Teaching Children to Spot Terrorists

You can't make this stuff up:

More than 2,000 10 and 11-year-olds [in the UK] will see a short film, which urges them to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone expressing extremist views.

[...]

A lion explains that terrorists can look like anyone, while a cat tells pupils that [they] should get help if they are being bullied and a toad tells them how to cross the road.

The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York. It has been designed to deliver the message of fighting terrorism in [an] accessible way for children.

I've said this before:

If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security.

Posted on June 9, 2009 at 2:45 PM • 63 Comments

Comments

Joel FJune 9, 2009 2:52 PM

And a pre-adolescent knows what extremist views are... how, exactly?

florianJune 9, 2009 3:06 PM

@Joel F: Really simple! Anything that doesn't adhere to the Führers^Wgovernment's views.

John ThomasJune 9, 2009 3:13 PM

I used to think Terry Gilliam's Brazil was a little over the top, but no longer.

Anyone else remember this poster in the background of several shots?

"Be a Good Citizen and Turn in a Friend"

JohnJune 9, 2009 3:17 PM

@florian: I never expected to see Godwin's Law invoked so quickly.

It's times like this that I think the sentence:

What were they thinking?

Should really be:

What?! Were they thinking?

John FJune 9, 2009 3:21 PM

@Joel F: "And a pre-adolescent knows what extremist views are... how, exactly?"

Heh. That's a different movie.

HJohnJune 9, 2009 3:22 PM

Surely, there isn't a possibility of false positives, now is there? *rolls eyes*

Children should be going to school, playing on swings, watching cartoons, not being educated about how to identify terrorists.

Perhaps the dolts who served this up realize the 10 year olds are on the same intellectual level as they.

DanJune 9, 2009 3:25 PM

Since no-one has asked the obvious yet, I will: exactly how do 10 and 11-year-olds know when someone is "expressing extremist views?"

florianJune 9, 2009 3:25 PM

@John: The more I think about, I think I should have compared it to the Stasi. I heard somewhere that 1 percent of the DDR's population were supplying the Stasi with information. Sure, the UK isn't making reports on everybody, but -- I think -- that's going to follow someday and with this use of childrens they got the right amount of informants.

ErikJune 9, 2009 3:31 PM

@HJohn, @Dan: I totally agree. But the optimist in me thinks the authorities have realized that 10-year olds would probably produce fewer false positives than the London (or Boston) Metro Police.

brillenfuxJune 9, 2009 3:32 PM

to which school should you send your kids so they don't get indoctrinated by weirdos I ask myself...? Suddenly I must think of "Duck and Cover"! Oh my - oh my ... le sigh

GauntletWizardJune 9, 2009 3:37 PM

I seem to remember that '1984' had a boy- and girl-scouts like orginization called the 'Spies', and that Winston sees his neighbor Parson in MinLove, because his Daughter had turned him in (for the comment "I hate Big Brother")

England, why do you seem to be intent on carrying this book out?

Romeo VitelliJune 9, 2009 3:37 PM

Why is it that each generation keeps defining new bogeymen that kids should watch out for? Witches, anarchists, communists, and now terrorists. The same principle of paranoia and teaching children to turn in suspected misfits still applies.

Craig BuchekJune 9, 2009 3:46 PM

Personally, the mention of Guy Fawkes makes me think of "V for Vendetta", where the hero dresses in a Guy Fawkes mask, and leads a revolution against the totalitarian UK government. He also recites a poem about Guy Fawkes:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.

In the V for Vendetta story, V and Guy Fawkes are seen as the rational heroes, rebelling against a tyrannical government. Hopefully, the children will be familiar (or soon familiar) with V for Vendetta, and realize the irony of the government's use of Guy Fawkes as a way to attempt to keep the people vigilant against each other instead of against the government.

CJune 9, 2009 3:57 PM

wtf constitutes an extremist view again? Oh right, anything disagreeing with the authoritative folk. Great.

