Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Movie Plot Threat Contest (Updated)

From Schneier on Security:

For a while now, I have been writing about our penchant for "movie-plot threats": terrorist fears based on very specific attack scenarios. Terrorists with crop dusters, terrorists exploding baby carriages in subways, terrorists filling school buses with explosives -- these are all movie-plot threats. They're good for scaring people, but it's just silly to build national security policy around them.

But if we're going to worry about unlikely attacks, why can't they be exciting and innovative ones? If Americans are going to be scared, shouldn't they be scared of things that are really scary? "Blowing up the Super Bowl" is a movie plot to be sure, but it's not a very good movie. Let's kick this up a notch.

It is in this spirit I announce the (possibly First) Movie-Plot Threat Contest. Entrants are invited to submit the most unlikely, yet still plausible, terrorist attack scenarios they can come up with.

Your goal: cause terror. Make the American people notice. Inflict lasting damage on the U.S. economy. Change the political landscape, or the culture. The more grandiose the goal, the better.

Assume an attacker profile on the order of 9/11: 20 to 30 unskilled people, and about $500,000 with which to buy skills, equipment, etc.

Post your movie plots here on this blog.

Judging will be by me, swayed by popular acclaim in the blog comments section. The prize will be an autographed copy of Beyond Fear. And if I can swing it, a phone call with a real live movie producer.


Note to reader(s): I've been away for a few weeks doing "AR-MEE TRAINING, SIR". I'm back now, and have dug myself out from "inbox hell". More blogging to follow.


Here is my plot idea:

Spring Break Nightmare

Every year 130,000 spring-breakers flock to South Padre Island, Texas. Wet t-shirt contests, Girls Gone Wild video crews, and drunken debauchery take over the island for the entire month of March. At night, many of the college kid make the trek to nearby Matamoros, Mexico, a border-town famous for catering to drunk Americans. This is higher education at its best, and usually, all the kids take back with them are sunburns, hangovers, and maybe some incriminating pictures. This year will be different.

Several teams of young men have slipped into Mexico disguised as students and business travelers. They are Al Qaeda operatives specially trained and selected because they don’t look Middle Eastern. These men have been recruited from all over the Muslim world. Some are Asian, some Bosnian, others are disaffected North Africans from the Paris ghettoes. Most of them do not look distinctly “Arab”, and they do not hold passports from any Middle Eastern Countries. Some have been in terrorist camps in both the Philippines and Malaysia. Others have actually attended college in the US. They all speak English and are conversant in the college lingo of “facebook” and “myspace”. They blend.

By twos and threes, the teams make their way to the border. They rent a hotel room in Matamoros and don college t-shirts and flip-flops. . They are ready to be martyred, and they won’t even have to cross into the US to do it.

They have carried with them several small aerosol containers of weaponized smallpox acquired on the Russian black-market. One afternoon, just a spring break in beginning to heat up, they face Mecca and pray. Next, they inhale a mist of virus from one of the containers and spray it on their clothes. Then they hit the clubs, human smart bombs on the attack.

For the next two weeks, as the disease incubates in their bodies, they act like all the other drunken college kids. They do tequila shots and keg stands. Some freak dance with some hotties from Texas Tech. Others get lucky with some girls from Arizona State. All the while they are spreading smallpox both through physical contact and by spraying more of the containers in crowed areas.

After two weeks, the terrorists begin to get a rash. The disease is now as its most contagious stage. Next comes the white pustules, and then a painful death or at least permanent disfigurement. It's time for Phase II of their plan. Attack North.

That night, the teams split up make their way individually to the international bridge with all the other kids headed back to Padre Island. This is the moment that all your tax dollars have been building up to. Will these two men get caught at the border?

For once, everything goes right, but it’s too late to matter. Acting on information collected by the CIA and passed to the Department of Homeland Security, the customs agents on the border detain several of the terrorists. Some slip past, but it’s a coup for homeland security as they have seemingly disrupted an attempt at terrorist infiltration. The terrorist who are caught are detained in the Cameron County jail while the feds decide what to do with them. They come in contact with guards and other prisoners—more targets courtesy of the US government.

The terrorists are sick, but nobody notices. The next day the FBI takes custody of the suspects and begins to question them. Two days later the suspects develop white pustules all over their bodies. A doctor is rushed the holding facility.

Within the hour panicked alerts begin to flash across the country. Smallpox. The nightmare is here. Simultaneously, clinics at college campuses throughout the country begin seeing students with flu-like symptoms. Some of them have rashes. In Mexico, the same thing is happening.

The US has now been under biological attack for two weeks. On the way home from spring break, the infected college students have passed through every major airport and traveled along every major highway in the US. Mexico is now collateral damage in the global war on terror. The clock is ticking on a biological time bomb. Now what?

Benefits: You can cast young, good looking people as the spring breakers. You can have the Jack Bauer-type who “saves” the day by figuring out that the infiltrators are trying to cross the borders. Then you get a lot of cool doomsday “hotzone” stuff with smallpox outbreaks across the country.

