If You Eat Something, Say Something: DHS Sounds The Alarm On The 'Terrorist Implications' Of Food Trucks

from the basically-any-form-of-transportation-is-a-threat----start-walking,-citizen dept

It's interesting (or maybe just kind of sad) that various government agencies see possible terrorists everywhere but rarely, if ever, catch one. Despite the large number of personnel being thrown at the problem (along with lots of money), actual terrorists seem to be in limited supply.

But these agencies haven't let their lack of success temper their vision of a nation under constant imminent attack. Public Intelligence recently posted a Powerpoint presentation from the NYC fire department (FDNY) discussing the unique safety issues mobile food trucks present. Along with some actual concerns (many food trucks use propane and/or gasoline-powered generators to cook; some *gasp* aren't properly licensed food vendors), the presenter decided to toss in some DHS speculation on yet another way terrorists might be killing us in the near future.

That's right. Instead of serving up a quick hot meal, these food trucks will be serving up death, and lots of it! Under the heading “Terrorist Implications,” the FDNY lists the exact reasons we should be concerned, most of which begin with the word “high.”

While any terrorist organization worth its twisted ideology would do well to nail down as much of this list as possible, so would any vendor who wished to stay in business. The question is: how do you differentiate between the two? One answer might be to sort through the data collected by all the food truck terrorism incidents up to this point. (American's fusion centers would like to remind you that zero incidents only means we're due, rather than indicating a terrorist-free trend.)

But there's more! The next slide continues to lay out the “Terrorism Implications,” this time reminding first responders that food trucks have large quantities of deadly liquids (propane, gasoline) and are “easily concealed” (which I assume refers to the potential explosives, rather than the truck itself… but you can never be TOO sure). Also, food bombers will usually be in the proximity of “crowds” (gasp!) and “sidewalks” (wha…?).

Dammit, now the terrorists have gone too far! It's one thing to blow up our crowds. It's quite another to ruthlessly attack our infrastructure, the very thing that keeps our precious crowds from milling about on the lawn and/or street!

But (dear lord) there's even more! According to the DHS, food carts make “excellent surveillance platforms” because of all the “high” stuff they can park next to for long periods of time. (Has anyone considered knocking on the door and having a quick look around, especially during business hours?) And I'm pretty sure they're not allowed to just park wherever they want for indefinite periods of time, at least not in New York City. There are 8 million laws in the Naked City, none of which are accommodating to the small businessman/woman “stealing” customers away from established restaurants paying exorbitant amounts per square foot every month.

But beyond that, why go through the expense of constructing a food truck when you can just rent a U-Haul, fill it full of explosives and ram it into the nearest high-rise/government building? Unless the DHS figures these terrorists are in it for the long haul, suckering people in with weeks or months of delicious ethnic food before parking across the nearest heavily-trafficked sidewalk and blowing everything up in an explosion of propane and proprietary blends of herbs and spices. Also, does it not occur to them that if you want to keep your terrorist activities hidden, it’s probably not the smartest thing to set yourself up as a vehicle that people line up to look inside?

The DHS' unfocused “terrorvision” continues to see a threat in every situation and the department seems to be busying itself crafting a response to every conceivable “threat.” The problem with this “method” is that it turns any slight variation of “everyday activity” into something suspicious. The number of “terrorist implications” grows exponentially while the number of solutions remains the same. This Powerpoint is another example of good, old-fashioned fear mongering, utilizing public servants to spread the message.

At no point does this presentation offer anything resembling preemptive action or deterrents. All it does is paint a picture of food trucks as potential threats before concluding with, of all things, common sense safety tips aimed at dealing with food truck fires. The final slide paints the picture in the clearest terms, letting the viewer know exactly whose agenda is being pushed:

Prepared by Lt. Timothy Carroll
FDNY Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness

The priorities are all screwed up. Terrorism is the first concern. Everything else is secondary. Considering this is an FDNY presentation, you'd think that “Disaster Preparedness” would be the priority. After all, they are the first response. But instead that honor goes to the vague menace of terrorism, a constant battle with no winners and, for the most part, no combatants. Every day without a terrorist act is a “win” that perpetuates the “need” for more counter-terrorist “efforts.”

All that being said, the easiest way to tell that this “Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness” is all bluster and FUD is to take a look at its logo. Yep: MF EAGLE.

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Comments on “If You Eat Something, Say Something: DHS Sounds The Alarm On The 'Terrorist Implications' Of Food Trucks”

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81 Comments
Michael (profile) says:

Taco Trucks

I can speak from first hand experience that eating a taco from some of these trucks can, in fact, cause a reaction that can put nearby people, buildings, and the sidewalk in serious danger.

On a side note, why does the FDNY have a “Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness”? Isn’t their regular job essentially putting out fires, saving people from smashed buildings and cars, and generally helping people in disasters?

Seems like their preparation for a terrorist disaster would best be handled by taking on a series of smaller disasters that are small-scale versions of these types of events (you know, fires, car accidents, etc.) and based on these experiences training their people and adjusting their policies, procedures, and equipment?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Taco Trucks

On a side note, why does the FDNY have a “Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness”?

Step 1. Someone in charge of a federal “anti-terror” group puts forward a bill earmarking billions for “anti-terror” groups.

