BioterrorYou are the head of Homeland Security.

The following urgent intelligence report has been sent to your desk.

The president has deferred to your judgment:

Your decision will prove the resolution of this threat to national security.

  1. Hijacked airliner
  2. 324 people aboard
  3. Toxic Agent activated by explosion
  4. Currently located over the desert
  5. Plans to land at LAX and demand ransom
  6. Military Jets are in position and armed
  7. Two armed Air Marshals are aboard

Your advisors tell you the following:

The Toxic Agent on board the plane, if activated by bombing or
crashing, will taint everything it touches on the ground for the next
100 years making the area uninhabitable.

You have a 30 second window before the plane crosses out of the desert and into densely populated parts of California.

You are not in contact with those flying the plane.
Cellular phone calls from passengers claim the Air Marshals were killed.

The military wants you to approve their recommendation for a shoot-down.
Your staff argues there is no danger in waiting to see if the plane will safely land in Los Angeles.

There are no Magic Pills available to fight the Toxic Agent.
Do you order the plane shot down?
Do you let the plane take its own course?
Do you put another plan in place?

84 Comments

  1. “Currently located over the desert” which desert? How inhabited is it? (Including people / endangered species / etc.)
    Note: There are cities built in deserts.
    If mostly uninhabited and able to contain the crash site for decontamination, shoot it down.
    If there are endangered species / a city below, possibly let it land.
    If the hijackers have an explosive that could set of the bio-terror at LAX, shoot it down.
    If unable to determine this and there are endangered species / a city below – evacuate as much of the Greater Los Angeles area as possible (very hard to do), have LAX contained for bio-hazard, let the plane land land, have trained specialists to talk the hijacker out of exploding the plane have people ready to meet the demands but also people to arrest the person when they leave the plane. Send scientists to the area and surrounding areas to assess water / air / etc. quality. If the bio-hazard is released, buy large amounts of land for future generations to inhabit in 100 yrs.

  2. Hi A S!
    I guess the issue is shooting down a plane over a remote desert and guaranteeing the killing of more than 324 people on the plane, or risk believing the word of the hijackers that they plan to land at LAX just to get money and hope their real intention is not to crash their plane in the middle of Los Angeles.

  3. Way to kick off the winter solstice…
    You’d hadn’t previously mentioned that the desert was remote and I know people that live in “densely populated” areas around LA that are considered part of “the desert”.
    I put “densely populated” in quotes because it probably would not be considered densely populated by people from other places.
    Basically, the hijacker lost his word of honor when he/she threatened the lives of others. But one must still tread carefully.
    If the individual is identifiable, it may help the decision. Are they part of a terrorist group? Or acting alone? Do they have access to the bio-hazard mentioned? What is the nature of the bio-hazard (this could be narrowed down by finding what is can survive the intense heat etc of the explosion)? What is the motivation behind the attack?

  4. A S —
    The intelligence report said “the desert” and we understand that to mean there aren’t a lot of people around there compared to Los Angeles.
    We do not know who they are or how many of them there are. We know they say they want money.
    We know they have a Toxic Agent aboard that will only be put into an activated stage if they, or us, blow up the plane.
    The biohazard is an element that will poison the earth and the people it touches for 100 years.
    That’s all we know.

  5. There are large parts of Southern California that are considered the desert. If one simply assumes that there are not a lot of people more people can actually die.
    The Las Vegas area is also a desert and the Las Vegas Strip is densely populated with tourists.

  6. Las Vegas has a population of 545,147 as of 2005.
    Los Angeles’ population is over 4,097,340.
    Are you saying there are other cities in California that are even half as dense as Los Angeles?
    It looks to me San Diego is second densest at 1.25 million.
    San Jose is third with just over 900,000.

  7. Las Vegas was just an example and population may not include people that are there as tourists.
    Additionally, San Diego is considered desert. Please see the link in previous comment.
    One must also consider time of day as a factor. Los Angeles is more crowded during business hours.

