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September 26, 2005

Terrorist Targets
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:23 PM *

Do you want to know how to get a list of terrorist targets in the USA?

Get the Hollywood movies released in the last ten years. Take note of all the establishing shots that show a scene is set in “America.” (An establishing shot is the quick clip, often a stock shot, that shows where the movie is supposedly taking place, before the action moves to street scenes shot in Toronto and interiors shot in Burbank.) Check for the landmarks. One point for every time a landmark is shown. Double points if the landmark is destroyed in a disaster movie.

Arrange them in order of frequency.

There’s your prioritized list, guys! The Chrysler Building is way high on the list. The Bonnet Carré Spillway doesn’t even appear. Bad news for all you folks who work in the Flatiron Building. It’s been nice.

No need for thanks, Department of Homeland Security. Your tears of gratitude are enough for me.

Comments on Terrorist Targets:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:33 PM:

Gee, I work a block over from Library Tower in downtown LA - that's the tall cylindrical building the aliens destroyed in 'Independence Day'. Is that one or two points? (Note: a lot of those 'New York' street scenes are really downtown LA.)

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:38 PM:

And how frequently does the TV show "Numb3rs" show that same house on LA's Hyperion with its sprinkler system going?

#3 ::: Victor S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:44 PM:

Let's try this idea out... except for the "Hollywood" sign, Los Angeles is perfectly safe. Boston is completely off the list. San Francisco has to worry about the Golden Gate, but not the other bridges, as well as the cable cars. In fact, basically all anti-terrorist money should be spent in San Francisco, New York, and the white parts of Washington, D.C. have I missed anything important?

Oh, wait - every little New England town needs to guard its churches, but only the white-painted wood ones with steeples. There. That's better.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:48 PM:

I remember first hearing this theory shortly after it came out that al Qeada had sent someone to NYC to figure out ways of bringing down "that bridge from the Godzilla movie" (the Brooklyn Bridge).

My plan for hindering al Qeada is to ask Hollywood to start faking up distinctive and plausible but non-existent landmarks with computer graphics. Perhaps even fictional cities! We could harvest them from comics. Can't you imagine a romantic comedy where the protagonists work in Metropolis's Daily Planet building?

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:49 PM:

Victor: You forgot covered bridges. New England to the midwest. (Come to think of it, that range pretty much takes in the white-wooden-churches-with-steeples too.)

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 02:51 PM:

Avram is on to something. And it's already happening apparently - I understand that the movie "Bewitched" erased the TransAmerica Pyramid from San Francisco's skyline.

#7 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:03 PM:

Aha! So the establishing shot in "Angel Eyes", which CLEARLY shows Toronto's CN Tower on the skyline even though the movie is set in Chicago, is not evidence of cheapness or sloppiness, but a pre-emptive anti-terrorist strike.

That actually makes more sense.

That said, thanks a bunch, lazy filmmakers. Now they'll come after us.

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:12 PM:

For added versimilitude:

The fake landmarks have to be associated with big business and the Zionist Conspiracy.

#9 ::: janet ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:14 PM:

I've sometimes thought about the damage that one good truck bomb on the lower deck of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge at rush hour could do. But then I comfort myself by thinking that the Golden Gate Bridge is the more obvious target, even though it carries about half as much daily traffic.

#10 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:22 PM:

Right, because the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was such a cultural icon. So was the Otherside nightclub, and the brand-new Centennial Olympic Park.

I think this approach is exactly wrong. Any endpoint approach is wrong. Terrorists will hit whatever places you think are safe from terrorism. That's why it causes terror.

You can't make yourself safer by guessing at targets: you have to go higher up the supply chain. If you really want deterrence, start at the top -- cut them off at the motives.

#11 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:28 PM:

This is a major step forward. In fact, it it the majorest step forward since the last step (which has now been demoted to captain). Hurrah for the Brevet-Major Step Forward in the War on Unclear and Presentish Badness!

The point is this: Hollywood will continue to use establishing shots to illustrate where the frightening Bad Person attack, frightening encounter betweeen mismatched lovers, or frightening struggling young artists with family issues will take place. They can even use the same shots they have been using all along, with CGI used to replace Chiang Kai-Shek and Ramon Novarro.

But the supered identifying title will be subtly altered to mislead the Bad People.

For instance, an establishing shot of Lombard Street in San Francisco will, instead of being captioned Somewhere in Hong Kong, will be captioned Somewhere in Dili, East Timor.

Since the Average American™, one of the Best Educated People On Earth™, could not tell you where Lombard Street was unless Steve McQueen drove a black Mustang down it at relativistic speeds, both cities are safe. Imagine the chagrin the Bad People will feel as they search through the streets of Dili for Kim Novak in a green dress! Backlit!

But, I can hear you say (broadband is so cool), what if the Bad People, like, read a map or steal a travel guide or watch one of those "Traveltalks" short subjects, narrated by James A. FitzPatrick? Well, we have little to worry about the last, because after nine minutes of FitzPatrick they will sleep for a week. But again a solution is at hand.

The soon-to-be-established Federal Technical Homeland Agency for Geographic Nomenclature [FTHAGN] will create Diversionary Place Names for Evading Terrorism [DiPlaNETs], which will be used in the establishing subtitles.

