameras watching my every move, yet also let anyone from a rent-a-cop to a bona fide federal agent grab me, confiscate my camera, and destroy my photographs whenever the “wrong” structure enters my viewfinder. I used to love photography, but I don’t like the hassle of being jailed just because I think the Hoover Dam might be a good photographic subject.

Casual Observer April 20, 2007 9:17 AM

@ Sammy

“Remember the days when the Nazis recruited kids to spy on their parents and ‘encouraged’ the parents to spy on each other?”

Um…and what do you suppose the DARE program is about?

“Hi Kids, I’m Officer Krupke, have any of you ever smelled this odor in your house?”

Mike Sherwood April 20, 2007 9:31 AM

@Matt from CT

The officer did explicitly confirm that he wasn’t law enforcement. If the officer wasn’t lying, he could have been a PI. This happened a couple of weeks after filing a complaint with the Attorney General. I just wanted to confirm that it had nothing to do with that, but was disappointed at how little help the police will provide even when they know why there is a legitimate concern.

I don’t think the false alarm rate is all that significant when they ask for people to report suspicious activity. There’s the increased budget justification of staff to help the empire builders push their careers.

Like with the recent camera story, it seems like the goal is to create a bunch of data that can later be used to find potential suspects. If the goal is solving the crime after it happens, the approach is very different than the goal of preventing the crime. Being overly nice to potential attackers sounds like an interesting approach. After all, the goal isn’t to prevent crime, but to displace it onto a different victim. People defending their businesses have very different goals from law enforcement coming in to figure out what happened after the fact.

bzelbob April 20, 2007 11:07 AM

How many of the following does the government actually do?

Surveillance [PhoneTapping/NSA/ETC]
Elicitation [National Security Letters]
Tests of security [War Games]
Acquiring supplies [Strategic Petro. Reserve/Weapons stockpiles]
Suspicious people who “don’t belong” [Men in black]
Dry runs/trial runs [Preparedness Drills]
Deploying assets or getting into position [Bases & Agents Everywhere]

Why is it only terrorism when it’s not the government doing it?

tjvm April 20, 2007 2:32 PM

Perhaps an appropriate form of protest would be civil obedience, as opposed civil disobedience. Start calling the FBI 30 times a day:

“Yes, I was just at the corner of 17th Street and Main. There was a person there being deployed.”

“What do you mean?”

“A car pulled up to the curb and deployed a person.”

“So you’re saying you saw a person get out of a car?”

“For god’s sake, man! A person has been deployed! I repeat, a person has been deployed!”

(In case you didn’t follow the link, the government poster linked above includes warnings about “persons” being “deployed.”)

mattJA May 2, 2007 1:35 AM

Or just fill out one of these forms
(it’s a parody web site of course, but pretty funny)

And if you have middle eastern neighbors direct them to:

Captain Moroni,

I see what you’re saying, but I assure you the police won’t be giving up any of their power just because large numbers of average joes are trying to spy on their neighbors.The problem is it takes of course serious training and resources to fight terrorism.

I think one danger witht these simplistic measures is that it leads people to underestimate the danger. The truth is, any well-funded and trained terrorist cell or foreign spy ring, that is any organized group that poses a serious threat, is unlikely to be that easy to catch. They’d already have things planned out and know the best ways to ensure their secrecy and avoid suspicion. Spies for example are trained to blend in and pretend to be people they’re not. Of course it’s good if the public reports any suspicious activity, but the most dangerous terrorist and criminal groups aren’t going to be, say, filling up large containers of gasoline at the local station while speaking Arabic or suspiciously taking photographs of buildings in front of their neighbors. Unfortunately I think things like this are more to keep up the levels of paranoia and keep us distracted so we don’t start questioning what the government is doing to us behind our backs.

Sandra May 15, 2007 10:13 PM

Thanks for posting up the Citizen-Counterterrorist Training Video. I really had to laugh. My alter-ego aside from the technology reviews and writing is that I’m a meat goat farmer. The majority of my customers are Muslims, many of Middle Eastern descent (lots of Bosnians, too). Last Eid, a group came out to the farm to do their usual holiday butchering (thanks to the USDA, you can’t keep most of what other cultures consider a delicacy and only end up with about 50% of the animal). One of the guys works somewhere they do Hazmat work and he brought along white Tyvek body suits so they didn’t have to worry about getting their clothes dirty. Imagine if any of my whitebread, redneck neighbors had viewed that clip and then seen a bunch of Muslim men running around in bloody Hazmat suits in the middle of nowhere. Being less than two hours from DC and 30 minutes from Camp David, all hell might have broken loose had they called the State Police or DHS.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.