Cambridge meter maid shuts down Red Line

The MBTA evacuated Alewife, stopped the Red Line at Davis and brought in explosives-detection equipment this afternoon after workers discovered a suspicious package on a Red Line train.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo reports the device turned out to be "a ticketing device used by city of Cambridge parking-enforcement officers."

"Better safe than really sorry," Cambridge City Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom tweets.

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Actually, better sane than

Actually, better sane than sorry. The terrorists have won. People scared of normal items have now halted our public transit cumulatively more than any single terror attack ever would. Meanwhile, the trains are full of actual criminals and drunks who abuse fellow passengers regularly with total impunity--the only real terrorism on the T.

How is "see something, say something" evidence of wussiness?

I'm not sure I understand how the "see something, say something" campaign is evidence of us having turned into a nation of wusses.

Would it be less wuss-like to post pictures of the 7/7 London bombings with a legend something like: "coming to a subway near you - be ready"? Or just the first part of that?

I personally agree that the campaign is a little over the top, but I presume that everyone screaming that it is a complete waste of taxpayer funds will never utter any phrase that even remotely sounds like it is laying blame at the feet of governmental officials for not preparing the public when the inevitable does occur.

Because the general public is

Because the general public is little trained to know the difference between an innocuous object and a true threat. So "See something, say something" tells us that any item could be a threat, even though I do not know of one instance of such an item having turned out to be a bomb.

So we get incidents like the Europe-bound plane that diverted over the Atlantic back to Boston a few weeks ago because a flight attendant found an -- gasp -- unclaimed camera in a seat pocket.

(Don't even mention the Times Square attempt: smoke was billowing out of the freakin' car. If we need a multi-million-dollar government campaign to tell us that a smoking car warrants further inspection, then we as a society are in pretty bad shape.)

>> Would it be less wuss-like to post pictures of the 7/7 London bombings …

Suicide bombers attacked the Tube. How would "See something, say something" have stopped them?

And even if we're talking about an abandoned backpack bomb on a packed train car: the thing would probably have detonated by the time someone noted it and alerted anyone.

>> when the inevitable does occur

And what would that be?

"Suspucious Packages"

Are always tough calls, whether it be law enforcement or the general public.

Sometimes "things" just look out of place. Do you want to be that guy who gets his arm blown off opening a strange looking bag sitting on a park bench?

Of course it never happens, but it has and it can. Who do you send to look in the package? When should you call?

Back in the day I was working a public event and someone brought my attention to a strange looking device along a curb. I went over and for the life of me couldn't figure it out. It was this metal shaped box with all sorts of wires sticking out of it with some ducktape around some of the wires and some sort of digital clock face at the end of one of the wires.

I went over and picked it up, flipped it over and it turned out to be a piece of a broken parking meter (from Somerville or Cambridge)

Now if I wasn't there, this person may have dialed 911 and who knows what would have happened? Imagine a 911 caller saying there was some device with wires and a clock near a public event that already had heightned security?

Saul, there is not "true threat". Although statistics will show that 99.99% of the time these things are just false alarms, do you trust your life that .01% of the time?

Something to think about anyway, and it isn't an easy one either.

>> do you trust your life

>> do you trust your life that .01% of the time?

Yes, I do. Again, I cannot recall one incident where a "suspicious" package turned out to be a bomb.

That does not mean to be unaware of one's surroundings: you would be remiss not to react to a seemingly abandoned car with smoke coming out of it.

The (perhaps intended) side effect of "See something, say something" is not vigilance: it is the mindset that we are under constant threat of imminent attack, and that a bomb could be lurking at any corner, at any moment.

And fear is a pretty powerful emotion.

Understood, Saul, but I don't think that's really what its about

Ok - but notwithstanding the suicide nature of the 7/7 attacks, the bombs were in backpacks, which easily could have been left under a seat and had the same effect as remaining on the suicide bomber's back (unless someone said something and there was time, as discussed below).

