Entries Tagged "war on the unexpected"

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How Well "See Something, Say Something" Actually Works

I’ve written about the “War on the Unexpected,” and how normal people can’t figure out what’s an actual threat and what isn’t:

All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.

[…]

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

Yesterday The New York Times wrote about New York City’s campaign:

Now, an overview of police data relating to calls to the hot line over the past two years reveals the answer and provides a unique snapshot of post-9/11 New York, part paranoia and part well-founded caution. Indeed, no terrorists were arrested, but a wide spectrum of other activity was reported.

[…]

In all, the hot line received 8,999 calls in 2006, including calls that were transferred from 911 and the 311 help line, Mr. Browne said. They included a significant number of calls about suspicious packages, many in the transit system. Most involved backpacks, briefcases or other items accidentally left behind by their owners. None of them, Mr. Browne said, were bombs.

There were, however, 816 calls to the hot line in 2006 that were deemed serious enough to require investigation by the department’s intelligence division or its joint terrorism task force with the F.B.I. Mr. Browne said that 109 of those calls had a connection to the transit system and included reports of suspicious people in tunnels and yards, and of people taking pictures of the tracks.

The hot line received many more calls in 2007, possibly because of the authority’s advertising campaign, Mr. Browne said. Through early December, the counterterrorism hot line received 13,473 calls, with 644 of those meriting investigation. Of that group, 45 calls were transit related.

Then there were the 11 calls about people counting.

Mr. Browne said several callers reported seeing men clicking hand-held counting devices while riding on subway trains or waiting on platforms.

The callers said that the men appeared to be Muslims and that they seemed to be counting the number of people boarding subway trains or the number of trains passing through a station. They feared the men might be collecting data to maximize the casualties in a terror attack.

But when the police looked into the claims, they determined that the men were counting prayers with the devices, essentially a modern version of rosary beads.

None of those calls led to arrests, but several others did. At least three calls resulted in arrests for trying to sell false identification, including driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. One informer told the police about a Staten Island man who was later found to have a cache of firearms. A Queens man was charged with having an illegal gun and with unlawful dealing in fireworks.

A Brooklyn man was charged with making anti-Semitic threats against his landlord and threatening to use sarin gas on him. At least two men arrested on tips from the hot line were turned over to immigration officials for deportation, Mr. Browne said.

And as long as we’re on the topic, read about the couple branded as terrorists in the UK for taking photographs in a mall. And this about a rail fan being branded a terrorist for trying to film a train. (Note that the member of the train’s crew was trying to incite the other passengers to do something about the filmer.) And about this Icelandic woman’s experience with U.S. customs because she overstayed a visa in 1995.

And lastly, this funny piece of (I trust) fiction.

Remember that every one of these incidents requires police resources to investigate, resources that almost certainly could be better spent keeping us actually safe.

Refuse to be terrorized!

Posted on January 8, 2008 at 7:53 AMView Comments

Refuse to be Terrorized

I know nothing about the politics of this organization, but their “I am not afraid” campaign is something I can certainly get behind. I think we should all send a letter like this to our elected officials, whatever country we’re in:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.

Refuse to be terrorized, and you deny the terrorists their most potent weapon — your fear.

EDITED TO ADD (12/21): There’s also this video.

And Chicago opens a new front on the war on the unexpected, trying to scare everybody:

Each year, the Winter Holiday Season tends to spur larger crowds and increased traffic throughout the City. As it pertains to shopping districts, public transportation routes, and all other places of public assembly, the increased crowds become a matter of Homeland Security concern. During this holiday period, as a matter of public safety, we ask that all members of the general public heighten their awareness regarding any and all suspicious activity that may be an indicator of a threat to public safety. It is important to immediately report any or all of the below suspect activities.

  • Physical Surveillance (note taking, binocular use, cameras, video, maps)
  • Attempts to gain sensitive information regarding key facilities
  • Attempts to penetrate or test physical security / response procedures
  • Attempts to improperly acquire explosives, weapons, ammunition, dangerous chemicals, etc.
  • Suspicious or improper attempts to acquire official vehicles, uniforms, badges or access devices
  • Presence of individuals who do not appear to belong in workplaces, business establishments, or near key facilities
  • Mapping out routes, playing out scenarios, monitoring key facilities, timing traffic lights
  • Stockpiling suspicious materials or abandoning potential containers for explosives (e.g., vehicles, suitcases, etc)
  • Suspicious reporting of lost or stolen identification

This may be real or it may be a hoax; I don’t know.

And this is probably my last post on the war on the unexpected. There are simply too many examples.

Posted on December 21, 2007 at 7:26 AMView Comments

Even More "War on the Unexpected"

We’re losing the “War on the Unexpected.”