Step 2. 99% of congress, being concerned only with their own political careers, will avoid even the slightest chance of giving their rivals ammo for their inevitable smear campaigns. Since none of them want to be denounced as “pro-terror” by their opponents, they can’t pass the bill fast enough.

Step 3. Everybody lines up to milk the gravy train.

ldne says:

Re: Re:

I’ve said this repeatedly too. There are only about a zillion things like these trucks that can be pointed out as easy targets if you think about it for a minute and it’s impossible to do something about all of them and remain a functional society, most of them terrorists are either not going to think of or they’re not going to bother with because of their own agenda’s anyway, so there is no reason to worry about them except fear. Plastering this stuff all over the net isn’t the smartest thing to do, why point out smart targets to suicidal idiots?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, that’s been obvious literally since day 1.

I remember hearing the news come in on September 11, 2001, how they were shutting down all sorts of critical infrastructure due to security concerns. And at one point, MLB announced that all baseball games scheduled for that afternoon would be canceled. And that’s when I realized that the terrorists had just won: in a very real sense, they had destroyed America.

Anonymous Coward says:

The next terrorist plot, high cholesterol to induce heart attacks!

We must arrest those big terrorist food chains serving lots of greasy high cholesterol foods that kill tens of thousands Americans every year!

And while we’re at it, we also need to bring the new #1 terrorist to justice… THE SUN!

The Sun is an evil terrorist that dishes out LETHAL amounts of UV that give CANCER to MILLIONS of people a year!

Without our good old Department of Homeland security creating a greenhouse effect all over the earth the evil Sun would kill us all with it’s UV rays!

It’s a GOOD thing that the DHS and TSA thought of creating the green house effect to protect us from the evil Sun’s plot to kill us with UV rays. That’s why you need to give the DHS and TSA MORE money, because obviously they’re VERY successful at what they do if they’ve foiled the Sun’s evil terrorist plots!

TasMot (profile) says:

Somebody at DHS is watching the movies.....

Is the Karate Kid movie back in the theaters? When Mr. Miyagi is first starting to teach Daniel karate, Daniel knocks a kerchief to the floor and Mr. Miyagi says (something to the affect of) “Be careful knocking that weapon to the floor”. He then shows Daniel how even a flimsy kerchief can be used to generate a distraction that will allow an advantage in a fight. Unfortunately, DHS has become the weapon that is only good as a distraction.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Ummm… NY needs to be stopped.
Yes the terrorists attacked the city, but the billions we give them and their secret go anywhere spy on anyone programs are over the top and need to end.

If you need any more evidence…
The exploding food truck was a plot device from a CSI:NY episode.
We are presenting the plots of TV shows now to scare people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nonsense

Nobody said that possible equals probable. But I take Chambers to mean that “we” (as in society, constituents of government, th epeople of the city of New York in this particular case) expect our fire departments (especially big city ones, and especially the FDNY, which has had some experience in responding to disasters large and small), to look at possible risks and explore how to handle them.

Here’s a guy from FDNY who puts together a PPT for other firefighters, noting all of the aspects of food trucks that they should keep in mind if they’re responding to a call involving a food truck. They have propane, generators, maybe hot fryer oil, etc. Tons of dangerous flammable or explosive things. Good for a fire fighter to remember. In a couple of slides, he also notes that food trucks would make good cover for someone who wanted to plant a truck bomb in a crowded place. And you know what? He’s right. Since food trucks usually contain lots of flammable/explosive stuff, and are parked in crowded areas, they would provide good cover for someone who wanted to plant explisve things in a crowded area. As others point out, you could just use a U-Haul. True, but perhaps unsurprisingly, people tend to notice if you park a U-Haul in Times Square. (Also, judging from the comments here, if anyone in the fire department were to point out this possibility, it would be an example of McCarthyite Big Brotherism singling out self-movers for discrimination.)

There’s nothing in that FDNY presentation that suggests authorities should discriminate against food trucks, or that food trucks are bad, or illegitimate (although it notes the black market for permits). Instead, it notes the risks that food trucks present for firefighters, and what firefighters should note *when they get called* to an incident involving a food truck. And that’s generally going to mean a food truck that’s on fire, or bellowing smoke, or something else that leads people to call the fire department.

So I’m going go against the tide of comments here and suggest that there’s really nothing wrong with a fire fighter pointing out to other firefighters that food trucks pose some unusual potential dangers, including the small possibility that someone oculd exploit those dangers purposefully.

AB says:

Re: Nonsense

It’s good that the possibility was recognized. It’s bad that it was given a dedicated presentation thus wasting hundreds (possibly even thousands) of dollars.

The idea should have been entered in a file and put aside for some bored agent to consider in the future – or for the current bored agent to consider now and make notes for how to recognize and address the vaguely possible event. It is such an improbable threat that it should never ever have deserved more than eight man-hours of attention. Even in the incredibly underwhelming environment of boredom and make-work currently faced by agents.

This presentation is a clear indication that there are too many agents and not nearly enough work for them all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If one of those DID blow up it might dissuade people from frequenting these unhealthy foodstands and might actually have a positive effect on american mortality rates. So no this won’t happen. Buying stock in mcdonald, kfc, smith&wesson or a fracking petrochemical company would have more effect than this bomb. Why get blown up when you can get rich on americans killing themselves.

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