Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Open Source Laptop Tracking Service |
| Schneier Interviewed by RU Sirius »
July 25, 2008
Washington Post Comments on Terrorist Plots
From this article, published last April:
Batiste confided, somewhat fantastically, that he wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, which would then fall into a nearby prison, freeing Muslim prisoners who would become the core of his Moorish army. With them, he would establish his own country.
Somewhat fantastically? What would the Washington Post consider to be truly fantastic? A plan involving Godzilla? Clearly they have some very high standards.
I'm sick of people taking these idiots seriously. This plot is beyond fantastic, it's delusional.
Posted on July 25, 2008 at 6:48 AM
• 50 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
And this is the crux of the problem - if we have 'experts' wailing about the most ridiculous plots (dropping Sears Tower onto a nearby prison isn't going to FREE the prisoners, it'll KILL THEM) ... then we have a society trained to accept 'expert opinion' cowering in fear.
Not to mention which, blowing up a skyscraper is defending against the previous attack.
They're just climbing -- not jumping -- on the FUD bandwagon. It's a shame they won't put any real effort into it. Where is their pride?
I think they would be better off STEALING the Sears tower by caulking all the openings and filling it with helium; then towing it out over Lake Michigan with a blimp (to clear power lines).
Most of these "plots" remind me of a couple of first graders, excited by a moon shot on TV, planning to build a spaceship to mars out of cardboard, taking along their lunch pail for a snack on the trip.
Plus it seems like the overwhelming majority of people in the US who are plotting to perform terrorist activity are government stooges and plants and the rest are a minority "going a long with the crowd" who will back out or disappear before anything bad happens.
We need to dismantle these "stings" (and the plethora of government agencies producing them) before we all get arrested and the terrorists own the country because they are the only ones left.
I cant wait until I am on one of these juries. I am also looking forward to when it turns out that all 37 people in one of the "terrorist cells" turn out to be working for 9 different USG agencies (unaware of each other, with standard intra-government communications in force) and there were NO terrorists involved at all (assuming, of course, that it has not already happened and been covered up).
I have to admit this post really cracked me up. Have people always been this crazy, or is this a new thing since the advent of Television?
"Somewhat fantastically" strikes me as a newspaperman's raised eyebrow. They know it's not serious, and readers who know the code know that it's not serious. But there's a certain Ideal of Decorum and Subtlety that must be maintained in newspaper writing, or something bad would happen, No one knows what, but apparently it would be bad.
Bobs comments about the possibility of the next one being a group of three letter agencies and their agents provocateurs and nothing more is good, but do we know if that hasen't already happened? It might not get to the press conference fear selling stage if everyones boss called the jail and got their people out leaving no one to be the scapegoat.
Plus they seem to have, amazingly, found the only person in the world who DIDNT watch video of the twin towers falling. If he had he would realize that when buildings collapse, they typically fall in the direction that gravity accelerates the molecules; ie down. So unless the jail was in the basement of the Sears tower, it isnt going to affect any prisons.
Furthermore I suspect that if a muslim gang got loose through the destruction of a prison, the first thing they would do is attack the other major gangs who were also milling around loose from the prison, and they would all still be there fighting when the National Guard got there.
RE: Raimundo. Yes, it DID happen. In OKC. If you can get the FBI and the ATF to sit down at the same table, just ask "Where did McVey get the detonators?"
The threat may be delusional, but they should unmount the antennas on top of the Sears tower, just in case, as they could be used as spears by the Moorish army.
I'd love to see something more accurate in the WP, like:
"Batiste confided, because he's obviously batshit insane, that he wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, which would then fall..."
Sometimes there are things more important than journalistic decorum.
Just because they are idiots, doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, just stupid. Its worth pointing out that there is a difference between the GOAL of the attack and their approach to it. Obviously the goal of freeing Muslim prisoners isn't going to be accomplished by blowing up the Sears tower and there is probably some serious doubt as to whether or not they had the ability to actually blow up the tower. However, that doesn't mean they still aren't dangerous and couldn't create serious damage in their attempt. It doesn't take much intelligence to TRY and blow something up. That's the problem.
