Ten Years of "If You See Something, Say Something"

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the advertising firm Korey Kay & Partners pitched the Departments of State, Justice, and the newly created Homeland Security on an ad campaign to make travelers more aware of potential terrorists threats, “but none expressed interest in using the work,” Adweek reported in January 2002. “It will therefore remain a creative exercise.”

The feds would eventually change their minds about Kay’s “creative exercise.” Today, the slogan “If you see something, say something” graces mass transit hubs across the country as well as DHS-funded coffee cup sleeves. The slogan has outlived color-coded terror alerts, the Iraq War, the Yellowcake myth, Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and cigarette lighter bans. In honor of “If you see something, say something,” Reason presents you with a brief timeline of its conception and current use:

January 2002: Korey Kay & Partners unveils “If you see something, say something”

Allen Kay shares five text-only ads with Adweek. In addition to the slogan “If you see something, say something,” the ads read, "More catastrophic bombings and biological warfare are imminent terrorist threats. Not just for the United States, but the entire world. Let's have no more surprises,” as well as "There are thousands of terrorists in this country. You can start to stop them. If you notice anything suspicious, report it. Immediately." Kay tells Adweek that the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security passed on his ad campaign.

December 2002: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) adopts “If you see something, say something”

Twenty-four randomly selected New York subway riders are taken to an “undisclosed location” and shown several slogans designed by Kay’s company for a new public safety campaign. Among the slogans that do not test well, according to the Times, are "Be Suspicious of Things That Look Suspicious” and "If You See a Package Without a Person, Don't Keep It to Yourself." The winner among the test subjects is “If you see something, say something.” Kay’s slogan begins to appear in New York’s subway and bus system. 

March 2003: MTA expands “If you see something, say something” to include photographers

Transit officials send an internal memo to MTA employees encouraging them to report people who take photos while riding the New York subway system. "Law enforcement would tell you terrorists like to case out their locations. We just want to make sure no one is trying to case us,” a transit source tells the New York Daily News.

March 2004: Reports of suspicious objects in New York skyrocket

Sixteen months after the adoption of “If you see something, say something,” reports of suspicious packages in the MTA system skyrocket. This is widely attributed to the March 11 bombing of the Madrid train system, in which bombs left in unattended knapsacks killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. Prior to the Madrid bombings, reports of suspicious packages ranked below suicides and maintenance as causes of delay, not even cracking the top 40 reasons. After the Madrid bombings, suspicious packages become the number one cause of delays in the MTA system.

June 2004: Korey Kay & Partners adds images to “If you see something, say something”

Due to reports that riders in Madrid had seen the unattended knapsacks that caused the March bombing, but said nothing, the MTA decides to add images to the “If you see something, say something” campaign. According to The New York Times, these images include “a greasy paper bag under a train seat, an elegant black briefcase on a platform, [and] a bulging blue garbage bag stashed under a station bench.” The words ''Be suspicious of anything unattended” are added to the posters.

August 2004: The Statue of Liberty reopens for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001

The Statue of Liberty reopens with monitors that show emergency exits. At the bottom of every monitor is a scrolling message: “If you see something, say something.”

July 2005: DHS raises the threat level to Orange after the London tube bombings, and the slogan spreads to Chicago

While Kay’s ads are still officially contained to the MTA system, the slogan spreads to Chicago via Mayor Richard M. Daley, who tells Chicagoans, “If you see something, say something.” In D.C., home of the nation’s third most populous public transit system, riders are given yellow cards encouraging them to report "unusual behavior, unattended packages, anything that seems suspicious."

October 2005: Bloomberg drops the phrase twice in a presser on terrorism

Mayor Michael Bloomberg shares reports of a “specific threat” to New York. “The FBI has recently shared with us a specific threat to our subway system. Commissioner Kelly, and FBI Assistant Director, Mark Mershon, will go into more detail, but I wanted to assure New Yorkers that we have done and will continue to do everything we can to protect this city. We will spare no resource, we will spare no expense,” Bloomberg says. “We have put extra protective measures in place now however, that are noticeable to the public, and we do want the public's help, as I said. If you see something, say something. Then the professionals will make an assessment. We ask that the public remain vigilant. If you see something, say something. Call 311, or 911 if it's an emergency.”

