NYPD Puts Terrorism On The Run By Ordering Twitter To Turn Over Parody Account User Data 'Linked' To Brooklyn Bridge Flag-Switching

from the because-you-can't-know-how-low-you'll-sink-until-you-try dept

Late last month, some audacious pranksters (or possibly ultra-dangerous individuals) snuck to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge’s two towers and replaced the American flags with the universal symbol for surrender: white flags. Or to be more specific, bleached-white American flags.

As city law enforcement mobilized into “panic mode,” a tweet claiming responsibility went out from a long-running parody Twitter account:

If you can’t read/see the tweet, it’s sent from @BicycleLobby and says the following:

Earlier today we hoisted two white flags to signal our complete surrender of the Brooklyn Bridge bicycle path to pedestrians.

The New York Daily News fell for it. More surprisingly, the Associated Press did as well, infecting an untold number of local outlets with its automated breaking news feed. In their hurry to be proven fools, the Daily News and the AP ignored both a) EVERY TWEET EVER MADE BY THE ACCOUNT and b) the second line of the account’s profile.

An all-powerful enterprise.
Parody account.

The parody account heaped more scorn on the two news agencies, suggesting they google “Dorothy Rabinowitz,” the inspiration for the account. Rabinowitz, a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, once famously said, “The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise,” as she attempted to protect average New Yorkers from the two-wheeled menace that was “begriming” upscale neighborhoods with “blazing blue Citi Bank bikes.”

Apparently, the NYPD can’t take a joke. Sure, it’s taken DNA from the “crime” scene, along with grabbing cell tower dumps, surveillance footage and searches of the ALPR database for plates spotted in the vicinity, but it can’t seem to wrap its mind around a parodic tweet from a parody account.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office has issued a subpoena for information about the Twitter account @BicycleLobby.

The anonymous, satirical account announced Friday that the company Twitter had received a summons to appear before a grand jury against John Doe defendant in a criminal investigation.

“On Monday, Twitter alerted this account that it had received a subpoena from the office of the District Attorney of the County of New York,” the account tweeted Friday afternoon — clarifying that it was being “100%” serious about the legal notice.

It’s the real deal (embedded below). The straight-faced subpoena demands that Twitter turn over:

Any and all records including but not limited to account opening documents, user Contact information (subscriber information, including email addresses, billing information, associated telephone numbers), Group Contact information, and all available IP logs for the Twitter account(s) associated with the following…

If Twitter fails to do so, it may be facing “imprisonment for one year.” The subpoena also warns Twitter against notifying the end user:

Pursuant to 18 USC § 2705(b), this Court orders Twitter not to notify or otherwise disclose the existence or execution of this subpoena/order to any associated user/accountholder, until the conclusion of this investigation or otherwise by court order.

If Twitter didn’t just shrug this off, then it’s likely the investigation has concluded or the court has rescinded its order. The subpoena went out on July 23rd and the account holder was notified August 4th. The person behind the parody account has retained legal assistance, not that he or she should actually need it. The NYPD’s investigative “technique” apparently consists of grabbing as much data as possible (surveillance, cell tower dumps, “DNA,” parody Twitter accounts) and running it through some sort of angsty, terrorism-fueled centrifuge until either a) discretionary spending is increased for counterterrorism units or b) the actual culprit outs him or herself by walking into the police station, dripping with blood flag bleach and shouting “DETECTIVE!” until someone starts paying attention.

While there is legitimate concern that a highly-symbolic structure (like a flagpole atop the Brooklyn Bridge) could be so easily accessed (and without leaving a trace despite pervasive surveillance), the response so far should raise serious questions about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism skills.

Cops were similarly stumped, although they hoped some answers might come from the quintet caught on blurry video crossing the bridge about 20 minutes before the tower lights went out and the flags were stolen around 3:30 a.m…

The graveyard-shift cops who missed the trespassers jumping a locked gate, scaling the two towers and hanging the bleached flags will not be disciplined, police sources told The News.

The answer, of course, is to add more cameras to the exact spot where something has already happened. Someone “inside the police department” posited that it could have been a dry run for a terrorist attack, and the response has been a lot of barn-door kicking and the hassling of any other person who might cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot during the early hours of the morning.

This clumsy fear-driven thinking is only exacerbated by willing accomplices like the NY Daily News — the same entity so quick to claim a parody Twitter account did it — which rushed out this reductio ad absurdum headline the next morning:


That’s how the NYPD ends up throwing more cameras at the same spot the previous cameras captured the flag-switchers at work, as though more unwatched eyes will somehow prevent an attack. And that’s how a local judge signs off on a subpoena ordering Twitter to hand over user data on a clearly parodic Twitter account — one that has also claimed to have faked the moon landing. If our main “weapon” in the War on Terror is “swift and disproportionate” reaction, no wonder everyone in the intel community believes we’re “losing.”

