Terrorist Fear Mongering Seems to be Working Less Well, Part II

Last week I wrote about a story that indicated that terrorist fear mongering is working less well. Here’s another story, this one from Canada: two pipeline bombings in Northern British Columbia:

Investigators are treating the explosions as acts of vandalism, not terrorism, Shields said.

“Under the Criminal Code, it would be characterized as mischief, which is an intentional vandalism. We don’t want to characterize this as terrorism. They were very isolated locations and there would seem there was no intent to hurt people,” he said.

It’s not all good, though. Here’s a story from Philadelphia, where a subway car is criticized because people can see out the front. Because, um, because terrorist will be able to see out the front, and we all know how dangerous terrorists are:

Marcus Ruef, a national vice president with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, compared a train cab to an airliner cockpit and said a cab should be similarly secure. He invoked post-9/11 security concerns as a reason to provide a full cab that prevents passengers from seeing the rails and signals ahead.

“We don’t think the forward view of the right-of-way should be available to whoever wants to watch … and the conductor and the engineer should be able to talk privately,” Ruef said.

Pat Nowakowski, SEPTA chief of operations, said the smaller cabs pose no security risk. “I have never heard that from a security expert,” he said.

At least there was pushback against that kind of idiocy.

And from the UK:

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the government is prepared to go “quite a long way” with civil liberties to “stop terrorists killing people”.

He was responding to criticism of plans for a database of mobile and web records, saying it was needed because terrorists used such communications.

By not monitoring this traffic, it would be “giving a licence to terrorists to kill people”, he said.

I hope there will be similar pushback against this “choice.”

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): Seems like the Philadelphia engineers have another agenda—the cabs in the new trains are too small—and they’re just using security as an excuse.

Posted on October 22, 2008 at 6:44 AM37 Comments


JRR October 22, 2008 7:25 AM

The primary means any group uses for communications is speaking. Clearly, we must monitor all speech everywhere in order to stop terrorists from killing each other. And, you know, any other activity we don’t like that we happen to hear. 1/9/8/4/ -> 2008

Clive Robinson October 22, 2008 7:37 AM

Back when Maggie Thatcher was Priminister of the UK there where a spate of “mainland” bombings by the Provisional IRA.

Some time into the campain there was a marked change in the way these incidents where portrayed in the media.

Incidents where human life was endangered was downplayed and incidents where people where only inconvenianced where given more prominant media reporting.

Shortly after this the Provos started attacking inferstructure like railway signal terminal boxes around London.

They got press but people where not hurt.

A rumor emerged via a reporter that Maggie had dictated this course of action.

A little while later the Provos had a splinter group form and the Mary Axe and Docklands bombs followed.

And the press clamoured and the City of London eventually got a “ring of steel” to protect it to prevent large bombs being driven in.

Which worked untill 7/7 when the public transport network was attacked.

Sometimes I wonder if we would be better of without reporters…

D0R October 22, 2008 7:53 AM

“Marcus Ruef, a national vice president with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, compared a train cab to an airliner cockpit and said a cab should be similarly secure. He invoked post-9/11 security concerns…”

Except that we’re not going to see terrorist hijacking a train cab and crashing it into a skyscraper anytime soon.

jkohen October 22, 2008 7:59 AM

“We don’t think the forward view of the right-of-way should be available to whoever wants to watch … ”

Never mind anyone sticking a small mirror out of one of the side windows to catch a glimpse of the forward view. Next thing we know, windows are to remain shut in Summer. Or we will be traveling in shut compartments.

Clive Robinson October 22, 2008 8:02 AM

@ D0R,

“Except that we’re not going to see terrorist hijacking a train cab and crashing it into a skyscraper anytime soon.”

On that score I can only remember having ever read about one train drivers cab having been broken into whilst in use in the UK, and that was during the “Great Train Robbery”.

I’m sure there must be other examples in the world but non spring to mind.

Clive Robinson October 22, 2008 8:19 AM

@ jkohen,

“Or we will be traveling in shut compartments.”

If a documentry I saw on a rail accident in the US is true then you already are.

Apparently it is mandated to use bullet proof glass and locking doors.

This prevented the firemen getting into a burning carrage to either rescue people or put out the fire that had spread from the burning fuel oil.

M October 22, 2008 8:35 AM

The green line in Boston have cars where you can see out the front. It’s actually kind of fun. Fascinates the kids and keeps them quiet, which is a good thing.

Bill October 22, 2008 8:40 AM


You’re forgetting body language, and sign-language (remember – any solution must cater for minorities for large govt organisations to buy it).

So you need to integrate hi-res video with your audio.

More October 22, 2008 8:41 AM

Isn’t it interesting that Irish terrorists, or Jewish ones before them, seem to have resulted in much milder crackdowns and security concerns even though they have, in aggregate, killed, injured, and caused more property damage than muslim terrorists in the last 100 years?

