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MIT Says Gunman Hoax Call Mentioned Swartz Case

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the not-the-way-to-protest dept.

News 41

An anonymous reader writes "MIT has posted a letter to campus newspaper The Tech providing a timeline of last weekend's 'gunman' hoax. On Saturday morning, Cambridge, MA police were contacted via Internet relay by a tipster who claimed that a someone wearing armor and carrying a 'really big gun' was in Building 7 at MIT (the Massachusetts Ave. entrance to the Infinite Corridor) and was heading towards the office of MIT President Rafael Reif. The call continued for 18 minutes, with the caller eventually claiming that the gunman was seeking to avenge the suicide of Aaron Swartz, who was being prosecuting for alleged illegal downloads of millions of journal articles using MIT's computer network. The caller also identified the gunman as an MIT staff member, who has since been questioned by police and cleared. MIT has been criticized for waiting 1.5 hours before sending a campus-wide alert after the call was received."

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41 comments

Good grief... (5, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about a year ago | (#43031117)

MIT has been criticized for waiting 1.5 hours before sending a campus-wide alert

No, they are being criticized for not buying into the same paranoia that spawned the TSA, the same paranoia that has transformed police departments into paramilitary gangs, the same paranoia that is moving us as a society closer and closer to being a Police State - if we are not already there. They are being criticized for understanding that it was almost certainly a troll, and terrorizing and traumatizing their student and staff was not warranted based on the information they had.

Re:Good grief... (3, Interesting)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year ago | (#43031199)

I sort of agree with you, but to play devil's advocate... what if they were wrong?

Re:Good grief... (5, Interesting)

BKX (5066) | about a year ago | (#43031235)

That was my reaction to a botched bomb-threat reaction when I was in eight grade. One of my friends called in the threat to the middle school from the middle school payphone at 7:45 AM. I heard the call, and he definitely said the bomb was in the middle school in a bathroom by the gym. At 8:30 AM, the high school (the two schools share a single campus) was evacuated into the middle school gym. At 9:00 AM, my friend was arrested. The evacuation was completely unnecessary, as they knew he called it by 8:00 anyway. He called his mom right afterward and said that she needed to pick him because a bomb threat had been called in. She called the school to find out if it was true, and they asked, "Wait, how did you know that again?" Anyway, in addition to the evacuation being unnecessary, it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard. Why would you evacuate an unaffected school's population into the area containing the bomb, and why would you wait an hour and a half?

Re:Good grief... (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#43031347)

Because they have to search the entire school. Just because the threat says that it's a particular part of the school doesn't mean that the caller knows or is being honest about that. So, the entire school was presumably searched and it was determined that there were no bombs, everybody was allowed back in.

Bomb threats pretty much always result in a thorough search unless there's something that clearly indicates that it's no threat, and even then there's a tendency to err on the side of caution just in case.

Re:Good grief... (3, Interesting)

BKX (5066) | about a year ago | (#43031369)

You missed what I was saying happened. The middle school had the "bomb". The High School was evacuated. The High School's students were put into the middle school, where the "bomb" was. That's the nonsense.

Re:Good grief... (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#43031425)

Bomb searches are generally pretty quick and gymnasiums typically have very little to be searched.

This isn't surprising at all, they can search the gym in very little time and keep the students there, then do a thorough search of the grounds and the other buildings. You make it sound like there's something unreasonable all of this.

It's not nonsense, this is the most reasonable way of proceeding in a case like this.

Re:Good grief... (1)

Discopete (316823) | about a year ago | (#43031919)

Wouldn't an open field away from the structures be a better place to evac. to? The entire student body could probably been formed up by class on the football field and control would have been relatively easy to maintain.

Re:Good grief... (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about a year ago | (#43032971)

My school evac'd to the football field bleachers. I realized then the idiocy of that since all it meant was a potential bomber need setup the bomb under the bleachers before calling in the bomb threat.