Another possibility is that he was actually planning something, got caught, and was then advised by his attorney to make batshit-delusional public statements to support some sort of insanity or mental incompetence defense.
Bob (and others)
I highly recommend reading G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday".
The plot is basically as you describe - an undercover policeman infiltrates a cell of anarchists, but his every attempt to arrest the conspirators fails because they all turn out to be fello policemen, equally feckless...
*sigh* this plot isn't just "somewhat fantastic", it's laughably wrong on every level imaginable.
Dropping Sears Tower at all would be an achievement in itself. Bringing it down precisely where you want it would be a whole other level of difficult.
The guys who do that sort of precise demolition work for a living, after having spent years and years learning how, spend weeks or months prepping the building, placing explosive charges in precisely the right places, timed to go off in exact sequence. I can just see *that*: "Oh don't mind me drilling holes in the building, I'm, errr...the pest exterminator. Yeah. You gotta real termite problem here. Oh, and be careful you don't trip over all that det-cord I have strung everywhere, please." Pffft.
Then there's the small matter of what happens to that "Moorish army" when a few million pounds of skyscraper falls on their heads at terminal velocity. That is *not* going to be pretty...he'd have been able to carry his entire army in a single TSA-approved ziplock bag.
Yet stupid, gullible people will quite happily suspend belief and consider this to have been a plausible threat just because they "saw it on TV news", while the news agencies and politicians play it up for their own gain.
When the FBI colludes with a bunch of inmates to whip up terrorist plots inside an asylum, what can you expect?
@anon1234: "Another possibility is that he was actually planning something, got caught, and was then advised by his attorney to make batshit-delusional public statements to support some sort of insanity or mental incompetence defense."
Would it be unreasonable to conclude that anon1234 was advised by his attorney to make statements from ignorance instead of the facts? Clearly he was in complete concordance with the rules of engagement at Slashdot and did not read the article...
so, what can we do? seriously. im more than annoyed at this new wave of anti-journalism and epic FUD. i'd like to do something. but what? write a lettter? write a blog? shout louder?
Some would have you believe that this was the case with NYPD in the late 60's and early 70's.
@Joe - bought them. Or made them. Not that hard. AFNO is sufficiently sensitive to be denotated by self-made detonators.
Bats*@t crazy is good for fearmongering for, in the simplest case, that sells newspapers ads. Everything else is just too complicated.
Even if you could get the building to tip over, the prison itself is like 6 blocks away and the CBOT is directly in line between the two (along with a half dozen other tall buildings). It doesn't even work even if you do the impossible!
Dude, where's the scimitars? If you're going to have a Moorish army, you need scimitars. I think that's why it's only somewhat fantastic.
The plot maybe delusional, but the threat is not.
Of course these guys are bunch of idiots, but I remember an idiot (literally) who boarded LI train and killed a bunch of people randomly not too many years ago.
He surely was avenging some wrongs too.
The critical question isn't whether the purported perpetrator is nuts, or whether what he intends to do has any chance of accomplishing what he expects it to do, but whether what he intends to do has the potential to cause harm, and whether he actually intends to carry it out.
If the next Jim Jones decides that we should all have the opportunity to meet the comet, and starts preparations for dumping large quantities of poison into the city water supply, the threat he presents isn't lessened by his lunatic motivations.
Did Batiste intend to set off an explosive at the tower? Had he taken steps in preparation for setting off an explosive at the tower?
If yes, his motives for doing so and his expectations of the result are not relevant.
Describing Batiste's delusion as "somewhat fantastic" is to call it a delusion. You missed the point.
@dbt & mpg: Not being familiar with Chicago, I believe the Metropolitan Correction Center is the generally triangular building on the southeast corner of Van Buren and Clark.
According to Google Earth, from the center of the Sears Tower to the center of the Correctional Center is about 1740 ft.
According to Wikipedia, the Sears tower, with spires, is 1730 ft.
So, if you could detonate it such that it fell over in the exact right direction without any crumbling, it might just hit.