May 2007: The Coast Guard uses the slogan in its National Safe Boating Week campaign

As part of its National Safe Boating Week campaign, the USCG releases materials that read, “Boaters should be vigilant and keep an eye out for (1) their fellow mariners and (2) anything that looks unusual on the water. ‘If you see something...say something.’”

2008: “If you see something, say something” goes viral

In January, Roger Webb, president of University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, tells Oklahoma’s Campus Life and Safety and Security Task Force that it should adopt the MTA’s slogan. “If someone’s behavior is strange or if there’s a package that’s in a place that it shouldn’t be, tell someone.”

In June, MIT’s conference on “The Future of Civic Media,” journalist Alyssa Wright says, "If you see something, say something -- and say it different."

In July, Tigers outfielder Gary Sheffield tells ESPN, “A lot of people feel like I've been doing it my way for 20 years. But like I say, `If you see something, say something.' I'm not one of those guys who's not approachable. I try to take advice from everybody else."

In October, monologist Mike Daisey performs If You See Something Say Something, a send-up of the modern security state, at Joe's Pub and Public Theater in New York.

July 2010: MTA licenses “If you see something, say something” to the Department of Homeland Security

Eight years after it turned down Kay’s slogan, DHS licenses his campaign from the MTA, calling it “a simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement authorities.”

DHS instructs citizens to report “only suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack in a public place or someone trying to break into a restricted area) rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity.”

Among the agency’s partners in the new advertising campaign are Walmart, the NHL, the NFL, the U.S. Tennis Association, Mall of America, various states and municipalities, and The American Hotel and Lodging Association.

DHS also rolls out a Spanish language version of the ad: "Si Ve Algo, Diga Algo.”

September 2011: The slogan appears on coffee sleeves in D.C., Maryland

With funding from DHS, the Maryland Transit Administration prints the Kay’s slogan on coffee sleeves distributed in D.C. and Maryland. According the The Daily Caller, “the sleeves are distributed by BriteVision Media, a company that sells ad space on coffee sleeves and then provides the sleeves free to restaurants and cafes.”

February 2012: The slogan appears at the Super Bowl

“At a major national event like the Super Bowl, security is a shared responsibility and everybody has a role to play in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats,” reads a statement from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. “Our partnership with the NFL on the ‘If You See Something, Say Something™’ public awareness campaign during the Super Bowl is a critical part of our efforts to ensure the safety of every employee, player and fan.”

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Citizen Schultz||

    I see nothing!

  • affenkopf||

    And If I do I won't tell the bastards.

  • Reality||

    I see DHS, TSA, congress and the judiciary trampling the rights of citizens in violation of the constitution ~ and their oaths.

    Just thought I'd say something.

  • Joe M||

    June 2004: Korey Kay & Partners adds images to “If you say something, see something”

    Either Riggs got a little fatigued typing the phrase over and over, or he's being cheeky.

  • Suki||

    I suspect he used that little-known feature: "copy-paste".

  • Joe M||

    2008: “If you say something, see something” goes viral

    He did it twice.

    And if he were copy-pasting, it would've been correct every time.

  • Suki||

    The typo is virulent, it can indeed survive a copy-paste fully intact.

  • Suki||

    How does it compare with "Don't Snitch" in Philadelphia?

  • ||

    I can see that Janet Napolitano is a huge bitch, should I tell her?

  • DK||

    Let Rush Limbaugh test market it, first.

  • ||

    So, Little Brother is watching you?

  • Barry D||

    "There are 311 million terrorists in the United States! If you see one, call the Department of Homeland Security immediately!"

