Encouraging poll data says that maybe Americans are starting to have realistic fears about terrorism, or at least are refusing to be terrorized.
Good essay by Scott Atran on terrorism and our reaction.
Reddit apologizes. I think this is a big story. The Internet is going to help in everything, including trying to identify terrorists. This will happen whether or not the help is needed, wanted, or even helpful. I think this took the FBI by surprise. (Here’s a good commentary on this sort of thing.)
Facial recognition software didn’t help. I agree with this, though; it will only get better.
EDITED TO ADD (4/25): “Hapless, Disorganized, and Irrational“: John Mueller and Mark Stewart describe the Boston—and most other—terrorists.
Posted on April 25, 2013 at 6:42 AM •
I generally give the police a lot of tactical leeway in times like this. The very armed and very dangerous suspects warranted extraordinary treatment. They were perfectly capable of killing again, taking hostages, planting more bombs—and we didn’t know the extent of the plot or the group. That’s why I didn’t object to the massive police dragnet, the city-wide lock down, and so on.
Ross Anderson has a different take:
…a million people were under virtual house arrest; the 19-year-old fugitive from justice happened to be a Muslim. Whatever happened to the doctrine that infringements of one liberty to protect another should be necessary and proportionate?
In the London bombings, four idiots killed themselves in the first incident with a few dozen bystanders, but the second four failed and ran for it when their bombs didn’t go off. It didn’t occur to anyone to lock down London. They were eventually tracked down and arrested, together with their support team. Digital forensics played a big role; the last bomber to be caught left the country and changed his SIM, but not his IMEI. It’s next to impossible for anyone to escape nowadays if the authorities try hard.
He has a point, although I’m not sure I agree with it.
EDITED TO ADD (4/20): This makes the argument very well. On the other hand, readers are rightfully pointing out that the lock down was in response to the shooting of a campus police officer, a carjacking, a firefight, and a vehicle chase with thrown bombs: the sort of thing that pretty much only happens in the movies.
EDITED TO ADD (4/20): More commentary on this Slashdot thread.
Posted on April 20, 2013 at 8:19 AM •
I rewrote my “refuse to be terrorized” essay for the Atlantic. David Rothkopf (author of the great book Power, Inc.) wrote something similar, and so did John Cole.
It’s interesting to see how much more resonance this idea has today than it did a dozen years ago. If other people have written similar essays, please post links in the comments.
EDITED TO ADD (4/16): Two good essays.
EDITED TO ADD (4/16): I did a Q&A on the Washington Post blog. And—I can hardly believe it—President Obama said “the American people refuse to be terrorized” in a press briefing today.
EDITED TO ADD (4/16): I did a podcast interview and another press interview.
EDITED TO ADD (4/16): This, on the other hand, is pitiful.
EDITED TO ADD (4/17): Another audio interview with me.
EDITED TO ADD (4/19): I have done a lot of press this week. Here’s a link to a “To the Point” segment, and two Huffington Post Live segments. I was on The Steve Malzberg Show, which I didn’t realize was shouting conservative talk radio until it was too late.
EDITED TO ADD (4/20): That Atlantic essay had 40,000 Facebook likes and 6800 Tweets. The editor told me it had about 360,000 hits. That makes it the most popular piece I’ve ever written.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): More links here.
Posted on April 16, 2013 at 9:19 AM •
An unexploded bomb was found inside a squid when the fish was slaughtered at a fish market in Guangdong province.
Oddly enough, this doesn’t seem to be the work of terrorists:
The stall owner, who has been selling fish for 10 years, told the newspaper the 1-meter-long squid might have mistaken the bomb for food.
Clearly there’s much to this story that remains unreported.
More news articles.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.
Posted on March 29, 2013 at 4:19 PM •
There have been a few hoax bomb threats in Detroit recently (Windsor tunnel, US-Canada bridge, Tiger Stadium). The good news is that police learned; during the third one, they didn’t close down the threatened location.
