Civil Liberties

Staring Down Terrorism

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At a start-up cost of $90 million, and maintenance costs of $8 million a year, London-style surveillance is coming to New York. Having obtained less than a third of the money needed ($25 million), New York's finest are about to install thousands of cameras and license plate readers in Lower Manhattan:

Three thousand surveillance cameras would be installed below Canal Street by the end of 2008, about two-thirds of them owned by downtown companies. Some of those are already in place. Pivoting gates would be installed at critical intersections; they would swing out to block traffic or a suspect car at the push of a button.

Yet:

There is little evidence to suggest that security cameras deter crime or terrorists, said James J. Carafano, a senior fellow for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington.

As is customary in surveillance societies, the whole project is coming in with no public consultation whatsoever.

Julian Sanchez has looked at ever-more powerful surveillance technology; Ronald Bailey protested the total surveillance society, and Katherine Mangu-Ward has examined the extent of surveillance nation. Reason analyzed the advantages of databasification in June 2004.

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  1. The swing-out gates sound like a really stupid idea. Why not just install “Instant Lawsuit Machine #5” instead?

  2. Pivoting gates would be installed at critical intersections; they would swing out to block traffic or a suspect car at the push of a button.

    And the cars will be held in place with MAGNETS!

  3. Fluffy,

    Actually, it sounds like a Seinfeld episode waiting to be made to me.

  4. “Pivoting gates would be installed at critical intersections; they would swing out to block traffic or a suspect car at the push of a button.”

    Wait.. What?

  5. Magnets. Always with the magnets…

  6. Actually, I’m very curious about how the pivoting gates at intersections would work. If they’re long enough to block an entire street, where can they go when they’re not “engaged”, without hitting cars on the cross street when activated?

  7. Yeah, the threat of being seen on camera is going to stop a sucidal Muslim fanatic from blowing himself up.

  8. So now Lower Manhattan will be fitted with pivoting death gates that will bisect pedestrians and cars. Great.

  9. crimethink: maybe the gates slide down from the traffic lights. just hope the power doesn’t go out while you’re under one.

  10. Don’t let fiance give you head in the car while driving through downtown New York.

  11. That was supposed to be preceded by “Note to self:”

  12. “””Actually, I’m very curious about how the pivoting gates at intersections would work. If they’re long enough to block an entire street, where can they go when they’re not “engaged”, without hitting cars on the cross street when activated?”””

    I’m curious on that one too. It’s sound like BS.

    “””The swing-out gates sound like a really stupid idea. Why not just install “Instant Lawsuit Machine #5″ instead?”””

    One would think so. But tort may be curb for anti-terror actions.

  13. But tort may be curb for anti-terror actions.

    Paging Dave W., we need a cleanup on thread 121293…

    Don’t let fiance give you head in the car while driving through downtown New York.

    I agree, but I would break that up into three parts:
    1. Don’t let your fiance give you head, that’s immoral.
    2. Don’t drive through downtown NYC — are you nuts?!
    3. You’re probably better off not having a fiance at all.

  14. TWC – Told ya so.

  15. The public in NYC either doesn’t care or approves of constant surveillance. It’s just exhibit #76 in NYC’s sad decline.

  16. I find it funny that they’re throwing all this high tech stuff at the cops, yet at a starting salary of 26,000 per year they’re only getting idiots as new recruits.

    All the cops I know have either taken their 20 or are about to take their 20. No one is staying longer. No one is encouraging younger brothers or sons to join up anymore.

  17. A great idea for a terrorist attack would be to get into the place where the buttons are and push them all at once.

  18. They’re actually going to using walls that crush together. Like in Star Wars. But with spikes. So it’s more like the Temple of Doom.

  19. Paging Dave W., we need a cleanup on thread 121293…

    Actually, I would rather tell a little story. One time a city decided to install CCTV’s everywhere. Very expensive ones. The city was quite concerned about terrorists you see.

    Sure enough, a couple of terrorists did come along. We will call them Billly and Kal. They brought a couple of vehicles, filled with gasoline and nails into the city. their plan was to blow up these vehicles remotely in front of a nightclub. It was hoped, by the terrorists, that many nightclub patrons would die. What that was supposed to accomplish is not clear, but: (i) these were nutty terrorists; and (ii) people die in Iraq for no good reason all the time. Whatever their real reasons, and we may never know, Billy and Kal were dedicated to their plan. One summer night they drove the cars and parked them Frank Dreben stylee in front of the nightclub.

    Now the CCTV cameras of the city caught Billy and Kal in the act. Nobody yet knew what Billy and Kal were doing, but, of course, the unblinking eye of those expensive CCTV systems see all, and they record it, too. Those cameras did record Billy and Kal and they recorded them but good.

    With the cars parked in place, Billy and Kal retreated away from the CCTV cameras and began to attempt remote detonation of the bombs. At this point, the city caught a break. The bombs failed to go off due to faulty design. Making a bomb is hard, and Billy and Kal failed at it, miserably, at least on these first two attempts.

