New Jersey Transit's 'Text Against Terror' Program Exchanges $5.8 Million For ZERO Terrorists

from the throwing-real-money-at-fake-problems dept

The "War on Terror" continues unabated despite a lack of results. The grand (over)reaction to the 9/11 attacks has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which civil liberties are exchanged for money to throw into a bottomless pit labeled "safety." A recent Senate report on the DHS's so-called "fusion centers" unveiled more layers of waste, fraud and abuse of civil liberties, perpetrated under the guise of "anti-terrorism."

Here's another unsurprising report detailing an anti-terrorist effort that's produced next to nothing in exchange for nearly $6 million. The oddly credulous "reporting" simply runs down the facts as presented by NJ Transit police chief Christopher Trucillo.
A $5.8 million federally funded program allowing NJ Transit commuters to "Text Against Terror" has brought 307 tips to the agency since its startup in June 2011 — ranging from some warranting further investigation to travelers testing the system.

Of those 307 text messages, 71 have "referred to something regarding homeland security," said Christopher Trucillo, chief of NJ Transit police.
In 16 months, nearly $6 million in spending has resulted in 307 tips. This may seem like a good number of tips (nearly 20 a month!), but it breaks down to about $19,544 per tip. And most of those tips weren't even useful. (Note that a percentage of this tip count includes people "testing the system" -- which sounds like something between a mic check and a prank call. Someone must be padding numbers if they're going to include varieties of "IS THIS THING ON?" in its published tip count.)

Only 71 tips actually met the criteria of the program, requiring further investigation. One would hope that each of these tips was investigated to the fullest possible extent, considering taxpayers are spending $84,507 per "useful" tip.

And what sort of things did the "see something text something" Jersey natives report?
"Someone saw something that made them uncomfortable that required us to take secondary action, like an unattended bag or someone taking pictures in a particular area," Trucillo said.
While I can see the "unattended bag" being a cause for alarm, the vague "someone taking pictures" reports are a very simple way for taxpayers to heap more chilling effects on their own shoulders. But better safe than sorry, I suppose. How many terrorists were nabbed as a result of these select texts?
The majority of subjects of those 71 texts were investigated and eliminated as a cause for concern, he said.
Trucillo's answer is purposefully vague. Is a majority 2/3rds? Is it all but a handful? There's no telling. He does state that in a "rare instance," tips have been referred to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, composed of State Police, NJ Transit and Port Authority representatives, the FBI, and the DHS. Unfortunately, no more information is being made available.
"We can't discuss those things," he said, when asked to elaborate on the nature of some of the text messages investigated by the task force. "There have been things investigated by the joint task force."
With all these parties investigating some-number-much-smaller-than-71 tips, we can at least be sure that all of the $84,500 per tip is being spent. Costs are ongoing, despite any publicly noted successes. "Text Against Terror" ads are being run on New York radio and TV stations, one of the most expensive ad markets in the country. In addition, $13,400 is needed to reserve the NJTPD domain (to receive texts) and secure unlimited texting capability. Trucillo doesn't specify the time frame for the $13,400, which could mean per month, per year or any other period in between.

All this expense and nothing to show for it. Going back through the NJ Transit's press release archives, there are only two incidents that even sound potentially threatening and in both cases, "heightened security" and DHS initiatives had nothing to do with the resolution. In 2006, a suspect wanted in an earlier subway shooting turned herself in to NJ Transit police. And in February of 2012, NJ Transit police arrested a man who had called in a fake bomb threat in December, 2011. So, we have one person surrendering and one person sort of calling in their own tip. Anyone feeling safer? SIX MILLION DOLLARS worth of safer?