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Comments on “NYPD Puts Terrorism On The Run By Ordering Twitter To Turn Over Parody Account User Data 'Linked' To Brooklyn Bridge Flag-Switching”

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48 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: At last!

Nah, you dont need to put the whole servers in jail.
I think it would be enough to remove the harddrives and stack them on top each other in 1-2 cells.
They did something bad so they dont get protective packaging and that way they dont need too much space. They might get a scratch here and there if you stack them but hey, it’s prison!

That One Guy (profile) says:

I’m not sure if it’s so much ‘willing accomplishes’, so much as moronic, egotistical editors who can’t stand the thought of admitting they fell for such an insanely obvious prank/parody, and so just double-down on their idiocy.

Not to mention panic and fear always sells, so it’s hardly a surprise that they wouldn’t pass up a chance to stir up more of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: logic?

The dumb bad guys always explain their evil plans and must leave clues for the good smart guys to follow.

The flaw with your explanation is that we’re still waiting for a good smart guy to show up. All the reactionary behaviour described in the article comes from “good” guys, but I don’t think I’d call any of them good smart guys…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: logic?

The only reason I could see it remotely working is to leave a threat if you want to raise levels of fear. Say for instance they wanted New York to ban oysters, have the mayor required to appear in all press conferences dressed like a clown, or make the NYPD uniforms bright pink for some reason, spray painting or leaving a note saying. “Dye or die, if the NYPD aren’t wearing bright pink uniforms by next year this bridge is going to go tumbling down!”

It wouldn’t be so much of a dry run as a warning if they were serious or just a politically motivated hoax if they were bluffing.

PaulT (profile) says:

“If our main “weapon” in the War on Terror is “swift and disproportionate” reaction, no wonder everyone in the intel community believes we’re “losing.””

Of course you’re “losing”. One of the main aims of terrorism is to spread fear and, on the basis of this story, you’re doing that without terrorists actually having to do anything. It’s hard to “win” a “war” when the enemy doesn’t even have to engage you for them to achieve their aims.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is scary that no paper bothered to point out the simple truth…
For every indignity, right repressed, right ignored, money spent… these idiots were unable to stop this event.
Rather than consider it might just have been a protest (or perhaps because protesting means you are a terrorist now) they are pouring buckets of cash pursuing “something” so they can have a perp walk.
Those charged with protecting the violated site, will face no repercussions for the complete failure in their duties.

The parody is the NYPD.
The joke is lost on everyone because it isn’t funny.
A bad event happened once, the overreaction and expansion ushered in by fearful people brought much worse terrorism to the city.
NYC is in the control of terrorists, who feel their holy mission trumps the alleged rights of those they hold hostage.
That the impossible dream of stopping all bad things can happen… if only we throw more money at it, violate more rights, violate more laws, and keep executing undesirables with impunity.

If it were a 3rd world country, wouldn’t we have sent in “military advisers” to help the repressed people by now?

Anonymous Coward says:

So the banks that were too big to fail, they can steal billions from the public by committing fraud, NO JAIL.

Documents show that GM knew about the faulty ignition switch for year, admits 13 people were killed by the faulty ignition switch, all after being caught lying about not knowing; NO JAIL.

Twitter hosts parody account that claim responsibility for the erection of two white flags exposing the awesome terrorist fighting skills, and billions of dollars spent in surveillance by the NYPD (with the help of the CIA) over the years. NYPD now tells Twitter if they don’t turn over the account information, JAIL.

“One of these things is not like the others. Which one is different, do you know? Can you tell which thing is not like the other? I can’t tell you, cause I might end up in jail.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because the third follows a very common theme – contempt of authority MUST be punished.

The first two atrocities were committed by those in authority, therefore, they do not get jail.

The third was someone making fun of the incompetent NYPD, with all their anti-terror budgets, security theater, and general sense of paranoia at every turn. That MUST be punished to deter us pointing out the incompetence of those in authority (especially with those in authority who have so much money to throw around, despite their obviously shitty performance).

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Dump these guys into downtown Davis without a native guide.

I know, it’s a terrible thing to do to a New Yorker. The carnage will be horrible! But the survivors will come out hardened, more liberal and with a healthy respect for the all-powerful bicycle enterprise. (Also a craving for Thai food and sushi.)

But they’ll never get rid of the taste of bugs.

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