That, of course, exclude what Muslims did in India (both before and after the end of British Rule), the Madhi in the Sudan, and some other…. incidents.

bob October 22, 2008 8:42 AM

Actually, the Canada pipe thing where repeatedly a threat is issued and then a bomb goes off – I think maybe that SHOULD qualify as terrorism.

Wtf? Don’t let people see the tracks? Why have windows at all? I mean the same tracks you see out the back or side windows are going to be passed over by another train in a minute or so. Paint over all the windows! Better yet, blindfold all the people at the gate, just before they pay. Have the gate agent reach into their wallet and take the appropriate fare. And if people complain that they were charged too much, arrest them for interfering with a flightless crew member.

Just go back to the earlier French mass transit design from WWI – no windows. http://www.skylighters.org/encyclopedia/fortyandeight.html

On the other hand, I do see where having a cab with room for 2 is a good idea; it just has nothing to do with terrorism.

Joe October 22, 2008 9:06 AM


If your kids are anything like mine, then sticking them in a small space full of strangers with nothing to do and nothing interesting to look at is a fairly effective form of terrorism…

anonymous canuck October 22, 2008 9:11 AM

Bruce …

In future, you might want to tweak the titles of these articles. What I see in your RSS feeds is “Terrorist Fear Mongering Seems to be Working”. The “less well” part is dropped.

bob October 22, 2008 9:19 AM

“He added: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.” ”

What a dipshit. I cant wait til this moronicism (inevitably) finds its way over here.

If you really want to piss away rights in order to decrease body count, just ban motorcars; which technically aren’t a right to begin with – whereas privacy is judicially considered to be such. Far more benefit at far less cost. So perhaps security is not your actual agenda?

Rob October 22, 2008 9:23 AM

Many of us in the UK hope that Geoff Hoon will go “quite a long way,” and then hopefully not return for “quite a long time.”

Chris S October 22, 2008 9:33 AM

Maybe some of these engineers should go read the background of the Toronto Transit Russell Hill accident in 1995. (Based on the changes, I’m guessing the cab designers have certainly read it.)


Due to a combination of factors, one train re-ended another train at speed. TTC cars have always had a small ‘off to one side’ cab, and since trains are double-ended, the cab at the front will not strike the cab on the rear. It will strike the other side of the subway car.

In the Russell Hill accident, three passengers were killed, but the driver – in his cab – was not.

The most likely thing for a train to hit is probably going to be another train. It seems that reinforcing an offset cab is a good trade-off as it maximizes survivability in the event of the most likely incident.

anonymous canuck October 22, 2008 9:52 AM

It’s fairly common on the TTC (Toronto) to see families with young kids in the very front or very back of the train. There’s a two person seat backing the window and kids are always kneeling on it looking out, pointing at things, and asking questions. It’s usually a high point of a kids first subway (underground) trip.

Also, at stations with inside platforms the conductor leaves the mid train cab, flips up that same seat (beside the cab), unlocks and uses the controls underneath the passenger window (which opens).

anonymous canuck October 22, 2008 10:01 AM

Mischief doesn’t sound all that serious, but if life is endangered it is an indictable offence (=felony) punishable up to life in prison.

David C-L October 22, 2008 10:25 AM

There’s some speculation here in Philly that the pushback against the new train cabs has motivations other than safety or security:


By the way, that’s a surface train, not a subway.

Further, the current cabs in Philly, although they do stretch across the entire front of the train, do not prevent passengers from watching the tracks and signals– there’s a porthole window from the passenger compartment which provides an easy view out the front of the train. Lots of people like to stand at these portholes and watch, and I don’t usually see conductors or engineers chasing them away.

Chris Finch October 22, 2008 11:20 AM

Geoff Hoon is a bit of an arsehole, and he’s known for making major mistakes in both policy AND decisions, lol.

I’m sure if the database stored and then ‘lost’ or ‘exposed’ his emails to various mistresses, that he wouldn’t be so keen, lol.

Clive Robinson October 22, 2008 11:30 AM


“So perhaps security is not your actual agenda?”

In the case of Hoon he comes from a (nearly) bankrupt political party of very questionable morals.

His previous political master “The Right Hounerable” (?) Tony Blair MP, ex PM of the UK took the party (Labour) to new lows on the depths of sleaze chart with amongst other things being interviewed by the police on coruption (cash for peerages), various ministers resigning over their conections with corrupt polititions from other countries.

His current political master Gordon Brown MP / PM is a bully with few social graces and mainly responsable for putting the UK in it’s current precarious financial state.

One of his colleagues Jack Straw MP when he was a junior minister under a previous government thought nothing on getting documents out of he National Insurance and Tax Office records for political reasons to get “milage” on the partner of a political rival.