Drawback: Bringing in the attack under the $500K price would be hard. You could get the teams trained and in place with that amount of money, but acquiring the smallpox would be tough. We would have to assume that the smallpox was acquired on a separate budget line item.


At April 05, 2006, Anonymous sheerahkahn said...

Dang Kris, your plot scares me.

Mine would be along the same line, but with a little more technical detail, and not small pox.

I would go with a genetically manipulated bug like the black plague, in pneumonic form of course, and the symptoms are masked as a nasty cold until it's too late to treat the patient. Also, part of the genetic manipulation is the long incubation period which allows transmission for longer period of time. Say, one week.
Definitely keep the Spring Break though, dam, just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

At April 06, 2006, Anonymous Patrick said...

I like the Tom Clancy angle of using Bosnians and other non-Arab Muslims, but I do see one potential problem: If they are going to get freaky with the Tri-Delts from AZ State, someone's going to have to teach them that stuff!

Not that anyone around them would be on-the-ball enough to notice...

I'm going to try my hand at writing a scenario tonight.

At April 13, 2006, Blogger Daniel said...

kris, You make me glad I was born long enough ago to have been vaccinated against small pox. Scary, and yet very plausible, scenario.

At April 20, 2006, Anonymous Andrew said...

Here's been my favorite scenario for a while:

Terrorists get a nuclear device - not a suitcase, but one that can fit in a truck or van. They know from reading the open press that Major Cities like DC, NY and LA have radiation detectors that can detect their poorly shielded device (and they know that shielding it adequately would require a semi to haul it, which means inspection stations and searches). They’ve also “boosted” the device with radioactive waste which is easy to detect but will provide the coup-de-grace to America later.

They decide on what seems like an unlikely target: Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. They rent a houseboat, load the device, and cruise to the dam. They can't get right up to the dam because of a safety net, but it will be close enough. To maximize the effect of the weapon, they put it on a timer and sink the houseboat so it will explode at the base of the dam.

Once the device explodes, the dam fails almost immediately, sending a wall of contaminated water through one of the eight natural wonders of the world, Grand Canyon National Park. As the radioactive water rushes through the park, in hits the calm waters of lake Mead. A short time later, Hoover dam at the head of lake Mead is overtopped by the water and fails. Now the full might of the flood from both dams roars to the sea. With a combined volume of 57 million acre feet, that is enough water to supply 57 million 4-person households for 1 year.

As the torrent continues down the Colorado River basin, it wipes out everything in it's path. The most important is the equipment and smaller dams that divert the mighty Colorado to provide water to 25 million people in the arid southwest. 25 million people now have only a few days supply of water before the taps run dry. Additionally, thousands of acres of valuable agricultural land is wiped out and 3.5 million acres of some of America's most important cropland is suddenly without a water supply. The deluge wipes out a few small cities on it’s way to the Gulf of California.

The initial casualty estimates are low – perhaps 10-15 thousand at the most. However, the loss of so much water and power generation capacity (3,500 megawatts in total) is a civil and economic body blow to the USA. The full disaster becomes clear as riots engulf Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Las Angeles as citizens fight for water and air conditioners cease to work without power. In the panic, confusion and chaos, the cities are burned to the ground and thousand die. But then the fullest extent becomes apparent when tests are done to the soils and riverbed of the Colorado. The bomb, laced with radioactive waste, has turned the entire river basin into a radioactive waste site. The water will be unusable until expensive purification plants are built, which will take many months. The US economy is crippled from the loss of productivity from Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada.

That’s basically it. Someday I’d like to write a book about that, but I need to get some time first!

At April 23, 2006, Blogger DEANBERRY said...



At May 03, 2006, Blogger Alex said...

Kris, that really is a movie-plot threat. More seriously, what about the possibility of yet another iteration of the current iconic Al-Qa'ida plot, the multiple synchronised bombing of tourists in poor countries?

The concentration of US youth in Mexican resorts seems an ideal target - rich, noisy wankers living it up surrounded by the disaffected poor.

At June 14, 2006, Blogger chiflada-a-go-go said...

Tsk.Tsk.Tsk. You can take the boy out of the Valley, but you can't take the Valley out of the boy.

At June 15, 2006, Blogger Kris Alexander said...

So, chiflada-a-go-go I'm assuming that I know you from my valley daze.


At June 16, 2006, Blogger chiflada-a-go-go said...

Si.I am very impressed with your efforts and courage to publish. Mrs. Salinas would smile herself into Chesire cat delirium; oh so proud!

At July 11, 2006, Anonymous Tassled Loafered Leech said...

Similar to 9/11, AQ operatives hijack a LNG tanker in NY harbor and the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro and Long Beach. They detonate the one in NY next to the Statue of Liberty

At July 14, 2006, Blogger chiflada-a-go-go said...

Does anyone else miss the Russians?


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