Of course, no one *can* drop a building that precisely, nor can they prevent it from crumbling on the way down. If your plan rests on that ability, you may as well just figure out how to play dominoes with the whole skyline.
Great. By now you only need a delusion of grandeur and a comic-book level idea to scare people in masses. No actual skill required. Terrorist is now a job available to the masses, thanks to general incompetence.
"Plus it seems like the overwhelming majority of people in the US who are plotting to perform terrorist activity are government stooges and plants and the rest are a minority "going a long with the crowd" who will back out or disappear before anything bad happens."
This is pretty much true of all "terrorism" and its relationship with internal security agencies through out history.
In most cases, things "evolved" to the point that the internal forces uses the terrorists to "make changes" in the legitimate government. That certainly was the case in the pre-revolutionary Russian situation, the Balkans, etc.
Oh, well, then that's different. Yes, let's take every single possible threat and turn the town upside down because, hell, THE THREAT IS REAL.
Go read Bruce Sterling's 'The Hacker Crackdown,' where the federales raided Steve Jackson Games, snapped up their notes on their GURPS Cyberpunk module and affirmed, "THIS IS REAL!"
It's time to stop asking 'how high' when these crackpots glance at skyscrapers and make 'boom' sounds to make us jump.
If you are in the Middle East and need some auto repair, plumbing, or other technical work done on the local economy, you will usually be asked if you want "Arab work" or if you want to pay to have it done the "right way". For example:
Arab work: Spend months hiding carefully calculated explosive charges in and on the Sears Tower, so that when set off in a precisely co-ordinated sequence, they will destroy the ground-level wall on two sides of the building, causing it to remain largely intact but to topple precisely between neighboring skyscrapers and strike the walls of a nearby prison, damaging it just enough to allow the Muslim prisoners within to escape in the chaos.
Right way: Blow a hole in the prison.
I think a plan involving Godzilla would be completely awesome! He could attack major cities and fight other kaiju, all under the direction of Bin Laden and his space-alien cronies.
Maybe I could get a contract from DHS to watch all the Big G movies over and over and devise contingency plans.
Of course, the only way to stop the Big G is to make the Twin Fairies from Infant Island happy by being ecologically responsible, so they sing the magic song and call Mothra to sprinkle shimmering scales all over Godzilla and turn him into a good guy. But I doubt the current administration would be willing to try that until after they've thoroughly P.O.'d all the kaiju by having Blackwater attack them with Humvees and various artillery, which to the Big G is about like a minor mosquito bite.
What do you think? Would the Twin Fairies be more, or less, susceptible to Bush's arm-twisting regarding ANWR drilling than the Democrats in Congress were regarding FISA and telecom immunity?
Although I too feel that law enforcement might be overstating this case, I disagree in principle to dismissing the situation entirely.
Stupid, insane or not, the plausibility of an end does not negate that the means could be a notable threat.
Moreover, a classic villain profile is believed to make up random ends because they thrive more on the anarchy of means than desire any particular (i.e. wholesome, hardworking, good) reward...
Sorry, did I just spoil Dark Knight?
You probably would have a different viewpoint if you had a loved one killed by these delusional characters, then you won't be reading and quoting junk like "how high" or "high low" .. but considering "how many" nuts are out there -- WHO WILL to do you harm and they will .. my problem is that because of people with your thinking (and sometimes I have to add Bruce to it) .. others are made less safe.
Bruce redeems himself now and then though :-)
People should also remember that the same is true of the 2006 "liquid bombers" in the UK.
Since they had not bought airline tickets, how serious could this plot be?
Why did the governments of both the US and the UK have to wait if there was enough evidence already?
The government procedure seems to be:
1) Find group of idiots with a grudge
2) Implant agents among them
3) Wait till the most opportune *polictical* moment to move in and roll the group up.
Or perhaps it would be cheaper and easier to create group#1 in the first place?
The real idiots are the majority who believes pretty much anything told on TV - especially if told by govt flunkies and their court reporters. The journalists and the said flunkies probably know perfectly well that they are talking crap - but that is their profession.
"We have a security problem" is a government speak for "we want to scare you into parting with more of your money".