Again, imagine the foreign-sounding howls of frustration from the Bad People as they try to sneak nail files and disposable razors aboard flights to

Just Looking, IN
Minas Foggy Bottom
Hail, Freedonia
The People's Republic of Karlorovo
South Succotash
The Everett Dirksen Building
That's Your Finger, You Dumb Bleep

American ingenuity, various people who prefer not to be identified salute you!


#12 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:33 PM:

Electric Landlady:
Aha! So the establishing shot in "Angel Eyes", which CLEARLY shows Toronto's CN Tower on the skyline even though the movie is set in Chicago, is not evidence of cheapness or sloppiness, but a pre-emptive anti-terrorist strike.

I've clearly seen the Atlanta skyline used to represent other cities in at least a couple of movies too. (Wish I could remember which ones right now... One of the Robocop movies comes to mind, but I wouldn't bet money on it.)

And of course any movie taking place in an airport is always going to be filmed in some other airport. I sometimes wonder if there's an FAA regulation about that.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:40 PM:

One way to identify Bad People coming to the Bay Area would be to look for someone with snowshoes. After all, according to 1988's TV show "War of the Worlds", it snows over there.

#14 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:44 PM:

It's my understanding that at least some parts of 90210 were filmed in 91107 (they were certainly filming something there; I was driving past it in the morning on my way to work). And in Godzilla-the-dark-movie, the entrance to Madison Square Garden was actually filmed in Pershing Square (watched them build the set and try to hide the palm trees - after four days, you could hear the palms breathing, when the camouflage was removed and the crowns were untied, 'thank God, that girdle was killing me!)

If you see San Francisco with lots of palm trees: it isn't. (Not that there aren't palms growing there, but most of them are Phoenix (date-type) palms, which don't have tall skinny trunks.)

#15 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 03:48 PM:

Personally, I'd stay off the Staten Island Ferry. I used to work in 1 Battery Park Plaza, which always shows up in those "Ferry POV" shots, and therefore shows up in a lot of movies.

In SF, Coit Tower may be a goner, too.

More locally (for me, anyway) the Pike Place Public Market (home of airborne fish) and the Space Needle are typically used to say "Seattle".

I think Vancouver and Toronto may both draw fire that was pointed at New York. (Remember Rumble in the Bronx?)

#16 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:00 PM:

So speaking of Numb3rs (OK, it was a throwaway reference by Serge, but where else am I going to drop this?); am I totally off, here, or is this basically Square One's Mathnet in prime time? I swear to God, one of the line drops I heard in a radio commercial for the show was a direct quote from a Mathnet episode...

#17 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:02 PM:

Gah. Broken link! Sorry about that. Try this one:
Square One

#18 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:06 PM:

I don't know about any link between "Numb3rs" and Mathnet, Skwid, but I did read that the head of Caltech's Math Dept is a consultant on "Numb3rs". That was a relief because I was assuming that the show's mathematics were as bogus as CSI's forensics.

#19 ::: Ryan Freebern ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:19 PM:

John M. Ford:
The soon-to-be-established Federal Technical Homeland Agency for Geographic Nomenclature [FTHAGN] will create Diversionary Place Names for Evading Terrorism [DiPlaNETs], which will be used in the establishing subtitles.

I hear the state of Iowa is launching a strong campaign to have the central headquarters of this new agency located in Des Moines. The advertisements all contain the catchy tagline "IA! IA! FTHAGN!"

#20 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Victor S: if you include TV, Boston has some danger. I recommend you avoid the Hampshire House/Bull & Finch/"Cheers".

#21 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Jim:

That was exactly my reasoning when I marched into the dentist's office on the morning of 9/11 and told David, who was still mostly unaware of what was happening that he was absolutely no way posetively not going to work. The Flatiron Building is an icon, therefore a target.

#22 ::: Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:31 PM:

I recommend you avoid the Hampshire House/Bull & Finch/"Cheers".

That would be true even if they weren't on TV a lot.

#23 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:43 PM:

Right, because the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was such a cultural icon. So was the Otherside nightclub, and the brand-new Centennial Olympic Park.

Note, though, that those were the responsibility of home-grown, local-boy terrorists, not the imported kind. In fact, I remember correctly calling the Oklahoma City bombing as the work of domestic nutcases within minutes of first hearing about it, while the FBI et al. were still talking about Islamic terrorists, on the grounds that when jihadists in the Middle East think about striking a blow on the Great Satan, an office building in Oklahoma is not going to feature prominently on the list of possible targets their imagination serves up to them.

(Actually, I think what I said was, "Face it, nobody outside of the USA gives a damn about Oklahoma City." Making Light's readership being what it is, we'll probably have posters from Tasmania to Finland checking in to protest that Oklahoma City is, for one reason or another, near and dear to their hearts . . . but as a generalization, I believe it still holds.)

#24 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:49 PM:

Steve Eley: think this approach is exactly wrong. Any endpoint approach is wrong. Terrorists will hit whatever places you think are safe from terrorism. That's why it causes terror.

