Fourth Movie-Plot Threat Contest Winner

For this contest, the goal was to:

…to find an existing event somewhere in the industrialized world—Third World events are just too easy—and provide a conspiracy theory to explain how the terrorists were really responsible.

I thought it was straightforward enough but, honestly, I wasn’t very impressed with the submissions. Nothing surprised me with its cleverness. There were scary entries and there were plausible entries, but hardly any were both at the same time. And I was amazed by how many people didn’t bother to read the rules at all, and just submitted movie plot threats.

But, after reading through the entries, I have chosen a winner. It’s HJohn, for his kidnap-blackmail-terrorist connection:

Though recent shooting sprees in churches, nursing homes, and at family outings appear unrelated, a terrifying link has been discovered. All perpetrators had small children who were abducted by terrorists, and perpetrators received a video of their children with hooded terrorists warning that their children would be beheaded if they do not engage in the suicidal rampage. The terror threat level has been raised to red as profiling, known associations, and criminal history are now useless in detecting who will be the next terrorist sniper or airline hijacker. Anyone who loves their children may be a potential terrorist.

Fairly plausible, and definitely scary. Congratulations, HJohn. E-mail me and I’ll get you your fabulous prizes—as soon as I figure out what they are.

For historical purposes: The First Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules and winner. The Second Movie-Plot Threat Contest rules, semifinalists, and winner. The Third Movie-Plot Theat Contest rules, semifinalists, and winner.

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 6:40 AM44 Comments


Billy May 12, 2009 7:10 AM

“Anyone who loves their children may be a potential terrorist.”
Wow! Way to go buddy. That made my morning! I’d rent/download that. Congrats on winning!

oldami May 12, 2009 7:44 AM

uh, this sounds a lot like the plot to “Eagle Eye”.
So much for originality.

Volaar May 12, 2009 8:00 AM

Sour grapes, sour grapes.

How about a movie plot explaining how the terrorists have infilitrated the labor unions in agribusiness causing everyone to experience sour grapes?

Oh, wait. That’s not a movie anymore.

HJohn May 12, 2009 8:42 AM

@oldami: “uh, this sounds a lot like the plot to “Eagle Eye”. uh, this sounds a lot like the plot to “Eagle Eye”.”

Oldami, if they beat me to it, good for them. But I haven’t seen Eagle Eye nor was I familiar with its plot.


HJohn May 12, 2009 8:51 AM

@Mart: “That sounds very similar to the plot of ‘Nick of Time’ from 1995. ”

Haven’t seen that one either.

ScaryMovies May 12, 2009 9:24 AM

Congrat’s HJohn.

I haven’t seen all the SAW movies, but wasn’t this kind of the same plot, getting seemingly unrelated people to do dastardly deeds to others under threat of harm to loved ones?

HJohn May 12, 2009 9:33 AM

@ScaryMovies: “I haven’t seen all the SAW movies, but wasn’t this kind of the same plot, getting seemingly unrelated people to do dastardly deeds to others under threat of harm to loved ones?”

I’ve seen all of them, happened a couple times, mostly people were forced to do dastardly things to themselves or die.

A while back, I saw “The Sentinel” where someone in the secret service was drawn into a plot against the president. He intially refused, saying he didn’t care what they did to him. They responded saying “we’re not going to hurt you, we’re going to hurt them” and showed him a picture of his family. This movie wasn’t the motivation for the movie plot, but it did plant the seed of how children could be leveraged to get otherwise good people to do horrible things.

I opened up a news page while contemplating a plot, and there were two of the top stories had to do with shooting sprees by people who otherwise seemed normal. So it was the news of the particular day that motivated the submission, I just had to come up with a common motive that could be masterminded by terrorists. I could think of a better way for terrorists to motivate someone to do something dastardly and suicidal other than their children. Then the image of the child in the “Daniel Pearl” position with the hooded beasts around them came to me. So the news (plot), children (motivation), and Daniel Pearl video (threat) all influenced my submission.

Thanks for the congrats.

Corey May 12, 2009 10:10 AM

Hmmm… autistics, with their lack of human connections, become seen as “safer”?

This plot is also why superheroes have to have secret identities – to keep their loved ones from being used as leverage by villians. When secret identities are infeasible, they need to keep people at arm’s length.

It’s interesting to think that, no matter how much terrorist fearmongering occurs, we’d never be able to outlaw love “for safety reasons”.

Fahad May 12, 2009 10:18 AM

Nothing new there, already seen it.

Watch “Cavite”, a filipino movie or “Aamir”, a hindi movie.

Malvolio May 12, 2009 11:11 AM

Sounds like the plot of “Nick of Time” and “Eagle Eye”, yes.

And “Commando” and “Firewall” and “Taken” and probably a dozen other movies starring people who don’t get $10 million a film (unlike Johnny Depp, Shia LaBoef, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Harrison Ford, and Liam Neeson, who do).