  • ||

    Fist!
    "August 2004: The Statue of Liberty reopens for the fist time since Sept. 11, 2001"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Opened that fucker right up, bitches.

  • Riggs||

    Thanks, y'all.

  • ||

    The PM links have trained me well.

  • Suki||

  • Reality||

    On the Statue of Liberty:

    "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    Now updated:

    "Keep all your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Don't send these, the homeless, starving to me,
    What do you think that fence is for!"

  • sarcasmic||

    If you see something, like a guy offering to give you a ride in a snowstorm, be sure to call the cops when you get home.
    Even if he drives off immediately after you wave him on.
    I mean, he talked to you!

    Ew!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....storm.html

  • ||

    This sort of thing is the reason I don't do a lot of volunteer work. I had a 16 y.o. guy who really wanted to learn some programming stuff, but I didn't know his parents, so I wasn't about to suggest that he figure out a way to meet up to learn programming. Its a good way to end up with a police headache. I felt bad, but not that bad.

  • Loki||

    Barrington police said Peterson ... should have called the police if he was concerned about the girls.

    Right. Because we're not supposed to ever take initiative to fix a simple problem and should always defer to our authority figures instead. They are, after all, our betters.

    I think the lesson I'll take from stories like this is: never offer to help anyone.

  • ||

    Also, WTF? "[H]e should have called the cops." If I was that guy, I'd run for mayor, just so I could fire the fucking police chief who let that go ahead.

  • Joe M||

    Barrington police said Peterson, who is due in court on Monday, should have called the police if he was concerned about the girls.

    Private citizens are no longer permitted to interact independent of government oversight.

  • Almanian||

    What part of "peaceably assemble" and "free association" are unc... wait aminute.....ummmm....

  • Shocked||

    Stranger danger!!! Another success in our war against all perceived threats.

  • ||

    Anecdotes: After the anthrax mailings, authorities shut down the Science Museum in St. Paul after someone witnessed a jelly-like substance on a paper plate in the garbage -- which turned out to be jelly on a plate.

    A caller to NPR 3-4 years ago said he notified authorities after seeing an unattended bag at the Mall of America.
    After waiting for about a half-hour, he gave up and walked away from the area. He was then immediately jumped by the Toy Cops and interrogated for two hours.
    The Homeland Security guy or whoever it was as the guest of the radio program stammered the usual BS in reply....

  • Suki||

    An actual anthrax victim in MD was blown off by medical professionals and died.

  • Gus||

    They sucked his cock?

  • ||

    not a bad way to go.

  • Pip||

    "jelly on a plate."

    Hat-tip to My Sister Kate.

  • ||

    Frightened Sheep Are Easily Led

    or something.

  • Gus||

    I know an attorney who agrees with you.

    Baaaaa....

  • ||

    Actually, frightened sheep are more likely to bust up and head for the hills.

    For herding, what you want are calm sheep.

    This may prove nothing more than that sheep are more sensible than people in many ways.

  • ||

    That explains why so many Reasonoids start foaming at the mouth as soon as a writer mentions anything vaguely related to security.

    If you're afraid of a sentence, it's kind of strange to call other people "frightened sheep".

  • Moogle||

    Something!!!!

  • Moogle||

    Who's the pussy afraid of spiders and horror movies?

  • Almanian||

    *lols*

  • Angle Iron||

    That young black man in the add looks Muslim to me. He's got a backpack or something similar. Maybe I should "say something."

  • Loki||

    Ten Years of "If You See Something, Say Something" Shrill Pointless Fear-Mongering

  • ||

    I don't get what's supposed to be wrong with this slogan, and Mr Riggs fails to explain his reasoning. It's precisely how a free society should approach security -- as opposed to the "policeman on every corner" model that statist societies favor -- but because it's vaguely associated with "homeland security" and such Riggs and the rest of the lazytarians immediately oppose it.

  • ||

    Perhaps the lazytarians are having a bad reaction to the idea that you should gather up your skirts, run, and snitch to the jackboots everytime you see something that makes you uncomfortable.