One wonders why this texting initiative wasn't just piggybacked onto the existing tip line set up in 2003. It would seem that blending the two would cost far less than $6 million and wouldn't necessitate an overly expensive, brand new ad campaign. I can't imagine the blended, cheaper version would have resulted in fewer terrorists thwarted or arrested.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 7:08am

    Every time I see a news article about wasted taxpayer money I suspect a bloated consulting contract is lurking somewhere in the shadows. I worked in government for too long to think otherwise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 8:09am

    Re:

    Bloat? Aww, c'mon. $13,400 is completely justified for the cost of a domain and text plan.

    /sarc
    /not complaining about his data plan anymore

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 8:37am

    but if they dont spend the money terrorist win, is that what you want?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Jay (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 8:38am

    "I can't imagine the blended, cheaper version would have resulted in fewer terrorists thwarted or arrested."

    Don't you get it? If they'd COMBINED the two programs like you suggested, Terrorists already in custody would escape, resulting in a new loss of Terrorists arrested! And then the Terrorists would win! It all makes sense!

    PS: You see, I capitalize the word "Terrorists" because it gets thrown around so much it might as well be a worshipped entity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 8:56am

    The grand (over)reaction to the 9/11 attacks has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which civil liberties are exchanged for money to throw into a bottomless pit labeled "safety."


    I've never seen this whole 9/11 thing summed up so nicely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 8:58am

    But we need Big Government to do Big Search for Big Terror to protect Big Public. How else can we have Big Happiness?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:02am

    This is just another manifestation of the "If you see something, say something" campaign, which to my knowledge has averted a total of zero terrors while simultaneously fostering fear, suspicion, and distrust among citizens.
    Given results like these, I can't imagine a more glowing success report for those terrorists over a decade ago.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:06am

    Re:

    I had Big Happiness once, but then I had to take a shower and Big Shrinkage took effect....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:13am

    Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    A couple block quotes and a bit of ranting, and voila! A framework of pap for fanboys to "add" inane comments to.

    [At last I see what the "framework" is really for:

    Started in 1997 by Floor64 founder Mike Masnick and then growing into a group blogging effort, the Techdirt blog uses a proven economic framework to analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies ability to innovate and grow.

    But "insight" is missing in this piece, it's too bland to even call ranting.]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Forest_GS (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:22am

    Re:

    And then there's the use of "Terrorists/support of" as a blanket "You're Wrong" statement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Lord Binky, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:26am

    This program isn't about CATCHING terrorists. It is about scaring them away, most likely over to New York. By this measure, it has been perfectly effective. Well, it was this program or that million dollar magic monkey paw that was bought from the psychic lady.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Mike, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:27am

    I want to continue reading

    This site. But the trolls ruin it. They just start flamewars and no intelligent discussion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Mike, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:28am

    Re: I want to continue reading

    I am not the owner of the site. I am Mike D.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    A Monkey with Attitude., Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:32am

    Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    Boo Hoo, did the pirates come and piss in your Cheerio's again blue?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:54am

    Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    Wow, ootb, I can see you've really developed over your absence - you've learned to pick on issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the article in question and combine them with ad hominem attacks!

    Almost seems like you're posting EXACTLY like a few individuals who swore that they wouldn't bother the site anymore...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:54am

    Re: Re:

    ...So you had a bad case of the Goldman Sachs?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:58am

    Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    You didn't even read the part you yourself quoted

    "changes in government policy".

    I think a government policy that wastes money on a program that so far has not resulted in a single declared capture of a terrorist is fair game for Techdirt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: I want to continue reading

    We kinda figured it out since Mike replies with a logged in account and his photo as his avatar.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 9:59am

    I thought that the public would report suspicious activities without a big advertising campaign, after all the could be caught in the next outrage. This smeall of politicians making sure that they are seen to be doing something, and like all such efforts a waste of money
    Also wasn't 9/11 carried out by foriegn terrorists, and so looking for them inside the USA makes total sense, to a politician.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_mind, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:06am

    Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    Are you even trying anymore?

    You look like the three year old kicking and screaming for a toy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Mike D., Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:07am

    Re: Re: Re: I want to continue reading

    I was trying to avoid trolls

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:20am

    how much is reasonable?