Re:Good grief... (2)

cffrost (885375) | about a year ago | (#43033519)

My school evac'd to the football field bleachers. I realized then the idiocy of that since all it meant was a potential bomber need setup the bomb under the bleachers before calling in the bomb threat.

Indoor placement yields greater bang for the buck, as it retards shock wave dissipation and maximizes peak overpressure. A more effective scenario would be to place it in the auditorium before an assembly and forgo the phone call altogether.

Re:Good grief... (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | about a year ago | (#43033463)

And why would the school believe the "bomber" was telling the truth? How do you know that they DIDN'T search the gym first, clear it, and then realize that since it was clear it was the perfect place to evacuate everyone to while they searched elsewhere? Makes sense to me.

Re:Good grief... (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43033511)

Yes, but the obvious FIRST place to look is where they said it was.

If I tell you there's a man eating lion in your living room, you dont first check to see if it's in the attic.

Re:Good grief... (1)

cas2000 (148703) | about a year ago | (#43041145)

correct. you check the kitchen to see if he's stolen any condiments to go with the lion.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43038483)

Because they have to search the entire school. Just because the threat says that it's a particular part of the school doesn't mean that the caller knows or is being honest about that..

Obvious Solution. Robodial every US school from Russia or China via VOIP. Say there's a bomb. No more education ever. The citizens will fall to their irrational fear or realise that "safety" is an illusion. OK, think about this: If you want to hurt the most folks, then why not call in a bomb threat, and wait till they're all grouped in the same place before setting off the WMD?

Fucking Fear Sluts.

Re:Good grief... (1)

Sarioya (958784) | about a year ago | (#43031495)

Other than school administrators and staff seeming to be complete idiots when it comes to running things, I assume it has something to do with the majority of people tending to do stupid shit when they panic or are faced with a potentially bad situation. In my sister's senior year of high school, they got a call about a man wearing a trench coat with a rifle on the school roof. So they evacuated everybody to the tennis court (They may have evacuated the junior high and/or elementary school there too, I'm not sure. I honestly wouldn't put it past them though.), where he'd have an almost completely clear shot at everybody. I'm pretty sure the tiny trees they have between the parking lot and the court wouldn't have done a thing for protection. Premier school district of PA my ass.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43033575)

Did you go to Pentucket? I remember almost the exact same thing happening when I was in middle school.

Re:Good grief... (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#43039465)

Ages ago, when I was in high school, a tornado went over the school during a REALLY severe storm while everyone was in class. A few minutes later as the storm was breaking up, they ordered everyone into the hall in the duck and cover position. Half an hour later, a friend and I who were more than a bit suspicious snuck outside to the beautiful sunny weather with the clear blue skies (common enough after a spring storm) with a light breeze.

In other words, the principal was covering his ass. If anyone asked about the tornado hopping over the school, it was on record that students were in the hall in the duck and cover position. The few minutes discrepancy in the timeline would (he hoped) go un-noticed.

Re:Good grief... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031259)

Then they'd be wrong. What about it? You can't worry about every unlikely threat or you'll never be able to accomplish anything.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031297)

If school didn't as a matter of policy force their students and staff to be defenseless, their safety wouldn't be as dependent on whether the administration made the right call.

Re:Good grief... (1)

Weezul (52464) | about a year ago | (#43031583)

It's MIT so they've brains. They probably just called the building to check out the caller's story, realized it was false, and kept him talking.

Are you sure MIT has brain ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year ago | (#43031943)

If they have brains, as you have suggested, then Mr. Swartz wouldn't had to go through the ordeal he had been put through, no thanks to MIT

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031585)

Ummmm, guys?
Remember 2007? MIT has a history of throwing people under the bus...
http://boingboing.net/2007/09/21/mit-student-arrested.html
Weird, but it actually took 4 google tries to get this article.
And then you have:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Boston_bomb_scare. They have some "Issues"
in Mass.