  8. Excellent analysis, Dave!
    What would you say to the families of the dead to explain your decision?
    Would you compensate them as the 9/11 families were compensated?
    You’re right time is of the essence and you can’t dilly-dally around asking for definitions of what a desert is or is not or what time of day it is or what sort of Toxic Agent is on board! You have to act decisively in the few seconds you have after reading the information placed on your desk.
    I think you’re probably right that Los Angeles must be spared at any cost. There are too many people there in the area and to risk contamination for 100 years.
    There’s a hard choice to be made between the lives of 300 people on the plane verses not only the 4 million people in Los Angeles, but also the effects of area contamination for a century.

    Maybe the fumes would carry into North Korea or the presidential palace in Iran.

    Now that made me laugh out loud!
    😆
    I also ran this scenario by my MPH and MD Public Health students and none of them could bring themselves to say: “Shoot it down.”
    They crossed their fingers and hoped the plane would run out of fuel, or the passengers would save the day or they’d overshoot the runway at LAX and land in the ocean and drown the Toxic Agent on board or… or… or…
    I said… “None of those things are facts in your hand… keep thinking…”

  9. Hi Mark!
    Excellent phrasing! You know shooting the plain kills at least 300 and probably destroys the area the size of the debris field on the ground. Letting the plane continue on to LAX risks so much more life and prosperity that you can’t really even begin to quantify it.
    Compensation for terrorism victims? We set the precedent after 9/11:

    The average award to families of those killed was $2.1 million, though the 2,880 individual payouts ranged from $250,000 up to $7.1 million.
    The fund also paid an average of about $400,000 each for the 2,680 accepted claims of injuries stemming from the attacks. The smallest injury award was $500, the largest $8.6 million, according to the report.

    Compare those numbers with what the families of fallen American soldiers get from Iraq Combat duty:

    RESPONDING TO intense pressure from Congress, the military and the general public, the Pentagon announced a large increase yesterday in death benefits for US soldiers killed in combat zones, doubling the total compensation paid to relatives to $500,000 (pounds 266,000).
    Under the proposals, outlined in testimony by senior defence officials on Capitol Hill on the eve of President Bush’s first State of the Union address of his second term, the tax-free “death gratuity” will go up from $12,420 to $100,000.
    At the same time, maximum life insurance coverage will increase to $400,000 from the current $250,000, with the extra premium to be paid by the Pentagon. Both changes will be retroactive to October 2001, to cover troops who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Thus far, 1,415 troops have died in the Iraq war alone, and almost 100 more in Afghanistan, and the total cost of the measure could reach $450m.

  10. Well done, Dave!
    How can you deny each family an average of $2.1 million in compensation when you paid that to the 9/11 families?
    Why is this terrorist incident less important or valuable than 9/11?
    Calling off the search on Mt. Hood was heartbreaking. Everyone knew they were likely dead but now their deaths are guaranteed. No joy anywhere in that episode.

  11. I doubt that 30 seconds is enough time to give the order to shoot the plane down and have it get to the fighter pilots. If I gave the order NOW, I suspect the plane would go down over more populous areas and not the desert. Therefore I could not in good conscience tell them to shoot down the plane.
    As for what to do to minimize the threat to LA, maybe ask for one of the passengers to give a cellphone to the terrorists and try to begin negotiation. Maybe it’s possible for stunt pilots to arrange to have a special force storm the plane and take it over mid-flight. The worst possible consequence there would be the loss of the plane plus the special forces over populated land, but at this point we’re already looking at the plane going down over populated land anyway, so risking the special forces as well isn’t much worse.
    Is this something we’re actually capable of doing?

  12. What if it does not?
    As the head of Homeland Security my responsibility is to save as many people I can…
    and the other side of the “what if” looks extremely bleak. Moreover, I don’t get a second chance.

  13. What if it does not?
    As the head of Homeland Security my responsibility is to save as many people I can…
    and the other side of the “what if” looks extremely bleak. Moreover, I don’t get a second chance.

  14. Ah, yes! The desert! Did you know San Diego is considered the desert?
    😀
    Does it matter if the debris field obliterates a federally protected Native American Indian reservation?
    Do you pay reparations for the loss of Indian land? Or do you relocate the contaminated Reservation?

  15. Ah, yes! The desert! Did you know San Diego is considered the desert?
    😀
    Does it matter if the debris field obliterates a federally protected Native American Indian reservation?
    Do you pay reparations for the loss of Indian land? Or do you relocate the contaminated Reservation?

