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A call for an Open Terrorism Repository

By FuzzyOne in Op-Ed
Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:55:11 AM EST
Tags: Security (all tags)

Variety reports that government intelligence specialists have been secretly soliciting terrorist scenarios from top Hollywood filmmakers and writers. Enlisting such notables as Spike Jonze (of Three Kings and Being John Malkovich fame) and David Fincher (Fight Club), the US Army convened a meeting at the University of Southern California's Institute of Creative Technologies last week.

Behind closed doors, the Army surveys Hollywood for some outside the box thinking on terrorism. Since September 11th, talking heads on TV have said that the simultaneous hijacking of 4 airliners with nothing more than box cutters was a scenario we never even dreamed could happen. But someone did dream it. Which raises the question: wouldn't the defense of the homeland be a fit for an open development process?

On a Fox News interview days after the attack, Tom Clancy mentioned that years ago (long before the publish date of Debt of Honor, a novel portraying a commandeered airliner crashing into Capitol Hill during a state of the Union address, decapitating the US government), he mentioned the idea of a fuel-laden commercial airliner being crashed into a government building to a US Army general involved in dreaming up terrorist scenarios. Paraphrasing, Clancy said "I'm sure you've thought of that scenario." The general paused silently for awhile and said, "I can guarantee you that we'll be discussing it first thing on Monday morning." It was clear to Clancy that it hadn't been considered before he had mentioned it. The general no doubt realized that day a truth those who embrace open source software realize: that there are more smart people who don't work for you than do.

Just as there is no true security through obscurity in a computer system, the events of September 11th have shown us that there can be no further reliance on security through obscurity in the defense of our homeland. Knowledge of the potential means of committing terrorism is an inefficient market; if the FAA, the FBI and the CIA did not conceive of a scenario involving attacks using legal tools and domestic flights, then the price the US paid was that of Osama bin Laden taking advantage of this arbitrage opportunity in the marketplace of terror. In stock markets, prices are often said to fully reflect all news; such news is often said to be "built-in" to the price. The value of inside information comes from the discrepancy between what the public knows and what the user of that information knows. Profits are made either through such inside information, or by seeing one step ahead. In the world of terrorism, the "news" affecting the price is the evil scheme and the profit is the blood of innocents.

Enter the Open Terrorism Repository. The goal would be to eliminate the discrepancy of the inefficient market. Evil schemes would be hatched as ideas for discussion along with countermeasures proposed to thwart them. We would probe our own weak spots, find out where the risks remain and how to minimize (if not eliminate) certain threats. Experts and armchair analysts alike would catalog the obvious (and hopefully not-so-obvious) means for mass destruction that we face every day. Membership would be open to everyone and would be anonymous.

Could terrorists use this site to their advantage? Potentially. In the open source software world Apache and BSD-style licenses can't distinguish between uses for good or evil, neither could this free exchange of ideas distinguish among its users. In fact, the presence of such a site might even violate the PATRIOT Act or its kin.

Complete openness in this area poses many risks. While it creates an efficient market in ideas, there is always the risk that a vulnerability could be exploited more quickly and less expensively than a solution could be implemented. To open this knowledge of exploits would create tools (the ideas) which could be used by terrorists. While there was a flap about whether or not Phil Zimmermann felt guilt over the possibility of terrorists using PGP to conceal their communications (it appears he did not), has anyone heard whether Tom Clancy feels guilt over setting his idea out in the wild? Would you dare contribute a sinister idea knowing it might be used against your family and friends?

If a completely open process isn't deemed effective, the Repository could take the form of a moderated site (the Moderated Terrorism Repository). Who does the moderation? The most likely candidate organization would be an arm of the newly created Homeland Security department. Ideas could be submitted through a queue; those meriting warning or discussion might be opened for public comment. At the very least, such a system could benefit those whose job it is to defend and come up with nightmare scenarios by letting them tap into the hive mind of millions of different perspectives in the trenches. With efficient categorization, specific scenarios could be made accessible to state and municipal governments and to corporate security personnel to help them measure and shore up their defenses.

With these thoughts in mind, I leave you with some questions for discussion you might find on such a Repository:

  • What's the most likely response strike the US (or the world) faces from Osama bin Laden?
  • If you had one suitcase nuke, how would you use it?
  • If you had a dozen suitcase nukes, how would you use them?
  • If you were a sleeper for Osama bin Laden in the US and had $100,000 at your disposal, how would you futher his cause?
  • Are these questions you would dare to answer using the full power of your intellect, for fear someone might implement them?
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    Would you contribute to an Open Terrorism Repository?
    o Yes--wholeheartedly 18%
    o Yes--but only if it was completely open and anonymous 36%
    o Yes--but only if it was moderated and government-sanctioned 4%
    o No--it would be too much of a tool for terrorists 22%
    o No--I have no time for such concerns 4%
    o No--it's a non-starter of an idea 13%

    Votes: 44
    Results | Other Polls

    Related Links
    o Variety
    o government intelligence specialists have been secretly soliciting terrorist scenarios from top Hollywood filmmakers and writers
    o Spike Jonze
    o Three Kings
    o Being John Malkovich
    o David Fincher
    o Fight Club
    o Institute of Creative Technologies
    o Debt of Honor
    o FAA
    o FBI
    o CIA
    o Apache
    o PATRIOT Act
    o Phil Zimmermann
    o Also by FuzzyOne

    Display: Sort:
    A call for an Open Terrorism Repository | 96 comments (86 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
    Lone Gunmen? (3.75 / 4) (#1)
    by xriso on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 12:52:58 AM EST

    I recall that in the first episode, there was something about crashing a passenger jet into the World Trade Center (or was it another building?).
    *** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
    Absolutely right (4.00 / 2) (#19)
    by BobaFatt on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:44:28 AM EST

    Which presented some of us with a bit of a problem, as Dreamland (OU Cult TV society), was supposed to be showing TLG this term. We're running sans pilot now.
    The Management apologise for any convenience caused.
    [ Parent ]
    yep (5.00 / 1) (#60)
    by bigdavex on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:35:18 PM EST

    This article confirms your memory.

    [ Parent ]
    This is frightening. (3.50 / 4) (#4)
    by Dlugar on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 01:12:48 AM EST

    I'm torn between thinking of this as a good idea, and a very, very, very bad idea. Think of how many evil terrorists could capitalize from our ideas! We can't possibly defend against them all, and eventually we'd come up with some security hole that couldn't be easily plugged.

    But then I start thinking, it would be better for us to discover it before they do, right? And reminders of Bugtraq and so forth cloud my vision ...

    Still, it sends shivers down my spine. Such power to do good--but such power to do evil.


    Perhaps a database on how to end terrorism (4.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Secret Coward on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 04:52:46 AM EST

    The simple fact of the matter is, no matter how hard we try, we can not stop determined terrorists. Having a database of attack ideas will not help (wouldn't hurt either, the terrorists can think for themselves). There are countless things a terrorist could do that we could not stop. Other countries have been dealing with terrorists for decades, and it has simply become a way of life for them. Perhaps if people see all the things terrorist could do, they will stop cowering under their beds and stop demanding solutions that will not work.

    The advantage I see to the database, is that people will eventually come up with ideas to make the terrorists not so determined, or even not motivated at all. After all, the real goal is to not have terrorists in the first place, isn't it?

    I have been thinking about writing an article on how the U.S. constitution brilliantly deals with domestic situations, but falls flat on its face when dealing with foreign affairs. What do you think?

    [ Parent ]

    Tempting (4.50 / 6) (#6)
    by Phage on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 01:47:17 AM EST

    But I would guess that many proposed attacks would be against indefensible targets. Indefensible at least, if you want to maintain any personal freedoms at all. Accordingly, such an open forum would do more harm than good.

    You cannot guard all the water supplies, you cannot guard all the hospitals, you cannot guard all the people and all the buildings all of the time.

    There was a previous story in which the best proposed solution was to educate people. Give the CDC increased funding, educate the health and emergency workers in what to look for in Bio/Chemical attacks and perhaps we can limit the damage of the next one, because I don't beleive that anyone has the power to stop it.

    I agree that the best defence would be to improve the lines of communication between critical personnel, the military, police, emergency workers, teachers etc. A forum could be held, but don't make it open, or if it is to be open, let every person who contributes stand up and be recognised...

    I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.