Re:Good grief... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year ago | (#43031625)

I sort of agree with you, but to play devil's advocate... what if they were wrong?

Well, you'd think there would be multiple calls now, wouldn't you? I mean, MIT's not some secure facility - a gunman with a large gun would be spotted by many, and someone else would've seen it and called it in.

Plus well, there's probably some security guy there wondering where the guy is

Re:Good grief... (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year ago | (#43032049)

Well, you'd think there would be multiple calls now, wouldn't you?

So why did they still issue the alert, 1.5 hours later?

Re:Good grief... (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#43032131)

I sort of agree with you, but to play devil's advocate... what if they were wrong?

They weren't. And really, nothing else matters.

You can bring in "but what if this happen" arguments, but they don't matter, because they didn't happen.

Re:Good grief... (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | about a year ago | (#43032725)

what if they were wrong?

What if we went back in time and assassinated Hitler?

What if goblins?

What if we didn't live in unreasoning, trembling fear every moment of every day, but used our brains to analyse threats rationally?

Re:Good grief... (1)

N!k0N (883435) | about a year ago | (#43033001)

what if they were wrong?

What if we went back in time and assassinated Hitler?

Oblig XKCD [xkcd.com]

Re:Good grief... (2)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#43031335)

I take it you've forgotten about VT Tech massacre where the school chose to delay warning the student body about the murderer on the loose. Instead of just 2 people being murdered, the eventual death toll was into the 30s.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031843)

I understand what you want to say, but in reality, MIT did participate in the paranoia eventually. And if they did so rightfully, the 1.5 hours delay is awefully late, especially as they don't have a proper excuse for it as the call only took 18 minutes and no gunman had been spotted. If MIT did not seriously think there was a valid threat, why send out the alert at all? Only political reasons come to my mind.

Re:Good grief... (1)

kbg (241421) | about a year ago | (#43033111)

You should always take threats seriously even if you think it is 99% certain that it is a hoax. It is better to react many times to a hoax with the results that only some time and money is lost than it is to not react to a single real event that results in people dying.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43037273)

That low id makes me think you ought to know that humans don't work this way. It's not possible to respond to all hoaxes like they are real. Humans get complacent. Many hoaxes is a way to reduce response time.

Re:Good grief... (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about a year ago | (#43038347)

You should always take threats seriously even if you think it is 99% certain that it is a hoax.

No, no. I'd rather not constantly tremble in fear of the unlikely. This is exactly the kind of mindset the TSA preys on.

Re:Good grief... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43034351)

For those criticizing and 'all threats are real until proven otherwise' - NOT!

An experienced police or security dispatcher will immediately realize, "Why are we only getting one call about this?" Officers will be onsite to confirm in 2 minutes (in this case.)

A REAL person-with-a-gun will usually light up a 911 switchboard - all dispatchers will start receiving multiple calls about it nearly immediately. A REAL person-with-a-gun call will be confirmed by the officers or by multiple callers.

I think they did it right. Get call, dispatch officers. If officers arrive quickly enough and confirm it / see panic, the evac call would have gone out after 3 minutes.

Equal title for this article could have been, "MIT President is Clueless about Police Dispatch Procedures - Wants Panic Caused for Every Hoax and Gives Future Idiots Ways to Evacuate Campus Quickly"

Shit's haunted (5, Funny)

Z34107 (925136) | about a year ago | (#43031187)

A gunman, seeking vengeance for Aaron Swartz, unseen by anyone other than the caller, and magically disappears into thin air when police arrive?

That's not a hoax. Aaron confirmed for haunting MIT.

nothing to see here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031915)

It was just a 'political move'. That's the cover story for being a criminal douchebag now right?

Worked for the goverment anyway...