Clive RobinsonJune 9, 2009 4:00 PM

@ Romeo Vitelli,

"The same principle of paranoia and teaching children to turn in suspected misfits still applies."

It's worse than that,

The UK Gov was setting up a Childrens Database, that would stay with a person from craddle to grave. In it would be all sorts of details that anyone having "official contact" with a child could enter without let or hindrence. Teachers for instance "for the sake of the child" would be encoraged to put in anything that might indicate problems in the home...

Amongst others being allowed to access the data prospective employers and banks etc...

Hopefully the fact that the current idiotic encumbrants have via their current leader Gordon Brown virtually bankrupted the country, will mean there is not enough tax revenue to pay for such idiocy.

It is the same idiots who started the NHS Spine which is/was the worlds largest ICT Project at about the equivalent of 25Billion USD (12.8Billion GBP at the hight of activity).

It has yet to roll out a successfull instalation in a single hospital, and in all honesty I doubt it ever will.

Likewise the National Identity Card, that has recently been downgraded due to lack of money...

There is perhaps a silver lining to the sow's ear of the credit crunch.

AnonymousJune 9, 2009 4:05 PM

I used to participate in Infragard (as a nonmember) and they weren't too bad. In the early days there was technical sharing. Later things moved on more to process and I was less interested.
It was an interesting view of the FBI. They like things that make their job easier. Sort of a you should trust us we're the good guys attitude.
The real purpose of the meetings though was social. The idea was that when something happened you'd be able to call someone at the FBI who actually new you or you could work on common issues with other companies whose people you had met that were also interested in various aspects of security.

Davi OttenheimerJune 9, 2009 5:02 PM

Sounds like a great way for parents to make their kids into political mules. If a teacher has a view someone disagrees with, send in a kid to "spot" them as an extremist. Who would argue with a trained child terrorist spotter?

Clive RobinsonJune 9, 2009 5:06 PM

"The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York."

With something like 500 years of "Irish Troubles" between Scotish Protestants and Irish Catholics leading up to the "Molly Maquires", "IRA", "UDF" etc. You would think the UK Government would have more sense than to stir up Catholic -v- Protestant hatred again...

Especialy as just over 400 years has past since the "Popish Plot", which gave rise to legal constraints on Catholics, the last of which are being currently eased.

Also it is unlikley they could accuratly tell the story of Guido to get their angle across (evidence he was influanced by others whilst at school is somewhat scant and circumstantial at best)...

In 2002 the BBC sponsord "100 Greatest Britons" where people in the UK voted for who they thought where "the UK's great and the good", and in thirtith position, one Guy Fawkes... and today he is often toasted as, "The last man to enter Parliament with honourable intentions."

Partly because we have little faith in our political "lords and masters" and partly because when asked by a Scotish Lord of the Privy Council what he was going to do with the gunpowder he defiantly replied "Blow you scotch back to your mountins" (the Scotish issue is one reason why the third verse of the National Anthum is nolonger sung).

AxelJune 9, 2009 5:28 PM

Hey guys, don't be so critic. Anyone holding extremist views must be turned in ASAP, even if they aren't terrorists -- just in case. If you don't agree you must be part of the problem, you bunch of radicals! Like that Gandhi, or even worse, that Buda guy who was a terrorist!

Nick LancasterJune 9, 2009 6:13 PM

Yes, terrorists can look like anyone ... even Mummy & Daddy.

I'm just waiting for the part where the air raid sirens sound, and we all head for the shelters like good Eloi ...


PeteJune 9, 2009 6:24 PM

In the UK a similar number of people die as a consequence of terror, as die falling out of trees (approximately 6-8 on average a year).
No one has died on the UK mainland as a consequence of a terror attack since 2005 (two people have been injured, both of them terrorists, who failed even to kill themselves).
800 people die in conventional murders every year.
Around 3400 die in car accidents.
Even at home in the UK, 3900 die in domestic accidents every year.
And 100 thousand people die from smoking related causes.
Yet we have a deranged government pouring billions into this hysterical madness.

paulJune 9, 2009 7:24 PM

@babbit:

I think that line about the boy is from the jesuits. Which brings osmething around full circle, but I not sure what.