HJohn May 12, 2009 11:20 AM

@Malvolio: “Sounds like the plot of “Nick of Time” and “Eagle Eye” and “Commando” and “Firewall” and “Taken” and probably a dozen other movies.”

The only one I’ve seen is Firewall. Leveraging children to get people to steal is not new. Neither is leveraging children to try to get someoen to kill someone specific. That isn’t what the plot is about. I don’t know of any movies where someone sent dozens of people at random on suicide rampages. Using a specific person’s children to force them to steal or get them to kill an enemy is not the same thing.

Kind of peeked my curiousity. I’ll have to watch a couple of the movies now, and I’ll have to go back and see the comments about other plot winners to see how many people take issue with their winning.

greg May 12, 2009 11:24 AM

Its a general problem in security often called the Mafia attack. Some dude did this with bank managers etc. But suicidal killings seems somewhat original as you don’t get the benefit of the reward.

However all these plots and plans suffer one fatal flaw IMO. If you threaten my family there can be no trust. So what do I gain by doing the thing suggested? Why will they not keep me a slave to their will? What do they gain by not going through with the threat?

I can’t see any good reason to give in to extortion. The larger the threat the greater reason to ignore it.

HJohn May 12, 2009 11:30 AM


Fair enough. But there is a parrallel to standard kidnappings. The authorities don’t pay ramsons because it encourages more kidnappings, but most parents would want to pay in their own case–for good reason. A parent seeing their child in the Daniel Pearl position would likely not doubt what would happen should they refuse. Though they have no guarantee it won’t happen anyway, just as someone paying a ransom has no guarantee they will get their child back, they know the odds are far greater if they comply.

Steve May 12, 2009 11:31 AM

@TB: Um, the 1974 reference is to proxy bombing being discussed in the UK Parliament (Hansard is our “Congressional Record” equivalent). I’d really rather not take Wikipedia’s word on this one (if only because I was living in Norn Iron at the time and no doubt someone would decide that that counted as “original research” and was therefore worthless).

HJohn May 12, 2009 11:40 AM

Am I the only one wondering how HJohn is going to collect? How can you prove who you are on the web? (Dog, Human, who can tell).

The only possibility I can think of is the use IP address at submission time if that can be correlated to current IP addresses for HJohn.

I have often thought of masquerading as some of my favourite (that spelling either gives me away as a non-yank or a clever Yank) posters (Clive comes to mind).

Okay, I can’t resist. I’ll sign as HJohn.

Identity management, like good crypto, is difficult to do well.

PS Sometime I think Clive must be a conglomeration of many different people. He seems to have so many different interests. Strangely, they all match mine. Hmmm.

HJohn May 12, 2009 11:46 AM

@the fake HJohn at May 12, 2009 11:40 AM

I’m guessing he logs IP addresses. I almost always post from the same IP, and I have been using my email address that I emailed him from with today’s posts (from the IP address I almost always use).

I’m guessing it wouldn’t be the crime of the century if someone pretended to be me and recieved the gift.

dafoink May 12, 2009 12:57 PM

I have a good one:

Security Expert is sick and tired of the way the world powers are handling the terrorist threats. so what does he do? Create a contest so that readers of his blog turn in plausible movie plot type scenerios. the security Expert then has enough ideas to reign terror on the world for years.


Ward S. Denker May 12, 2009 1:23 PM

Isn’t this the plot to the first season of 24? Everyone runs around chasing Jack during the first part of the season thinking he’s the one behind the threat against the senator because terrorists have used him to get close.

They even manage to use the fact that he has the clearance to attend a rally (because he’s investigating the threat on the senator’s life) to move the weapon through security. Of course, there were an awful lot of implausible details, but it might happen.

Arturo Quirantes May 12, 2009 1:36 PM

“I have a good one:”

Me, too. Joe Terrorist wants to take Schneier out of business. He enters Bruce´s log under the nick “dafoink”, and discredits Bruce by claiming that The Man’s security contest was made because he just run out of fresh ideas. Bruce closes shop. Joe Terrorist is now ready to unleash his master plan.

Your turn, dafoink, just add another layer 😉

HJohn May 12, 2009 1:37 PM

@Ward S. Denker: “Isn’t this the plot to the first season of 24? :

Beats me. I don’t watch 24 either. But, like I’ve said, threatening children to manipulate people is not new. As far as I know, 24 was a bit more targeted, with a specific purpose moreso than just causing mass death and panic.

Disappointed May 12, 2009 6:17 PM

Also, RE: “their children would be beheaded if they do not engage in the suicidal rampage”

This being in the winner gives the tone of semi-legitemacy but the winning entry itself carries off as faceitous and sarcastic — a caricature of real issues.

Funnily enough, I recall reading serious research into how the “typical” (ooh…) suicide bomber is mentally incapable or coerced, often by hostage of family.

Giving benefit of doubt to those unspecified researchers for now, I find this winning entry repulsive.