    Power lines (3.83 / 6) (#12)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 04:39:36 AM EST

    I've often thought that the most vulnerable part of our modern civilisation is our power distribution system. Thousands of metal pylons, any one of which can be bought down by a few ounces of plastic explosive in the right place. They are impossible to guard, and here in the UK I suspect it would only take a dozen or so in the right places to disable the power supply system. They can be put back up in a day or two, but in that day or two the terrorists could destroy another dozen somewhere else.

    Without mains electricity nothing moves. Petrol pumps need electricity, as do the tills that take the money. So people start running out of petrol almost immediately and after a week or so everybody is out.

    Supermarkets keep a day or two of food in stock. No lorries means no food.

    (Actually over here in the UK we came very close to this scenario when tanker drivers blockaded the refineries, but they stopped when they realised just how much damage they were about to cause).

    An alternative scenario has lots of little power cuts instead of one big one, but going on for much longer. A town or a city goes without power for a couple of days. Then the same thing happens somewhere else. People are going to get tired of that pretty fast.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

    Not a problem (3.50 / 2) (#15)
    by DoubleEdd on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:03:27 AM EST

    I suspect it would only take a dozen or so in the right places to disable the power supply system.

    You might be able to stop power to homes but anywhere vaguely important will have backup generators or can have portable generators installed quickly. It would be an inconvenience, but not a danger.

    Portable generators keep pumps running for emergency services and we're fine, just like we were during the blockades - which also wouldn't work for long since the military would move in against any such actions stemming from terrorist actions (rather than angry civilians - they would have stopped before endangering life).

    Tills can be replaced by locked boxes and battery-powered calculators. Slower, but still do-able.

    There might be a run on camping lanterns etc. but this really is no significant threat to civilisation or life.

    [ Parent ]

    Fuel (4.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:48:01 AM EST

    And how do you get the fuel to these emergency generators? They are pretty thirsty beasts, and with no electricity there are no refineries running, which means we fall back on stocks of ready-refined fuel, which will last a week or so. Paul.
    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]
    Its a refinery! (2.00 / 1) (#28)
    by DoubleEdd on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:58:51 AM EST

    All they need is to get the generators running and they provide the power to refine more fuel!

    Its bound to work, because if it didn't fossil fuel would be to costly in terms of energy to be worth producing, and that clearly isn't the case.

    [ Parent ]

    Generators and refineries (4.00 / 1) (#37)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:56:18 AM EST

    But from what I recall most large generation plants are not next door to the refineries. Oil-fired backup generators for a large refinery could be built, but not as an emergency measure once the power cuts have started.

    Or maybe the refineries already have backup generators of this sort. I must admit I'm not familiar with this area of engineering.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    Re: Generators and Refineries (none / 0) (#96)
    by vectro on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 11:12:09 PM EST

    Admittedly I'm speaking from a position of ignorance here. I am under the impression that starting up and shuting down refineries is a long and expensive process, so I would expect that they do have backup power already.

    It makes sense; after all, there is ample supply of energy, they just need the generators.

    “The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
    [ Parent ]
    You would be surprised.... (3.00 / 1) (#47)
    by Your Mom on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:26:09 AM EST

    My Dad works in the switching/distrobution nerve center for the power company that serves DC. I was at home visiting him this weekend, and hung out at work with him for a few hours and we were chatting about how difficult it would be to bring down the supply to the district, the level of interconnection to get power from point A to point B is pretty sophisticated.

    "As far as I'm concerned, Osama bin Laden can eat a dick." -trhurler
    [ Parent ]
    Terrorist Goals (4.57 / 7) (#14)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 05:01:07 AM EST

    Never forget that for a terrorist merely killing people is not an end in itself. They want to achieve some political goal and the killing is merely a means to an end.

    Actually I suspect that there are terrorists who get so caught up in the bloody day to day business of killing that they lose sight of the long term goal. But the smart ones won't, and they tend to be the kind that cause the biggest problems in the long term.

    So where does, say, a suitcase nuke fit into this. Sure you could cause a lot of terror if you had one. Detonate one in New York and then announce that your other 20 nukes are hidden in 20 other US cities set to go off at some point in the next year, or when tampered with. The urban population of the US will flee and the authorities will go nuts hunting for nukes that don't exist.

    But does this further your political goals? The basic modus operandi of all successful terrorist movements has been to make lots of trouble for the enemy population whilst cultivating as much support as possible from potential friends, especially the enemies of your enemy. But if you are too good at killing people then this breaks down. Your friends repudiate you and your enemy starts to consider you a real threat instead of a nuisance.

    bin Laden seems to have crossed this line merely by knocking down 3 buildings. Imagine what would happen if he used a nuke?

    Also remember that every government in the world has its own malcontents to deal with. If someone nukes a city anywhere, rulers everywhere will say "there but for the grace of <deity> go I". This will be a powerful incentive to get behind a world wide movement to catch the perpetrators and deal with them publicly, alongside anyone who aided them.

    You can bet that terrorist movements everywhere are watching current events with great interest. Hopefully they are learning. In recent years there has been an increasing movement to negotiate settlements with terrorist movements. In the short term this has led to the upside of fewer people being killed. But the downside is that terrorism might start to look more attractive as a means of causing political change. The War Against Terrorism is showing terrorists the downside of being too good at the killing part: sooner or later you give your enemy a black eye instead of a mosquito bite, and he gets out the Big Stick.

    So paradoxically I'm not as worried as I was about nuclear terrorism. Sure you can kill a lot of people with a nuke, but you don't acheive anything by doing so.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

    Depends on your aims. (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by bil on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:29:05 AM EST

    The basic modus operandi of all successful terrorist movements has been to make lots of trouble for the enemy population whilst cultivating as much support as possible from potential friends, especially the enemies of your enemy.

    Thats one tactic. Another is to provoke the enemy government into a response that is so drastic that they end up completly losing the support of their own population, thus destroying the government. Its less far fetched then that might sound. Blow up one nuke in a major city to proove you can and send a message saying you will do it again if your demands aren't met. The government either gives in to your demands (unlikely) or launches a massive hunt for the terrorists (who may or may not exist it dosn't really matter), interning people without trial, searching premises without warrents, arresting suspects almost at random, passing emergancy powers, ID cards, stop and search, denial of free speach to critics, etc etc. Eventually the country becomes a police state by default (you will probably need to carry out a few more acts of terrorism to encourage them, but these dont have to be nuclear, unless you want them to be of course). The country destroys everything it belives in, and then tears itself apart and you win.

    Think of the film "The Siege" where a few bombs lead to the entire Arab population of the city being interned, and widespread disgust by the ordinary people.

    How likely is this to happen? Well it would take a fair amount of skill, and its definatly not a quick option, so you'd have to be patient, the government involved has to be one can be relied on to over react, and of course it only works if collapsing the government is part of your aims, but its certainly feasible.


    Where you stand depends on where you sit...
    [ Parent ]

    Relies on disproportionate response (4.50 / 2) (#21)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:22:02 AM EST

    The scenario you describe relies on the government being seen to have responded in a disproportionate manner.

    However when this occurs in history it rarely, if ever, leads to the fall of the government in question. Four historical incidents that occur to me are the internment of Boer farmers in the Boer war by the British, the internment of Japanese Americans in WW2 by the US, the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis in WW2, and the internment of Northern Irish Catholics by the British in the 1970s (you'd think we would learn!). Today essentially the same tactic is being used by Israel to "contain" their Palestinian population, and similar but less drastic measures are being used to "manage" asylum seekers in the UK.

    In every case except the Jews (who only posed a threat to the state in the minds of the Nazis), internment and massive infringement of civil liberties against "them" has no impact on "us". As long as the majority of people see "them" as the enemy and "us" as being protected from "them" they will put up with huge invasions of civil liberties.

    Perhaps the most remarkable example of this mentality was Nazi Germany. The Nazis created a system in which everyone spied on their neighbours, and were encouraged to report "suspicious" behaviour. Rumour and gossip thus became the pretext for many thousands of non-Jewish German people to be carted off to concentration camps. But the majority of Germans felt safer, because only "they" were being taken in order to safeguard "us". Of course many of these people were subsequently arrested, but in the minds of everyone else that was fine, because getting arrested automatically made you one of "them" instead of one of "us".

    In the other cases I have cited the extreme measures against a particular segment of the population greately aided recruitment by the terrorists/resistance/whatever, but unless you can persuade the rest of the population that the crackdown is unjustified and morally wrong then you won't get anywhere.

