Entries Tagged "war on the unexpected"

Page 3 of 7

"If You See Something, Say Something"

That slogan is owned by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (the MTA).

Since obtaining the trademark in 2007, the authority has granted permission to use the phrase in public awareness campaigns to 54 organizations in the United States and overseas, like Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority, the emergency management office at Stony Brook University and three states in Australia.

Of course, you’re only supposed to say something if you see something you think is terrorism:

Some requests have been rejected, including one from a university that wanted to use it to address a series of dormitory burglaries.

“The intent of the slogan is to focus on terrorism activity, not crime, and we felt that use in other spheres would water down its effectiveness,” said Christopher Boylan, an M.T.A. spokesman.

Not that it’s very effective.

The campaign urges people to call a counter-terrorism hot line, 1-888-NYC-SAFE. Police officials said 16,191 calls were received last year, down from 27,127 in 2008.

That’s a lot of wasted manpower, dealing with all those calls.

Of course, the vendors in Times Square who saw the smoking Nissan Pathfinder two weeks ago didn’t call that number.

And, as I’ve written previously, “if you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.” People don’t need to be reminded to call the police; the slogan is nothing more than an invitation to report people who are different.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): Nice article illustrating how ineffective the campaign is.

Posted on May 12, 2010 at 7:08 AMView Comments


I sure hope this is a parody:

SnapScouts Keep America Safe!

Want to earn tons of cool badges and prizes while competing with you friends to see who can be the best American? Download the SnapScouts app for your Android phone (iPhone app coming soon) and get started patrolling your neighborhood.

It’s up to you to keep America safe! If you see something suspicious, Snap it! If you see someone who doesn’t belong, Snap it! Not sure if someone or something is suspicious? Snap it anyway!

Play with your friends and family to see who can get the best prizes. Join the SnapScouts today!

Posted on May 10, 2010 at 2:11 PMView Comments

How we Reacted to the Unexpected 75 Years Ago

A 1934 story from the International Herald Tribune:

Dynamite Found On Track

SPOKANE Discovery of a box of useless dynamite on the railway track two and a half miles southwest of this city led to special precautions being taken to guard the line over which President Roosevelt’s train passed this morning [August 4] en route to Washington. Six deputy sheriffs guarded the section of the line near which the discovery was made. The President’s train passed safely at 10 a.m. Officials are skeptical about the dynamite having any connection with a possible plot against the President.

Imagine if the same thing happened today.

Posted on August 5, 2009 at 1:46 PMView Comments

Carrot-Bomb Art Project Bombs in Sweden

Not the best idea:

The carrot bombs had been placed around the city at the request of a local art gallery, as part of an open-air arts festival.

They had only been in place for an hour before police received their first call.

“We received a call … from a person who said they saw two real bombs placed outside the public library,” Ronny Hoerman from the Orebro police force, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

“It was hard to tell if they were real or not. We find this inappropriate,” he said.

Mr Blom described it as a harmless stunt.

“After all, it is just carrots with an alarm clock and nothing else… this is just a caricature of a bomb,” he said.

Posted on June 17, 2009 at 6:49 AMView Comments

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 PMView Comments



Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination. Because I built them with minimal technology, I had no way of tracking the Tweenbot’s progress, and so I set out on the first test with a video camera hidden in my purse. I placed the Tweenbot down on the sidewalk, and walked far enough away that I would not be observed as the Tweenbot–a smiling 10-inch tall cardboard missionary–bumped along towards his inevitable fate.

The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”

It’s a measure of our restored sanity that no one called the TSA. Or maybe it’s just that no one has tried this in Boston yet. Or maybe it’s a lesson for terrorists: paint smiley faces on your bombs.

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 6:14 AMView Comments

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch Bomb Scare

You just can’t make this stuff up:

Buildings were evacuated, a street was cordoned off and a bomb disposal team called in after workmen spotted a suspicious object.

But the dangerous-looking weapon turned out to be the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, made famous in the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail.


They evacuated a pub and another building in Tabernacle Street, while office staff in another building were stopped from leaving.

But when the bomb squad arrived, they quickly established there was no danger and the street was declared safe. In the film, the grenade was used to slaughter a killer rabbit. …

Alberto Romanelli, who owns the Windmill pub nearby, said the police action in ordering his pub to be evacuated had been as ridiculous as the film scene. “They evacuated the pub while they were doing X-rays and stuff,” he said.

“It all lasted about 45 minutes before they decided it was nothing — which I thought was pretty obvious from the start. I lost a good hour’s worth of business.”

I used to catalog examples of the war on the unexpected, but stopped because they were just too many of them (see also here and here), but this one is just too funny to ignore.

EDITED TO ADD (3/20): Lest you think this is tabloid hyperbole, here’s the story in a more respectable newspaper.

Posted on March 20, 2009 at 3:10 PMView Comments

Tourists, Not Terrorists

Remember the two men who were exhibiting “unusual behavior” on a Washington-state ferry last summer?

The agency’s Seattle field office, along with the Washington Joint Analytical Center, was still seeking the men’s identities and whereabouts Wednesday as ferry service was temporarily shutdown when a suspicious package was found in a ferry bathroom and taken away by authorities.

“We had various independent reports from passengers and ferry employees that these two guys were engaging in what they described as unusual activities on the ferries,” Special Agent Robbie Burroughs, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Washington state, told FOXNews.com.

“They felt that these guys were showing an undue interest in the boat itself, in the layout, the workers and the terminal, and it caused them enough concern that they contacted law enforcement about it,” she told FOXNews.com.

The two were photographed by a ferry employee about a month ago, and those photographs were distributed to ferry employees three weeks ago by local law enforcement.

Turns out they were tourists, not terrorists:

Turns out the men, both citizens of a European Union nation, were captivated by the car-carrying capacity of local ferries.

“Where these gentlemen live, they don’t have vehicle ferries. They were fascinated that a ferry could hold that many cars and wanted to show folks back home,” FBI Special Agent Robbie Burroughs said Monday.


Two weeks ago, the men appeared at a U.S. Embassy and identified themselves as the men in the photo released to the media in August, a couple of weeks after they took a ferry from Seattle to Vashon Island during a business trip, Burroughs said.

They came forward because they worried they’d be arrested if they traveled to the U.S. and so provided proof of their identities, employment and the reason for their July trip to Seattle, according to the FBI.

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 7:32 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.