If that were all it is, terrorists would be blowing up private homes in quiet suburbs, not big urban buildings and subways and other public places, because people certainly expect to be safe from terrorism in their homes. Hitting Joe Smith's house just doesn't have the same emotional impact on people as taking out a cultural icon. Terrorism is as much about making a statement as scaring people.

#25 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:52 PM:

Wow, this really doesn't bode well for New Zealand's Taupo (Mordor), Upper Hutt (Isengard), and Lower Hutt (Helm's Deep). I suppose a movie trilogy makes it three times as bad? Maybe I should've taken that job in Auckland after all!

#26 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 04:53 PM:

Not long after 2001-09-11, the San Francisco pedestal of the western segment of the Oakland Bay Bridge got all new fortifications around it. Some wise guy figured out that a well-placed explosive charge of surprisingly small yield would drop the whole suspension system. It's now a lot harder to get close enough to do that. You have to really mean it to blow up the Oakland Bay Bridge now.

In my line of work, we often refer to the Oakland Bay Bridge as the "Trans-bay Fiber Path" because of all the network traffic that runs over the bridge. Not terribly far from the bridge terminal, there is a large boring building— with architecture so dull and tedious that you can't miss it for its dullness and tediousness— that contains vast tracts of telecommunications hardware. It's a major switching point for just about every kind of terrestrial telecommunications network you can imagine. One of the west coast Internet MAE's is in that building. I shudder to think about how much it would cost and how long it would take to rebuild the contents of that building if it were destroyed. Just the hardware in the racks alone has to run well into the tens of millions of dollars.

Cut the cable between the switches, and they just patch the cut or run new cable. Smash the switches and you have a much bigger and tougher reconstruction job. Do you have any idea how much one of these costs? How about one of these as well?

You could probably take out that building the same way Timothy McVeigh dropped the Murrah building, and you'd do a whole lot more economic damage. I bet the other ten or twenty buildings like it around the country are similarly vulnerable, given who owns them and how those people are used to thinking about physical security. A coordinated attack could be mounted by a group of only a few hundred people. It wouldn't be a "mass casualty" event, but the ripple effect through the economy would seriously fsck up a lot of people. With networks unavailable for days or weeks, depending, a lot of data would get lost and logistics systems that rely on fast networks would unravel. It seems to me the economic damage could be very high, and I don't think anyone has gamed out what the full consequences would be. This is exactly the scenario that folks like me have been wanting the DHS cybersecurity people to take seriously, but instead we have them getting their underwear in a twist over jihadis using email to coordinate their paintball games.

I'm sure glad the terrorists like to hit high-profile symbolic targets. How's that false sense of security working for you?

#27 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:01 PM:

John Ford writes: For instance, an establishing shot of Lombard Street in San Francisco will, instead of being captioned Somewhere in Hong Kong, will be captioned Somewhere in Dili, East Timor.

Why does this line of thinking remind me of a certain China Miéville story I just read. Ah, yes— here it is: Reports of Certain Events in London.

#28 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:03 PM:

Tried an episode of 24 once. Saw the President fishing in a lake surrounded by gorgeously majestic mountains way out in the middle of nowhere. The caption read, “Lake Oswego, Oregon.” Nearly fell out of my chair laughing. —And I’d been thinking maybe it was some backhanded slap at Lake Oswego’s rather segregatory history, given who the President is in 24, but now I know: it was a test run! Wow!

#29 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:03 PM:

j h woodyatt: I'm sure glad the terrorists like to hit high-profile symbolic targets. How's that false sense of security working for you?

I agree that any terrorist organization that wanted to do the greatest amount of actual damage to a country would have much better targets than those iconic ones. But pointing to the disruption caused by smashing up a switching point doesn't have the same recruiting power as blowing up something big and famous.

#30 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:06 PM:

It's not terrorists on the bridge I worry about, so much as that foretold earthquake everybody calls The Big One. But that's why they're working on a newer, more earthquake friendly bridge, I gather.

Yeah, palm trees in SF aren't really tallish, although you can find a few on the Embarcadero near the SBC ballpark, and some on Dolores.

Recently, a film company did some filming in Duboce Park, and created an entirely fictitious BART stop. They took out two trees, and put in some strange black marble niche and an old 80s BART sign, and lo, a station that has never existed. Now that filming is complete, they're removing the station, and replanting the two trees.

By this formula, I gather the targets for SF are: Any and every cable car, the Golden Gate Bridge, the TransAmerica building, ChinaTown, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, and possibly the gigantamous antenna on top of Twin Peaks. Also possible: The Painted Ladies, which are around the corner from my place, but we'd have to assume that terrorists were willing to watch Full House.

#31 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:08 PM:

Having had a tour of a big hosting facility there, I think it may be a tougher target than you think, as it was built to survive a 1 in 1000 years earthquake, has 25 GW of backup generators and 300,000 gallons of water stored.

#32 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:12 PM:

Well tens of millions is peanuts in the geopolitical league, but taking out a bunch of the major switch stations all at once sounds much harder to fix. Better hope a-Q doesn't get around to this anytime soon.

#33 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:15 PM:

j h woodyat - The country is dotted with anonymous telecom hubs, ranging from large regional centers like the grey blob under the bridge to closed off top-floors of in-town department stores set up as telecom hotels.