    The bombs, unexploded were discovered in both cars in due course. Heroic bomb squadders dismantled the unexploded bombs and the city was safe, at least for the time being.

    After the bombs were discovered, the police of the city decided to promptly look into the CCTV footage in order to see what the bombers looked like. They quickly found the footage of Billy and Kal and it was crystal clear. They did not have names, but they had faces — and that is always a good start to a police investigation.

    At this point one of the policemen suggested that the pictures be released to the public so that members of the public could tell the police who these mad bombers were and perhaps also give a location. After all, these bombers at large were a ticking time bomb of sorts — they could strike again at any time. When you have a ticking time bomb, the one police guy suggested, then you take extraordinary measures to make sure that it does not go off in the form of another attack. This policeman pointed out that the public had helped catch the Unabomber and the notorious DC Snipers — and in this case there were crystal clear pictures, which is a lot more than they had in those other cases.

    The other policemen, sadly, nixed this suggestion that the CCTV footage be turned over to the public. The other policemen were quite confident that the police could handle the ticking time bomb scenario without help from the public. What is more, by handling it themselves, the police would increase their stature in the eyes of the public, and perhaps even get more funding to create more jobs in the police force. Besides, releasing CCTV footage to the public would set a bad precedent. If the public got its footage this time, then they would come to expect it after every terrorist attack. The police decided that they could not have that.

    So the police valiantly sought the terrorists at large. They had some nice leads; they did some nice work. Unfortunately, luck had run out. The terrorists used their reprieve after the failed bombing to plan a suicide attack. They scouted a crowded building, out at the airport, that had a nice wide door, and no security bollards blocking it. So, they loaded up another car with explosives (better ones this time) and nails and drove out to the airport in order to set off that car bomb and burn that crowded building down.

    Because the terrorists were now willing to commit suicide, they no longer needed to rely on a remote detonator. They drove to the airport, drove into the crowded building through the door, running over several old ladies along the way. Once inside the croded building, before anyone really had a chance to react they detonated the bomb. Dozens were killed in the initial explosion — ripped aprt by nails and panels. the ensuing fire was worse. Panic among the burning people was rife. Toddlers died. Puppies and kittens smothered in their holding cages on the acrid smoke. People of all colors and creeds perished in that terrible airport fire. When they finally counted the dead, the human death toll, not counting the two terrorists stood at 75. The world was outraged and started many wars where it was okay to shoot people of the same religion as Billy and Kal.

    Some conspiracy minded members of the public wanted to know, in the aftermath, whether the police had any CCTV footage. However, more sensible voices drownded these out. It doesn’t matter if the police have these images or not because the police would have had to have superhuman powers of ratiocination to understand that the release of these pictures could have been helpful while Billy and Kal were at large between the first and second bombings. The police can’t be expected superhuman — they are just human like everybody else!!! Besides, even if they released the CCTV footage, there is a chance Billy and Kal would have successfully executed the second attack anyway. After all, there was only 37 hours between the first and second attack. It is quite possible that they might not have been seen or recognized in such a short time span. Even Jack Bauer (T.’s hero) gets 24 hours.

    Over at the HnR board, one lone man would not shut up about the CCTV footage, going on about it like it was some kind of indictment of police competence or perhaps something more sinister. One of the HnR regulars was even inspired to invent a new filter so that this guy’s annoying posted were automatically transformed into paeans to the sponsors of Reason magazine, the people to whom we owe the existence of this very platform. The filter was widely adopted, and it was a small silver lining to a terrible tragedy.

    Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and any similarity to people, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

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  20. “””The public in NYC either doesn’t care or approves of constant surveillance.”””

    I as one New Yorker, don’t approve of it. But what am I suppose to do? I do believe many do approve.

    Terrorism will never force me out of New York, anti-terror might. If I don’t like it, I feel obligated to somewhere else.

    “””It’s just exhibit #76 in NYC’s sad decline.”””

    I want to agree, NYC had been going downhill for a while, at least im my opinion. But in reality, Manhattan is closer to becoming a Millionaires club, they are building every friggin where, so I can’t really call it a decline.

  21. Dave W.,
    There are many fine publishing houses where one can get novella-length pieces published. I didn’t know H&R was one of them.

  22. Dave W,

    The solution to your scenario is of course to ban puppies and kittens from airport terminals.

  23. That’s not a little story by any means.

    Semi-OT: I’ve been wondering how often the New Yorkers here on HnR encounter bag searches on the subway these days, and if you do anything to avoid them.

  24. Nice hypothetical there, Dave. I have an issue with the results of the second attack. Shouldn’t it be that the Billy and Kal were so incompetant that they couldn’t even kill themselves?

    It’s not so scary when the net result is that 6 persons are injured and the airport terminal building needs some new paint.

