Entries Tagged "public transit"

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London Bombing Details

Interesting details about the bombs used in the 7/7 London bombings:

The NYPD officials said investigators believe the bombers used a peroxide-based explosive called HMDT, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine. HMDT can be made using ordinary ingredients like hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach), citric acid (a common food preservative) and heat tablets (sometimes used by the military for cooking).

HMDT degrades at room temperature, so the bombers preserved it in a way that offered an early warning sign, said Michael Sheehan, deputy commissioner of counterterrorism at the nation’s largest police department.

“In the flophouse where this was built in Leeds, they had commercial grade refrigerators to keep the materials cool,” Sheehan said, describing the setup as “an indicator of a problem.”

Among the other details cited by Sheehan:

The bombers transported the explosives in beverage coolers tucked in the backs of two cars to the outskirts of London.

Investigators believe the three bombs that exploded in the subway were detonated by cell phones that had alarms set to 8:50 a.m.

For those of you upset that the police divulged the recipe — citric acid, hair bleach, and food heater tablets — the details are already out there.

And here are some images of home-made explosives seized in the various raids after the bombings.

Normally this kind of information would be classified, but presumably the London (and U.S.) governments feel that the more people that know about this, the better. Anyone owning a commercial-grade refrigerator without a good reason should expect a knock on his door.

Posted on August 5, 2005 at 4:03 PMView Comments

Dog Poop Girl

Here’s the basic story: A woman and her dog are riding the Seoul subways. The dog poops in the floor. The woman refuses to clean it up, despite being told to by other passangers. Someone takes a picture of her, posts it on the Internet, and she is publicly shamed — and the story will live on the Internet forever. Then, the blogosphere debates the notion of the Internet as a social enforcement tool.

The Internet is changing our notions of personal privacy, and how the public enforces social norms.

Daniel Solove writes:

The dog-shit-girl case involves a norm that most people would seemingly agree to — clean up after your dog. Who could argue with that one? But what about when norm enforcement becomes too extreme? Most norm enforcement involves angry scowls or just telling a person off. But having a permanent record of one’s norm violations is upping the sanction to a whole new level. The blogosphere can be a very powerful norm-enforcing tool, allowing bloggers to act as a cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital scarlet letters.

And that is why the law might be necessary — to modulate the harmful effects when the norm enforcement system gets out of whack. In the United States, privacy law is often the legal tool called in to address the situation. Suppose the dog poop incident occurred in the United States. Should the woman have legal redress under the privacy torts?

If this incident is any guide, then anyone acting outside the accepted norms of whatever segment of humanity surrounds him had better tread lightly. The question we need to answer is: is this the sort of society we want to live in? And if not, what technological or legal controls do we need to put in place to ensure that we don’t?

Solove again:

I believe that, as complicated as it might be, the law must play a role here. The stakes are too important. While entering law into the picture could indeed stifle freedom of discussion on the Internet, allowing excessive norm enforcement can be stifling to freedom as well.

All the more reason why we need to rethink old notions of privacy. Under existing notions, privacy is often thought of in a binary way ­ something either is private or public. According to the general rule, if something occurs in a public place, it is not private. But a more nuanced view of privacy would suggest that this case involved taking an event that occurred in one context and significantly altering its nature ­ by making it permanent and widespread. The dog-shit-girl would have been just a vague image in a few people’s memory if it hadn’t been for the photo entering cyberspace and spreading around faster than an epidemic. Despite the fact that the event occurred in public, there was no need for her image and identity to be spread across the Internet.

Could the law provide redress? This is a complicated question; certainly under existing doctrine, making a case would have many hurdles. And some will point to practical problems. Bloggers often don’t have deep pockets. But perhaps the possibility of lawsuits might help shape the norms of the Internet. In the end, I strongly doubt that the law alone can address this problem; but its greatest contribution might be to help along the development of blogging norms that will hopefully prevent more cases such as this one from having crappy endings.

Posted on July 29, 2005 at 4:21 PMView Comments

Searching Bags in Subways

The New York City police will begin randomly searching people’s bags on subways, buses, commuter trains, and ferries.

“The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect is trying to bring explosives into the subway,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “However, random police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values. This is a very troubling announcement.”

If the choice is between random searching and profiling, then random searching is a more effective security countermeasure. But Dunn is correct above when he says that there are some enormous trade-offs in liberty. And I don’t think we’re getting very much security in return.

Especially considering this:

[Police Commissioner Raymond] Kelly stressed that officers posted at subway entrances would not engage in racial profiling, and that passengers are free to “turn around and leave.”

“Okay guys; here are your explosives. If one of you gets singled out for a search, just turn around and leave. And then go back in via another entrance, or take a taxi to the next subway stop.”

And I don’t think they’ll be truly random, either. I think the police doing the searching will profile, because that’s what happens.

It’s another “movie plot threat.” It’s another “public relations security system.” It’s a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won’t make us any safer.