    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    No one ever said it was easy!! (none / 0) (#36)
    by bil on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:49:00 AM EST

    All of your examples had a clearly definable "them" who could be turned into an enemy. For this strategy to work you need to avoid this (or have an "us" that belives in fairness to "them" which isn't likely) so that any attempts to stop the terrorists have to effect the whole population equally, or at least a large proportion of them so that everyone is either directly effected, or knows someone who is.

    I first saw this strategy explained in relation to the Baader-Meinhof (I think) group in Germany whose terrorist campaign was designed to draw the government into an over reaction and reveal its fascist roots (they belived many in the government were associtated with the Nazi regime and therefore were fascists with a thin veneer of democracy to divert public opinion). The terrorists were German so could not be singled out as "them" by any restrictive laws. Of course this didn't stop them getting caught by the German police.


    Where you stand depends on where you sit...
    [ Parent ]

    GAH! (none / 0) (#59)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:34:43 PM EST

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "SUITCASE NUKE"! At least not one you'd have to worry about. While it might be possible to build a nuke to fit into a suitcase it would have shit for yield and would take 3 men to carry. Hardly inconspicuous. And given the cost of acquisition (buying it from russia or making it yourself are going to be damn expensive, and hard) you're better off with a truck full of HE. Throw in some radioactives and you'd start a great panic, for 20 minutes.

    People have a misconception of the power of a nuclear device; any bomb you can smuggle into the US isn't going to fit that conception, so they won't believe the claim that the explosion was nuclear, while a conventional+radiation bomb would fit that conception but wouldn't fool the experts, who could calm the populace down.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]

    Device Yield (4.00 / 1) (#66)
    by Bad Harmony on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 03:27:36 PM EST

    There are some nuclear artillery shells with good yields. For example the W33, an 8" artillery shell with a 5-40 kiloton yield, only weighs 240 lbs. There are other weapons that weigh much less, although with severely reduced yields. See the FAS list of U.S. nuclear weapons.

    No, it isn't going to fit in a suitcase, but it could be transported in a small crate inside a car or small truck. I've seen thermonuclear gravity bombs that would easily fit in the back of a SUV.

    5440' or Fight!
    [ Parent ]

    True (none / 0) (#67)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 04:02:15 PM EST

    But a crate sitting around would be suspicious, plus all the high-yield devices are Plutonium-implosion, which is DAMN hard to build, and probably watched very carefully. Also, a ground level detonation would be much less destructive than what's on the FAS site, since that's based on a 10,000' airburst.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    But this would work... (none / 0) (#74)
    by cryosis on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:42:20 PM EST

    Making two assumptions here:

    1) That you have followers that are willing to die.
    2) That at least one of them has a license to fly a small plane.

    After that, all you have to do is load aquired nuke into plane, take off, find a major city that has an airport near downtown (Chicago is like this, I belive) and fly right past it into downtown at a decent altitude. Boom. There's you're airbone explosion.

    [ Parent ]
    Maybe (3.00 / 1) (#77)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:46:36 PM EST

    But the probable scenario would involve gun-type uranium bombs, which are much heavier than the small bombs governments make, and have a smaller yield. I'm certain that both the US and Russia know exactly where each of their weapons is at all times. I don't think the Russian military is so bad, or has such corrupt officers that they'd sell a nuclear device for killing civilians.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    Not true (5.00 / 1) (#76)
    by trhurler on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:15:13 PM EST

    In the 1960s, the US deployed the Mk-54. Reworked for the space constraints of a suitcase rather than those of a freefall bomb or a warhead, it could easily be fitted to a suitcase, weighs less than 60lbs, and has a yield in some configurations as high as 250 tons.

    The practical upper limit of modern technology is somewhere around six kilotons yield per two pounds of mass, but that's thermonuclear. A fission only device might achieve something more like 1% of that, giving a 60lb bomb perhaps upwards of 3.5 kilotons yield if designed and built using the best technology available to the best weapons designers. If we choose to be more conservative(far more conservative, really,) it is not unreasonable to expect that a 75-100lb device might achieve a 1 kiloton yield, which is more than high enough to create a really neat domino effect in a downtown area, killing tens of thousands and doing billions in damage.

    Terrorists probably can't get such technology, but even if all they could get was the relatively low yield of the more primitive variants of the Mk-54(10-20 tons,) they'd only have to use it once to cause more harm than any non-governmental entity has ever been able to inflict in human history. The idea that they can't do this, that nowhere in the world are there people who would do such a thing, is a comfortable one, but is it a fantasy?

    If that doesn't scare you, think about this: the former USSR produced huge numbers of tactical nukes, including ones designed to be carried by one or two man teams, and fired from relatively conventional artillery pieces or simply dropped, armed, and run away from. In some places, records were lost to an extent such that they might not even know if a few of these were missing. Soviet technology might not have been as good as US technology, but close DOES count in nuclear warfare, just as with hand grenades. There's no reason to believe they managed to keep ahold of all of them.

    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    Where are you getting that info? (5.00 / 1) (#80)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:36:17 PM EST

    According to the FAS the MK-54 and the MK-54 SADM weighed 50-150lbs and had yields of 20-1000T, respectivly. That's 15 times smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, not counting the airburst "bonus". When you consider that concrete structures were still standing in Hiroshima and the damage was mostly due to the heat-pulse triggered firestorm(this info is from a grandparent who went through the town while in the occupation force) my assertion that a nuclear device wouldn't be worth the trouble to acquire still stands.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    Containerisation (none / 0) (#83)
    by Paul Johnson on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 05:45:31 AM EST

    True, but irrelevant.

    In reality, as others have pointed out, a crude device with a yield of several kilotons would not fit in a suitcase. If I wanted to get such a device into New York I would load it into a container (i.e. one of those big metal boxes that all cargo gets shipped in these days) and send it to New York by the cheapest and most inconspicuous route, probably a small cargo vessel. It could be triggered by timer, GPS receiver, or just booby trapped to go off when some unfortunate customs officer gets suspicious about it.

    The neat thing is that a nuke will vapourise any evidence for miles around, so nobody will have any clear idea how it got there afterwards. The best they could do would be to pin Ground Zero down to the docks. The records of which ship was where will no longer exist, making it hard to trace the device back.
    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    Not true. (5.00 / 2) (#90)
    by physicsgod on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 01:34:47 AM EST

    The amount of vaporisation is very limited, the fireball, which does the vaproising, is only 1,550' across at maximum for a 20kt yield. If a nuke were set off in New York harbor it would probably break every window in the city, knock down a few blocks nearest the harbor, and kill a few thousand people (mostly from flying shards of glass). The flash patterns in the sidewalks and walls would enable investigators to locate the center of the blast to the pier. The records, being inside, would probably survive the blast, as would the portion of the ship underwater. This would provide enough evidence to get started.

    All of this goes to my point about nukes: The public has a severe misconception about the power of The Bomb. Any device a NGO or developing nation could develop(especially considering a groundburst) wouldn't fit into that conception, and any claims of its nature would be dismissed. The devices that could fit that conception (>500kt) are VERY few in number, VERY hard to get, and a royal bitch to move around.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]

    Economical ruin? (5.00 / 1) (#70)
    by aralin on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 05:52:57 PM EST

    One attack like this has cost USA so far over 200 billions dollars. If one city would be nuked and 20 others evacuated and most of population would be in panic fleeling from ALL bigger cities in the country, the economical impact would be so great, that there would hardly be $10 left for the military budget. Which could mean reaching a lot of the goals of terrorists.

    [ Parent ]
    Assumes a fact not in evidence (none / 0) (#95)
    by vectro on Wed Oct 17, 2001 at 11:07:36 PM EST

    You say "bin Laden seems to have crossed this line merely by knocking down 3 buildings." Perhaps you possess evidence I do not regarding his guilt in these attacks?

    “The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
    [ Parent ]
    Foot & Mouth (4.40 / 5) (#17)
    by codemonkey_uk on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:17:55 AM EST

    Visit one 3rd world contry. Find one F&M infected cow. Infect a selection of rags with it. Seal rags in plastic bags. Distribute across rural America, specifically, at cattle markets. Sit back and watch the infection spread.

    Safe, low human cost, low risk of capture. High economic impact.
    "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell

    3rd world? (4.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Afty on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:29:49 AM EST

    I'm assuming from your codemonkey_uk moniker you will already know that the UK has a nasty case of Foot and Mouth, and has had for some time, resulting in nasty economical effects upon many industries.