RHJune 9, 2009 7:31 PM

Its not fair. They made a short video. You have to see Equilibrium to see the counter argument... and that's long!

Seriously, I have visions of the boy standing on the pedestal pointing out the sense offenders.

Russell CokerJune 9, 2009 8:05 PM

This will never work. A vast number of children will make false reports maliciously. They may act on a few reports initially, but then they will just ignore them just as they ignore most things that children say.

NeighborcatJune 9, 2009 8:15 PM

Parent: "David, it's past your bedtime. I don't care if you want to watch the telly or throw a fit. Into bed. I'm counting to 5..."

Child (Throwing fit):

"But I don wanna go to bed mommy *sniff*...you're a...a...a terrorist!"

Ward S. DenkerJune 9, 2009 8:55 PM

"Why is it that each generation keeps defining new bogeymen that kids should watch out for? Witches, anarchists, communists, and now terrorists. The same principle of paranoia and teaching children to turn in suspected misfits still applies."

You forgot atheists. We're clearly the most scary of all since we've been on everyone's list since someone first got the notion to invent a religion.

Ward S. DenkerJune 9, 2009 9:00 PM

"I'm just waiting for the part where the air raid sirens sound, and we all head for the shelters like good Eloi ..."

That kind of presumes there really are Morlocks about. :D

AnonymousJune 9, 2009 9:22 PM

@Craig, re: V for Vendetta

The rationality of V's actions seems largely contributed by Hollywood. The original story reads more a tension between two evils - rigid authoritarianism on the one hand, and violent anarchy on the other.

BolekJune 10, 2009 12:57 AM

Oh, the nostalgy for brainwashing... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavlik_Morozov

Except most kids in former socialist states considered Morozov a jerk, not a role-model.

ntimeJune 10, 2009 2:37 AM

This is how you lay the foundation for a war. Humans dont evolve that quickly so if you put them in similar situations they will react the same. However you probably need the hardcore racists to maintain stability then this is a method.

TheDoctorJune 10, 2009 2:51 AM

Quote from old empire times:
"Only mad dog and english men go out in the midday sun"

It seems as if the world stopped turning and the sun is at noon position over england for some years now.

AnonymousJune 10, 2009 3:21 AM

@ Russell Coker,

"This will never work. A vast number of children will make false reports maliciously. They may act on a few reports initially, but then they will just ignore them just as they ignore most things that children say."

I'm not sure they will and there is enough evidence to show what can happen when one or more of those in authority belive something that to nearly everybody outside their "group think" is compleat nonsense.

As an example,

In South Ronaldsay (Orkney Islands Scotland UK,) there was a scandal where social services removed nine children from their families over alleged "satanic" child abuse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Ronaldsay_child_abuse_scandal

The lead social worker involved (Liz McLean) had also been involved in other UK "satanic aduse" cases that where later servearly critisised,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_satanic_ritual_abuse_allegations

From this you can see how without appropriate oversight these sort of things become very very dangerous.

foobarJune 10, 2009 4:49 AM

Honnekker also used children to track down and find "troublemakers".

He had legions of child psychologists that traveled around the country to interview 4-5 year old kids in kindergarten. As records show, to see which parents should be enrolled in the all-expenses-paid special vacation programs sponsored by the ministry of love.


wumpusJune 10, 2009 4:50 AM

Message to kids:

Bullying is bad.

Unless you call them an extremist first. Then it's required by law.

AnonymousJune 10, 2009 4:54 AM

@ Posted by: Anonymous at June 10, 2009 3:21 AM

See former east germany for emperical evidence that the program will not fail/end just because there is a large number of false positives.

Clive RobinsonJune 10, 2009 6:32 AM

Opps the anon @3:21AM was mine.

Anon @4:54AM,

Hmm from what you say I guess I did not make myself clear.

Russell Coker posted,

"This will never work."

And I was saying that there was evidence to say that it could unfortunatly all to easily work without the proper oversight.