    I completely agree that there is too much spending on this "war", often on programs and gadgets that will have virtually no impact.

    But this one I don't see much of a problem with. It's for fifteen months, roughly 400k per month. That includes the initial cost to get everything set up (infrastructure, phones, computers, etc) and then a lower monthly maintenance. Add then staff who, I imagine, wants to get paid, plus office space. Even with just a handful of people in this team there isn't much per person per month.

    If 6 million is clearly too much, as hinted at in the post, how much would be reasonable, Tim? Or should the program be removed entirely?

    And no, I don't work for any goverment agency or political party/forum/whatever. I just don't like rants with no attempt at explanations or alternatives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    B-Boy makin with the freak freak., Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: I want to continue reading

    Mike D, with your bad self running things.
    What's up with your bad breath onion rings?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:51am

    We could have had..

    We could have had Steve Austin for that money....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Atkray (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 11:17am

    Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    I liked the old ootb better, any chance you can get your doctor to switch your meds back?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 11:24am

    When you see results like this for a federal sponsored government along with $1,000 toilet seats you should ask what covert government program was the money diverted to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 11:28am

    Re:

    Nazism works, you are telling on your neighbors for making you "feel" uneasy, and they may have a quran in their house, you don't know, you should call the FBI now, just to be safe and secure Citizen, you are a citizen, right? you have your ID card on you , don't you??, doesn't that make you feel better??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    They already have. The fear induced state that we are currently in is proof of that. Terrorists sow seeds of terror and fear. Things like this, the Patriot Act and NDAA are proof. Freedom and Liberty are not free, they have costs and that's usually in blood. I would sooner have my freedom, rights and liberties and take my chances than have Big Brother watching out for me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Lord Binky, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 11:37am

    Re: how much is reasonable?

    Based on results and any potential benefits, this program should logically recieve $0 funding for 0% progress in it's goal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re:

    They have won in a way I don't think they ever anticipated, or did they? The have given the US government carte blanche to take away the citizenry's liberties and personal freedoms under the guise of "if we don't the terrorists win."

    So essentially the "real" terrorists have outsourced terror to the US government and they are happily toting the water, hoping no one will notice the kool-aide they have laced it with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:14pm

    Re:

    I think they knew the US would do the herky knee jerky and they did. Muhahahahaha!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    more like the multiple stab wound mark goldman sack

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    They tweaked the bot code.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    He never reads the articles. He has admitted to it on more than one occasion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Re:

    Big Happiness comes in the form of a Big Tasty Sandwich for me. That's pretty cheap you know?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Well, one can't argue it's generating jobs which seems to be good in times of recession... Right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Re:

    Perhaps you shouldn't have taken a cold shower...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Re: Ah, Techdirt: slow to re-write the news of last week.

    If you're referring to AJ he just post as an Anonymous Coward. He pretty much burns himself every time because he speaks exactly the same way. It's like people don't listen when I tell them that everyone has a unique writing style.

    OotB though is his own individual. He just rants and jabbers on like an idiot, like a few other individuals. But you know, I've noticed that whenever bob post lately (since last week) he sounds exactly like OotB sounds, and no longer like he used to. Coincidence?

    Also, isn't it interesting that OotB came back out of nowhere, then someone else (forget who exactly) then darryl?

    Again, coincidence?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Re: how much is reasonable?

    Would you buy an insurance for your house in case of fire before of after it burnt down? True, not the exact same thing but you can't start spending for preemptive measures after a terrorist attack, and I doubt you meant we should stop looking for them completely. It needs to be reasonable but I don't see this as particularly unreasonable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Stephen, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 1:19pm

    bags on nj transity

    i ride nj transit everyday. after the stop at newark broad street, we realized some lady had left her gym bag on the floor. the conductor came. we pointed it out. he looked at us and said, "i'm going to kick it." and he toed it, felt it was clothes, and opened it up. someone dug out the owner's id and called her and told her the bag would be at hoboken lost and found. because that's how civilization works.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 1:56pm

    Re: how much is reasonable?

