Bruce Schneier, an expert in security decisionmaking and computer security, loves to talk about movie-plot threats: we tend to spend our homeland security budget protecting against bombs that go off when our school buses dip below 50 mph, rather than guarding against more common sense vulnerabilities, like X-raying all cargo containers. Schneier recently hosted a contest to come up with the most lurid, frightening, believable terrorist threats. He got 892 comments.
Here's the winner:
Mission: Terrorize Americans. Neutralize American economy, make America feel completely vulnerable, and all Americans unsafe.
Scene 1: A rented van drives from Spokane, WA, to a remote setting in Idaho and loads up with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and a couple of people dressed in fatigues.
Scene 2: Terrorists dressed in "delivery man" garb take over the UPS cargo depot at the Spokane, WA, airport. A van full of explosives is unloaded at the depot.
Scene 3: Terrorists dressed in "delivery man" garb take over the UPS cargo depot at the Kamloops, BC, airport. A van full of explosives is unloaded at the depot.
Scene 4: A van with mercenaries drives through the Idaho forests en route to an unknown destination. Receives cell communiqué that locations Alpha and Bravo are secured.
Scene 5: UPS cargo plane lands in Kamloops and is met at the depot by terrorists who overtake the plane and its crew. Explosives are loaded aboard the aircraft. The same scene plays out in Spokane moments later, and that plane is loaded with explosives. Two pilots board each of the cargo planes and ask for takeoff instructions as night falls across the West.
Scene 6: Two cargo jets go airborne from two separate locations. A van with four terrorists arrives at its destination, parked on an overlook ridge just after nightfall. They use infrared glasses to scope the target. The camera pans down and away from the van, exposing the target. Grand Coulee Dam. The cell phone rings and notification comes to the leader that "Nighthawks alpha and bravo have launched."
Scene 7: Two radar operators in separate locations note with alarm that UPS cargo jets they have been tracking have dropped off the radar and may have crashed. Aboard each craft the pilots have turned off navigational radios and are flying on "manual" at low altitude. One heading South, one heading North.
Scene 8: Planes are closing in on the "target" and the rocket launcher crew goes to work. With precision they strike lookout and defense positions on the dam, then target the office structures below. As they finish, a cargo jet approaches from the North at high velocity, slamming into the back side of the dam just above the waterline and exploding, shuddering the earth. A large portion of the center-top of the dam is missing. Within seconds a cargo plane coming from the South slams into the front face of the dam, closer to the base, and explodes in a blinding flash, shuddering the earth. In moments, the dam begins to fail, and a final volley from four rocket launchers on the hill above helps break open the face of the dam. The 40-mile-long Lake Roosevelt begins to pour down the Columbia River Valley, uncontrolled. No warning is given to the dams downriver, other than the generation at G.C. is now offline.
Scene 9: Through the night, the surging wall of water roars down the Columbia waterway, overtopping dam after dam and gaining momentum (and huge amounts of water) along the way. The cities of Wenatchee and Kennewick are inundated and largely swept away. A van of renegades retreats to Northern Idaho to hide.
Scene 10: As day breaks in the West, there is no power from Seattle to Los Angeles. The Western power grid has failed. Commerce has ground to a halt west of the Rocky Mountains. Water is sweeping down the Columbia River gorge, threatening to overtop Bonneville dam and wipe out the large metro area of Portland, OR.
Scene 11: Bin Laden releases a video on Al Jazeera that claims victory over the Americans.
Scene 12: Pandemonium, as water sweeps into a panicked Portland, Oregon, washing all away in its path, and surging water well up the Willamette valley.
Scene 13: Washington situation room...little input is coming in from the West. Some military bases have emergency power and sat phones, and are reporting that the devastation of the dam infrastructure is complete. Seven major and five minor dams have been destroyed. Re-powering the West coast will take months, as connections from the Eastern grid will have to be made through the New Mexico Mountains.
Scene 14: Worst U.S. market crash in history. America's GNP drops from the top of the charts to 20th worldwide. Exports and imports cease on the West coast. Martial law fails to control mass exodus from Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A. as millions flee to the east. Gas shortages and vigilante mentality take their toll on the panicked populace. The West is "wild" once more. The East is overrun with millions seeking homes and employment.
After two posts called "The bomb" and "Best Terrorist Plot", I have to imagine that this blog has crossed the invisible line. Like the police interrogator says in Meet the Parents, you can't say bomb in an airport; can you say terrorist bomb on the internet? Only time will tell. So if you don't hear from me, please file a habeas petition.
So here's my terrorist plot: put the BBC/A&E (1995) version of Pride and Prejudice on every channel in America simultaneously. In the five hours afforded by the transfixion of the entire television-watching population, take over the country.