And as you say East Germany ran all sorts of spying activities against it's own people. And it was only the economic cost of such activities that limited it's activities (and unfortunatly technology has vastly reduced these cost in recent times).

What finaly put paid to the East German spying was the colapse of the East/West boarder and a sudden outflux of East Germans through a neighboring country to the West. Which in turn led upto the tearing down of the Berlin wall.

Arguably the reason for the outflux was the gross economic mismanagment in East Germany not the spying.

So yes you have given further evidence that this sort of thing will be accepted by a suitably cowed society for an indefinate period, and that it is only external preasure that brings it to an end.

BillJune 10, 2009 6:59 AM

Terrorists are feeble killers. On the other hand smoking and heart disease are excellent killers.

So let's edit that video:
1st half - Smoking is Bad mmmkay
2nd half - Introduction to Basic First Aid

FYI in the UK, religious "education" (sic) is mandatory, First Aid is optional.

HenrikHJune 10, 2009 7:25 AM

I read about something similar (or the same?) in Time a few weeks ago.
It was a program made by the Boy Scouts in California that trained/taught teens to fight terrorism and illegal immigration.
I cite A.J. Lowenthal "This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl".

"True-blooded", strange word to use, because the only thing that reminds me of is the Holocaust.
Because why would you teach people to protect themselves against terrorism in a country that was last attacked by terrorists in 2001, but they themselves have been in war with the country the terrorists are in since that year?

And as others have said, this is very similar to the Spies in "1984" and the use of Guy Fawkes is also a weird thing. Isn't the point of the Second Admentment that American citizens can overthrow the government if necessary?

And what about Christian Extremists?

John WatersJune 10, 2009 7:35 AM

So in the UK we have a combination of institutionalized hoplophobia and ratting out your peers who think differently...

Kids change their opinions on things ALL THE TIME, I know guys who were hard core white power skinheads when they were in their teens, and now they reggae DJ's... Children, as "Red" from "That 70's Show" so elegantly and astutely put it, "are dumba**es". Encouraging one set of clueless DA's to rat on another set of "different" DA's, in today's world of long-lived digital records and increased intrusiveness of government and commercial agencies, is far from ideal.

Lets say I was a young Muslim boy from srinagar whose family moved to the UK to avoid the looming specter of war between Pakistan and Indian (and China, btw). So I have views that may be different than those of the Sikh boy that sits next to me in class. Say we get into a debate about kashmir and the Maalu boy, whose dad is a BJP agitator back home in India, overhears me and reports me to the teacher and includes the characteristic embellishment that a 10 year old would tack on for added effect...

Does this mean that I spend the rest of my life labeled an "extremist" because I told the little sardarji boy that I think that all of Kashmir should belong to Pakistan? ... At 10 or 13 or even 16 years old?


caseyJune 10, 2009 8:10 AM

The success of this plan requires that an individual slowly ramp up activities leading to an event. Is this the normal path to terrorism? Even without faulty reports, the premise of such a program is dubious.

pfnJune 10, 2009 8:32 AM

This is something we had here during the Third Reich, it was euphemised Gesinnungsforschung ("attitude research"). Like most euphemismns, it sounded much better than "identify politically incorrect targets by abusing their children's good faith". Just like "Endlösung" is not really a terribly bad word.

Having said that, euphemisms ("enhanced interrogation technique" doesn't sound so bad, does it) seem to have become very modern these days as well.

DesfatchatezJune 10, 2009 8:53 AM

1950's the media was full of political cartoons with the atom symbol on an artillery shell with kruschevs face on it.
propaganda always refered to east germany as 'Red Germany' we were told that it was so dispicable that children were encouraged in school to turn in their parents for thier views. In the 1980's there were stories in america of children who turned in thier parents for
smoking pot. They were heros, then they were removed from their homes and no one ever looked back to see how thier lives turned out after that. No doubt dad and mom lost jobs as well as the children after the propaganda organs were through with the sensationalization
Communists were denounced for thier abuses, but always, the US decides to descend to thier level. By the era when reagan was arming pol pot's khmer rouge
(google it) we were deep into the counterrevolution in nicaragua, and the torture cells at aguacate honduras were filling the mass graves there. The usual victims were the kidnapped child soldiers that wouldn't fight for reagan enthusiastically.