    If 6 million is clearly too much, as hinted at in the post, how much would be reasonable, Tim? Or should the program be removed entirely?

    And no, I don't work for any goverment agency or political party/forum/whatever. I just don't like rants with no attempt at explanations or alternatives.


    FTA:

    "One wonders why this texting initiative wasn't just piggybacked onto the existing tip line set up in 2003. It would seem that blending the two would cost far less than $6 million and wouldn't necessitate an overly expensive, brand new ad campaign."

    There's plenty of money to save there. No breakdown was given on the expense of the ad campaign, but I would imagine the amount was more than "insignificant." NJ Transit could also look at a cheaper texting package, seeing as "unlimited" is far more than it needs. It's averaging about 20 texts per month. Something in the area of 100 texts per month should more than cover what's being used. Even if something huge went down and every rider started texting at once, you'd figure NJT would have the gist of it within the first 50 or 60 texts.

    As for a reasonable amount? It's tough to say. The "initial costs," which may have chewed up much of the $6 million, simply shouldn't have been spent. If you give an entity $6 million, every cent will get spent. If you task an entity with setting up a text tipline and have it work within the confines of its normal budget, things will be done more efficiently. If additional funding was needed, it could be added as needed, rather than pre-funded.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: how much is reasonable?

    Insurance is fine, but it does not include afire officer spying on the occupants of the house, or over the top warning about the dangers of Fires. The anti terrorist effort seems to include both of the latter problems, never mind the invasive security at airports, and attempts tp spread it to other transport systems. The USA is off my possible places to travel to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    They have won in a way I don't think they ever anticipated, or did they?


    if by "the terrorists" you mean Al Qaida, then yes, they anticipated it. They stated what their goals were in the 9/11 attack and have achieved most of them.

    The response of the US government in clamping down on freedom is one of the outcomes they were hoping for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    chillienet (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 7:54pm

    Re: Re:

    Mmm, a nice Big "MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe..."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    RecycledElectrons (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 7:54pm

    The program worked as intended...

    This program was never about getting terrorists.

    99% of "terrorist plots" are hatched by the US Government. (Remember all those FBI-created phony bombs? Do you really think they never plant a real one?)

    This program is about turning us against each other. It's about turning us into snitches who rat out our neighbors, friends, and family members.

    This program has turned millions of Americans (the new Germans) into good little NAZIs that rat out their Jewish neighbors to the Gestapo.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    icon
    chillienet (profile), Oct 15th, 2012 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Mmm, a nice Big "MLT - mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe..."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2012 @ 10:13pm

    Re:

    LOL are you being sarcastic? If not the "terrorist" win every single time we waste our money and drive our country closer and closer to going bankrupt.

    I mean really!! FFS just look at the TSA and how much they've done for the USA. They've caught zero terrorist and every time the government test them THEY FUCKING GET PAST THEM WITH EASE. It's a bunch of smart assed bad attitude twits that are on a power trip. They're worse than the police and that's pretty fucking sad if you ask me.

    I would much rather be a victim of a prison gang rape than having a run in with the TSA. At least in the prison version my asshole would heal in time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 16th, 2012 @ 9:12am

    Re: I want to continue reading

    This site. But the trolls ruin it. They just start flamewars and no intelligent discussion.

    Just skip the comments section then.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 16th, 2012 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re: Re: how much is reasonable?

    Would you buy an insurance for your house in case of fire before of after it burnt down?

    The question is, is this more like fire insurance, or flood insurance for a house that's nowhere near a flood-prone area? At the beginning was there a reasonable expectation that the program would find and stop some terrorists, or was it just to satisfy the requirement that Something Must Be Done?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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