    Moderation, one suspects, in all things, which is not being promoted by this campaign.

  • ||

    Who knew that a sentence could be so powerful!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Lazytarians! Good one.
    Also: RED LIGHT CAMERAS!

  • T||

    Off the top of my head, what exactly should we report? And how many reports are actually of concern and how many are just junk? How much time and manhours are spent sorting through the junk? Seems like a boondoggle to pump up the number of man hours needed to expand bureaucratic fiefdoms, not an actual attempt to make people safe. I mean, shit, "suspicious packages become the number one cause of delays in the MTA system".

    More importantly, maybe some of us think we shouldn't be ratting each other out to the all-powerful security state? Given the well-documented excesses of our wars on nouns, perhaps some of us have some qualms about putting anybody in the crosshairs of one of those wars?

  • ||

    It's a simple matter of expected value.

    If an unattended bag has a 1% chance of being a bomb, and a bomb going off in that place is more than 100x worse than investigating a false alarm, then it's a net gain to report the unattended bag.

    As for the second point, it's just a sentence. It doesn't compel you to obey. If you have moral qualms and don't want to say something you're free not to.

  • Brett L||

    Except that an unattended bag actual has about a one in a billion chance of being a bomb by actual statistics. So, it would have to be 20 Mtonne device to make your point valid.

  • ||

    You can't deny it has a very propaganda-like style to it. While it sounds very earnest it is also very vague on what something you're supposed to say things about. It let's people fill in those things with their own imagination. Which can often be problematic as people can load it with their own biases.

  • ||

    That's a problem with people, not a problem with the slogan.

    Yes, some people will report anyone with lite-brites on their jacket or anyone who looks Muslim walking around the airport, but that's where the authorities have to be smart enough to ignore those say-somethings. Yes, I know that authorities are not known for being smart, but it's a goal.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    ...that's where the authorities have to be smart enough...

    Ah. Here's yer problem.

  • Joe M||

    You're right. People should especially report bags that are perpendicular to the walkways.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Another glibertarian? See, this is why nobody takes libertarians seriously.
    Seriously.

  • Me||

  • T||

    So, next time I'm trippin' balls on acid, I should call HomeSec about the 9-armed monkey-demon I see?

  • ||

    I see... the walls breathing colors, man. And the ceiling fan, the ceiling fan is whispering secrets that I can't understand.

  • DEA||

    Yes, and we'll be right there to throw you in prison help you with that.

  • T||

    Oh, don't worry, you can track that burner all you want.

  • ||

    "We're all secret policemen, now."

  • ||

    I don't get what's supposed to be wrong with this slogan

    I find that unsurprising.

  • ||

    Not nearly as unsurprising as another argument-free insult from P Brooks.

    At least the other Axis of Glib members have the courtesy to use nested comments.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Axis of Glib!
    That never gets old!

  • ||

    So if you fire someone (or 14 someones) because they wear color coordinated shirts to protest a management decision, that would be illegal, but if you fire them because you think they're protesting, but actually coordinating a group happy hour, that's legal. Or something. Fucking love my state.

    SLC, the principal at this firm has the right to fire anyone, but that doesn't mean she isn't an asshole.

  • ||

    s/SLC/SLD

  • T||

    You fix that but leave the broken link. Masterful, Brett.

  • ||

    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/si.....04912.html

    This is what I get for tweaking SF earlier. Fuck me.

  • ||

    Haw-haw!

  • Brett L||

    Screw you guys! I'm going to Jezebel where people will love me unconditionally as long as I pretend to be a fat, multiracial gay man who is secretly attracted to lesbians.

  • Almanian||

    Brett - call me...

    No homo!

  • ||

    Nevermind. This ruint it for me. Bunch a people who can't put the fucking fork down feeling superior to self-starvers. Fuck both camps with someone else's dick.

  • Joe M||

    You should definitely click through to the actual thinspo page on Pinterest though.