A blind calypso musician and his band removed from an airplane:

The passenger told the pilot of the Sardinia-Stansted flight that he was concerned about the behaviour of Michael Toussaint and four other members of the Caribbean Steel International Orchestra, a court heard. He claimed to be a psychology lecturer from London University and said he had noticed the group in “high spirits” in the terminal building, but that they had sat separately and quietly on board. He also believed Toussaint, who was wearing dark glasses, could have been feigning blindness, the court was told.

A Jewish man removed from a train:

The incident took place on a train that left Chicago early in the morning – when Jewish men are obligated to put on tefillin (phylacteries). The passenger began strapping the head-tefillin to his forehead and passengers unfamiliar with the custom rushed to the conductor and told him there was a man on board who was fastening a box to his head with wires dangling from it.”

The conductor approached the passenger but the latter refused to answer him as he was in the middle of the prayer, heightening the conductor’s suspicions.

Meanwhile, the passengers grew even more frantic when they noticed that the passenger sitting next to the Jewish man had a Middle-Eastern appearance and wore a turban.

More stories. And the point.

EDITED TO ADD (12/6): Bomb squad in Sarasota, Florida called in to detonate a typewriter.

EDITED TO ADD (2/8/08): The calypso band won damages in court:

A judge ruled that the airline had not acted reasonably and had failed in its duty of care to the passengers, particularly Toussaint, who was entitled to special care because of his disability.

He also found the company had issued a “false and misleading” statement to the BBC, which blamed the incident on the Italian security authorities.

Posted on December 3, 2007 at 6:15 AMView Comments

Firefighters to Fight Terrorism While Doing their Day Jobs

In yet another front in the war on the unexpected, more amateurs are joining the fight against terrorism:

Unlike police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel don’t need warrants to access hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings each year, putting them in a position to spot behavior that could indicate terrorist activity or planning.

[…]

When going to private residences, for example, they are told to be alert for a person who is hostile, uncooperative or expressing hate or discontent with the United States; unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.

Because it’s such a good idea for people to start fearing firefighters….

Posted on November 27, 2007 at 1:22 PMView Comments

More "War on the Unexpected"

The “War on the Unexpected” is being fought everywhere.

In Australia:

Bouncers kicked a Melbourne man out of a Cairns pub after paranoid patrons complained that he was reading a book called The Unknown Terrorist.

At the U.S. border with Canada:

A Canadian firetruck responding with lights and sirens to a weekend fire in Rouses Point, New York, was stopped at the U.S. border for about eight minutes, U.S. border officials said Tuesday.

[…]

The Canadian firefighters “were asked for IDs,” Trombley said. “I believe they even ran the license plate on the truck to make sure it was legal.”

In the UK:

A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat.

In Maine:

A powdered substance that led to a baggage claim being shut down for nearly six hours at the Portland International Jetport was a mixture of flour and sugar, airport officials said Thursday.

Fear is winning. Refuse to be terrorized, people.

Posted on November 21, 2007 at 6:39 AMView Comments

High-School Football Prank Provokes Terrorism Fears

Okay, so it was a stupid (and dangerous) stunt:

A 17-year-old Hopewell High student was apparently acting on a dare when he did a fly-over prank at a Hopewell High football game Friday, at one point dipping below the stadium lights.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials said Sunday that the teen pilot and two teen passengers flew the length of the field three times around 8 p.m. The plane reportedly came within feet of a flag pole.

On the final pass, a pair of tennis shoes and a football dropped from the single-engine Cessna 172 into the end zone, officials said.

But this is just funny:

“My immediate reaction was that we were going to have a terrorist act of some sort,” said Vincent “Bud” Cesena, head of CMS law enforcement, who was among the 4,000 people in the stands.

Yeah, because the terrorists are going to target high-school football games.

Posted on November 13, 2007 at 6:01 AMView Comments

Taking Pictures from a Train

This is a very moving story about a foreign tourist being removed from a train for taking pictures:

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. “Sir, we’re removing you from this train.” “I….;” “I……” “Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.” “I…,” “I…..” “Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.” “I…..”

Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory — a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.” The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates. The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.” “Our task,” the police repeat, “is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

My earlier suggestion that you imagine being in his place leaves you free to respond and draw your conclusions. Remember: you’ve been removed from the train, are being interrogated, perhaps having your equipment confiscated; while I continue to do what I take for granted ­ traveling unimpeded, on to Providence.

The more I replay the scene, the more troublesome it is. It is the stuff of nightmares. Relations between people and countries lie at the heart of the issue. The abstract terms that inform political and social debate appear, as if in person, unexpectedly, near enough to hear, touch, feel. Taking no position is not an option. As an educator, I would prepare and deliver a lecture on how others perceive America in the world community, then seek an audience. I’ll spare you. But — I just watched armed police officers remove a visitor from the train for taking pictures. I don’t understand this. I’m disturbed ­ no, shaken ­ to bear witness to these events.

EDITED TO ADD (11/13): A response from the writer of the original article, after people questioned the veracity of the story.

Posted on November 8, 2007 at 1:53 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.