“Thank you for calling the Homeland Security Hotline. Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed. To continue in English, please press 1. Para continuar in Es-”
“To report suspicious behavior, press 1. To claim responsibility for a past terrorist attack, press 2. To claim responsibility for a future terrorist attack, press 3. For directions to the near-”
“If this attack will take place in the USA in the contiguous 48 states, press 1. If this attack will take place in Alas-”
“If this attack has ecological motives, press 1. If this attack is for you or your organization’s struggle against the Great Satan, press 2. If this attack is in regards to Puer-”
“Please hold while we connect you to a live operator.”
Saifal Ohrmazd exhaled with relief. As he waited on hold, he thought of possibly attacking automated answering switchboards as his next target. That would certainly galvanize the downtrodden masses behind his movement.
The hold music was Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” Saifal Ohrmazd chuckled. “Well played, DHS. Well played.”
And then came the ring tone followed by the voice in a sea of voices – the live operator! “Thank you for calling the Homeland Security Hotline, my name is Cheryl, may I get your organization’s name?”
“Yes, I’m Saifal Ohrmazd, and I’m with the Himynamistan People’s Holy Revolutionary Vanguard.”
The sound of keyboard clicking. A pause. “I’m not showing that in my database. Are you new?”
“No, we’ve done some terrorism in the past. We’ve been around for about 2… 3 years? Something like that.”
“Well, I’m not showing that. How do you spell Himynamistan?”
“H as in Hotel, I as in India, M as in Mike, Y as in Yankee, N as in November, A as in Alph-”
“Oh, you know what? I fat-fingered it. I hit a m instead of the n. Hold on sir.” Clicking, pause. “OK, You are the Himynamistan what again?”
“Himynamistan People’s Holy Revolutionary Vanguard.”
“One moment.” Clicking, pause. “OK, now I’ve got it. Is this a new ticket or a call on a previous ticket?”
“A new ticket.” Saifal wondered what the purpose of an answering message tree was if it wasn’t going to pre-code the call. Call center 101, people!
“All right… and what is this in regards to?”
“I want to phone in a bomb threat.”
“And where will this bomb threat be?”
“All domestic airliners. All of them.”
Pause. “I’m sorry, sir, we need specific flight numbers.”
“What do you mean? We’re threatening all domestic flights! You have to take this seriously!”
“Well, I’m sorry, but the drop-down menus I have just give me a choice of carrier and flight number.”
“Can’t you just skip that and put my threat in the notes section?”
“I’ll try that…” Clicking, pause. Another click. “Um, I’m sorry, sir, but it won’t let me save the ticket. I have to enter something for the carrier and flight number.”
“Well, we’re threatening all flights. This is a big operation.” Who designed that incident reporting interface? There are thousands of GUI programmers in Zoroabad that could code circles around the idiots that put this DHS kludge together!
“We could open multiple tickets?”
“Are you kidding me? That’ll take forever!”
“Well, I’m sorry, sir, but that’s how I have to enter the data.”
This is going nowhere. “How about a different category? Is there a general threat category we could use?”
“It’s pretty well pinned down, sir. I could put it in as an unspecified threat.”
“That doesn’t seem right. I mean, this is a specific threat. It’s a big one. We designed this operation to be bigger than anything anyone’s ever done before.”
“I see… still, we can’t code it as such.”
“Well, why is your system set up like that?”
“Well, sir, most of the major terror groups go with the specific target and we’ve tailored the reporting system to dovetail with their methodology.”
“So if I was a big group, then you’d accommodate my threats?”
“Afraid so, sir. We can only do so much.”
“Can I speak with a manager?”
“Certainly, sir. One moment, sir.” A click and now it was Steve Miller’s “Livin’ in the USA” for hold music. Saifal couldn’t help but sing along with the catchy chorus.
Right in the middle of a “doo-do-do-do-do-do-dooo,” the manager cut in.
“Hello, sir, I understand your organization wishes to undertake an operation that doesn’t quite fit with our reporting system.”
“Hi, yes, yes, that’s exactly what we want to do. We’re planning to bomb all domestic flights in the USA.”
A sudden silence – the manager was hitting his mute button. “Um, sir, I have to ask you: do you really have the capacity to carry out such an operation?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just that the Himynamistan People’s Holy Revolutionary Vanguard – say, don’t you have an easier way of saying that?”
“Our acronym is HPHRV. You could pronounce that ‘hep-herv.’ We sometimes just call ourselves the HRV.”
“That would be helpful, thank you very much.”
“Not a problem.”
“OK, so the HRV hasn’t really carried out very big attacks in the past. Moreover, all of them have been non-lethal.”
“Well, we hold life to be sacred. We don’t want to arrogantly destroy it like you in the Great Satan do.” Oooh! Sick burn!
The manager seemed to roll with it. This guy’s good. “That’s exactly my point. Why would you bomb a plane, if it could lead to loss of life?”
Exasperation. “That’s why I’m phoning it in, in advance, so you can evacuate all the planes and search them.”
“So, what’s the objective of that?”
“To cripple the airborne infrastructure of the USA by grounding all flights, showing to-”
“Pardon my interruption, but how long did you want all the flights grounded?”
“Oh, um… I dunno… we hadn’t thought much past that part.”
“So, it’s really just a symbolic thing, is it? And… am I right in guessing there aren’t any actual bombs involved, at all?”
Saifal Ohrmazd thought a bit. “Yes, I guess it is symbolic, and, no, there aren’t any real bombs.” He felt a little sadness inside at the thought of his terrorist action being turned down, which would force his organization to become violent.
“Well, how about we ground all the planes in the USA for, let’s say, ten minutes each while we, quote, search for a bomb, unquote, and then you can specify a flight that we can, quote, find the bomb on, unquote, so we can return to normal. You get your big demonstration, and we get our properly coded incident report.”
“That could work. You sure you can ground all flights?”
“We do it all the time, here. No problem at all.”
“Well, that would be great.”
“OK, sounds like a plan, then. I’m going to put you back on the line with Cheryl and she can take you from here.”
Saifal Ohrmazd was thrilled! Cheryl did a great job on getting the incident entered, and even helped locate a flight to report the fake bomb on to have the best news cycle possible – a flight from Miami to Seattle. Long time in the air, plenty of news network coverage, great exposure for the Himynamistan People’s Holy Revolutionary Vanguard… or HRV, for short. By the end of the day, millions of Americans were cursing the name of the HRV and googling up wiki pages about it and what it was trying to do. That night, late night talk show hosts roasted the HRV in their monologues. Saifal couldn’t have asked for a better strike against the Great Satan of the USA.
Best of all, the great guys on the Homeland Security Hotline were able to work with him as an individual, not just another name and and a number on a screen. They took his needs and partnered with him to create a solution. Because of that, he didn’t have to escalate to violence, and that made everybody happy.
Three days later, a DHS quality control operative called the Zoroabad headquarters of the Himynamistan People’s Holy Revolutionary Vanguard. Saifal Ohrmazd gave Cheryl and her manager all “very satisfied” ratings and indicated that, yes, he would call again.