Fred PJune 10, 2009 10:12 AM

What 10 or 11 year old child would respond well to being talked down to like this? Being lectured by animals is something 6-7 year olds like (cause they like the animals, and don't really care about the lecture); 10-11 year olds tend to consider it poor messaging ("little kid's stuff" in my day).

However, this video may show some of them an excellent way to get their enemies harassed - turn them in as future terrorists.

Pete AustinJune 10, 2009 10:48 AM

Unbelievable. BTW there's a traditional rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire, dating back at least to the Wars of the Roses. This may explain why Lancs police would pick on a Yorks villain like Guido Fawkes.

JD BertronJune 10, 2009 11:26 AM

Two observations on this:
1- Amateur security assumes they don't collaborate. The strength of most detection systems is in correlating information from different sources. Individually, most FBI agents aren't skilled at making pronouncements on security findings any more than kids. The difference is their training in the criteria for gathering the information they need. Teaching kids some set of criteria that would result in useful information is a great idea. Asking them to make security determinations is not.
2- The approach is stochastic. The chances that any one these kids will ever report something tangible is small, but the chances that two of the kids will report information that will trigger an investigation is much higher. Then, even if the probability of the investigation returns a true positive is small, the chances that it will return a true negative are large. And that, is actually useful intelligence.

FPJune 10, 2009 12:31 PM

Seems that nobody has picked up on the "extremist views" yet.

"Extremist" isn't well defined, but I would understand it to encompass way more than the "illegal". For example, arguing for a mandatory death sentence for child molesters could be considered extremist but is far from illegal.

Never mind that for the most part it is not punishable to have extremist views. It may just be illegal to act on some of them.

Extremist views are discussed in politics every day.

Ignoring of course that children may have a very different interpretation of "extremist" than adults.

MarkJune 11, 2009 6:11 AM

@Joel F
And a pre-adolescent knows what extremist views are... how, exactly?

You could just as easily ask the question "... a person knows what extremist views are... how, exactly?"
When it comes to things such as trusting "authorities" the most likely difference is who these are. e.g. parents and teachers vs politicians and media outlets.
Also people (of all ages) tend to be poor at spotting extremist views where they agree with the views or see those advocating them as part of their group.

MarkJune 11, 2009 6:19 AM

@Craig Buchek
In the V for Vendetta story, V and Guy Fawkes are seen as the rational heroes, rebelling against a tyrannical government.

In the context of the UK having the highest coverage of CCTV cameras on the planet, ID cards, secret evidence, MPs "expenses", etc there are plenty of people expressing eactly this view. e.g. "Guy Fawkes was the only person to enter Parliment with honest intentions".

MarkJune 11, 2009 6:25 AM

@Anonymous
It was an interesting view of the FBI. They like things that make their job easier. Sort of a you should trust us we're the good guys attitude.

Thing is that in the real world (unlike that portrayed in popular media) there are probably more dishonest police officers than there are terrorists. (As well as some "overlap" being perfectly possible.)

MarkJune 11, 2009 6:33 AM

@Nick Lancaster
Yes, terrorists can look like anyone ... even Mummy & Daddy.

Could they look like the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath?
How about someone from the Metropolitan Police?

MarkJune 11, 2009 6:49 AM

@Fred P
What 10 or 11 year old child would respond well to being talked down to like this? Being lectured by animals is something 6-7 year olds like (cause they like the animals, and don't really care about the lecture); 10-11 year olds tend to consider it poor messaging ("little kid's stuff" in my day).

They'd also probably be insulted by content about how to cross a road.

Most likely both of these groups of children (and their teachers) would prefer something like the Shrek movies. Simply on the basis that most people can find something funny in them.

