3… 2… 1… go! Police! Search warrant! Police! I’m right… left. I got left. (shouting) Gimme two, gimme two Good raid (shouting) All clear up here, clear left – (shouting) Clear small, we’re coming out
– Move, move, move As you can see it’s pretty intense. You would not wanna be on the opposite side of that door when these guys were coming through. Okay, what are your demands? Police are trained to respond to every call with urgency but when the caller’s lying, like in the 9-1-1 recording we just heard, law enforcement becomes a pawn in a dangerous and expensive hoax “Swatting” relies on simple and widely available technology to disguise a caller’s identity Disposable cell phones, internet call services, and even number disguising apps make it increasingly difficult for police to track down these pranksters Somerset is one of the wealthiest counties in the US It has great schools, a low crime rate, and like a growing number of police forces through the country, a souped-up special weapons and tactics force, or SWAT team, just in case Beginning with the War on Drugs and after national tragedies like Columbine and 9/11, The US has seen a surge in the militarization and funding of SWAT teams, including counties large and small Over the last decade, the Department of Homeland Security alone has given away 35 billion dollars in grants to state and local police We went to spend the day with the Somerset County SWAT team at their emergency services training academy to see where that money was going – Sergeant: (shouting) For the headshot, you’re looking for eyes and nose, that’s your target areas Ciempola: We apply for every grant. If there’s a grant and we can get money for it, we’ll apply for it So, we apply for Homeland Security money, we’ll show you the Lenco BEAR, our armored assault rescue vehicle, infared cameras, and pole cameras and shields and stuff like that, we get a lot of that with grant money Ciempola: The BEAR we use on every call out
Ciempola: The BEAR, yes, I think it stands for Ballistic Engineering Assault Rescue vehicle, Lenco company up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts designs it There is it right there Gold: Damn
Ciempola: That’s roughly a $400,000 machine we never would have been able to make the purchase if we didn’t apply for Homeland Security money I think, in the area of the high 50s is one cost and again it was purchased through grant money Gold: What do we use this for? Is this sort of, to uh- you know, for a bomb situation, for a hazard situation? Ciempola: It could be for, right, it could be there’s a threat of a bomb, could be for exposure to chemicals, or some sort of gas that could hurt us and it could be just because somebody may want to shoot at us and we absolutely know they want to shoot at us, so we can send this in and it could deal with the situation and we don’t expose our officers to undue risk Twenty years ago, we were running around with RadioShack walkie talkies because that’s all we could afford There was no money for this type of operation around here Gold: You say you just it last year, have you had to use it for any intense situations yet or no? Ciempola: Not really, not yet, yeah yeah nothing big (voice off camera) Nothing major. Gold, narrating: Aside from Homeland Security grants that encourage local police departments to buy military-grade hardware for their own SWAT units, the US goverment has for years given away this technology for free to combat the War on Drugs and domestic terrorism Gold to Ciempola: I’m amazed that the kits here, man, they are no joke, like they’re serious stuff Gold, narrating: A US Department of Defense program often called the Pentagon Pipeline has redistributed billions of dollars worth of surplus military gear over the last two decades to local police forces much of it repurposed from wars overseas Sergeant, shouting: Alright, so the next course of fire is going to be two in the upper chest then one in the head two in the upper chest, one in the head Gold: We’ve seen a lot of heavily armed members of the SWAT team you can they are kitted out and they look like they’re ready for war So, it’s pretty reassuring if you’re going to be involved in violent confrontation, I’m sure, in the surrounding area, but it doesn’t sound like there are too many violent confrontations in Somerset County SWAT teams were originally formed to handle violent civil unrest, shootouts, and hostage rescues (shouting) Let me see your hands!
