Entries Tagged "Yemen"

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A Foiled Terrorist Plot

We don’t know much, but here are my predictions:

  1. There’s a lot more hyperbole to this story than reality.
  2. The explosive would have either 1) been caught by pre-9/11 security, or 2) not been caught by post-9/11 security.
  3. Nonetheless, it will be used to justify more invasive airport security.

Posted on May 8, 2012 at 1:14 PMView Comments

Cargo Security

The New York Times writes:

Despite the increased scrutiny of people and luggage on passenger planes since 9/11, there are far fewer safeguards for packages and bundles, particularly when loaded on cargo-only planes.

Well, of course. We’ve always known this. We’ve not worried about terrorism on cargo planes because it isn’t very terrorizing. Packages aren’t people. If a passenger plane blows up, it affects a couple of hundred people. If a cargo plane blows up, it just affects the crew.

Cargo that is loaded on to passenger planes should be subjected to the same level of security as passenger luggage. Cargo that is loaded onto cargo planes should be treated no differently from cargo loaded into ships, trains, trucks, and the trunks of cars.

Of course: now that the media is talking about cargo security, we have to “do something.” (Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it.) But if we’re so scared that we have to devote resources to this kind of terrorist threat, we’ve well and truly lost.

EDITED TO ADD (10/30): The plot — it’s still unclear how serious it was — wasn’t uncovered by any security screening, but by intelligence gathering:

Intelligence officials were onto the suspected plot for days, officials said. The packages in England and Dubai were discovered after Saudi Arabian intelligence picked up information related to Yemen and passed it on to the U.S., two officials said.

This is how you fight through terrorism: not by defending against specific threats, but through intelligence, investigation, and emergency response.

Posted on October 30, 2010 at 9:41 AMView Comments

The FBI is Tracking Whom?

They’re tracking a college student in Silicon Valley. He’s 20, partially Egyptian, and studying marketing at Mission College. He found the tracking device attached to his car. Near as he could tell, what he did to warrant the FBI’s attention is be the friend of someone who did something to warrant the FBI’s attention.

Afifi retrieved the device from his apartment and handed it over, at which point the agents asked a series of questions ­ did he know anyone who traveled to Yemen or was affiliated with overseas training? One of the agents produced a printout of a blog post that Afifi’s friend Khaled allegedly wrote a couple of months ago. It had “something to do with a mall or a bomb,” Afifi said. He hadn’t seen it before and doesn’t know the details of what it said. He found it hard to believe Khaled meant anything threatening by the post.

Here’s the Reddit post:

bombing a mall seems so easy to do. i mean all you really need is a bomb, a regular outfit so you arent the crazy guy in a trench coat trying to blow up a mall and a shopping bag. i mean if terrorism were actually a legitimate threat, think about how many fucking malls would have blown up already.. you can put a bag in a million different places, there would be no way to foresee the next target, and really no way to prevent it unless CTU gets some intel at the last minute in which case every city but LA is fucked…so…yea…now i’m surely bugged : /

Here’s the device. Here’s the story, told by the student who found it.

This weird story poses three sets of questions.

  1. Is the FBI’s car surveillance technology that lame? Don’t they have bugs that are a bit smaller and less obtrusive? Or are they surveilling so many people that they’re forced to use the older models as well as the newer, smaller, stuff?

    From a former FBI agent:

    The former agent, who asked not to be named, said the device was an older model of tracking equipment that had long ago been replaced by devices that don’t require batteries. Batteries die and need to be replaced if surveillance is ongoing so newer devices are placed in the engine compartment and hardwired to the car’s battery so they don’t run out of juice. He was surprised this one was so easily found.

    “It has to be able to be removed but also stay in place and not be seen,” he said. “There’s always the possibility that the car will end up at a body shop or auto mechanic, so it has to be hidden well. It’s very rare when the guys find them.”

  2. If they’re doing this to someone so tangentially connected to a vaguely bothersome post on an obscure blog, just how many of us have tracking devices on our cars right now — perhaps because of this blog? Really, is that blog post plus this enough to warrant surveillance?

    Afifi’s father, Aladdin Afifi, was a U.S. citizen and former president of the Muslim Community Association here, before his family moved to Egypt in 2003. Yasir Afifi returned to the United States alone in 2008, while his father and brothers stayed in Egypt, to further his education he said. He knows he’s on a federal watchlist and is regularly taken aside at airports for secondary screening.

  3. How many people are being paid to read obscure blogs, looking for more college students to surveil?

Remember, the Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that the police do not need a warrant to attach one of these things to your car. That ruling holds true only for the Ninth Circuit right now; the Supreme Court will probably rule on this soon.

Meanwhile, the ACLU is getting involved:

Brian Alseth from the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state contacted Afifi after seeing pictures of the tracking device posted online and told him the ACLU had been waiting for a case like this to challenge the ruling.

“This is the kind of thing we like to throw lawyers at,” Afifi said Alseth told him.

“It seems very frightening that the FBI have placed a surveillance-tracking device on the car of a 20-year-old American citizen who has done nothing more than being half-Egyptian,” Alseth told Wired.com.

Posted on October 13, 2010 at 6:20 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.