Reading Washington Post is about as informative as reading Pravda was during Soviet times. Unless you get off on being brainwashed, of course.
"Since they had not bought airline tickets, how serious could this plot be?"
How long does it take to buy an airplane ticket?
Had they bought the chemicals?
While these plots are silly, stupid, and plain witchcraft thinkery, another major problem is the crap coming out of Congress. IP and copyright Federal cops = BAD. ISP now acting like the DEA. ETC.
Blezbob comment at 9:27 PM is right.
The terrorists only have to implement political measures to destoy this country. That is how sad this country is now.
Recent laws and 9/11 fallout of handling are a disgrace.
It is not the plot itself that the Post is describing as fantastical, but Batiste's dramatic way of confiding it.
And to whom was Batiste confiding? To an undercover FBI agent pretending to be a terrorist, and with money to invest in the right plot.
godzilla--->pretty bad, but cthulhu--->much worse.
So, you're not familiar with the writing style that uses deliberate understatement for emphasis?
I hate it when people steal my best ideas, tell everyone, and don't give me any credit.
You know what else I hate? When somebody hangs onto the bong for way too long and doesn't share.
In what way was this 'plot' only 'somewhat' delusional. Seems pretty much full on.
In our society we used to have this quaint idea of waiting until someone actually broke the law before you arrested them. We didn't goad people to violence or assist them in assembling weapons and expertise. Lots of people talk big, mouth off and blow off steam. Nearly none of this comes to any actual harm. Great violence is close at hand for most people who might be inclined. But we can't wrap everyone and the entire country in enough bubble wrap to make everything perfectly safe.
Yet more squandering of precious resources, time and labor in pursuit of the ridiculous.
@jdege (quoting bzelbob re the 2006 "Atlantic liquid bomb plot"):
> "Since they had not bought airline tickets, how serious could this plot be?"
> How long does it take to buy an airplane ticket?
Yes, quite so. About 1 minute in the internet age. If flying economy class you have to book well in advance to guarantee getting the flight time you want, but these fellows had obtained enough cash to get business class tickets if they needed them.
> Had they bought the chemicals?
Yes. Police have alleged, and in court several of the accused admitted, that the plotters had used fake IDs to purchase sufficient chemicals to manufacture 20 bombs, including large amounts of hydrogen peroxide. Most of these materials were concealed in a nearby wood.
They had also taken out a large loan (presumably, with no intention of ever repaying it!) and used some of the money (£138,000) to buy a flat which was converted into a lab.
It seems difficult to verify the claim that some of them did not have passports. The only "original source" I can find is a an early NBC News report quoting an anonymous informant; I can find no other supporting evidence. Quite apart from the anonymity, further doubt must be cast by the fact that much of the early news reporting on the topic has turned out to be wrong.
At any rate, it is apparent from the trial evidence that at least two of them (Mohammed Gulzar and Umar Islam) not only had passports in their own names, but very good false ID documents in two other identities each, including good quality fake passports (which in Gulzar's case, had previously been used for international travel to several countries.)
I agree with Grimmelmann: "somewhat fantastically" is just about the strongest mocking disclaimer language you're going to get out of a newspaper with regard to their source in a situation like this. It's an understatement, yes, but a deliberately calculated one. The adverb "fantastically" is one that would never appear if they thought there might be any reason to take the thing at all seriously.
There's really nothing to see here.
This is why I have always had a problem with officials saying "We take all threats seriously". They say it like it is something to be proud of. Do they ever stop and think what that phrase really means? If you take *ALL* threats seriously then you have a big problem.
"...What would the Washington Post consider to be truly fantastic? A plan involving Godzilla?..."
Now THERE'S the ultimate "movie plot" terrorism alert.
However, it would be easy to protect against.
All we have to do is to get (say) King Ghidora, Mothra, Rodan and maybe those two little fairy girls to sing us an alert when the Big G., working of course on behalf of Osama (question: Osama's a bit far from the ocean, according to last reports... how is he going to get enough fish to pay off the Big Green Guy?), shows up and tries to eat the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium and of course the local police precinct.