  • ||

    At first I thought they would have a case against the firm because the management attempted to commit a crime. But then I realized this was their version of Free Balloon Day

  • South||

    snitches get stitches.

  • Invisible Finger||

    If you see something, say something. Remember, loose lips sink ships.

    The funny part is that is only the beginning of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" story.

    We're now only living in part 2 where the idiot authorities panic every time someone says something.

    We all know part 3 is coming.

  • ||

    *insert picture of Ur flipping you off as hard as he possibly can, preferably rendered in LEDs*

  • Bellvue Outsider||

    Last Year 1,944 New Yorkers...

    This should be an example of the FAILURE of the campaign as anything other than an urban punchline. I would think there are way more than 1,944 acute paranoid schizophrenics off their meds in NYC. Even THEY won't say anything anymore.

  • ||

    My favorite variation on the whole unattended baggage thing was the constant announcement at O'Hare:

    "Please do not leave your baggage unattended. Unattended baggage will be taken by airport security."

    I laughed.

  • Joe M||

    If you're not laughing, you're crying.

  • Russ 2000||

    My favorite part about O'Hare is the threat level is always announced over the PA as "ORANGE" even when it isn't.

  • Reality||

    My favorite part about O'Hare is never going there again. Or any other airport.

    If I'm going to be fondled, I'm inclined to have a friend do it.

  • ||

    So, given that there is a non-negligible possibility of terrorist attacks, particularly on transportation networks, what is the libertarian response supposed to be?

    (a) ignore it

    (b) encourage citizen vigilance

    (c) station cameras, cops, etc on every bus, every train, in every nook and cranny of every bit of transportation infrastructure

    (a) isn't feasible, (c) is ripe for abuse. So we don't have much choice, do we?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    "c)" is ripe for abuse? Oh, that's rich.

  • ||

    I've always admitted that RLC systems can be abused. There are degrees, though; I've never heard of an RLC intimidating a driver into letting them search the car for drugs and shooting their dogs.

  • Joe M||

    That sounds like a Futurama sketch.

  • Joe M||

    I think the problem many of us see with this is that it becomes "If you see anything, say something." People are kept in a heightened state of fear, which leads to major over-reporting (e.g. jelly on a plate) and a general decline in conditions at all these public locations, far beyond the tiny potential for a real incident being prevented. Using you math above, the ratio of false positives to real problems has got to skew into the hundreds of thousands to one range, if not beyond it.

  • Glib||

    what is the libertarian response supposed to be?

    Well since libertarians are against PUBLIC transport networks, the answer should be obvious.

    As for private networks, it's up to the owner and what the paying customers will bear.

    My advice: charge enough to keep the riff raff out.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Of course, the answer is that in a free society of moderately intelligent citizens, said citizens would, as a matter of course, report "suspicious" circumstances that really were suspicious and would not need to be inundated with propaganda.

    But in a society of nitwits, such propaganda will lead inexorably to bomb squads regularly exploding unattended packages of tandoori chicken and Mennonite women being arrested because of their weird-looking headgear.

  • Almanian||

    Fucking Mennonites and their no-option cars....

    Actually, we had a small M population where I grew up. They used to come to the BK I worked at on Sundays - it was like their big day out after church. Three things I recall distinctly...FOUR things:

    1) The plain cars (dogdish hubcaps, vinyl seats, etc)
    2) Absolutely the nicest people ever
    3) Quick wit and they liked to joke around
    4) The girls were cute...like forbidden fruit.

    Ah Mennonites - how I miss having you around. The least scary people I can think of...

  • Citizen Nothing||

    There's a large Mennonite community in my county. My wife has a Mennonite friend who lives near us and has children of similar ages.
    And a Mennonite farmer rents one of my fields for alfalfa hay production. I feel a little guilty (but only a little) when I sit on my porch drinking cold beer, watching his entire family baling hay under the broiling sun.