Replacing what's in a key hub would be expensive, but I suspect it would happen pretty quickly.

FWIW, it might be possible to pull a lot of that transbay traffic through the BART tubes, or even down the Peninsula and around the South Bay.

There's a good argument for even more decentralization of our telecom infrastructure in here somewhere. Along with a pony. :-)

---

Debra Doyle: Actually, I think what I said was, "Face it, nobody outside of the USA gives a damn about Oklahoma City."

What do you expect of a place that used to put "Oklahoma is OK" on its license plates. Faint praise, indeed. Or perhaps just misplaced modesty.

As far as targets go, I'm still surprised that we haven't had a rash of nail bombs go off in shopping malls during peak holiday shopping season. That would mess with the economy. Especially if someone took out that hub in SF and cut us off from most of our web vendors, too.

#34 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:15 PM:

25 GW of backup generators and 300,000 gallons of water stored

Not close together, I hope.

(Reminds me of childhood, not too many miles from there, where the Major Local Employer's fire system included an Olympic-size swimming pool. Indoors. It was in a former hangar, said Major Local Employer having taken over an old auxiliary naval airfield.)

Actually, for either old or new Bay Bridge, you attack the tunnel in the middle. Yes, you can go around, but it's a lot less road for that much traffic.

#35 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:18 PM:

This is completely irrelevant, but:

Mr. Macdonald, did you write your post in Word? How come your quotes look funny?

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:18 PM:

Actually, I think what I said was, "Face it, nobody outside of the USA gives a damn about Oklahoma City."

And a lot of people in the US don't much care either. Not because they don't like OK, just because it's not a major center for most of us. (For the record - my father was from Bartlesville.)

#37 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:19 PM:

Aconite:
If that were all it is, terrorists would be blowing up private homes in quiet suburbs, not big urban buildings and subways and other public places, because people certainly expect to be safe from terrorism in their homes.

I'm frankly somewhat amazed that they don't. If the goal is to disrupt the American economy and culture (and therefore make it more difficult for us to implement foreign policy) there are so many opportunities. If you really want to shut down the U.S., hit a McDonald's, two shopping malls and a bank, all in different cities of varying sizes, and then keep hitting random targets thereafter. Looking at how easily and cheaply two sociopaths in D.C. were able to influence people's movement and activity patterns for an extended period, I think it's astonishing that Al Qaeda hasn't put something similar into practice by now.

One of the most incredible things in the world to me, what really keeps my faith in human nature and a sense of benevolence in our DNA, is that that sort of thing doesn't happen all the time.

(Of course it's occurred to me that just posting this blog comment might get me one some automated watchlist somewhere, if I wasn't already. Which, if it happens, will balance those human nature scales quite nicely.) >8->

#38 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:20 PM:

PiscusFiche - Not the Sutro Tower (a.k.a. the ginormous antenna)! I love taking off from SFO on a foggy day, punching through the clouds and there, gleaming orange and white like a K'nex creamsicle is the Sutro Tower having a fine old time in the glorious sunshine denied the flatlanders below.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:21 PM:

What's up -- been reading Bruce Schneier again, Jim?

(Quote for the link-averse: New York City is spending $212 million on surveillance technology: 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors for the city's subways, bridges, and tunnels. Why? Why, given that cameras didn't stop the London train bombings? ... One reason is that it's the "movie plot threat" of the moment. (You can hear the echos of the movie plots when you read the various quotes in the news stories.) The terrorists bombed a subway in London, so we need to defend our subways ...)

Conclusion left as an exercise for the reader.

#40 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:33 PM:

Actually, I think what I said was, "Face it, nobody outside of the USA gives a damn about Oklahoma City."

My husband's family specializes in loud political arguments, descending into name calling when on the losing side. I was initiated into this ritual one afternoon when Cousin David came by while he was in town. Cousin David, you understand, comes from Tulsa. Which is smaller than Oklahoma City. Cousin David loudly proclaimed to my husband that "those of us in Oklahoma don't give a shit what the people in California think." To which I replied, "Los Angeles alone has more than ten million people in it. The entire state of Oklahoma has three million people total. Not only do we not care what Oklahomans think, we don't even notice you're there." David thought this was funny, but did change the subject.

#41 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:59 PM:

If the goal is to disrupt the American economy and culture (and therefore make it more difficult for us to implement foreign policy) there are so many opportunities

I'm surprised too. I've made a mental list of all the opportunities that have come to mind, and I check them off whenever I hear news that somebody in a position of authority has recognized the potential threat and moved to do something— anything— to lower risks. This doesn't happen often enough to keep me feeling happy about the progress I keep hearing we are supposed to be making.

On the other hand, it could just be my problem. For instance, I've got a short story in a folder on my computer at home that I just know is going to get me in trouble some day. It's called, Hello, My Name Is James, And I'm An Asshole. It's written in first person singular and the plot concerns the hijacking of a supertanker and steering it at full steam into the side of a container ship docked at the Port of Oakland.

I wish I had never seen this now. I worry that if I'm not careful, I could write myself into a nice all-expenses paid holiday at the bottom of a hole in some officially non-allied country like Syria or some such place.