    Now under control, but not ended, it did hit hard in both an economic, and morale-depressing sense.

    [ Parent ]
    Foot & Mouth in the UK (none / 0) (#25)
    by codemonkey_uk on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:27:43 AM EST

    While the the UK may be in the grip of a Foot & Mouth outbreak, getting hold of an infected cow is actually very difficult, and risky.
    "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
    [ Parent ]
    No it isn't (3.00 / 1) (#32)
    by streetlawyer on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:32:52 AM EST

    If you have fifty quid, and you're prepared to deal with yokels, I could get you one by Wednesday week. They're selling them on the black market to get the subsidies.

    Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
    [ Parent ]
    If you say so (none / 0) (#33)
    by codemonkey_uk on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:37:14 AM EST

    Of course, I knew it was possible, but I didn't think it would be *that* easy.

    You got a source/link to back that up?
    "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
    [ Parent ]

    source yes; link, no (4.00 / 1) (#34)
    by streetlawyer on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:40:13 AM EST

    Relatives of mine in the yokel trade have been offered them. AFAIK, there is no web ecommerce portal for them as yet. But the Independent (IIRC, poss Telegraph) has covered the story.

    Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
    [ Parent ]
    Message in the act (2.00 / 1) (#44)
    by bigdavex on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:58:06 AM EST

    I don't think that fits in the message they're sending. They want to destroy the audacious symbols of corporate and military America. They don't want to screw with the farmers; it's the wrong sort of PR.

    [ Parent ]
    Irrelevant (none / 0) (#48)
    by codemonkey_uk on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:27:27 AM EST

    The whole point of this excersize is the assess what a terrorist (not nesseserly Bin Laden et al) can do. This is something that they can do. And therfore might do.
    "The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
    [ Parent ]
    rtfa (none / 0) (#57)
    by bigdavex on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 01:59:48 PM EST

    Here's bullet #1 from the article:
    What's the most likely response strike the US (or the world) faces from Osama bin Laden?

    [ Parent ]
    Size (none / 0) (#52)
    by ucblockhead on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 12:41:27 PM EST

    While this would certainly cause problems, keep in mind that the cattle raising areas of the US are vast, so the disease would not speard over the whole country near so fast as a physically small country like England.

    But I think the reason that this won't happen is exactly the reasons you least. These guys want a high human cost and don't entirely understand "economic impact".
    This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
    [ Parent ]

    Not only that.. (none / 0) (#61)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:41:54 PM EST

    But as someone else mentioned the ranching areas of the country are vast, also US farmers are very aware of disease, to the point of you don't visit someone else's farm in your yard boots (and you have spare boots for visitors). The farmers and the USDA also have a very good relationship that's been cultured over the years, to the point that a USDA quarantine of a farm wouldn't elicit a "damn gub'mint" responce, but a "damn Bill, that sucks, anything we can do to help out?"

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    $100000 and a fanatical devotion to the cause (3.75 / 4) (#20)
    by bil on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:04:35 AM EST

    Ok if I had $100000 and was a commited bin-laden man I would be putting together lots of bombs which I would pack with nails (for optimal anti-personnel effect) and then I would plant them in some nice public places, probably rail stations. I would then set them off during rush hour to ensure maximum casualties and shock value, if hijacking four planes can devestate the air industries, and one attack can bring buses to a halt, what could a concerted attack on rail transport do?

    Alternativly I could plant bombs along major (and very busy) roads, mix in a decent number of hoax calls and laugh while the police cripple their own cities by closing the major transport infrastructure while they search for (mostly nonexistant) bombs.

    Neither plan can be guarded against without extreme measures, neither puts me at much risk, both cause disruption and panic far outweighing the damage and loss of life they cause, and both will get worldwide TV coverage without provoking the same worldwide outrage that the WTC attacks caused. Of course if I had a few fellow terrorists to help me then we could hit several cities at the same time...


    Where you stand depends on where you sit...

    This was the IRA strategy (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Paul Johnson on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:17:44 AM EST

    This was the IRA strategy during the 70s and 80s. They even hit railway stations, along with many other places that people congregate, like Harrods during December. I don't think they went in for lots of false alarms, but they didn't need to. Lots of people thought it was funny to phone in a false bomb scare against some organisation they didn't like.

    It didn't work. People got angry, but the nearest we got to mass violation of civil liberties was the Anti-Terrorism act. (In NI itself we tried Internment, which predictably backfired).

    The problem is that you can't even kill as many people as road accidents do. Until you can reach that level of risk for the entire population you are just background noise. Never mind terror, just making people nervous is an uphill struggle.

    Of course false alarms tend to be expensive and inconvenient. But after half a dozen of them the authorities will put together a rapid response system to check out the areas at high speed, after which the effectiveness of your tactic drops rapidly. False alarms are a kind of force multiplier: a few false alarms can double the impact of a single bomb. But if you try to spread the real bombs too thinly amongst false alarms the authorities will eventually stop responding.

    And it is actually quite difficult to plant bombs in UK cities these days and get away with it. A couple of years ago we had a lone white supremacist who planted nail bombs in asian areas and one gay pub. After bomb no 3 (the pub) he was arrested and imprisoned. Closed circuit TV may be questionable from the civil liberties point of view, but it is effective at catching terrorists.
    You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
    [ Parent ]

    Nothing new under the sun. (4.00 / 2) (#31)
    by bil on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:28:20 AM EST

    This was the IRA strategy during the 70s and 80s. ...

    Amongst others.

    It didn't work.

    You obviously wern't in Birmingham (thats the English version, nowhere near Alabama) when the IRA bombed the M6 (1997). It was complete chaos, with the main motorway closed the city descended into gridlock and journeys that should have taken 30 minutes ended up taking four or five hours. The effect was caused by a few bombs placed along side the road, and several false alarms. Very effective, very cheap. It caused no injuries, no deaths, very little physical damage but huge economic consequences.

    Attacking stations would be similar, you would cause deaths but mostly you are causing huge disruption and economic damage. If you can persuade people that the trains are unsafe, a month after doing the same for the airlines, then the country ceases to travel. Again, huge economic consequences. Thinking about it you might be better off blowing up trains on the move rather then the stations.

    The problem is that you can't even kill as many people as road accidents do. Until you can reach that level of risk for the entire population you are just background noise. Never mind terror, just making people nervous is an uphill struggle.

    No. Peoples perception of risk is very weird. Even now you have a greater chance of dying on the roads then you do in an airliner but its airlines that are seeing the reduction in passengers.

    I was working from the point of view of a lone terrorist who wanted to cause the maximum possible damage before being caught, in which case no, you cant cause more deaths then car accidents, but you can induce a huge increase in the perception of risk and use this to cause damage bith to the economics, and the morale of a country. For this the fear of a bomb is as good as a bomb itself, as long as the false alarm is belivable then it too causes damage (although you have to keep it belivable by using real bombs as well).

    I guess it all comes down to what the terrorists went to achieve, if you want chaos, fear, and economic damage then my ideas work. If you want to cause maximum loss of life then its back to trying to buy nukes.


    Where you stand depends on where you sit...
    [ Parent ]

    Why stations? (none / 0) (#88)
    by davidduncanscott on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 04:56:24 PM EST

    I ride the local commuter train a couple of times a week. The station seems reasonably well protected against a truck bomb, they tell me that the engineers are isolated and that it would be nearly impossible to hijack the train into a major building, and I can't help feeling like it's totally irrelevant.

    For the explosives it would take to blow up Penn Station, I'd bet I could derail twenty trains. It would be low-risk (you don't have to hang around and wait for the train to come by -- just use a magnetic detonator), low-cost (enough Semtex to cut a rail), and equally effective against passenger and freight trains (let's see -- drop the Metroliner off a bridge, or crack open those LPG tankers? Everything looks so good...) It's a classic geurilla / terrorist act, and short of constant patrols of all that rail (225,750 km, according to the ever-invaluable CIA Factbook) I can't imagine it's easy to fight.

    What the hell -- they must show Lawrence of Arabia in Arabia.

    [ Parent ]

    I don't like the idea (4.00 / 4) (#26)
    by Lupo on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:38:03 AM EST

    I'm voting this up in the hopes of sparking some more discussion about it.