  • Almanian||

    I know what you mean. Hadn't seen any in a long time til I interviewed w/a company near Wichita, KS. Large pop in the Hesston area - saw some Mennonite kids working at the stores in town. They all look and act so damned wholesome - I mind my manners when they're around :)

  • Citizen Nothing||

    And, unlike the Amish, the Mennonites are willing to be a part of the larger society around them, so their kids don't tend to go all rumspringa-pathic.

  • ||

    Maybe you'd prefer Somalia's society.

    glub glub glub

  • Shocked||

    This comment seems a little suspicious to me. Maybe I should report it.

  • Big Gums Suh||

    "He's afraid of spiders. He's afraid of horror movies."

    more like he's afraid of dogs, swimming, and getting a job. He's not afraid of chimping out at Burger King and Chuck E. Cheese.

  • ||

    And snakes!

  • Almanian||

    We're watchin ur activuteez qnd reportin ur moovs

  • np||

    The problem is that there's no risk-reward balance in this type of snitching system! Here's how it should work:

    If you see something and say something. If you turn out to be right, we'll reward you $10,000. If you turn out to be wrong, you owe us $10,000.

  • Think before you say:||

    If you really see something, scream something at the top of your lungs.

  • Harry Hooshitz||

    The slogan works. Only people who confuse fascism with potential heroism don't like it.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Can't a fascist be a potential hero? I mean, if, like, you know, Mussolini thought about jumping into a raging river to save a kitten?

  • Harry Hooshitz||

    Mindless word-drool.

  • Almanian||

    Also, isn't "See and Say" a kids game or something?

    *Google*

    Ah, yes - my best friend's family had one of these for the young 'uns...

    http://www.google.com/search?q.....66&bih=616

  • Joe M||

    The sheep says, "Baaaaaa..."

  • Joe M||

    Then the pig says, "Oink oink."

  • Almanian||

    They really need to update the selections:

    "Teh Terrrrrrrrist says 'ALLUHAHABABDAABA AKBAR' or something..."

    "The victim says "AAAAAAAAAGGGH!!'"

    "The TSA person says, 'Ah need tuh check yo assssshoe....'"

  • Rich||

    "The H&R commenter says 'LOL'"

  • Almanian||

    "The troll says, 'HURR DURR HURR!!!'"

  • Jess Asken||

    What are penalties for leaving a bag unattended (besides littering fines or having it taken by airport security)? That is, if someone "forgets" a bag on the subway or park bench, what real trouble might they be in?

  • Almanian||

    Anyone see the AMA Superbike and Supercross races this weekend? Some DAMNED fine motorcycle racing action. NASCAR race - meh. F1 race - meh, crashing, then follow the leader as usual.

    Played hooky from work today (kind of) and rode the shit out of my Ninja. Just fucking KILLED it. SO fun. These early springs in the Midwest are a blessing, and make up for shitty years like last year...

    PS Best part was wheeling around the corner in town doing 60 in a 25 to see....a cop car in the middle of the road blocking traffic for an accident. SHIT! I slid the rear tire out sideways getting whoaed up, flattracked by and kept going...fortunately, NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. Lulz - good times, good times...

  • Joe M||

    Ah, that explains your absence from the commentations today.

  • ||

    At least the other Axis of Glib members have the courtesy to use nested comments.

    I AM THE Z AXIS!

  • ||

    given that there is a non-negligible possibility of terrorist attacks

    Stop

    right

    there.

  • ||

    Man I jsut dont even care anymore wow.

    www.Anon-Planet.tk

  • Dont tell me this shit is||

    actually trademarked? WTF? now that is copyright law gone way too far.

  • "Loose lips...||

    ...are no good for blowjobs."

  • Who do I call to report a ||

    suspicious black man in a white house? We asked for his ID and it took him two fucking years to cook up a forgery. And we confirmed he is fraudulently using a Social Security number that was not issued to him.

    Seriously...who do you call?

  • jason||

    These days the terror threats effects very badly on the society and these are the one examples of those.

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