The vocabulary we use

A month or so ago I got some mail from the ATFE.  I am always apprehensive when I get something from them but that is based on zero real life experience with them.  The worst I can say about the material I receive from them was that it didn’t apply to me.  Most of the time it is, “Hmmm… okay.  That makes sense.“  This time I was actually impressed.  I had decided to not say anything about it in public but then I found it on their web site so I decided to go ahead and talk about it.  They sent me some material put out by “The Fertilizer Institute” in cooperation with the ATFE.  It was about how to make our country safer.  How to prevent explosive materials from getting into the hands of the wrong people.  Hundreds of millions of tons of ammonium nitrate (AN) are used annually on our farms.  AN is the primary component of the “reactive targets” I build for the boomershoot as well as being used in the Oklahoma City bombing and numerous other international terrorist bombings.  With all that AN being used each year in 100’s of thousands of locations how can you secure it such that a few hundred pounds (500 pounds could make a very serious bomb) doesn’t get out?  Well… when I read the material presented it really clicked.  It reminded me of when I worked on a political campaign to oppose a anti-gun initiative (I-676) a few years ago.  The people on the phone lines would tell stories about the anti-gun people that would call and try to get information about our plans.  You only had to ask one or two questions and the anti-gun people would, figuratively, fall in heap on the floor.  If the lines weren’t very busy then they would play with them for a few minutes and have more material for the story telling later that evening.  They would just ask something like, “What type of gun do you have?“  “What caliber is it?“  They would get answers like “Glock“ and “.357 Magnum“ (only revolvers shoot .357 Magnum and Glock doesn’t make any revolvers).  Or “Shotgun, I’m not sure who makes it, but it’s a 9mm.”  With a little bit of suggestive questioning you could get them to agree to the most incredibly outrageous things.  It was great sport making fun of the people that were trying to do us harm and now I realize that it can be more than just sport.  It can be a deadly serious means to save lives.  This is the brochure I received.  Growing up on a farm the questions and idle chatter that happens with other farmers and our suppliers which seem perfectly reasonable would throw my wife or kids for a total loop and would be a HUGE warning flag.  And that is just for someone with a fair amount of contact with a working farm and someone who grew up on a farm.  Here are the items from the brochure:

Unfamiliar to area or to you.

Doesn’t know much about farming/fertilizer
Doesn’t answer questions about acreage, crops, soil composition, etc. in a specific, knowledgeable way.

Insistent about ammonium nitrate
Will not consider other products you recommend. Is only interested in ammonium nitrate.

Doesn’t want product delivered
Insists on taking product now. Asks for it in bags, not bulk.

Hesitates/hedges when asked for information
Name, address, signature, photo ID, etc.

Acts nervous
Avoids eye contact. Seems jittery, uneasy, vague.

Pays in cash
Won’t write a check or use credit. Has no credit account with your or other ag businesses in the area.

After reading this I also remembered a story about someone that flew from Israel back to the U.S. after delivering a paper at a conference.  The security people did a one-on-one interview with every single passenger.  It took about 10 minutes for each passenger and went something like this for this guy,

I see that you visited here for a week.  Please tell me the purpose of your visit.  Describe the topic of your paper please.  Give me the lecture you gave the conference on this paper. <listens for about two minutes>  Please explain to me what ““ means.

In short, they can ask very innocent questions and unless you actually were there for the purposes you claim you will quickly get into trouble.  In this case it’s actually sort of a reverse vocabulary test.  The security agent will most likely not have the vocabulary of the paper presenter and expects to find words and phrases that are unknown to the average person.  The presenter, if they are the expert they claim to be, should be able to define the words and phrases in a manner that is consistent and sensical even to someone not skilled in that particular field.

Every group has their own language and culture.  You couldn’t fake being in the military with another military person for more than about 30 seconds before they would find you out if they wanted to test you.  A chess player, a quilter, or football fan–if you don’t belong to the group your vocabulary will expose you as a phony.

It turns out the reverse is also true.  If you speak the vocabulary you can gain the almost immediate trust of people that shouldn’t trust you.  It’s called “social engineering” in the security field and those are some of the most difficult attacks to defend against.