#42 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 05:59 PM:

Does this mean I should be worried that more and more movies are coming to Winnipeg to film?

Although Colin once pointed out to me another interesting target:

Apparantly, all the rubber used commercially comes from one strain of rubber plant. They started doing research into whether other rubber plants would make a good substitue, then stopped the program - and destroyed the information - on the logic that they'd learn how to synthesize rubber soon enough.

Look around, and there are, as Steve Eley remarked, no end of targets, obvious, or odd or deeply effective, for inducing terror, or economic disaster, or making statements, or what-have-you. There's no end to things that people have put into their hearts, or which will smash their pocketbooks.

Oddly, I find this reassuring. I know what happens to people who try to spread their efforts over too many different things.

#43 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 06:33 PM:

Watching CNN yesterday evening on terrorism and targets, we were thinking up other good targets and methods, and wondering why they don't ask their friendly local SF fans for more advice. All the stuff they were showing was so - mundane.

#44 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 06:42 PM:

... 25 GW of backup generators

Where? If they were around, they'd make a great defense (one 3 GW generator is some tens of feet across, nevermind the engine to drive it); if not, just cut the wires....

#45 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 06:45 PM:

Is it my imagination, or could it be that some posters here are suffering from mild irony-deficiency and in need of irony-supplement tablets?

As Charlie Stross observed, I think Jim is commenting on the same "movie threats" point that Bruce Schneier has done repeatedly. Our national security policy is driven by getting hysterical about whatever is the latest threat we can imagine - hijacked planes! bombs in the subway! - rather than by any rational assessment of risks and likelihoods.

This is not to say that al-Qaeda is never driven by the same publicity factors, but on the whole they seem to have been more coldly rational than our defenders about selecting targets and attack methods which will be both surprising and effective.

(Al-Qaeda also seems to have had a tendency to follow-up several years later on any target they have tried and failed to hit. I would view the US Capitol building - apparent intended target of flight 93 - and the intended targets of the LA millenium bombings as very likely for future repeat visits. They've demonstrated willingness to wait 5 or 10 years and try again.)

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 06:56 PM:

Mr. Macdonald, did you write your post in Word? How come your quotes look funny?

No, it was composed in whatever the native Moveable Type comment box uses. The quotes look funny because my goal is to amuse you.

#47 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 07:33 PM:

The Painted Ladies show up in a bit more than Full House. Pretty much every sitcom set in San Francisco has people living in one of that row of houses. Before Full House, they had Too Close For Comfort in one of those.

Of course, the Halliwell Manor in Charmed is actually somewhere in Santa Barbara, which explains how you can have an unfenced lawn like that in San Francisco without people sleeping on it, but I digress....

After the Oklahoma City Bombing, the fingers pointed at Islamic terrorists seemed more a matter of ritual than anything credible, if just because bragging rights wouldn't be much. The who building where? Hell, I'm in California and I still don't know who Alfred P. Murroh was, and wouldn't likely have never heard of him if a building named for him hadn't been blown up.

If you're doing terrorism for publicity, you don't do second and third-rate monuments. Much as Texans may be displeased to hear it, nobody remembers the Alamo except them, and even Texans might be hard pressed to pick it out in a line-up against Mission San Juan Batista and other beat-up Spanish colonial buildings.

#48 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 07:45 PM:

Charlie Stross quotes Bruce Schneier: One reason is that it's the "movie plot threat" of the moment... The terrorists bombed a subway in London, so we need to defend our subways.

Which of course means that we need to be dealing with the threat posed by Snakes on a Plane! They're not just in business class anymore.

#49 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 07:51 PM:

America has four cities.

New York

Washington

Hollywood

The city most of your ancestors immigrated to.

If you don't live in those cities, overseas terrorists won't bother. That's one reason I knew the OKC bombing was homegrown. Chicago needs to worry a bit, because, well, it's that city most of your ancestors immigrated to, but everywhere else, the chances are so slight that your much better off dumping DHS and spending the money mitigating whatever natural disaster is likely to hit you.

#50 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 08:19 PM:

Even for those of us who grew up in Oklahoma City and were there at the time of the bombing, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was hardly a landmark. I don't think I'd known the full name of it prior to the bombing, and I can't remember now who APM was (although I did know at some point between then and now).

The _first_ first thought wasn't even terrorism: the first hour or so, everyone assumed it was a gas explosion or somesuch. After that came an APB for a middle-eastern-looking man in a pickup; I never did figure out what if anything that was based on, but it may have been either a cause or an effect of an assumption that terrorism meant Islamic terrorism.

Once someone realized it was the anniversary of the Waco fire and was the scheduled execution day of a white supremacist leader, the truth became pretty clear. Even then, though, the Murrah building felt like an odd target: 50 Penn Place, a combined commercial building (where the local FBI field office was located) + upscale shopping center, was evacuated.

What do you expect of a place that used to put "Oklahoma is OK" on its license plates. Faint praise, indeed. Or perhaps just misplaced modesty.

I'm not sure the replacement, "Oklahoma OK!", is an improvement.