The normal, ordinaty, common-or-garden, non-9/11 terrorist attack is an elaborate form of vandelism driven by gangster tactics and supplied by nationalist fervour.

You, Bruce, by selecting this entry as a winner, have implicitly sanctioned the trivialisation of the grotesque real-world tactics of terrorists, by allowing their methods to be recast as implausible

I am shredding my Schneier shelf as we speak 😉

Peter E Retep May 12, 2009 8:12 PM

re: security from terrrorists

Both Mossad and the BBC reliably report that the suicide bombers take lethal poison before they initiate detonation, so mentally and emotionally they are already dead,
so that their loneliness, experienced in an isolated and alienated emotional life,
actually sees the bombing act as inclusive of others to their impoverished, desolate, remaining lives, rather than purely hostile in the ordinary sense.
This is very different than a life exchange psychology motivated by a threat to [beloved] hostages.
Can you spot someone [about to be?] committing suicide?
Willingly vs. unwillingly.
Publicly vs. secretly.
HIV or Hepatitis C positive vs. healthy?
That is the art of profiling in these conflict zones.

Winston Smith May 12, 2009 8:24 PM

re: Corey “we’d never be able to outlaw love “for safety reasons”.

Seems to me the only problem is who “we” is. My Big Brother solved that problem for our State Security.

PackagedBlue May 12, 2009 9:57 PM

Perhaps the real lesson is simple: people do no follow rules, read details, or even follow anything around procedure or security.

The USA has been turned into a rambling bunch of idiots!

On last sundays tv news, I heard about a school teacher and a terrorism assignment got bad reactions, kind of like this contest.

This late after 9/11 and terrorism is still taboo.

Those who think that censoring a few ideas on terrorism, need to understand how dedicated, intelligent, and systematic of a long term enemy terrorism really is.

BF Skinner May 13, 2009 8:03 AM

@ Peter E Retep ” suicide bombers take lethal poison ”

Fact vs report frission…if this is the case why are there “suicide” bombers in jail and avalaible for interview by reporters?

As a handler it would give greater control to keep a bomber from reconsidering but it would have to be the handler not the bomber who administered the kool-aid.

bethan May 13, 2009 8:12 AM

the plot idea is a good one specifically because its emotional appeal/conflict for parents and care-givers would sell tickets.
and, while it does display some similarities with other movies, we all know that there is “nothing new under the sun”, and HJohn would likely spin underlying symbolism, casting, and cinematography in such a way that it was entirely fresh 🙂
everyone is such a critic.

Mark R May 13, 2009 8:14 AM

True, kidnapping children to coerce the parents to do bad things is well-trodden territory. The originality in HJohn’s idea was taking another sadly commonplace story (lone gunman goes on suicidal shooting spree due to inner turmoil) and change the motive in an interesting way.

Whenever I hear about one of these shooting sprees, I immediately assume the gunman was “all messed up inside”. It’s much more tragic if he’s actually making a rational choice to protect his kids.

ScaryMovies May 13, 2009 1:12 PM

“Fair enough. But there is a parrallel to standard kidnappings. The authorities don’t pay ramsons because it encourages more kidnappings, but most parents would want to pay in their own case–for good reason.”

Regarding ransom, I always think of the movie “Ransom” (Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, et al). That plot is where he takes the would-be ransom money for his son and publically (TV news show) turns it into a reward for the kidnappers, assuming the kidnappers would turn on each other (and they ultimately do).

SumDumGuy May 13, 2009 6:52 PM

@ Peter E Retep ” suicide bombers take lethal poison ”

Yeah, I would really like to see a citation for that claim, preferably the BBC’s. Googling for about 5 minutes didn’t turn up even a hint of it.

Peter E Retep May 13, 2009 7:47 PM

Dear SumDumGuy

re: suicide pills for suicide bombers

See BBC audio report on Tamil Tigers infiltrating training of suicide bombers
by Moslem extremist groups

Within the past year,
memory serving,
it was about the time the Tamil Tiger flotilla engaged and
sunk some Sri Llankan vessels in coastal waters.

paul May 13, 2009 8:38 PM

I think the innovation here is to make it a proxy crime wave, rather than a single proxy crime. The ideal movie-plot version of it would be dozens or hundreds of “random” attacks, all set to occur during the same hour. Cue the Jack Bauer figure, whose kid has been mistaken for someone else’s and kidnapped, and the someone else is blowing the plan by refusing to commit the deed…

mike May 26, 2009 1:19 AM

In the case of kidnapping the motive is money, in this case its plain murder so how can you trust the kidnappers not to kill your child anyways? If the task was indiscriminate killing you couldnt trust them at all. There would have to be some component of us vs them, for instance al queda kidnapping the kid of a muslim immigrant back home and threatening his child so he goes and shoot s a bunch of infidels. A kkk coercering a white guy to shoot at a black church or something.

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