They've actually had practice with weird calls (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43031981)

There are groups who meet regularly at MIT who show up in armor. (The Boston chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism meets there regularly.) They cooperate very well with the campus police. And various fantasy role play groups meet, sometimes with science fiction games, and sometimes they do costumes and what are quite obviously very, very silly plastic guns. So the campus police at MIT do get some practice with calls from confused or frightened people calling aobut what is really nothing.

This... sounds a bit different. The use of the text-speech service for the deaf is a new wrinkle in prank calls, and can help prevent the trained ear of any dispatcher from detecting "this is a stupid clown without a clue".

Re:They've actually had practice with weird calls (2)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43032959)

In my country, the dispatcher doesn't get a choice.

In fact, last night I watched "999", a program that follows the emergency services. They got 18 calls from the same guy, and they went through the same routine every time sending out all the services, and it was always a hoax. Eventually, at the end of the conversations on the phone, the dispatcher would say "Yeah, it's that hoaxer, again" (or words to that effect). Hell, most of the time he called them to the same street for the same things.

But still they dispatched the amount of fire, ambulance and police that would be necessary to handle the reported incident before they'd even properly started the conversation on the phone (literally, as soon as they asked what was happening).

Yes, it's an enormous waste of time and money, but it's not up to the dispatcher to decide if the call is genuine or not. If help is requested, they are obliged to send it. Even if help isn't requested, but they think it's necessary, they are obliged to send it.

For every 100 4-year-olds who pick up the phone and dial the emergency services to "talk to the man", there's one who's done it while shit-scared (maybe of the fact that they've been left in the house alone because their daddy has collapsed in the back garden and they don't know it) - and they can't express what's worrying them, or what the problem is, or even talk to a stranger, but they know to dial the emergency services because something is wrong.

With adults, you get mental illness, you get shock, confusion, drunkenness, drugs, fume intoxication, and yes - still hoax calls. Some people will give you an address they haven't lived at for 20 years because they are panicking. But you don't get a choice. You dispatch as soon as you have enough information to do so - a drunk on the way home from the pub might well have been the only one around to see something happen and ask for help, even if he wouldn't be able to tie his own shoelaces. Anything else will cost genuine, innocent lives in need of help even if dealing with the hoaxer might do the same.

Dispatchers aren't there to analyse the voice, except to calm you down to get the information that needs to transfer between caller and dispatcher to do just that. They are there to send help. Even those idiots who "cry wolf" still have to have help sent to them on their 100th hoax call because this MIGHT be a real one that kills them and others.

The use of text-to-speech is not new, hell that's how a lot IRA bomb threats to the UK services were made back in the 80's. And the threats given were often obscure, weird, complete nutters phoning it in, and after a while similar hoaxers did the same stuff. You don't get to decide "who gets help", you send it.

Yes, it's a pain, and we should lock up the hoaxers if caught, but that's not the dispatcher's job to be judge, jury and executioner (literally). The guy on TV last night eventually got caught, got a prison sentence and couldn't even explain why he'd done it (not drunk, not drugged, not insane, etc.).

Text services for the deaf have been around for decades, as have dispatchers who know a hoax call when they hear one. But you still don't take the chance.

Clearely impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43032559)

No one in Massachusetts has a 'really big gun' . I'm not certain any of them even know what guns are, and would probably poop themselves if they ever saw one.

Gee I hope the Indians don't get wind of this, they may want their shit back.

So MIT says (-1, Troll)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year ago | (#43033091)

Not sure I trust what they say at this point. MIT will never wash themselves clean of Swartz's blood.

Re:So MIT says (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43033705)

You should join /r/conspiracy you'd fit right in.

18 minute call? (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#43036649)

Anyone who has watched CSI knows that it only takes the length of one commercial break to trace a call and have SWAT respond to the site.

Editors, wake the fuck up! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43039619)

Seriously. Doesn't anyone 'edit' these posts before publishing them on Slashdot anymore ('being prosecuting', 'identified the gunman an MIT staff member'). Multiple articles today as bad.

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