Doug CoulterJune 11, 2009 9:16 PM

What is truly scary about this is a _systemic_ thing.
I know of no one, who when searched, doesn't have materials to make bombs, drugs, weapons, or perhaps has fallen afoul of some idiotic legal detail (where I live, in VA, oral sex, even with your spouse, is a felony for example, and not having $200 cash is a misdemeanor, and there's a long list of other things). I know plenty of people who consider themselves law abiding, and who in fact are outstandingly upright, that would be easy targets looked at though the "right" eyes. Inherited an old gun with a filed off serial number, sitting in dust bunnies -- off to jail. Did you keep a few painkillers from that last prescription?

If this sort of thing gives cops "probable cause" they can then improve their arrest record and get promotions for it, and don't think there aren't cops who would do it. I've met them firsthand. In my case, I was lucky to actually not be guilty, and had a great lawyer to cover the stuff they "found" having brought it in from their truck. This isn't made up, I have court records and legal bills on file.
(lucky my surveillance system caught them at it)

In my case, seeing a perfectly innocent chemical distillation apparatus through the window was the probable cause I was making meth, rather than doing research (Do you need that to make meth? Not what I hear).

This leads to a rant about ability is not equal to intent -- such as arresting Bruce for being able to pick locks without any indication he's actually done anything wrong with the talent.

When the feds saw my lab, they didn't know what to think, as I can do almost anything with the contents -- but all the things I actually do are legal and legit. They were quite disappointed in the end.

I am lucky to live in a small town where the cops know better than to do this kind of thing -- everyone knows everyone's business. In my case it was the feds even after the local cops told them they were being silly. However, I've lived in the city (DC) where the only "detective work" I've ever seen is searching cars stopped for other reasons, or none at all and the cops are quite hungry for anything that may give them a leg up next performance review. And since everyone is a stranger there, tales of bad cops don't go far, so the situation doesn't have a natural correction mechanism. And after all, you DID do something wrong!

SCarpenterJune 16, 2009 4:01 PM

@JD Berton
> The chances that any one these kids will ever report
> something tangible is small, but the chances that
> two of the kids will report information that will trigger
> an investigation is much higher. Then, even if the
> probability of the investigation returns a true positive
> is small, the chances that it will return a true
> negative are large. And that, is actually useful
> intelligence.

I am afraid I don't follow. A verified "true negative" is a "false positive" in terms of making the decision of who to investigate. Investigators are a limited resource (which is why nobody is out taking finger prints to see who stole your $20 watch).

The problem I see is, mostly, the age of the kids. I can recall a tale of a person I knew whose kid had recently been through the DARE program, and recently been told that cigarettes are a drug. This resulted in a few really tense moments when his child walked up to a police officer in the Mall and dutifully reported "My daddy uses drugs" (true story).

Kids of this age have no context for whats an extremist view vs whats not. I mean, I really just see nothing useful coming from this source. Maybe some convictions of people with slightly out of the mainstream views who happen to have the wrong materials, wrong affiliations, and say something stupid out of frustration. However, I don't really anticipate it netting much more than that.

Those would be false positives too, but politicians and law enforcement will tout them ass real positives and proof the program works.

-Steve

DaveJune 17, 2009 12:10 AM

Obviously, these "authorities" can only interact with someone on their own mental level. Thus we have them "schooling" children to spot terrorists. I think they'd have a better shot at winning at whack-a-mole than getting accurate responses and identifications here. But alas, if they tried to tell someone their own age, rather than their intelligence level, they'd get laughed out of the country. Oh well, I see that the lowest common denominator school of government is still alive and (very!) well...

BranedyJune 18, 2009 4:47 AM

'Extremist views' for a 10/11 year old, is 'Time for Bed', 'Brush your teeth', 'Turn off that video game'.

How many parents are going to end up on the terrorist lists?

BranedyJune 18, 2009 4:54 AM

On the other hand, having grown up seeing educational movies about getting under your school desk when the nuclear attacks happen, was quite influential, institutionalized paranoia!

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