Final note: I often get comments along the lines of “Stop criticizing stuff; tell us what we should do.” My answer is always the same. Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn’t make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists’ plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation — stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response — lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it.

EDITED TO ADD: A Citizen’s Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches.

Posted on July 22, 2005 at 6:27 AMView Comments

Terrorism Defense: A Failure of Imagination

The 9/11 Commission report talked about a “failure of imagination” before the 9/11 attacks:

The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. The terrorist danger from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.

More generally, this term has been used to describe the U.S. government’s response to the terrorist threat. We spend a lot of money defending against what they did last time, or against particular threats we imagine, but ignore the general threat or the root causes of terrorism.

With the London bombings, we’re doing it again. I was going to write a long post about this, but Richard Forno already wrote a nice essay.

The London bombs went off over 12 hours ago.

So why is CNN-TV still splashing “breaking news” on the screen?

There’s been zero new developments in the past several hours. Perhaps the “breaking news” is that CNN’s now playing spooky “terror attack” music over commercial bumpers now filled with dramatic camera-phone images from London commuters that appeared on the Web earlier this morning.

Aside from that, the only new development since about noon seems to be the incessant press conferences held by public officials in cities around the country showcasing what they’ve done since 9/11 and what they’re doing here at home to respond to the blasts in London…which pretty much comes down to lots of guys with guns running around America’s mass transit system in an effort to present the appearance of “increased security” to reassure the public. While such activities are a political necessity to show that our leaders are ‘doing something’ during a time of crisis we must remember that talk or activity is no substitute for progress or effectiveness.

Forget the fact that regular uniformed police officers and rail employees can sweep or monitor a train station just as well as a fully-decked-out SWAT team — not to mention, they know it better, too. Forget that even with an added law enforcement presence, it’s quite possible to launch a suicide attack on mass transit. Forget that a smart terrorist now knows that the DHS response to attacks is to “increase” the security of related infrastructures (e.g., train stations) and just might attack another, lesser-protected part of American society potentially with far greater success. In these and other ways today following the London bombings, the majority of security attention has been directed at mass transit. However, while we can’t protect everything against every form of attack, our American responses remain conventional and predictable — just as we did after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and today’s events in London, we continue to respond in ways designed to “prevent the last attack.”

In other words, we are demonstrating a lack of protective imagination.

Contrary to America’s infatuation with instant gratification, protective imagination is not quickly built, funded, or enacted. It takes years to inculcate such a mindset brought about by outside the box, unconventional, and daring thinking from folks with expertise and years of firsthand knowledge in areas far beyond security or law enforcement and who are encouraged to think freely and have their analyses seriously considered in the halls of Washington. Such a radical way of thinking and planning is necessary to deal with an equally radical adversary, yet we remain entrenched in conventional wisdom and responses.

Here at home, for all the money spent in the name of homeland security, we’re not acting against the terrorists, we’re reacting against them, and doing so in a very conventional, very ineffective manner. Yet nobody seems to be asking why.

While this morning’s events in London is a tragedy and Londoners deserve our full support in the coming days, it’s sad to see that regarding the need for effective domestic preparedness here in the United States, nearly 4 years after 9/11, it’s clear that despite the catchy sound-bytes and flurry of activity in the name of protecting the homeland, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

Posted on July 12, 2005 at 12:08 PMView Comments

London Transport Bombings

I am on vacation today and this weekend, and won’t be able to read about the London Transport bombings in depth until Monday. For now I would just like to express my sympathy and condolences to those directly affected, and the good people of London, England, Europe, and the world. Targeting innocents might be an effective tactic, but that doesn’t make it any less craven and despicable.

I would also like to urge everyone not to get wrapped up in the particulars of the terrorist tactics. We need to resist the urge to react against the particulars of this particular terrorist plot, and to keep focused on the terrorists’ goals. Spending billions to defend our trains and busses at the expense of other counterterrorist measures makes no sense. Terrorists are out to cause terror, and they don’t care if they bomb trains, busses, shopping malls, theaters, stadiums, schools, markets, restaurants, discos, or any other collection of 100 people in a small space. There are simply too many targets to defend, and we need to think smarter than protecting the particular targets the terrorists attacked last week.

Smart counterterrorism focuses on the terrorists and their funding — stopping plots regardless of their targets — and emergency response that limits their damage.

I’ll have more to say later. But again, my sympathy goes out to those killed and injured, their family and friends, and everyone else in the world indirectly affected by these acts as they are endlessly repeated in the media.

Posted on July 7, 2005 at 1:27 PMView Comments

Amtrak "Security"

Amtrak will now randomly check IDs:

Amtrak conductors have begun random checks of passengers’ IDs as a precaution against terrorist attacks.

This works because, somehow, terrorists don’t have IDs.

I’ve written about this kind of thing before. It’s the kind of program that makes us no safer, and wastes everyone’s time and Amtrak’s money.

Posted on November 19, 2004 at 10:03 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.