With respect to your question, if the backpack had been left, and had been on a timer, for example, someone seeing something and saying something might or might not save at least a few people (I know that if I saw someone stick a backpack under the seat of a redline train and then scamper off, I'd be on my way off the train too - if someone said "hey, this guy just stuffed his pack under the seat and took off", I personally would head out becuase according to my own personal risk/benefit analysis, that's abnormal enough for me to leave the area - others make their own choices and free to do what they want, but in that case, I, personally, would be happy to have heard someone saying something). As you point out, see something would not have stopped 7/7, but I don't think it's about "stopping" the terrorists. Only great intelligence can do that. It's about limiting the impact of the terrorist act. Surely see something is going to be least effective in a suicide bomb scenario, but I have no reason to believe that is the only method that will be used.

The inevitable is a subway bombing in the U.S., which I mentioned at the top of my original comment. Why should we have any reason to believe that the U.S. will be exempt from something that has happened in at least the U.K., Russia and Japan?

As I pointed out, the

As I pointed out, the "inevitable" already happened: a guy firebombed a NY subway car in 1994. No deaths but some pretty serious burns. And a 1976 bombing at Grand Central. And a 1975 bombing at LaGuardia. And a 1975 bombing at an historic tavern in Manhattan.

Looks like the mid-1970's were a pretty terror-filled era in NY.

And sure, if you see a guy trying to hide his bag under a seat and then run off the train, yeah, that seems pretty fishy. But none of these incidents involves "catching someone in the act". And if we're going to be paranoid about an abandoned bag we find, we should be paranoid about all backpacks passengers are wearing.

It's worth pointing out too, about the London attacks, that a final bomb was placed on a bus in an area where masses of passengers were evacuating the Underground stations. An innocuous item left on a train car could serve as a wonderful decoy to concentrate evacuated passengers into a small space.

Do you know that a crazed guy

Do you know that a crazed guy firebombed a NY subway car in 1994, burning dozens? I was living in NY at the time and I don't recall any mass hysteria following the incident. Bear in mind that this was a year after the LIRR mass shooting and within a year of the World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing.

It was also within a year of terrorist attacks against the Paris and Tokyo subways.

But we all know that terrorism started eleven years ago next month, right?

Not much you can do about those things though...

(firebombing and random shootings)

The initial damage is going to be done in some form or another. There really isn't much the government can do to protect those initial victims of these types of crimes.

With package bombs and the like (which may or may not be more common in our future), there are steps you can take to keep people safe.

If you're going to play the

If you're going to play the "It may happen in the future game", I've got one for you: an attacker uses an abandoned innocuous item as a decoy to force an evacuation, and to amass train riders in even closer quarters than on the original train cars. The the attacker attacks the crowd.

Has it happened? No. Could it? Sure.

I see no evidence that "See something, say something" leads to any more security, but it does lead to more fear. And fear pays. Especially for government agencies whose sole existence is predicated on keeping the populace in a state of fear.

First off,

I believe part of the whole "see something, say something" has to do with all sorts of crime. Many people will watch a domestic violence incident, pickpocket, sexual assault (however minor), drug use or transaction, or other crime) and not report it to the authorities. With the advent of cellphones, people can make a huge impact if they report these crimes when they happen. This campaign has more to do with cellphones than anything else.

As far as your "abandoned innocuous item" scenerio, law enforcment has already taken that exact situation into consideration. And yes, those types of things have happend in the past, (Eric Rudulph bombings). And again, there isn't much you can do about every possible scenerio. But the least you can do is have a government that has some sort of plan in case it does happen.

Again, I'm fine with that

Again, I'm fine with all this, but should the government not do anything, or focus only on intelligence?

There are lots of people like me who are prepared to say that life is a risk and that if I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time, that's life, and I'm not going to blame the government or anyone else for that (subject, of course, to my own efforts to always mitigate personal risk, e.g., if the alley looks particularly dark or I can see someone hanging out in the middle of it, I'm going to spend the extra 3 minutes to walk the way that is better lighted).

So bringing us back to the original wussiness question, the question at the end is: Are you one of us who isn't going to blame the government or anyone else if we're on that train?

Once someone's made a 911

Once someone's made a 911 call, yes, it's the police's job to investigate.

The issue at hand is that everything now is viewed in a mindset of terrorism.

>> Are you one of us who isn't going to blame the government or anyone else if we're on that train?

No, I would not fault the government.

Just as I don't fault the government for poorly maintaining the roads on which 30,000 Americans are killed annually.