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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bloomberg: Sacrilegious Mutt or Sacrificial Lamb?

Reference article:

First responders decry exclusion from 9/11 ceremony.

I suspect I might lose some readers over this, but hear me out.

It's just a theory.

First, some back story.

After September 11, 2001, I am reasonably sure I was not the only one who noticed being treated differently by security personnel, particularly at airports. In 2001, I was working at a software company dealing with electric utility companies, and traveled all over the U.S. frequently.

Post 9/11 I noticed that it seemed like I was getting pulled out of the security line, or the line to board the plane, for a comprehensive search pretty much constantly. My name is old-country British in origin, and my ethnicity is similar to Wonder Bread, so I was being profile-captured by something else.

On one trip, I arrived early as usual, anticipating the usual extra-check delay, but did not get yanked. When I got to the hotel to retire for the night, I figured it out. You see, ever since September 11, I always wore an FD uniform T-shirt when traveling. But on this day, for whatever reason, I did not.

Was it the shirts that were attracting scrutiny? I tested the theory by not wearing an FD shirt for the next few flights. Smooth sailing. Tried it out again, and got yanked. Bingo.

Now, this post is not about the merits of the security analysis that terrorists could try to stage an attack disguised as emergency workers, although I have experienced several events that have made it clear that this would be an effective avenue to get past trusting or complacent security people (unless you're dealing with the TSA, of course).

So, the theory.

It is no secret that Al Qaeda would like to stage a 10th anniversary attack, they've said as much themselves. So suppose CIA/DHS/NYPD, whoever, gets a serious credible lead that the bad guys are seriously considering using this kind of attack? Let's be real, it would not be functionally difficult to bring an old Seagrave into New York City and stuff it in some windowless warehouse. You can buy old rigs on eBay for a few grand as it is, imagine what you could do with a big budget?

So, you end up with an engine or ladder truck externally a perfect replica of an FDNY rig, but packed with explosives. Even if you get caught on the perimeter of the ceremony and have to trigger early, a big boom like that would be devastating. Not just in loss of property and life. The psychological and emotional impact would be incalculable. Suddenly, the citizens of New York experience PTSD fear of every FDNY rig. The association with the 10th anniversary attack would be tied to fire apparatus nationwide. The safest refuge a shaken nation has, trust of the heroes in the Big Red Trucks, is obliterated.

No way can this be allowed to happen.

So what do you do? You have the intel, and less than a month to plan.

Plan 1: Reveal the intel to the public. The bad guys know they've been ratted out, quickly dispose of the bomb rig(s), and skip town.

Plan 2: Say nothing. Try to catch the bad guys by trying to weed out the bomb rig(s) as people converge on the ceremony, including a LOT of emergency services people. Risk a periphery detonation and all its consequences, but hope for a psychological victory if they nab the bad guys.

Plan 3: Announce that emergency services people are not invited. The bad guys probably read between the lines and leave, but if they choose to try the attack anyway, there will be far less people and apparatus to sort through. So you have either an automatic Plan 1 win, or hugely improved chances of a Plan 2 win. Tactically, this is far better than trying to run either Plan 1 or Plan 2 alone.

I think Plan 3, as unpalatable as it is, would be the best choice under the circumstances. I hate it and am offended at the concept that firefighters are not invited, but is this a decision for the greater good. Bloomberg is not an idiot. True idiots don't get that far, and he's the Mayor of NYC. I bet when this decision crossed his desk he knew the reaction that would come. But for the greater good, what choice would he have? Haven't you ever taken heat for an unpopular decision that you couldn't explain, but knew it served a greater purpose for the people who were angry about it? Yeah, you've taken one for the team before, it isn't all that uncommon.

So, watch for snipers on rooftops all around Manhattan and elsewhere, analyzing every fire truck, and preparing to take out everyone on the rig simultaneously. And maybe even watch for word to be passed to the FDNY line troops the morning of, so they know to put a predetermined and very subtle "invasion stripe" of some innocuous variety on each piece to ward off the snipers.

That's my theory. It is the only plausible and understandable reason for the decision that I can think of, and until I learn more I am sticking to it.

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