Posted on July 30, 2012 at 7:34 AM •
Although the plot was disrupted before a particular airline was targeted and tickets were purchased, al Qaeda’s continued attempts to attack the U.S. speak to the organization’s persistence and willingness to refine specific approaches to killing. Unlike Abdulmutallab’s bomb, the new device contained lead azide, an explosive often used as a detonator. If the new underwear bomb had been used, the bomber would have ignited the lead azide, which would have triggered a more powerful explosive, possibly military-grade explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN).
Lead azide and PETN were key components in a 2010 plan to detonate two bombs sent from Yemen and bound for Chicago—one in a cargo aircraft and the other in the cargo hold of a passenger aircraft. In that plot, al-Qaeda hid bombs in printer cartridges, allowing them to slip past cargo handlers and airport screeners. Both bombs contained far more explosive material than the 80 grams of PETN that Abdulmutallab smuggled onto his Northwest Airlines flight.
With the latest device, al Asiri appears to have been able to improve on the underwear bomb supplied to Abdulmutallab, says Joan Neuhaus Schaan, a fellow in homeland security and terrorism for Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
The interview is also interesting, and I am especially pleased to see this last answer:
What has been the most effective means of disrupting terrorism attacks?
As with bombs that were being sent from Yemen to Chicago as cargo, this latest plot was discovered using human intelligence rather than screening procedures and technologies. These plans were disrupted because of proactive mechanisms put in place to stop terrorism rather than defensive approaches such as screening.
Posted on May 25, 2012 at 6:43 AM •
To New Zealand:
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has warned the New Zealand Government about the latest terrorist threat known as “body bombers.”
“Do we have specific credible evidence of a [body bomb] threat today? I would not say that we do, however, the importance is that we all lean forward.”
Why the headline of this article is “NZ warned over ‘body bombers,'” and not “Napolitano admits ‘no credible evidence’ of body bomber threat” is beyond me.
Posted on May 15, 2012 at 6:17 AM •
This is a ridiculous overreaction:
The police bomb squad was called to 2 World Financial Center in lower Manhattan at midday when a security guard reported a package that seemed suspicious. Brookfield Properties, which runs the property, ordered an evacuation as a precaution.
That’s the entire building, a 44-story, 2.5-million-square-foot office building. And why?
The bomb squad determined the package was a fake explosive that looked like a 1940s-style pineapple grenade. It was mounted on a plaque that said “Complaint department: Take a number,” with a number attached to the pin.
It was addressed to someone at one of the financial institutions housed there and discovered by someone in the mail room.
If the grenade had been real, it could have destroyed—what?—a room. Of course, there’s no downside to Brookfield Properties overreacting.
Posted on May 8, 2012 at 7:03 AM •
The University of Pittsburgh has been the recipient of 50 bomb threats in the past two months (over 30 during the last week). Each time, the university evacuates the threatened building, searches it top to bottom—one of the threatened buildings is the 42-story Cathedral of Learning—finds nothing, and eventually resumes classes. This seems to be nothing more than a very effective denial-of-service attack.
Police have no leads. The threats started out as handwritten messages on bathroom walls, but are now being sent via e-mail and anonymous remailers. (Here is a blog and a
Google Docs spreadsheet documenting the individual threats.)
The University is implementing some pretty annoying security theater in response:
To enter secured buildings, we all will need to present a University of Pittsburgh ID card. It is important to understand that book bags, backpacks and packages will not be allowed. There will be single entrances to buildings so there will be longer waiting times to get into the buildings. In addition, non-University of Pittsburgh residents will not be allowed in the residence halls.
I can’t see how this will help, but what else can the University do? Their incentives are such that they’re stuck overreacting. If they ignore the threats and they’re wrong, people will be fired. If they overreact to the threats and they’re wrong, they’ll be forgiven. There’s no incentive to do an actual cost-benefit analysis of the security measures.
For the attacker, though, the cost-benefit payoff is enormous. E-mails are cheap, and the response they induce is very expensive.
If you have any information about the bomb threatener, contact the FBI. There’s a $50,000 reward waiting for you. For the university, paying that would be a bargain.
Posted on April 12, 2012 at 1:34 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.