Sunday, April 22, 2012

Facts, unknowns, and other considerations

Okay, so the most recent news was pretty important. Most people are up to speed on it. I apologize for my earlier knee-jerk reaction "huh?" reaction. It's difficult to make sense of things through certain analytic biases...and, well, emotions certainly. So here's a breakdown as I see it.

The facts:
1. A group calling themselves the "Threateners" e-mailed the Pitt news saying they have stopped the threats because Pitt met its only demand, which was to withdraw the $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the threatener (take notice of the word choices and informal mannerisms).
2. The group said its threats were only those sent in e-mail, not the "earlier" threats written on bathroom walls. Again, this is what the group says. Whether or not any of this is true is undetermined. The implication seems to be these "Threateners" are attempting to protect or take the heat off of the original pranksters, who the "Threateners" call "some young kid who'd pranked the University."
4. The group accurately predicted gaps in threats throughout the series.
5. This narrative is consistent with the original findings which noted that the threats escalated after the reward was offered.
6. See the rest of the story here. Via Pitt News.

Bottom line: The motive, according to the "Threateners" (all of or most of the e-mail threats to date), has been to make the school rescind the $50,000 reward offered for information on the "original" prankster.

The unknowns:
1. Whether the "Threateners" are telling the truth. Are the "Threateners" also the original pranksters? Are there any copycats in this series of threats? How do the "Threateners" know whether the original threats were by pranksters?
Note: Objectively speaking, if they did indeed accurately predict the gaps in threats, then they are very likely telling the truth. Whether they continue to honor their end of the deal is to be determined.
2. Where we go from here. If this is indeed the end of the threats.
3. What the school, the country, and the world have learned from this incident (this will be an entirely separate post).

Other considerations:
1. There is some evidence to suggest the "Threateners" are an outside group. Consider the following:

  • Many of the buildings targeted seemed random, chosen at odd times, or chosen for no good reason (example: school for blind children, locked buildings).
  • The Pitt News is not officially a UPitt newspaper. It is an independent publication. So it is not clear why the "Threateners" chose that particular publication to send in their demands, apart from the fact it looks like the school newspaper.
2. Also, and I think this is important, a withdrawal of the reward money does not mean the investigation is over. Which is another "unknown" variable. It's not known whether the "Threateners" understand this, or if they were implying they wanted the investigation to cease as well. In any event, it seems unlikely authorities are going to stop pursuing the "Threateners" at this point.

One last caveat: When I refer to decisions the university makes, keep in mind they are probably being heavily advised by the FBI and authorities, so it's unlikely any decision comes from the university itself.

I may have missed some things. I may update as more facts come to light. If people have evidence to provide, I'll be sure to add it to this post.

FYI: If this is the end of the threats, then this blog will shut down. I will leave the Google Doc up for record keeping.

UPDATE (from Anthony): A Wall Street Journal article sheds some light into Pitt's current actions.  It also reveals that the Rutger's threatener from the 70s was actually caught.  But because the WSJ article seems to be subscription only, here is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article detailing the same.