  25. Not to quash your very creative yarn, Dave, but how did the two guys transform from wimpy remote-detonator users to brazen suicide bombers in 37 hours? That’s one link you seem to have left out of the chain of events.

  26. Staring Down Terrorsim

    Is TerrorSim a new virtual-world game?


  27. 1. Don’t let your fiance give you head, that’s immoral.

    Just curious. Where in the Bible does it say head is immoral?

  28. There are many fine publishing houses where one can get novella-length pieces published. I didn’t know H&R was one of them.

    By Radley’s decree I can’t get anything published here from my home computer. 🙁

    Not to quash your very creative yarn, Dave, but how did the two guys transform from wimpy remote-detonator users to brazen suicide bombers in 37 hours?

    it happens:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/06/europe/06britain.php

  29. It’s not so scary when the net result is that 6 persons are injured and the airport terminal building needs some new paint.

    I guess the lesson is that if your nation has been good about installing security bollards, then they need not release CCTV footage.

  30. Where in the Bible does it say head is immoral?

    Somewhere in the vicinity of “shellfish are an abomination” and “beat your kids when they talk back”.

  31. I take the subway to work everyday and have never had my bag searched. I have seen cops searching bags maybe once or twice in the previous 12 months.

  32. Its immoral because she is your fiance not your wife.

  33. jimmy,

    I’m not a sola scriptura person, but by definition your fiance is not your wife, and thus any sort of interaction between her and your genitalia crosses over the thin pink line drawn in the Bible and elsewhere.

    Not that I expect you to care what I think, but I put it out there anyway.

    Now, you have to be insane if you think driving in lower Manhattan is a good idea anyway.

  34. Ah, I get it. I forgot about that part. So, when I marry her, head should be just fine and dandy. Right? 🙂

  35. jimmy,

    Well, even then you have to make sure the happy juice makes it to the place God and Evolution intended, otherwise you’re preventing procreation.

  36. /kicks bible

  37. Katherine Mangu-Ward has examined the extent of surveillance nation.

    What a weaselly synopsis. Try: Katherine Mangu-Ward has determined that it all sounds pretty nifty to her, considerations of privacy invasions and privacy loss are silly, but we do have to worry about property rights being violated.

    And people wonder why libertarian is often considered a word for conservative too ashamed of George Bush to call themselves Republican.

  38. There are already pivoting gates in every street in a two- to three-block radius of the Stock Exchange (a.k.a “The Only Building Worth Protecting”). Been there for years. I assume these new ones will be the same.

    They pivot from underneath. Normally they are flush with the pavement. They come in pairs and each pair is accompanied by a guard booth.

    I as one New Yorker, don’t approve of it. But what am I suppose to do? I do believe many do approve.

    The Millionaire’s Club you speak of will very much approve this. The rest of us will be ignored.

    I’ve been wondering how often the New Yorkers here on HnR encounter bag searches on the subway these days, and if you do anything to avoid them.

    I’ve never been searched; and I pass a search station maybe three or four times a year. The news just did another survey of New Yorkers on this issue: they are continuing to bend over in cheerful compliance. One twit actually said something like “It makes us feel safer, and that’s the most important thing.” I weep.

    Now, you have to be insane if you think driving in lower Manhattan is a good idea anyway.

    Traffic is ballooning in Manhattan, partly because the only people who can afford to live there any more are people who wouldn’t be caught dead on the subway.

  39. “””Semi-OT: I’ve been wondering how often the New Yorkers here on HnR encounter bag searches on the subway these days, and if you do anything to avoid them.”””

    As for myself, rarely. I do nothing to avoid them. Back when I was carrying a backpack, I was never stopped. I’ve never been stopped. I see them maybe once a month.

  40. “””There are already pivoting gates in every street in a two- to three-block radius of the Stock Exchange (a.k.a “The Only Building Worth Protecting”). Been there for years. I assume these new ones will be the same.””””

    I haven’t been down by the stock exchange in years. Do those streets have much vehicle traffic? These the same type of gates by the Fed building on Duane St.? I haven’t seen those style of gates used with flowing traffic.

  41. I haven’t been down by the stock exchange in years. Do those streets have much vehicle traffic?

    Not any more. “Traffic flow” is of no concern when our children’s lives are at stake! You can’t drive when you’re dead.

  42. “I’ve been wondering how often the New Yorkers here on HnR encounter bag searches on the subway these days, and if you do anything to avoid them.”

    well, since they started until maybe the end of 2006 i was asked ten times. and refused ten times. (and only when i was carrying a very small bag and not my oversized gym bag)

    since then i have not been asked at all. why? i have no fuckin’ idea.

  43. i was asked ten times. and refused ten times.

    That’s a lot of times. Well, you ARE kind of menacing-looking.

    I still don’t know what I would do if I was asked. Now that I live in remotest Brooklyn, where the only alternative is a windy, uphill ten-block walk away, I fear I might just give in and bend over.

  44. Scratch that–there’s another station a level eight blocks away, but STILL.

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