    I really don't like the idea. Firstly, you assume that we can work out countermeasures. If, as the article says, Tom Clancy had the discussion with a think tank general, and he took it to work with him, they obviously didn't find a solution. 11/09/2001 happened.

    Since the attack I have not seen a single idea that could have stopped the attack. A determined fanatic can still get control of an aircraft. Yes, now there is a better chance of passenger retaliation, but it is still doable. It may take 5 years and a pilots licence but it is doable.

    The other reason that I don't like the idea is that the world is full of assholes. You're going to find that the information database will become useless without massive amounts of moderation. The kiddies will run riot over it.

    I also take issue with some of your statements :
    Potentially. In the open source software world Apache and BSD-style licenses can't distinguish between uses for good or evil, neither could this free exchange of ideas distinguish among its users.

    When Apache is used for evil, it doesn't kill 6000 people and spark a war. Sure, it can play a part by distributing information, but it's not a weapon all by itself. I guess a BSD derivative could be used to guide a missile, but again, it's not the direct cause of the pain. Just my 2p.
    -- Wayne Pascoe I'm only in this job until an opening comes up in the fast food business...

    Maybe not so bad (5.00 / 3) (#43)
    by leifb on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:55:51 AM EST

    Firstly, you assume that we can work out countermeasures...
    Actually, I wouldn't assume that at all. Rather than a weakness, that may be the greatest strength.

    First of all, terrorists are always going to be able to think of means of attack that can't be counteracted. The world is too dangerous to prevent that, and a society like ours has too many vulnerabilities. We put our children together in large schools. We ship our goods on highways. We work together in office buildings. Thousands of people drink water from the same supplies. Any concentration of people is vulnerable.

    And while McVeigh's truck full of fertilizer wasn't enough to knock down the McMurrah building, I'm not sure a hijacked 18-wheel tanker of gasoline (or some other volatile substance) would have been so merciful, especially if tampered with.

    At some point, It must become clear that if people are angered in certain ways, they are going to try to retaliate, and eventually, they are going to succeed.

    Most of my fellow Americans seem unable to understand this basic fact. As a result, they don't see that national politics do affect them. Possibly, a public discussion could help counteract this, and the associated political tepidity; but as things stand, too many people are willing to buy cheap foreign petroleum on credit, without considering the amount of the interest.

    [ Parent ]

    And when you put it that way... (none / 0) (#46)
    by Lupo on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:15:17 AM EST

    And I guess when you put it that way, it might show people the futility of their so called attempts to stop a specific kind of attack from happening again. And this in turn would make it harder for the government to scare people into giving up rights or restricting crypto...

    -- Wayne Pascoe I'm only in this job until an opening comes up in the fast food business...
    [ Parent ]
    Old words (none / 0) (#50)
    by leifb on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:54:22 AM EST

    And I guess when you put it that way, it might show people the futility of their so called attempts to stop a specific kind of attack from happening again. And this in turn would make it harder for the government to scare people into giving up rights or restricting crypto...
    I believe this is the underlying meaning of the old maxim about "those who sacrifice a little liberty...".

    Actually, my hopes extend a little further than people not sacrificing their essential freedoms: Any truly worthwhile political undertaking is guaranteed to make someone angry, perhaps even angry enough to kill. That does not make the task less worthwhile. Eventually, I would like to see a civilization grounded in that understanding, a society willing to evaluate its luxuries and privileges in terms of those costs, and citizens who are willing to accept the implied responsibility and when necessary, to make the requisite sacrifices.

    The United States was founded amid rhetoric that violence is sometimes neccesary to the maintenance of liberty, and that liberty is worth that cost. At the same time, the framers of the Constitution acknowledged that good men may reach different conclusions from the same facts, even about the state of Liberty and threats to it. Taken together, these imply that the United States (and any free society) should be in a constant state of civil war, as reasonable men take it upon themselves to ensure freedom.

    There lies your revolution every thirty years, and there lies your eternal vigilance.

    But I think that we - as a nation - do not have the stomach for that.

    [ Parent ]

    you know.. (2.66 / 3) (#27)
    by lucid on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:52:33 AM EST

    I'm not afraid of the sleeper for Osama bin Laden who wants ten suitcase nukes, I'm afraid of the sleeper for Osama bin Laden who only wants one.

    Ha. Ha. Ha.

    Anyhow, with this terrorism bit, it would seem to me that the object is to do whatever would affect the largest number of the target population the most, with the least amount of money, and/or other resources. For example, I feel it is fairly safe to say that blowing up the White House wouldn't necessarily achieve that goal. It wouldn't directly effect everyone in the country. Doing something about the oil supply, however, would. Say putting one of those suitcases on that big pipe in Alaska, or wherever that National Oil Reserve is would probably a good target. Just guesses, tho.

    How about the capitol building? (none / 0) (#40)
    by roystgnr on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:39:30 AM EST

    Do you think the indefinite institution of martial law would effect everyone in the country?

    If someone severs our oil supply, the result will be an economically crippled America... but I at least have faith that it will continue to resemble America.

    [ Parent ]

    well.. (none / 0) (#79)
    by lucid on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:00:20 PM EST

    Everybody goes for the Capitol Building. I wanted to go a different route. How about some of those offshore oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico? I can't imagine they're particularly high-security. Well, I can imagine, but I don't imagine that they are.

    Anyways, my main point was that 'good' terrorism really shouldn't target huge numbers of people in a deadly way, because that only pisses off the survivors. And with terrorism being what it is, that will usually be a large number of survivors. Keep your target alive, because you want them on your side in the end. At least, I think.

    [ Parent ]
    offshore platforms (none / 0) (#82)
    by mimon on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 02:34:21 AM EST

    Well, the GoM platforms would indeed be relatively vulnerable to attack if you could get near them in a small boat or plane (I design these things for a living) ... but you lose visibility of impact. Still, trying to take out the jacket (substructure) would probably be harder than you think - these things are designed to RSR (reserve strength ratio) criteria that require you to check progressive collapse in overload, checking strength with various members taken out - doing one of those analyses right now, or at least I'm supposed to be ...

    Mind you, some of these have well in excess of 100 people living on them (Shell's Bullwinkle, etc.). Look up info on the Piper A disaster off the UK (Cullen Report) to check out what happens when you get a large gas riser (16" ?) alight. The platform topsides, basically a multi-storey oil processing facility, disappeared overnight, and over 150 people were killed. Some of the big facilities in the Norwegian sector have more than 200 people (Troll, Asgard, etc.).

    Economic impact is substantial, with some facilities heading towards the billion dollar mark in capital cost, but there are thousands of facilities out there of all shapes and sizes, so you may need to hit more than one to have a substantial impact.

    i'm thinking about creating a pro-MS discussion site ... maybe I'll call it \.
    [ Parent ]
    Nuclear devices (3.75 / 4) (#29)
    by DoubleEdd on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:13:29 AM EST

    Nuclear bombs probably aren't the most likely nuclear device to be used by a terrorist. Given a supply of relatively low grade nuclear material a conventional explosion to distribute fragments over a large area would cause a respectable amount of panic and the like. Think of Chernobyl - it didn't vapourise many people, if any, but the panic and long term damage is almost incalculable.

    It might be hard to get hold of a megaton device but how hard is it to irradiate large numbers of people? Still hard I'll bet (virtually all significant radioactive sources are strictly controlled - here in the UK even tiny sources in schools are licensed and regulated) but its more likely than the kind of bomb that flattens large areas.

    Chernobyl (none / 0) (#62)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:50:08 PM EST

    Wasn't that bad. 31 people died rather soon after the incident. Another 11 exposed have died since then, but only 2 of those died from anything possibly radiation related. The rest were heart attacks/strokes. Yes there's a large quarantine area but that's because the USSR and Russia don't have the money for a proper cleanup. In farmland you'd have to dig up a couple meters of soil and replace it (or grow tobacco and bury the crop), in a city you'd just have to wash everything into the sewers, which would dilute things to background pretty quick.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    I gotta say... (3.50 / 4) (#30)
    by RareHeintz on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:14:42 AM EST

    This is really taking security through openness (as diametrically opposed to security through obscurity) to its logical limit. I'm sure opinions will vary on whether it's a great plan or a reductio ad absurdum. It's a pretty bold idea, really.

    I think the primary obstacle to implementation would be the new restrictions on free speech (at least if you were to base it in the U.S.), and the primary obstacle to effectiveness would be getting the right people to take notice - that is, those in charge of relevant security measures. (I imagine it being pretty easy to get the wrong people to notice - that is, law enforcers willing to throw you in jail for exchanging ideas.)