Don’t move! (screaming) But with increased access to power military equipment, the US has seen a dramatic rise in the use of these tactics for low-risk warrants and nonviolent drug raids as well (crying) Mommy, mommy It’s estimated the number of raids conducted by SWAT teams has gone from 3,000 a year in the 1980s to over 50,000 raids a year today (shouting) Police, search warrant! We can’t be sure as most states don’t even disclose the frequency with which they deploy these forces (shouting) Don’t move, don’t move! (gunshots) This lack of transparency is currently under investigation by the ACLU, which is trying to find out how often police use war tactics and weaponry in American neighborhoods and to what extend federal funding is incentivizing this trend All a “swatter” needs is a way to hide their phone number, a victim’s address, and a crazy story to tell the police We’re at NYU school of Computer Science and Engineering to find out just how easy that is Justin Cappos is a professor of computer science and engineering at NYU and an expert in cyber security So we’ve got 12 year-olds that are basically pulling off this swatting maneuver How easy is it to do this? In terms of technical knowledge, there isn’t a substantial amount of information someone needs to have they just sort of need to stumble to the right parts of the internet, dark sides of the internet and get the rights sorts of tools and then they can do this rather easily Is there a type in the hacking community that people sort of point out as the cliched person that does this sort of swatting thing? Yes, a lot of times it’s people who are rather young who maybe don’t have the same sort of mental and emotional development that many of us get later in life and so they kind of don’t know the lines between right and wrong quite as well, so it’s often we in the hacker community term “script kiddies” that do this kind of stuff so they know only a few things, they know a few sites they’ve been to, and they’ve kind of learned, hey this is a fun little thing I can try to do and they’re kind of unaware of the consequences of sending, you know, 30 or so heavily armed police officers to someone’s house to break down the door In Los Angeles, it’s known as “swatting” and it’s become an alarming trend Swatting pranks have been used on some of the biggest names in Hollywood Gold, narrating: Swatting began to attract national media attention when celebrities became victims Newscaster: There is breaking news happening at the Kardashian house Another newscaster: … and it’s happening more and more Last week, Rihanna and Sean Combs were targeted before them, Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, and Miley Cyrus all fake incidents prompting massive responses Gold: Aside from sending out a bunch of well-armed into innocent people’s homes, swatting can cost tens of thousands of dollars a fact not lost on California State Senator Ted Lieu, a victim of swatting himself I was at a meet at Orange County and I got a call in my cell phone from a police officer in Torrance who said, you know, “is this Ted Lieu?” and I said “yes” and he said, “where are you?” and I said, “I’m in Orange County” and he goes “okay, so you didn’t just kill your wife in your home?” and I said “no I did not” and he said “well we got a call that you did and we’re sending multiple police cars to your home right now” I hung up and tried calling my wife letting her know that this was happening and then I couldn’t reach her, but by that time, the police force had already showed up and there were people with rifles going through our home, you had fire trucks, you have paramedics, it was a very large response but she also knew I was carrying a bill on swatting so I think part of her was thinking I wonder if this is related to that and someone decided to, you know, swat our house Gold: Celebrity swatting occurred with such frequency in California that the LAPD stopped reporting these incidents for fear of copycats Senator Lieu introduced legislation this year making swatters liable for the full cost of fake SWAT team routes which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars Lieu: The reason swatting calls result in massive police responses is because the 9-1-1 operator often cannot tell it’s real or fake and they have to assume it’s real Swatting is dangerous in a number of ways, first of all it drains law enforcement and firefighter resources and so they’re responding to one swatting caller maybe more than one that means it can’t be responding to real emergencies It’s also dangerous because the actual incident is very tense for people who respond they’re under an impression people are dying at that home or whatever their place is and imagine if it’s dark at night and they all show up with their guns drawn, you could see a miscommunication result in death or injury very easily Gold: Despite the national attention, celebrities are not the only victims of swatting Far more often, it’s regular families So we’re in Long Beach, Long Island right now, where in April, Jose Castillo and his family were swatted after Jose’s little brother beat someone in a Call of Duty video game and he prank called the police Now, half the town’s police force, SWAT team, helicopter, medical personnel all showed up at Jose’s doorstep because they were told that his little brother killed Jose and his mother We’re going to go talk to Jose and see how it feels on the other side of swatting This is a high stakes, high danger prank Celebrity homes have been hit by it and now some innocent victims in the news in suburban New York inside their own home My little brother was playing his XBOX 360 or whichever it was he was using he told me there was someone on the other side of the microphone, you know, in a party chat telling him that he was going to call the police, he’s going to SWAT him and Gold: He used the term swatting? Castillo: Yeah, he used the term swatting, he was like, I’m gonna SWAT you and my little brother was like, “Jose, someone is telling me he’s going to SWAT me” and I told him, “get off the game” Gold: Jose went out and returned a couple of hours later to find his street closed off and his house surrounded by police and emergency responders So what were you seeing, you were seeing just like police all in this area?
