Let’s Put an End to Bomb and Terror Hoaxes

Let’s Put an End to Bomb and Terror Hoaxes

© David Burton 2016

Bomb Threats

     Last year (2015), a bomb threat, e-mailed from Germany caused the shutdown of the entire Los Angeles school system. Later that year, a threat to New York City schools went virtually ignored.

     In April of this year, several Massachusetts high schools received bomb threats that proved to be the latest in a string of hoaxes. These threats were produced by automated “robot telephone calls”.

     On Monday, 23 May 2016, a string of “automated calls to schools around the country – with a threat given in a voice that some said sounded ‘robotic’ or synthesized – led to thousands of students being evacuated from their classrooms. . . .” (Ref. 1)

     These robocall threats were made against schools in Illinois, New Hampshire, Delaware, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, California and elsewhere. “It’s called ‘swatting’ – using high-tech tools to obscure one’s identity and make a false report about an imminent threat in order to draw out law enforcement, firefighters and, yes, sometimes the local SWAT team.” (Ref. 1)

     While bomb threats to schools have become all too common, schools have struggled with how to respond without overreacting. What would have triggered a school dismissal just a year ago now often results in a short break while law enforcement sweeps the school.”

     Bomb threats called in to airlines have caused innumerable flight diversions or cancelled flights. How many of these threats have proven to be real? To my knowledge none!

     A retired police officer and criminal justice professor writes that, “In my experience, better than 99% {of bomb threats are hoaxes}. I've worked lots of bomb threats, and not one of them involved an actual bomb. In most cases, a real bomber will just plant the device and set it to go off or remotely trigger it at a time when it will do the most damage. They won't warn anyone of what they're doing. It's counterproductive to their goal.” (Ref. 2)

     With regards to bomb threats, consider the facts that, “The biggest problem with stopping explosions is that they don’t begin with pre-attack threats. In simple terms, real bombers bomb; they don’t make bomb threats. The majority of police calls related to bombs are false alarms, made by drunks, the mentally ill, revenge-seeking ex-employees, or the kid who doesn’t want to take his third period French exam.
      - - -
     “But bomb threat makers are certainly more plentiful and we often waste a lot of resources, personnel, and time looking for bombs that aren’t there. Timothy McVeigh didn’t warn the occupants of the Oklahoma Federal Building before he attacked. Ted Kaczynksi did not tell the recipients of his mail bombs what they were about to open. The two Russian brothers . . . responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings did not call in a threat to race officials.
     “{An ATF agent was asked} how many bomb threats he had responded to over his 30-plus year-career, where he had found a real bomb and he said, ‘Zero.’ He has certainly discovered real bombs when called to the homes of bomb makers. He has found real and fake bombs when called by people who saw an odd-looking device on the ground, but again, real bombers bomb, they don’t make bomb threats. [Emphasis mine]
      - - -
     “{Every time} we pull the passengers from an airliner and search it with bomb-sniffing dogs, because a flight attendant found a bomb threat written in crayon in the bathroom or some idiot called the Control Tower, we are falling right into the hands of people who make threats, as opposed to people who pose threats.” (Ref. 3)

     So, when we evacuate a school or redirect a commercial flight, we are telling those calling in false threats that they can completely control our lives with a call or a note and, furthermore, that they can achieve the notoriety they may be seeking.

     Terrorists don’t specifically announce, a-priori, that they are attacking – they didn’t in Paris, in Amsterdam or anywhere else! They may make generalized threats, but when they perpetrate an actual terrorist attack, they do so without warning so as to maximize the damage and carnage inflicted. A specific threat is almost always a hoax.

     It’s time to put an end to theses hoaxes.

     Simply having laws on the books that punish hoaxers has proven to be ineffective – most perpetrators of such hoaxes simple are never caught. For example, Massachusetts provides for penalties of up to 20 years in prison, up to a $50,000 fine, and restitution for the costs of the disruption. New York law makes it a "Class E Felony . . . to issue a false bomb threat directed toward a school in New York State."

     So how do we go about doing this? Here are my suggestions on what should be considered.

     1) Ignore the threats unless there is overwhelming evidence of credibility and imminent danger.

     2) The media needs to stop publicizing these threats – publicity is what nearly all perpetrators are seeking.

     News media should join together and agree to not publicize terrorist treats until and unless they are cleared to do so by the proper authorities.

     Baseball and other major professional sports have pretty much solved the problem of individuals running onto the playing fields during a sporting event by having television refuse to show their publicity-seeking antics.

     Governmental and law enforcement agencies could refuse to talk to any media outlet that releases threat information without prior law enforcement agency approval. Law enforcement agencies could release information to competitors of media outlets that don’t adhere to a ban on premature releasing of stories on threats.

     If news agencies cannot police themselves, we should consider criminal and/or civil prosecution of anyone providing publicity about unsubstantiated threats. Perpetrators of threat hoaxes should not receive any publicity. Until the threat is over, there should be a news blackout unless information is provided by the law enforcement agencies responsible for handling the threat. For those bleeding hearts who will scream that any such action would violate the “freedom of the press” provision of the Constitution, let me note, that in times of war, constitutional provisions have been superseded by national defense or public safety concerns. Perhaps the press in this country has become “too free”. In times past, the news media has exhibited common sense and admirable restraint when it came to holding back information that could cause harm to the public, to individuals or which would compromise our national security. Today, in its rush to be first, to be exclusive, and to be sensational, the news media shows no compunction in publishing any and all “news”, no matter how harmful or inaccurate the news might be to national security, to individuals, or to the public in general. Lacking self-constraint, a little more governmental control over the press might be appropriate these days.

     3) Impose harsh penalties on those caught and convicted of making bomb (and other) threats. Make sure that these convictions and the penalties imposed are prominently publicized. If feasible, make them pay restitution for costs incurred as a result of their actions.

     Let’s put an end to terror hoaxes, or, at least, let’s reduce the number of such occurances.


  1. Our view: Use communication, convictions to stop ‘swatting', Steve Albrecht, Daily Chronicle, 24 May 2016.
  2. What percentage of anonymous bomb threats turn out to be BS?, Quora, Accessed 16 December 2015.
  3. Bombers or Bomb Threat Makers?, Steve Albrecht, Psychology Today, 19 April 2013.

  26 May 2016 {Article 251; Whatever_46}    
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