  16. A S!
    You were replaced as the head of Homeland Security so you are, unfortunately, no longer relevant.
    You failed your mission because of indecision and endless prevarication: You’re no leader, but you’d make a wonderful diplomat!
    You dillied when you should’ve dallied.
    We’ve relocated you to Iraq.

  17. A S!
    You were replaced as the head of Homeland Security so you are, unfortunately, no longer relevant.
    You failed your mission because of indecision and endless prevarication: You’re no leader, but you’d make a wonderful diplomat!
    You dillied when you should’ve dallied.
    We’ve relocated you to Iraq.

  18. Ok, it seems this “Anza Borrego Desert State Park” is the only “desert” we are talking about.
    As far as Reservation area http://www.sandiego.edu/nativeamerican/reservations.html goes, it seems there are two reservation areas close to the desert and the total population of these two reservation areas is 70.
    It does matter to obliterate anything from the face of the earth, but I am already sacrificing 324 passengers on board, some of them might be even international citizens on tour/trip.
    Whether I compensate by paying or I decide to relocate the contaminated reservation is not a 30 second’s choice…I think I will have some other “life savers” to discuss the matter… 🙂

  19. Ok, it seems this “Anza Borrego Desert State Park” is the only “desert” we are talking about.
    As far as Reservation area http://www.sandiego.edu/nativeamerican/reservations.html goes, it seems there are two reservation areas close to the desert and the total population of these two reservation areas is 70.
    It does matter to obliterate anything from the face of the earth, but I am already sacrificing 324 passengers on board, some of them might be even international citizens on tour/trip.
    Whether I compensate by paying or I decide to relocate the contaminated reservation is not a 30 second’s choice…I think I will have some other “life savers” to discuss the matter… 🙂

  20. Thanks! 🙂
    Two corrections:
    I wanted to say “life line” instead of “life saver” and it should read “missing” link.
    At the end of the day, I want to resign from the post.

  21. Thanks! 🙂
    Two corrections:
    I wanted to say “life line” instead of “life saver” and it should read “missing” link.
    At the end of the day, I want to resign from the post.

  22. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the corrections.
    Ah, but you cannot resign from your post! Making that decision to kill requires you to stay or you, and your president will be branded as wimps and UNdeciders and as those who made the wrong decision!
    To make it clear to the world and the terrorists that you were right, you must remain in your current post for at least a year! You have much more killing to do!

  23. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the corrections.
    Ah, but you cannot resign from your post! Making that decision to kill requires you to stay or you, and your president will be branded as wimps and UNdeciders and as those who made the wrong decision!
    To make it clear to the world and the terrorists that you were right, you must remain in your current post for at least a year! You have much more killing to do!

  24. Hi David,
    Did you see the “Bizarro” cartoon today where the guy from New York is calling Nebraska? If you haven’t, you’ll have to make a point of seeing it.
    I’d also give the order to shoot down the plane. It’s a tough call, but risking the lives of millions vs. the lives of those on the plane is the bad calculus that we have to do in the post 9/11 world.
    I wonder if there is any additional information about the hijackers?
    Are they from a group that is historically suicidal? Or, are they a group that is somewhat rational and can be negotiated with?
    If it is a group that historically has been known to talk, I’d be tempted to let the plane land, then inject some sort of “sleeping agent” into the airplane to knock everyone out.
    If it was some extremist group that had no inhibitions about killing themselves by flying the jet into a building or releasing their bioagent, then a couple of sidewinders would be the best option to save the most people.

  25. Hi David,
    Did you see the “Bizarro” cartoon today where the guy from New York is calling Nebraska? If you haven’t, you’ll have to make a point of seeing it.
    I’d also give the order to shoot down the plane. It’s a tough call, but risking the lives of millions vs. the lives of those on the plane is the bad calculus that we have to do in the post 9/11 world.
    I wonder if there is any additional information about the hijackers?
    Are they from a group that is historically suicidal? Or, are they a group that is somewhat rational and can be negotiated with?
    If it is a group that historically has been known to talk, I’d be tempted to let the plane land, then inject some sort of “sleeping agent” into the airplane to knock everyone out.
    If it was some extremist group that had no inhibitions about killing themselves by flying the jet into a building or releasing their bioagent, then a couple of sidewinders would be the best option to save the most people.