We had better get working on implementing this very important anti-terrorism defense plan, pronto; you never know when the Islamicists will spring this plot on us. I figure it's worth at least a billion or two in up-front consulting dollars for the DHS budget, don't you?
A Canadian Telco Security Dweeb
Your comment and the previous on a terrorist cell all computers of TLA's agents made me think of a piece on the Onion.
Substiture TLA agents for reporters.
Have you actually tried to detonate ANFO with a homemade detonator? Didn't think so. I have, and without some serious science and practice, you can't get more than a few tens of grams to propagate detonation with less than a very very good home attempt. It disrupts before any major amount goes up as desired. This is a slow, heaving-type explosive, not brisant (eg it has a slow rise time) ANFO makes Lots of gas, not much shock wave.
To break rocks, one needs a far faster rise time (brisance).
I used .3 gr Hg fulminate on top of .8 gram PETN "homemade by a pro" mini shaped-charge detonators for my tests. This is a little better than a standard #8, about the largest normally sold.
ANFO isn't that easy -- and you have to have its density just so on top of the rest of the parameters -- even stirring the mix (as described in the court records) makes it not work well (which is one of the reasons the Army etc don't use it for weapons). Not a home project at the level of skill indicated by the various public testimony. ANFO is used by the mining pros because it's real cheap dynamite (not a real good HE), not because it is especially awesome, but because they want big chunks, not dust, or action at a distance -- they use it where they don't want long distance effects (worker safety). They put it inside what they want to break up -- doesn't work well at any range. I've been 20 ft from a 1 lb amount that did detonate completely inside an oak tree -- exciting, but no damage to self with no special safety gear other than turning my back to it. Second time it wasn't even exciting. For me it's a waste of time to fool with, as I like to break rocks to plant water pipes in bedrock, fast and cheap. Easier to synthesize or otherwise obtain some real HE than play with that stuff.
To get such a perfect blast as happened at OK (eg no huge plume of orange N oxides from incomplete detonation and that much damage for so small a bomb at such a large distance) takes a true expert. More expert than our DOD...and all the other alphabet soup agencies (whom I've worked for).
But it would have been easy to do it with the "Mother of All Bombs" -- fuel/air explosion with ethylene oxide (which makes the deflagration to detonation transition and gets closer to the target via the dispersion charge before the main bang), publicly demonstrated by the US a little later in Iraq. Which would also work out with the seismic data published before things were hushed up.
I HATE conspiracy theories -- most depend on the gov being able to keep secrets much better than the demonstrated record (pretty lousy). But there are sometimes things that just don't add up. OK stands higher in that respect than most others. Every demolition expert on the net forums had the same set of comments...the day after. Then the forums went silent..."for our safety" perhaps.
All that said -- I agree with Bruce that these are the special olympics of terrorism (which I also agree is sort of an insult to the mentally challenged). And IIRC not a single one was detected via the egregious removal of our civil rights by recent executive (later legislative) actions. We need to press them on this a little more. What exactly did we get in return for what we gave up here? This goes well beyond theater.
These are not the actions of a government protecting the people from an external threat. They are most definitely the actions of a government afraid of its own people -- plenty of historical examples I need not list for even the moderately educated. Makes me wonder what they are so afraid of -- some deeply bad stuff they've done that is about to leak? Hard to imagine much that'd be worse than the public record as it stands now.
You'd think they'd spin this better, as they do most other things. Guess even the spinners are being manipulated by the "dirt" gained on them by this move to increased executive power. Or someone is so afraid they'd mess up the spin? Blackmail as a tool of government?
And no party/candidate to vote for that is against this -- they all want this power if they win? Or they've already seen the dirt on them and are all now just puppets (for whatever reason in addition to all the older ones)?
Heck, I'm not afraid -- bring the terrorists on -- I could use the target practice.
Beyond fear, indeed.
message for terrorists i hate them for each and every reasons i dont like what they are doing in mumbai why they like firing places and shooting lacks and lacks of people ...people want to protect themselves and what about terrorists now it is for them to feel more and more bad its better to tell them to kill their own selves or their own bloody parents
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.