    As to your questions, in order:

    • We won't see it coming, nor will it necessarily be from OBL himself.
    • If I were OBL right now? 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
    • 3 each in DC, NY, LA, and Disney World. (Redundancy, redunancy, redundancy.) Targets: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Empire State Building, the Oscars, and the Magic Kingdom in late August, respectively. Perhaps secondary, contingency targets as well.
    • That one requires more thought than I have time for right now - gotta get to work.
    • Yes.
    - B
    http://www.bradheintz.com/ - updated kind of daily
    Business Continuity Planning (3.33 / 3) (#35)
    by elliotj on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:44:21 AM EST

    Effectively, the call here is for an open discussion about business continuity planning on a national or international scale. What are the threats? What are the risks? What are the possible responses? I suspect this is a large part of the day-to-day thinking done by agencies like FEMA (or at least I hope so).

    I'm also stuck between thinking this is a good idea and a bad idea. I think as long as Hollywood and popular novelists are publishing stories to do with terrorism, the threat of an idea making it into the public is present. This goes hand in hand with certain liberties that the west values and will be unwilling to revoke. So, I think the danger present in an open exchange of ideas is not a good enough reason to decide against such a project.

    On the other hand, publishing our weaknesses in a central place is probably not desirable. Otherwise, wouldn't FEMA, the CIA, FBI etc all have websites encouraging commentary on national security problems about which they are concerned? Why give your enemy a leg up? Why let them know what will and won't work against your current state of readiness?

    I think, therefore, a more valuable discussion might center on the creation of infrastructure redundancy. A lot of ideas I've read here already involve the interruption of transportation, power and fuel systems. Work should be done to ensure such vital organs are as protected as possible from single points of failure. Useful ideas will describe how to recover from losing a power plant or pipeline or major highway.

    As we've so recently seen, killing people is horrendously easy. To protect against such threats without damaging civil liberties will be an ongoing uphill battle. But we should not forget that people are resilient and our liberal societies have faced tragedy in the past and grown stronger from the experience.

    We may never be able to completely stop terrorists from taking lives, so the emphasis should be on stopping them from taking our countries and freedoms - our ways of life.

    -- e.j.
    Failure of Imagination (4.60 / 5) (#38)
    by redelm on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:12:30 AM EST

    I very much like the idea behind this thread. We continually suffer events we didn't anticipate more than defenses that fail. The failing is in imagination, not execution. No surprise, considering that many of our institutions (politics & business) are conservative bureaucracies designed to do something rather than find something good to do.

    As for openly talking about it, I will not underestimate the intelligence of adversaries. Just because they are poor doesn't mean they are stupid. They may have more time for thought. Furthermore, confining discussion to official channels does nothing but stifle it when I believe we have a failure of imagination.

    For suitcase nukes, I presume we are talking about fission-only devices around 15 kt. Bigger thermonukes ~1 Mt have different tactics. The blast from these small devices isn't huge, so to maximize damage, you have to detonate them at elevation in a densely populated area. Near the top of a building in midtown Manhattan, downtown Chicago, LosAngeles, Houston, Boston, etc would fit this profile. And/or you could use the device into a radiological weapon to contaminate high-occupancy downwind areas.

    But frankly, nukes don't scare me as much as other simpler Bio/Chem attacks. The suitcase scenario has been thought over quite a bit already. Radiation sweeps are just not that tough to do. But how do you stop a bio attack that spreads an infectious agent into an aircraft/terminal/building ventillation system? Or poisons a widely distributed foodstuff like Aspartame or CocaCola flavor concentrate with a moderate dosage of nerve agent?

    Non-lethal economic attacks also abound. Some are in The Anarchist's Cookbook. Others, like the foot&mouth from other posts or swine flu could be devastating. On a technological front, jumpering transformers at electrical substations could cause major overvoltage damage downwire.

    But the real question is whether the real cost of protecting against these possibilities is greater than the actual damage caused. Fear will cause self-inflicted wounds.

    Suitcase Nuke (4.00 / 1) (#45)
    by Morel on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:11:21 AM EST

    Speaking of suitcase nukes and Tom Clancy, there is another chilling scenario in one of his books:

    Park a CBS van with a tactical nuclear warhead in the Super Bowl parking lot. Wait until halftime, when EVERYONE is watching, and boom!

    If, from a terrorist point of view, the WTC attack was a work of art, blowing up a hundred thousand people attending the single most important sporting event in the U.S. must be even better.


    [ Parent ]
    Watching? (2.00 / 1) (#54)
    by cpt kangarooski on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 01:21:04 PM EST

    Wouldn't that take out the cameras too? Or did it get recorded by the blimp crew?

    All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
    [ Parent ]
    Super Bowl (3.50 / 2) (#55)
    by titivillus on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 01:27:22 PM EST

    The problem with this is that only people in the city of the Super Bowl would see the explosion, as the explosion would instantly incinerate the blimp and the cameras, as well as the arena.

    The World Trade Center stood high on tip of the island that contains either the main studios or major branches of all major news channels. The first airplane got their attention, so everyone had their cameras on it. And everyone could get their cameras on it because the World Trade Center stood high. And once everyone had their cameras one the one burning tower, the second airplane hit the other tower, allowing the act of terrorism to be seen, again and again, by the entire world. I don't see how someone could use a suitcase bomb to get anywhere near the effect.

    [ Parent ]
    Why bother with nukes? (none / 0) (#94)
    by Verminator on Sun Oct 14, 2001 at 05:35:20 PM EST

    A dozen suicide bombers with relatively small bombs would be just as effective. Seat them in various locations in the stadium and have the bombs go off in 15 second intervals at halftime.

    The stadium would become a state of panic as people would have no idea where the next explosion would come from. The death toll of the explosions themselves would be relatively small but you're likely to get just as many people killed in the ensuing stampede as everyone rushes to exit the venue. And after all, terror is the goal, not just killing.

    Enough cameras would be left intact to record the entire thing and broadcast it to the entire nation.
    If the whole country is gonna play 'Behind The Iron Curtain,' there better be some fine fucking state subsidized alcohol! And our powerlifting team better kick ass!
    [ Parent ]

    Solutions Database (4.11 / 9) (#41)
    by nodes on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:49:06 AM EST

    How about a solutions database of how to create peace and harmony in the world? Whatever you focus upon expands, so focus on what you want to expand. Check out: Global Ideas Bank We can do better than this. Consider the problem of biological warfare and how we can/should respond to it. Consider a discussion of how to remove the causes of terrorism, such as political, economic and religious domination and how we can respond to prevent terrorism by dealing with its root causes. Steve Moyer ( steve@peaceroom.net )

    Definitely right in one respect (3.75 / 4) (#42)
    by avdi on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:50:27 AM EST

    I find myself agreeing with both sides on this question. I'm not sure whether it would do more harm than good. One thing's for sure, you would need to get the gummint's blessing /before/ you started, or the OHS will shut you down before you can blink.

    Which brings me to the point of this post... whatever the details, the Open Source community in the US /needs/ to start helping Government in areas where there isn't conflict of interest. Right now, many in government regard the OS movement with a certain amount of fear and loathing, thinking we're all a bunch of lawless communist crackers. All they see is illegal downloads from napster, and porn on freenet, and defaced websites, and crypotgraphy that they can't control.

    Regardless of how we feel about the laws surrounding those issues, I don't think we'll ever get heard if we can't show that we can also be productive members of society when given a chance. Now I know, we keep a lot of society running. But people don't /see/ that. They don't /see/ the internet running on OSS. The OS community needs a few high-profile projects in which they are collaborating with government, pouring their considerable talents and distributed development skills into something that the government finds genuinely helpful. Be it coming up with terrorist plots; actively hacking into terrorist communications as an alternative to the government compromising all encrypted communications; or working out new ways of stopping terrorism without restricting civil liberties; the OS movement *needs* to show that they can work constructively on alternative solutions to the nation's troubles, rather than just complaining about our rights being violated.

    Now leave us, and take your fish with you. - Faramir
    Difficult questions (3.50 / 4) (#49)
    by slaytanic killer on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:52:53 AM EST

    Are these questions you would dare to answer using the full power of your intellect, for fear someone might implement them?
    I wrote answers I believe to be nonobvious. With a very good-sounding justification. But I simply can not send it.