#51 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 08:36 PM:

Eric: I couldn't tell what you meant by "the city that most of your ancestors emigrated to" because while in my family (and in my homestate of Utah) that happens to be either Salt Lake City or Nauvoo, Illinois (all those Mormon immigrants!), I was plumping for New York or Boston. Perhaps I was aiming a bit too far back chronologically, but as a whole, I know very few people whose ancestors immigrated directly to Chicago.

As a newly minted San Franciscan, I'm wondering why you don't think SF is a likely target. (Not that I'd complain, mind you, if it was true.)

#52 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 08:37 PM:

I kinda doubt that even terrorists would attack internet infrastructure.

It's a major tool for them. Cutting off millions or billions of people from the Internet would hamper the spread of the message they're trying to get across.

#53 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 08:49 PM:

My plan for hindering al Qeada is to ask Hollywood to start faking up distinctive and plausible but non-existent landmarks with computer graphics.

A friend of mine works for Sony Images Ltd. doing just this. He designed half the New York-style buildings in all three of the Spiderman movies (he also wrote the code for Spidy's webs). After 9/11, many owners of other landmark buildings in new York declined to give the rights to shoot the exteriors of their buildings so Sony did some of that Hollywood magic and faked it.

#54 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 09:41 PM:

Anyone here ever read Thomas Perry's "Metzger's Dog"?

The protagonists, in the course of pulling off a robbery at a consulting firm, inadvertently steal a CIA scenario study on how to bring a city to a screaming halt without using any weapons or directly killing anyone at all. It was mind-boggling simple: first knock out communications by frying the main telephone relay board, then block the major freeways during morning rush hour by wrecking a few monster gravel trucks and leaving them on the road.

"Metzger's Dog" was written before cell-phones and the internet transformed communications, but a similar scenario would still work. In fact, it just did, in Louisiana and Texas.

I'm sure there are thriller novels where terrorists/extortionists don't even really have suitcase nukes or bio-bombs; just convince authorities that there were a few seeded around a couple major cities - and then watch the evacuation panic do their work for them.

Good thing AQ doesn't seem to go in for light reading, eh?

#55 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 09:57 PM:

Perhaps Vancouver might be destroyed by accident - I hear it's often used as an affordable stand-in.

#56 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 10:08 PM:

Charlie, if the cameras in the NYC subways also work against muggers, chain snatchers, etc. then the money spent might be worth it. At least, a reasonable case could be made.

#57 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 10:17 PM:

I wrote:

> Perhaps Vancouver might be destroyed by accident - I hear it's often used as an affordable stand-in.

But I see Vancouver's already been mentioned.

Well, sticking to Jackie Chan movies, I'll just add that if terrorists try to attack the Ukraine, there's a very real chance they'll get an Australian ski resort instead.

#58 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 10:36 PM:

Casey L -- over 30 years ago, Katherine MacLean wrote in Missing Man of a "game" the players called "City Chess"; you had three "moves" to wreck your opponent's model of NYC. She was assuming some advances in tech, but not quite the World's Fair or H. G. Wells version.

#59 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 10:44 PM:

Well, the MacLean novel (which I've been thinking about a lot lately) does have an underwater domed suburb off the Jersey coast, which is moderately high-tech -- at least enough to be constructed. The method used against it was based mainly in crowd psychology, however.

A week back I was leaving the Metrodome, and I thought of the book again.

#60 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2005, 10:54 PM:

Gosh, I guess I should be glad "Lost" isn't recognizably Oahu. I sure hope "Magnum" isn't in reruns in Saudi Arabia.

#61 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 12:54 AM:

What if the ten-year limitation doesn't apply? What if, somewhere, crouched around a DVD player at an undisclosed location in the Middle East . . . [cue super]

An Undisclosed Location in the Middle East

. . . a motley group of foreign-looking, yet strangely familiar extras are dajaajing and jebnahing in the light of Assayed Assinema's DVD Treasure Chest of Bargains, discs of unknown provenance and dubbing? What would this mean?

1. Bronson Canyon is doomed.
2. Attempts will be made to hijack the following American vehicles: the Seaview, the starship Enterprise (all models), and Supertrain. There are two reasons: a)All these craft are nuclear-powered (indeed, in some cases antimatter-powered, which brings in the Dan Brown Factor), and b)every attempt to hijack any of them has been successful, at least temporarily.
3. The use of giant insects, military personnel, or women (50 ft. est.) cannot be discounted.

The DHS/FEMA Plot Response Team (no connection with WGA) is on high alert and has requisitioned most of the Butter Flavor popcorn within a large radius of their secret headquarters under the Ronald Reagan Drive-In, somewhere kinda near Arlington VA.

#62 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 01:00 AM:

As long as the terrorists don't use TV commercials for their research, Vasquez Rocks is probably safe.

#63 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 06:10 AM:

CaseyL: indeed I have read "Metzger's Dog" (and loved it). And your proposed scenario isn't a million miles away from something I'm considering for my next novel -- but that's another matter.

Seth: assuming the NY subway has the same problem with suicides on the line as the London Underground, then if you assess one suicide at $1M in everything from lost earnings to delays, the proposed camera network will pay for itself inside a year. But that's not the point.