  26. Chris!
    I LOVE cartoons, especially editorial cartoons, but I didn’t see the Bizarro one today. Do you have a URL?
    I like your clean analysis, Chris. We don’t know the who or what of the hijackers. They’re a mystery, though they did take out the Air Marshals.
    The order to shoot is tough and it likely would be shocking to half of the nation.

  27. Chris!
    I LOVE cartoons, especially editorial cartoons, but I didn’t see the Bizarro one today. Do you have a URL?
    I like your clean analysis, Chris. We don’t know the who or what of the hijackers. They’re a mystery, though they did take out the Air Marshals.
    The order to shoot is tough and it likely would be shocking to half of the nation.

  28. Hi David,
    You won’t be able to find the cartoon online, unless you subscribe to a pay service.
    Here’s a paraphrase of the cartoon.
    A gentleman in New York City is on a cell phone talking to someone in Nebraska.
    It’s 4:15 here, he says. What time is it there, he asks. 1978?
    The “Call to Nebraska” could be a call to most parts of the midwest that are off the beaten path and away from the big cities.

  29. Hi David,
    You won’t be able to find the cartoon online, unless you subscribe to a pay service.
    Here’s a paraphrase of the cartoon.
    A gentleman in New York City is on a cell phone talking to someone in Nebraska.
    It’s 4:15 here, he says. What time is it there, he asks. 1978?
    The “Call to Nebraska” could be a call to most parts of the midwest that are off the beaten path and away from the big cities.

  30. OUTSTANDING, FRED, THANK YOU!
    It’s just so funny!
    It probably doesn’t help I sort of look like the guy in that cartoon!
    :mrgreen:
    This is yet another example of the power and energy of the universe we have yet to comprehend. I write about Nebraska and New York and the next day there’s a cartoon expanding on the thought! It’s just a little eerie, fred!

  31. David- i am saying those other minds are part of you and not separate. i am saying your consciousness is the consciousness of the entire “universe” seen through your unique lense. All that exists is your consciousness and the consciousness of the universe. These two are two aspects of the universal one. This is ” Om” or if talked about “Yin/Yang.”Even your mind and body are projections of your consciousness. This holds for “every one.” Please see David Bohms hologramatic picture of the universe. The entire universe is physically located within each named particle, as is each named particle in the universe.

  32. David- i am saying those other minds are part of you and not separate. i am saying your consciousness is the consciousness of the entire “universe” seen through your unique lense. All that exists is your consciousness and the consciousness of the universe. These two are two aspects of the universal one. This is ” Om” or if talked about “Yin/Yang.”Even your mind and body are projections of your consciousness. This holds for “every one.” Please see David Bohms hologramatic picture of the universe. The entire universe is physically located within each named particle, as is each named particle in the universe.

  33. Hi Fred —
    I have read David Bohm. I don’t find he thinks of the universe as a hologram because, as he argues in “The Enfolding-Unfolding Universe,” a hologram is but a snapshot of a static moment in time.
    A much more appropriate connection to the all of us is his idea of using a telescope and pointing it anywhere in space to feel and recognize the unchanging and ongoing movement and power of light that enfolds the entire universe in time.
    I’m still not sure the Bizarro cartoon confirms the solipsism argument.

  34. Hi Fred —
    I have read David Bohm. I don’t find he thinks of the universe as a hologram because, as he argues in “The Enfolding-Unfolding Universe,” a hologram is but a snapshot of a static moment in time.
    A much more appropriate connection to the all of us is his idea of using a telescope and pointing it anywhere in space to feel and recognize the unchanging and ongoing movement and power of light that enfolds the entire universe in time.
    I’m still not sure the Bizarro cartoon confirms the solipsism argument.

  35. Hi David- ” Relativity and quantum theory imply undivided wholeness, in which analysis into distinct and well defined parts is no longer relevant. Is there an instrument that can help give a certain immediate perceptual insight into what can be meant by analysis of a system into parts? It is suggested here that one can obtain such insight by considering the hologram. Thus, the hologram is an instrument that, as it were, ‘writes the whole’.(Wholeness and the Implicate Order- D. Bohm p. 183.