    If my ideas are so good, then perhaps I will gravitate to some position where I can affect things directly. Before then though, the idea is too chilling.

    Strong Neighborhoods are the Best Defense (3.25 / 4) (#51)
    by nodes on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 12:31:07 PM EST

    Reference: Strong Neighborhoods are the best defense against terrorism

    In The Book of Future Changes, published by the Institute for Social Inventions in 1988, Conrad Hopman foresaw a future of terrorists with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and described a scenario in which terrorists released 'very poisonous gas in a subway during rush hour. There are several thousand casualties'. But whereas Christopher Andrew in the Times (Mar 22nd '95) argues that 'our best defence against this complex menace is accurate intelligence', Conrad Hopman believed that intelligence would never of itself be enough, and that the surest long-term defence was through creating a just but decentralised neighbourhood-based society in which people would notice and feel motivated to report anything suspicious that was going on. This is something like the system they already have in Japan, where a neighbourhood policeman visits you on a regular basis. Ironically, in Tokyo, this time, these preventative measures did not work, but the Japanese are nevertheless, with their homogenous society and neighbourhood policing, better defended against this new level of terrorism than any other major industrial country. For the West, unless similar decentralist counter-measures are taken, the Tokyo gassing represents the beginning of the end of cities. Within a few years, rural house prices will soar and there will be great pressure for immigration into safer zones such as New Zealand and Australia. In The Book of Visions, published by the Institute in 1993, Fred Allen argued that a further form of national defence would be for each country to make itself as invaluable as possible to the world community, so that no one would wish to destroy it. He suggested that the UK should become a sort of Red Cross centre for the world, with half the UK defence budget spent on medical research and on making advanced medical facilities available to people from abroad. - Conrad Hopman, PO Box 552, Taos, New Mexico 87571, USA.The Book of Future Changes is out of print but his ideas are also found on page 103 of The Book of Visions (Institute for Social Inventions, 1992). - Fred Allen, 13 Shelly Row, Cambridge CR3 OBP.

    Trains ... (4.00 / 5) (#53)
    by joegee on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 12:51:54 PM EST

    They move through the U.S. relatively unimpeded and unsupervised, yet most stop several times during an average trip for inspection. No one can easily or constantly patrol a mile and a half of machine. Recently here in Central Ohio we had a conductorless runaway train that went fifty miles through two larger cities before it was finally stopped.

    Trains are used to transport highly toxic chemicals throughout the U.S. Hopping on one, packing plastique or dynamite in strategic places around a vinyl chloride (or hydrogen cyanide) storage tank, and then overpowering the conductor would be relatively easy.

    Then one has only to quietly coast the train into Chicago, or LA, or New York City, and blow the tank ... It's quite simple. Who is talking about rail safety? Not only public transportation systems can be hijacked ...

    <sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
    The problem. (2.00 / 1) (#63)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:56:02 PM EST

    You said it yourself: If you could just "hop on" a moving train runaways wouldn't happen. And you can patrol 1.5 miles of machinery if it only stops in secure railyards. In other words you don't need to patrol 1.5 miles of moving train, just the 5-10 mile perimeter around where it stops.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    People jump on freight trains all the time ... (5.00 / 1) (#68)
    by joegee on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 04:20:14 PM EST

    "Train-hopping" even has organizational web sites, and its own Yahoo Travel Category - http://dir.yahoo.com/Recreation/Travel/Train_Travel/Train_Hopping/.

    <sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
    [ Parent ]
    Maybe so. (2.00 / 1) (#69)
    by physicsgod on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 04:38:26 PM EST

    But this shows what happens when they get seen. And it'd be hard to plant explosives/take over a train without being seen, much harder than settling down on a junk trian for a ride. Also trains full of chemicals have derailed, dumping thier contents, but the deaths associated with that are rather small.

    --- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
    [ Parent ]
    But when they derail... (4.00 / 2) (#72)
    by cryosis on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:13:33 PM EST

    It's usually only immediate trouble for the people near the tracks. The tanks usually stay intact and the people in the surrounding area usually get evacuated. But if you were to roll the train through town and blow the tanks, there's no time for the evac. You'd get the surrounding area in short time. That's where this would be effective.

    [ Parent ]
    The cars are reinforced ... (5.00 / 1) (#73)
    by joegee on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:22:20 PM EST

    Enough C-4 or thermite can easily be carried on a person to blow a hole in a pressurized gas tanker.

    What I am saying is that trains certainly deserve scrutiny and consideration. Most train derailments have few fatalities because they do not occur near population centers, but as you'll recall a recent derailment *near* the city of Baltimore caused evacuations, concerns of toxic fumes, and the hospitalization of many individuals with respiratory sensitivities.

    An intentional derailment could occur not only near a major population center, but *in* one. Take a look at a listing of disasters involving hazardous chemical transport. Quite a few lethal examples from this page involve trains. Hijacking a train certainly presents not much more technical challenge than hijacking an airplane. Trains routinely stop within a mile of where I live -- I know people who have hopped them and faced no challenge from security personnel, and I have heard of absolutely no changes in train security procedures in the past month.

    As for pictures of railroad security, there were photographs of all sorts of airport security personnel before September 11th, but those photos did absolutely nothing to stop four passenger jets from being commandeered and three of them from being used as piloted missiles.

    The idea is to anticipate scenarios. I maintain that the taking of a freight train is easier than the general public, and quite possibly those who work to defend us would like to acknowledge.

    <sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
    [ Parent ]
    Baltimore (5.00 / 1) (#81)
    by Merk00 on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 12:23:49 AM EST

    That train derailment actually happened in downtown Baltimore City, not near it. While there was concern of gas leakage, most of the problems came from the intense fire caused by the train derailment. The other issue with this is that the derailment took place in a tunnel which made it much harder to approach the derailment.

    "At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
    - FIRST Mission
    [ Parent ]

    I wasn't aware of the tunnel's location (none / 0) (#85)
    by joegee on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 10:41:30 AM EST

    Thanks. :) Then I suspect they are actually lucky it wasn't worse. I'd wager if you checked the train's manifest you'd find that it wasn't carrying the most lethal chemicals, stuff like hydrogen cyanide. I'd bet if it were, barring hydrogen cyanide being destroyed by heat there would have been many more problems.

    <sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
    [ Parent ]
    Hydrochloric Acid (5.00 / 1) (#93)
    by Merk00 on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 11:04:43 PM EST

    They were most afraid of the hydrochloric acid on the train becoming gaseous. The main issue was that the fire made the train hot enough that the cars were actually glowing. So it was overall a rather large mess.

    "At FIRST we see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."
    - FIRST Mission
    [ Parent ]

    Chicago (none / 0) (#89)
    by TheNefariousNoodle on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 07:31:30 PM EST

    Chicago is a good point. When I was there recently (last summer), I went on a boat tour of the rivers and canals of the city, in which we were showen all the arcitechural (sp?) wonders of down-town. One of them was the freight tracks that run underneath some pretty large buildings (one a post office--that's a federal facility...)


    -The Man Too Lazy to Log In
    "Do you have the time/To listen to me whine/About nothing and everything/All at once?" --Green Day, "Basket Case"
    [ Parent ]
    This is coincidental ... (none / 0) (#91)
    by joegee on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 08:56:47 AM EST

    CNN is reporting that all hazardous material shipment by rail was halted three days ago, and has resumed under heightened security. :)

    <sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
    [ Parent ]
    The difference: The impact of a single act (4.42 / 7) (#58)
    by ToastyKen on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 02:28:45 PM EST

    The difference between this and computer security is that when a security hole in software is announced, crackers may exploit it for a while before it's plugged, but that's okay, because the point is that it's eventually plugged and that's good for the long run.

    In the case of terrorism, you can't afford that time lag between discovering the hole and plugging it, because terrorists may use that time to perform an attack, and such an attack as a much more significant impact than knocking down a few servers.

    Does this mean that it'll take longer for us to secure our country? Yes. Does it mean that, since terrorists are also not as smart as the whole world, we will prevent some acts of terrorism because the terrorists didn't think of them? Also yes.

    Did the terrorists read Debt of Honor or think up the idea themselves? Let's assume they did. So we have two choices here:

    (1) Open up all possible terrorist strategies (which will happen to some degree anyway, given our free speech, though this is an aspect of free speech that could potentially get limited in the interests of "national security".. but that's not something I want to get into right now). Result: When a terrorist strategy is announced, there will be a race between the gov't, trying to secure that avenue, and the terrorists, trying to exploit it. Who will get there first? It probably depends, though I'm sure in many cases, it'll be easier for the terrorist to act than for the gov't to implement programs, and the terrorists will get an attack in before we secure it.