The point is, there are millions of expensive lets-put-cameras-in-the-subway solutions to possible threats -- and the bad guys will simply work around them and invent new threats, because they can see the cameras. The logical extrapolation of trying to address all such threats is therefore to build a Big Brother ubiquitous surveillance network that can spot any threat as it emerges, only that has other side-effects, as any Vernor Vinge (or David Blunkett) fan can tell you.

#64 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 06:15 AM:

If the Undisclosed Location in the Middle East were itself in a movie, it would be played by one of:
(a) Morocco
(b) a desert within easy reach of Los Angeles
(c) Israel (but only in 1980s anti-Arab action flicks, e.g. Iron Eagle).

Either way, Hollywood casting logic dictates that the Chief Arab Bad Guy will probably be played by a Jewish actor.

#65 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 07:42 AM:

This is how AQ knew Iraq would take the fall for their attack: they'd seen Hot Shots.

Sadly, Rambo: First Blood II was out the day they visited the video rental, hence their unfortunate decision to use Afghanistan as a base.

#66 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 08:03 AM:

Rambo III actually, which incidentally comes under category (c): filmed in Israel.

#67 ::: Dan Guy ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 09:48 AM:

Between the popularity of Silence of the Lambs and the ubiquity of Feds reruns on cable, Quantico, VA is in trouble.

#68 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 10:08 AM:

JMF: 2. Attempts will be made to hijack the following American vehicles: the Seaview, the starship Enterprise (all models), and Supertrain.

Hey, you forgot The Big Bus!

#69 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 11:33 AM:

Another target, supposedly, is the Mall of America. Other than its name, there is no real reason for it, and right now, I suspect the owners might not mind something happening. The third level is almost empty, from what I hear. It's nothing but a very large and confusing mall. I never go there. Apparently, a lot of other locals feel the same way. But I guess it's a symbol.

Another book on how to cause havoc is Eric Frank Russell's Wasp. I love that book!

#70 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 11:36 AM:

A friend has a theory that, if a bad American film requires a city to be -
a) destroyed in a nuclear strike/catastrophe or
b) narrowly saved from a),
- then it will, more likely than not, be Denver.

Given this thread, I do wonder why...

#71 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 12:52 PM:

As a bit of trivia, because that's all I can cope with right now, Alfred P. Murrah was a judge from Oklahoma who eventually served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was one of the youngest federal judges in history. There's a Wikipedia article you can look at.

MKK

#72 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 12:56 PM:

Andrew:

Indeed, Denver was nuked by Tom Clancy once ("The Sum of All Fears"), though when they made the movie, they took out Baltimore intead.

#73 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 01:40 PM:

Wasp, indeed; it got a mention in the Boston Globe:

Rereading the novel, in a world where terrorists have replaced Commies and serve as justification for excess and shortfall, gives off jolts of shock that Russell could not have anticipated:

''Mail would be examined, and all suspicious parcels would be taken apart in a blast-proof room. There'd be a city-wide search with radiation-detectors for the component parts of a fission bomb. Civil defence would be alerted in readiness to cope with a mammoth explosion that might or might not take place. Anyone on the streets who walked with a secretive air and wore a slightly mad expression would be arrested and hauled in for questioning."

#74 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 01:41 PM:

(Addendum: Neil Gaiman on Wasp and the Globe article.)

#75 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Patrick: And Connie Willis; Denver and central London are specifically mentioned as nuked in a couple of her novels. I had a set of other examples, but seem to have misplaced them...

#76 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 02:17 PM:

San Diego's been nuked twice by terrorists (in backstory): once in Babylon 5 and once in a Niven universe - Known Space, I believe, but I'm not at present in a position to look it up.

#77 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 02:38 PM:

And in the backstory of Wild Palms Boca Raton was nuked, paving the way for a massive assault on civil liberties.

#78 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 05:50 PM:

I think DC has probably been destroyed in more movies than anywhere else.

#79 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 09:34 PM:

"Charlie, if the cameras in the NYC subways also work against muggers, chain snatchers, etc. then the money spent might be worth it. At least, a reasonable case could be made."

Also, the cameras can be useful in post-attack investigation. Especially if the attack wasn't of the suicide variety, or the weapon failed to go off right, and the perp is still alive.

The cameras probably cannot prevent an attack, but they can certainly help prevent a second wave by the same group.

#80 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 10:01 PM:

Jon H:
How do cameras prevent a second attack, either? They could help identify the perpetrator of the original attack for arrest, possibly - if it's not a suicide bombing - but how does it prevent the second attack?

In fact London does have a network of cameras in the subways, did have a bombing in the subways, and then experienced a second very similar bombing attack (which was unsuccessful only due to botches in the bomb construction.)

This would seem to me unequivocal proof that cameras do not prevent bombings.

#81 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 06:45 AM:

Rambo III actually

Doh! Of course, II was the one about American POWs abused in Vietnam.

I now think of the Rambo films as I, II, and III in the Reasons Why Invading Iraq Is A Bad Idea trilogy. As Richard Crenna said to the torturing Russian in III, "we had our Vietnam, and now it's your turn!". And now it's America's second turn, and all because they didn't listen to the message of the Rambo films.