So the party has a history of raiding government databases for dirt on political rivals, and coruption, as well as a desperate need for political donations to fight the next election.

So why not combine these “minor issues” and build a central database on all people in or who have been in the UK and make it so rediculously complicated that it requires hugh contracts to be issued to favourd suppliers (who have all failed to deliver on such contracts in the past) and get gratfull handbacks into the party coffers. The complicated nature of the DB and the lack of competence of the suppliers will give perfact cover for raiding the DB for dirt on political rivals their families, and any political actacists and their families etc.

Oh and if he does not get re-elected these same gratfull companies are bound to find some well paid directorship position as compensation.

So you might well ask Hoon,

“So perhaps security is not your actual agenda?”

Trains Potter October 22, 2008 11:52 AM

The objections voiced by a labour union official against the new rail cab design don’t make much sense to me… What is the real problem with passengers having a good view out front, and being able to overhear talk between engineers and conductors?

I suspect it is that the public will have a better ability to be aware of situations in which members of this union are doing their jobs improperly or unprofessionally.

Given that a deadly accident in California recently resulted from an engineer being busy with his mobile phone, the more visibility the public has into the crew operations, the better for real security!

brain fart October 22, 2008 12:21 PM

This is a picture of the cockpit of a German ICE high speed train (which runs 300km/h regularly and has a top speed of more than 400+km/h.


The seats behind it are normal passenger seats. The only separation is a bunch of glass. Great view out there!
Interestingly, in case of an emergency braking that glass wall will go dark to prevent people from panicking (e.g. someone committing suicide by jumping on front of the train, or a collision with a car)

RH October 22, 2008 1:29 PM

Didn’t you guys see Batman Begins? Terrorists using subways is real!

@brian: That glass thign is awesome!

Richard October 22, 2008 4:10 PM

I saw the Question time programme where Hoon made his stupid remark. Thankfully a woman from the audience commented that we shouldn’t worry because the database won’t work anyway!.

Btw I always thought it strange that, in the west the “right to life” for a small number of potential terrorist victims trumps civil liberties but in the middle east we are happy to have hundreds of our own soldiers and thousands of Iragi and Afghan civilians die so that they can have civil liberties.

(Except that they never seem to actually get them of course).

alethiophile October 22, 2008 4:24 PM

The idea of curtailing civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism is just another instance of ‘for their own good’, which is always suspect. The reasons given to do it are inadequate, especially when, as has been pointed out multiple times, some on this site, the more invasive security measures DON’T WORK.

Steve October 22, 2008 8:26 PM

The commuter train I ride does not allow passengers in the cab section of its front car when in “pusher” mode (where the engine is at the end of the train, pushing), but I was told by a conductor that was more for safety reasons — in case of a crash it creates a bit of a “crush zone” where there are no passengers.

The engineer sort of takes it in the shorts, though.

Beside the relatively specious reasons about terrorists not being able to see the tracks, having a full width engineer cab does make a certain amount of sense for some of the reasons given. I’m not sure how it helps an engineer escape in the event of a crash but it does make sense from a training standpoint.

Col Bogey October 23, 2008 3:14 AM

“He added: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.” ”

What a dipshit. I cant wait til this moronicism (inevitably) finds its way over here.

There’s a good reason why he is known as “Buff” Hoon in the UK

Reality Check October 23, 2008 12:19 PM

While the police may be looking at this incident in BC as vandalism, there ‘s a self-styled so-called “security expert” at the University of Calgary who is doing the old FUD thing. The Calgary media have given her lots of air time, but none seem to be talking to the REAL experts…

Phil Ward October 24, 2008 3:46 AM

Geoff Hoon is a bit of an arsehole, and he’s known for making major mistakes in both policy AND decisions, lol.

There’s a reason that a complete SNAFU and the person who caused it is known as a HOON in the British armed forces.

Some of us are pushing back against this idiot.

John Waters October 25, 2008 2:47 AM

I am from Philadelphia (CHEESE STEAK!!!) and believe me when I say that SEPTA has a lot more to worry about than terrorists on subway and el trains. In the last couple years:

1) A starbucks manager was randomly beaten to death by 4 highschool students.
2) A young woman was later beaten into the hospital in a copycat attack by some more teenagers.
3) A sleeping passenger was beaten to death by a man with a claw hammer on the Broad Street Line, which a half-dozen or so passengers watched. The attacker had a toddler in tow, who also watched.
4) The EL Infrastructure in North and West Philadelphia is crumbling, and is clearly unsafe to anyone with a set of eyes and a brain controlling them. (They are working on this, though.)

It seems to me that SEPTA’s Union needs to maybe consider getting more money from “subway marshall” dues and not kickbacks from the contractors that install cabins.

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