    (2) Clam up on possible terrorist strategies, discouraging public debate about it, even, perhaps. For the strategies that the gov't thinks up first, they get a head start. For the strategies that the terrorists think up first, they get a head start. How often will each happen? That depends on the resources each side puts into it, and I think the gov't, if sufficiently determined, can get an edge on the terrorists.

    In short, nothing is certain either way, but I would tend toward the side of having the gov't keep at least some things secret. We may need to balance the two sides. For instance, for some avenues of attack, maybe public debate about it would be a good thing, but if there's an avenue of attack that would kill hundreds of thousands and would take some time to secure, I'd say that it'd be best to keep that secret, even at the expense of not thinking up other possible high-casualty attacks.. I'd prefer to gamble on our gov't thinking them up before the terrorists do.

    Oh, and let's not forget that we can never possibly secure every possible channel of terrorist attack.. That terrorists will probably always find a way eventually.. We can only hope to slow them down and/or reduce the casualties.

    Why in the world should Clancy feel guilty? (4.62 / 8) (#64)
    by ehintz on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 03:04:26 PM EST

    has anyone heard whether Tom Clancy feels guilt over setting his idea out in the wild?

    It seems to me that Clancy's use of the jetliner in Debt of Honor is only an update of the Japanese Kamikaze tactics of WWII. And if you take out the aircraft piece of the equation, suicide attacks go back much farther. Clancy simply updated the Kamikaze technique to reflect modern technology and aircraft availability. Really, I see the use of commercial aircraft as guided missiles as an evolution rather than a revolution. Granted, it's a creative evolution, but it's still just an old idea modified to fit a new world.

    Ed Hintz
    If I Were A Terrorist (3.50 / 4) (#65)
    by Signal 11 on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 03:26:05 PM EST

    Forget biological warfare, or planes crashing into the sides of buildings to knock them down.

    I'd take my standard issue terrorist briefcase, and put some EMI electronics in it, and drive around the financial district, distrupting communications lines, rebooting computers, and causing massive software errors.

    Alternatively, I'd drive out to each of the power plants, and destroy each power substation. Entire cities would be without power for weeks on end. It affects a much broader audience, causes lots more economic damage, and is repeatable on a broad scale, with minimal training.

    Lastly, with all the millions of miles of electrical cabling running throughout the country, and the massive inter-dependence of the grid, I doubt we have enough national guardsmen to track all of it. We're talking about thousands of square miles to secure spread across 50 states.

    Society needs therapy. It's having
    trouble accepting itself.

    EMI Defense (none / 0) (#78)
    by RadiantMatrix on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:45:06 PM EST

    Critical power/financial infrastructure is often (though not always) maintained in EMI-sheilded rooms. I've seen private corporations sheild thier primary server rooms so well that it would take a close-proximity EMP to disrupt operations.

    Speaking of which, an inexpensive, portable EMP weapon would be the "Holy Grail" for mass terrorism. Imagine a whole city, including hospitals, Subway trains, traffic lights, and police dispatch being offline for hours, days, even weeks. The death toll and the utter chaos would be a tempting payoff for any terrorist.

    No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.

    [ Parent ]

    This is a Bad Idea (TM) (3.25 / 4) (#71)
    by Canthros on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:09:32 PM EST

    Like someone else pointed out: it's much harder to enact defenses against these sorts of plots than it is to patch a webserver against an exploit. Never mind the disparity in potential damages that can be caused by the 'known exploits' list for national defense and the ones for almost any piece of software, ever.

    It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
    There is very little we can do (4.75 / 4) (#75)
    by blang on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:03:07 PM EST

    For every new and old technology we depend on, we expose ourselves to potential terrorism and sabotage. I said a couple of weeks before the september 11 attack, that the only reason there isn't more terrorism, is that there aren't that many people willing to do it. That people should not fool themselves into thinking that they were safe. If someone wants to do something really bad, most likely they'll get what they want.

    I don't think an open repository for security risks is a good idea. Just imagine all the local incidents of random rage and violence. Instead of taking a shotgun, and gunning down people at McDonalds, these loose cannons would instead log on to AOL, check out the terrorism repository, and maybe end up killing 1000 people instead.

    I can think of many ways to sabotage a society that are easy to perform, and has small risk of being discovered. I am sure a wannabe terrorist can come up with such scenarions as well.

    A group of reporters from New York Times (I think) managed to smuggle 10 out of 12 illegal objects past air port security AFTER september 11. That tells us one thing: By tripling the security efforts, only a marginal benefit has been achieved. You could employ every single citizen in the country for security and still have some holes.

    Regular security is useful to weed out individuals who act on the spur of the moment with little planning, but it's near impossable to protect society against all disasters.

    Having a secure society is an impossible proposition, and would create an Orwellian society most americans would not like at all.
    However, I like the idea of contributing disaster scenarios to the proper government agencies. But this should be strictly upload, and no download. If you came up with a superb scenario for killing 1 million people with little effort, with no known measure against it, it would be nice to let the agencies work out some measures before the cook book was made publicly available.

    The long term solution is to actively promote all people's welfare across the world. Help fight against poverty, and allow for cultural differences. The really bad people will always be there, but they will find it harder to rally others to their cause, in societies where most people are well fed.

    -- What would Brian Boitano do?
    WGA registration (none / 0) (#84)
    by Pseudonym on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 08:04:42 AM EST

    WGA (or affiliate) members should consider writing a treatment and registering it before submitting this idea to a terrorism thinktank. It might be a front for other Hollywood types to steal your story. :-)

    sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
    Hmm.. (none / 0) (#86)
    by JohnHopfrog on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 10:42:20 AM EST

    Well, if I were a "terrorist", the first thing I would make sure of was that my act would not be warped by the press. I would use a couple of weeks before execution to write up my reasons, making sure that the people would know that I am not just a generic terrorist, but that there was something I believed in strong enough to die for.
    I'd set some timed newsgroup posting, that would post it automatically to various newsgroups after I'm dead or arrested, to prevent any censorship.
    But what would I do?
    The aim is to get a message across. People will take notice when other people die, and will get afraid. But my budget is low.
    The best way is always the most spectacular. Blowing up a bomb in the mall will kill lots of people, but it has been done before. A better idea would be to learn how to build bombs (there are newgroups for this). I'd then build bombs that where quite small, and look quite harmless (e.g wrapped into various chocolate bars.) I'd have a small timer that I could set to a particular time. I'd then visit like 20 clubs, and drop my coat (stuffed with chocolate bars) in all 20, and leave. At 12 midnight, 20 clubs will go boom. That will get noticed.
    Wherever a group of people gather, there are possible terrorist activities.
    For example, a crowd of 1000 gather to celebrate something. A small bomb is set off at the far right corner. Everbody heads off towards the exit at the far left. When enough people are at the exit i.e in a small enclosed space, the big bomb goes.
    Another possibility is to investigate how these hobby rocket manufaturers buld their rockets. You build some old style v2s, running on compressed gas or something, and fire missiles on any city. This one doesn't have to kill many people, the terror will engulf the city. You make sure in your parting note, that you hint that there are many of your compatriots who know how to use this your technology.

    -Johnny "it's all in your head" Hoppy.

    How's about this? (none / 0) (#87)
    by ambrosen on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 12:47:31 PM EST

    Why not get a huge magnifying glass and a giant, and then get them to wander around concentrating the rays from it to fry any passing tankers, people, dogs, cars and helicopters. Might work.

    Procrastination does not make you cool. Being cool makes you procrastinate. DesiredUsername.
    Next attack? (none / 0) (#92)
    by tinman on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 10:07:44 AM EST

    With the country on "high alert" and everyone wondering what might happen next, I am reminded that I heard some threat that Bin Laden would strike "at your country's heart". I don't know about others but my children are my heart. If terrorists could make themselves at home in this country for years before striking, why couldn't some others now be employed at public schools in the cafeteria. All jokes aside about cafeteria food, someone in that position, unnoticed for years could do anything they wanted to the food being served, i.e. anthrax or other contaminates. What is being done to protect our children from terrorists?

    A call for an Open Terrorism Repository | 96 comments (86 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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