See A Suspicious Bag on the Metro? Just Throw It Away

DCist is reporting on a new advertising campaign on the Metro that encourages riders to be ever vigilant for abandoned bags and suspicious circumstances. The text on the new signs reads:

Terrorism is the threat. Complacency is the accomplice.

It’s easy to let our guard down – 9/11 happened over four years ago. Nothing’s happened since. Except for Madrid. And London. Part of the war on terrorism is a battle against complacency. So live your life, but be aware. And if you see something that seems wrong, let us know.

This is yet another volley in the campaign of fear perpetrated by our own well-meaning-but-politically-sensitive officials. Riders are already constantly barraged with audible reminders from operators to “report any suspicious packages.” It seems like a different color line is shut down every other week while the authorities investigate some piece of litter or Macy’s bag full of lingerie that was accidentally left behind.

I hate this fear mongering. We, as an entire nation of individual people, are wasting our time, energy, and state of mind chasing these phantoms. The paradox is that the more suspicious we become, the more imperilled we actually are. When everybody is hyper-vigilant, the police are no longer able to focus on credible threats. As Bruce Schneier says, “Amateur spies perform amateur spying. If everybody does it, the false alarms will overwhelm the police.” This is not to say that individual watchfulness and caution is without value - most people have a pretty keen sense for when something “isn’t right” - but, maintaining such alertness wearies our ability to comprehend and react to real problems, injects our society with suspicion, lowers morale, and makes our actual anti-crime and anti-terrorism efforts less effective.

So please, do what I do when confronted with a so-called “suspicious package” on the Metro: Just put it in the trash. You are far more likely to get killed by a car on your walk to the Metro station than in some subway explosion, and you’ll help thousands of commuters farther down the line get home on time. Besides, the new $800,000 trash cans are bomb proof, anyway.