Castillo: Yeah, I thought it was a fire or something, you know, maybe my neighbor’s house and then I see my mom getting carried away by two police officers I just saw, I approached the first officer that led me through the firmer and I asked him, “what is going on?” he told me, “someone inside of the red house shot and killed his mother and brother” I’m like, “what are you talking about?”, you know, I’m like “what are you talking about, how can anybody be dead in the house, there’s only 3 people who live there and it’s me, my mom, and my little brother and I’m right here and she’s right over there” so I’m sitting there like, “can I speak to your supervisor or something, can I speak to someone that could like listen to me right now?” and then, you know So at this point you’re talking to the officers, you’re trying to figure out what’s happening, at what point do you kind, does it kind of click in your head that maybe this is related to that threat you got earlier? Once I saw the SWAT team come in, actually getting ready, putting on all their uniforms, and at this point my little brother’s still inside the house and he doesn’t know what’s going on and I kept telling the police, “look I seen this in news, this is a joke” and you know
Gold: Nothing? And no matter what they can’t stop the process, like I don’t understand? Yeah, what they told us is they have to make sure that there’s nothing going on so they actually had to go in and I wish they would have listened to us a little more, but you know, they have to do what they have to do Do you think your little brother’s going to play Call of Duty again after this? No, never (laughs) (laughs) He’s done Online video games are just one of the means by which swatters can easily get personal information used to prank their victims Once obtained, it’s even easier to place calls anonymously What about in terms of law enforcement actually catching the people that are doing this? You see every now and then, you know, a 16 year-old will get busted here or a 15 year-old there They’re having a really hard time catching these people, huh? They do have a hard time catching people in general with it because people who have been doing this now they sort of know, well, the way we need to do it is we need to disguise where this call’s coming from The hacker economy is very much that, an economy, and so there are people there who are willing to sell kind of pre-built malware and pre-built boxes that do certain malicious things that really you only have to click a box or you download software and click a button and it’s ready to go And this is just sort of actually a small front in this battle between good hackers, bad hackers, law enforcement that just doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to stop It’s very difficult to especially for the good guys, because if you’re doing defense you have to kind of have to protect everything and you have to protect it against sort of all possible ways somebody can get in If you’re an attacker, then you just have to find one thing that they’ve kind of forgotten about or maybe multiple things and find a way to chain them together into what you want to do Despite the abundant resources for tactical gear, the real problem facing law enforcement is that most departments don’t have experts trained in cybersecurity to help police analyze and track down fraudulent 9-1-1 calls There’s a potential now for increase in false reports and I’m sure every time you guys get these calls you’re wired up, you’re good to go, do you think if there’s a lot of these, is it gonna change how you guys respond to certain calls? I think our response protocol is gonna have to be tightened up, tweaked a little bit, I’m hoping maybe legislation on either the state or national level and focusing on this from an investigative and prosecutorial standpoint will help to abate it and cause it to stop, but if it doesn’t, yeah, we’re certainly gonna have to look at the way we respond, the way we dispatch our team, maybe a little closer analysis of the initial call when it comes in to make sure it’s a real call, they’re gonna have to really analyze that call and maybe put devices in place to say Is this a real job or is this a case of swatting, which I hope stops You know, you guys are like a machine, like we’ve seen the way you guys move, the way you fire, everyone here is trained top-notch some people might look at this and look at Somerset County and say is all of this necessary? I mean you guys have these robots and these tanks and whateverand like top notch kits and they might look at it and say do we really need this in suburban New Jersey, how would you address those people? I would ask somebody that suffered a loss because of not having this service and I would focus on them and ask them to answer that question I would say, well, SWAT team wasn’t available when you really needed or a police officer wasn’t available when you needed or an ambulance didn’t get there when you really needed and what happened and how does that make you feel? and if your child was in a school that was suddenly under attack by some random actors do you want them coming to help your kid or do you want no one to show up? That’s what I would say to them In an age where a teenager with a cellphone can incite chaos there was no doubt authorities need to re-examine their strategy in combating technology with brute force Who know what could happen if people start using these methods with more malicious intentions than just pranks