  36. Hi David- ” Relativity and quantum theory imply undivided wholeness, in which analysis into distinct and well defined parts is no longer relevant. Is there an instrument that can help give a certain immediate perceptual insight into what can be meant by analysis of a system into parts? It is suggested here that one can obtain such insight by considering the hologram. Thus, the hologram is an instrument that, as it were, ‘writes the whole’.(Wholeness and the Implicate Order- D. Bohm p. 183.

  37. Well, it “writes the whole” in a snapshot of a moment, Fred.
    From “The Enfolding-Unfolding Universe” from page 85 of the “The Essential David Bohm” —

    The value of the hologram in this context [of enfolding and unfolding] is that it may help to bring this new notion of order to our attention in a sensibly perceptible way; but, of course, the hologram is only an instrument whose function is to make a static record (or “snapshot”) of this order. The actual order itself which has thus been recorded is in the complex movement of electromagnetic fields in the form of lightwaves.

  38. Well, it “writes the whole” in a snapshot of a moment, Fred.
    From “The Enfolding-Unfolding Universe” from page 85 of the “The Essential David Bohm” —

    The value of the hologram in this context [of enfolding and unfolding] is that it may help to bring this new notion of order to our attention in a sensibly perceptible way; but, of course, the hologram is only an instrument whose function is to make a static record (or “snapshot”) of this order. The actual order itself which has thus been recorded is in the complex movement of electromagnetic fields in the form of lightwaves.

  39. Bohm states that our brains are smaller pieces of the larger hologram. That our brains contain the whole knowledge of the universe. So, you can see how each mind has a limited perspective of the universal hologram. (From web site above).
    “The division between mind and matter, or the observer and the observed, has produced very serious consequences in attempting to see that the world is a whole, because even if you are thinking of wholeness, you are thinking of an observer who is looking at this wholeness, and this starts to create a division. This starts to break up the whole, because you identify with one part of it, and then there is another part you are not identified with, and therefore the whole is broken in two. And then it breaks up further, because there are many observers, and each observer is an external object for all the others. The many parts obtained in this way are related, and you have to break things up even more in order to understand their relationship. So the implicate order can be important as a way of seeing how this particular problem can be dealt with.” (Bohm- Unfolding Meaning).

  40. Bohm states that our brains are smaller pieces of the larger hologram. That our brains contain the whole knowledge of the universe. So, you can see how each mind has a limited perspective of the universal hologram. (From web site above).
    “The division between mind and matter, or the observer and the observed, has produced very serious consequences in attempting to see that the world is a whole, because even if you are thinking of wholeness, you are thinking of an observer who is looking at this wholeness, and this starts to create a division. This starts to break up the whole, because you identify with one part of it, and then there is another part you are not identified with, and therefore the whole is broken in two. And then it breaks up further, because there are many observers, and each observer is an external object for all the others. The many parts obtained in this way are related, and you have to break things up even more in order to understand their relationship. So the implicate order can be important as a way of seeing how this particular problem can be dealt with.” (Bohm- Unfolding Meaning).

  41. David- Equal weight for “Unfolding Meaning” (David Bohm-Routledge Press, N.Y. London 1985. p. 12)
    “The key point is that the mathematical laws of the quantum theory that apply to these waves, and therefore to all matter, can be seen to describe, just such a movement in which there is a continual enfoldment of the whole into each region, along with the unfoldment of each region into the whole again.”
    ” I’ll call theis universal movement of enfoldment and unfoldment the holomovement.”
    “But it is important to note here that the whole universe is in principle enfolded into each part actively through the holomovement as well as all the parts.”

  42. David- Equal weight for “Unfolding Meaning” (David Bohm-Routledge Press, N.Y. London 1985. p. 12)
    “The key point is that the mathematical laws of the quantum theory that apply to these waves, and therefore to all matter, can be seen to describe, just such a movement in which there is a continual enfoldment of the whole into each region, along with the unfoldment of each region into the whole again.”
    ” I’ll call theis universal movement of enfoldment and unfoldment the holomovement.”
    “But it is important to note here that the whole universe is in principle enfolded into each part actively through the holomovement as well as all the parts.”