#82 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 07:21 AM:

It could be interesting for someone to do the stats of different places, but I was under the impression that Tokyo was probably destroyed more times than anywhere else in films, by a large number of different monsters, sometimes in concert. Books would probably be different, tho' comic/graphic novel/sequential art city destruction is also popular in the orient.

There's also often a scene showing destruction visited on places around the world, usually picking someplace easily recognised, so Paris with the Eiffel tower snapped off might be shown on a news broadcast. Do I remember the Taj Mahal with a broken dome in the 1950s War of the Worlds in their sweep?

#83 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 08:00 AM:

So Neil Gaiman thought that Wasp could no longer be filmed...

And then we got Team America[...], which managed to take out more than a few landmarks.

But if movies are the AQ intel source, the places to guard will be the ones which haven't been destroyed on-screen. Why would they bother to blow up something which has already been blown up?

#84 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2005, 10:42 AM:

Clifton: the London camera thing is even more complex than you think.

The cameras didn't prevent the suicide bombings; but when the second wave attacks failed -- due only to stale explosives, it appears -- the cameras aided in identifying the fugitive bombers. More recently, footage of the first set of bombers carrying out a dry run have been discovered from months-old archive storage. But again, this doesn't catch terrorists unless the cameras are monitored in real time by people who know who they're looking for in advance. And sometimes the cameras are no use at all, as in the bus that was blown up on 7/7 (which had a camera -- which had been broken and unrepaired for weeks).

The achievable security task of cameras is to deter suicidal attackers from doing anything that might be impeded if a live monitor is watching, and to deter non-suicidal attackers from doing anything within range of surveillance. But the first task is difficult unless there are enough eyeballs to monitor every screen all of the time -- or a hitherto unprecedented breakthrough in AI and image recognition. If you're going to have eyeballs on screens as a deterrent, why not have them attached to boots patrolling the physical spaces?

I'm not going to get into the AI/image recognition thing here. Let's just say, the coming wide-scale deployment of ANR systems on British roads will, in combination with the need to present ID for ticketed travel, basically clobber our ability to travel anonymously; the Home Office proposals to retain all email and voice traffic for a period of years is going to remove the right to speak anonymously; and government access to store databases is going to remove our ability to participate in public life anonymously. (And if you think this is just the UK I'm talking about -- equivalent measures are at different stages of deployment in the USA and just about everywhere else in the developed world.)

It's enough to make even a pronoiac sit up and take notice.

#85 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2005, 08:37 AM:

Kip: Tried an episode of 24 once. [...] Nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

Didn't you know? The only reason anyone watches is to laugh at the bad research. I mean, we've had bad IT, bad politics, bad nuclear physics, bad biochemistry, bad geography, and that's only scratching the surface of the first 3 series...

I think I'll be a lifelong fan. :)

#86 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2005, 04:58 AM:

What do you expect of a place that used to put "Oklahoma is OK" on its license plates. Faint praise, indeed. Or perhaps just misplaced modesty.

I'm not sure the replacement, "Oklahoma OK!", is an improvement.

Hulk upset that Hulk's rebranding of Oklahoma license plate slogan not taken seriously! Hulk regard irregular verbs as unnecessary in fast-moving world of license plate sloganising! Hulk fully committed to expanding tourism and investment in great state of Oklahoma! Hulk say: Oklahoma OK! Oklahoma more than OK; Oklahoma TERRIFIC! Hulk SMASH Indiana!

#87 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2005, 11:14 AM:

Now, now, quoting from the lyrics to Oklahoma! has kept the state government in slogans for decades. Perhaps someday they'll work around to using "Plen'y of room to swing a rope!", but for my part, I'm holding out for "Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!"

#88 ::: Harriet ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2005, 11:49 AM:

Huh.

You're only saying "You're doing fine Oklahoma - Oklahoma, OK!"

#89 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2005, 03:49 PM:

Oklahoma -- OK! always reminds me of that bit in Rocky Horror where Colombia says "He's OK!" and Frank gets into such a hissy little snit... "Ok? OK? He bears the Charles Atlas Seal of Approval!" And then winds up killing Meat Loaf. But that's a lot to fit on a license plate.

Anyway, seeing something about OK in the Terrorist Target thread made me think there's be some discussion of the "individual suicide" bomb outside the football stadium Saturday night. Too early to tell much -- not a lot of reliable information available yet -- but sounds like it could be more than what it looks like on the surface...http://www.normantranscript.com/cnhi/thenormantranscript/homepage/local_story_275013811.html?keyword=leadpicturestory

#90 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2006, 09:56 AM:

Good thing then that Germans are mostly safe. Except for those poor folks living close to the Brandenburg Gate, of course.

On a more serious note, there has been somewhat of a terrorism scare here recently, what with that tournament starting next week, and nations like Iran attending. We'll actually have fighter jets circling around our major stadiums. That's gonna stop them! I can see it: suicide bomber with a few kgs of explosives strapped to him, standing in a crowd of a hundred thousand people in one of the "public viewing" venues--suddenly! Overhead! The sound of turbines! "Oh no," says Sayid Uicidebomber, "jet planes!"

In all seriousness though, I doubt anything will happen. There's no museum of toilet seats worth attacking here.

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