Thursday, December 27, 2007

The war on the unexpected

Bruce Schneier has a good name for the faux-war on terror the cowardly Chicken Littles have created: the War on the Unexpected. Anything different or unexpected must be a threat:

We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

This isn't the way counterterrorism is supposed to work, but it's happening everywhere. It's a result of our relentless campaign to convince ordinary citizens that they're the front line of terrorism defense. ...

The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or trash sculpture; or the difference between terrorist plotters and imams, musicians, or architects. All they know is that something makes them uneasy, usually based on fear, media hype, or just something being different.

The full article is well worth reading, and contains many links to actual cases of the most awe-inspiring stupid security "threats". None of the examples quoted above are made up.

In recent weeks:

  • Concert-goers to an open-air concert in Perth were told that picnic blankets and rugs were prohibited as they were a security risk. Adding a note of the surreal, the tickets warned patrons not to bring "crocodiles or spears" to the concert.

  • A blind calypso musician and his band thrown off a plane after another passenger complained they had been in high spirits earlier but were now sitting quietly.

  • An orthodox Jew on a train was arrested after passengers panicked on seeing him praying while sitting next to a man wearing a turban.

  • A Florida bomb squad called in to blow up a typewriter.

  • Police evacuate everyone within a mile radius of some fake dynamite taped to the side of a house.

    (The comments on that story are interesting: in summary, it seems that the cops simply followed the Department of Transportation's guidelines, which seem to be massively over-cautious compared to the guidelines offered by the Department of Defense and usual practice for disarming known high-explosive bombs.

Earlier incidents in the war on the unexpected:

  • An Australian pub patron thrown out by bouncers for reading a book called The Unknown Terrorist.

  • A Canadian firetruck racing to a fire in New York was stopped at the US border for eight minutes while border officials checked the firefighters' IDs and the truck's licence plates.

  • In 2005, a man in the UK who fell into a diabetic coma on a bus was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a terrorist.

Are we feeling safer yet?

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