US border station scraps sign that says "United States" because terrorists might attack it

A handsome, welcoming new border crossing has had its 21-foot-high yellow "United States" letters scrapped because crazy border people are afraid that the words "United States" will serve as an irresistible temptation for terrorists.
Four years ago, when the federal General Services Administration unveiled its plans for a new border-crossing station here in northeastern New York State, the design was presented as part of the agency's campaign to raise the dismal standards of government architecture. Even many in the famously fractious architectural community celebrated the complex -- particularly its main building, emblazoned with glossy yellow, 21-foot-high letters spelling "United States" -- as a rare project the government could point to with pride...

Yet three weeks ago, less than a month after the station opened, workers began prying the big yellow letters off the building's facade on orders from Customs and Border Protection. The plan is to dismantle the rest of the sign this week...

"There were security concerns," said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman for the customs agency. "The sign could be a huge target and attract undue attention. Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid."

At a Border Crossing, Security Trumps Openness (via Schneier)


  1. Because there’s no way they’d know it was the US without a 20-foot sign saying so. Unless that had, say, a MAP.

  2. I would like to complain about your blatant use of the words U****d S****s in this post, as I suddenly had an irresistible compulsion to blow up my laptop screen.

  3. The picture of the signage in that link looks really impressive – it’s such a shame.

    America, you’re supposed to be braver than this.

  4. The solution to their safety is obvious – the Customs and Border Protection should change into plain clothes and move to Kansas to avoid risk.

  5. At first I was excited to see the threat of terrorism being used to tone down the nationalism, but then I realised that this one incident will probably spur more nationalism than it destroys.

  6. “Anything that would place our officers at risk we need to avoid.”

    OK, stop being such a**holes all over the world! Then people might stop attacking you…

  7. Might want to think twice about displaying that snazzy red white and blue flag too, that’s been known to rile a few people.

  8. This is perfectly symbolic of what has happened in this country since 9/11/01: Any little petty f*ck with a gun is able to make a unilateral decision on issues that in a democracy we’re all supposed to own.

  9. Obviously Al Qaeda is still seething that they didn’t get to attack the third symbolic pillar of American power along with the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the large letters at this Canadian border station.

  10. It was only a matter of time, my friend. The NCIC was picking up chatter about sleeper agents in construction school who were only interested in learning how to unscrew large bolts and not screw them.

  11. I hear they’re replacing it with the sign from the never-to-be Michael Jackson concert – “THIS IS IT”

    Methinks this particular border team has watched John Carpenter’s The Thing a few too many times.

    Besides – they’ve increased the risks a hundredfold – the risk of disgrace, mockery and derision. Mad fools.

  12. The bad guys won’t hit it now becuase none of us would notice if a border station with a *small* sign was attacked. There goes their motivation.


  13. nahh, it’s just some bozo in management has a brother-in-law with a sign removal company that needs the work.

  14. What happened to the “These colors don’t run”. jingoism. We know they bleed, but now they hide?

    captcha: arsenal morn

  15. In the wake of 9/11, we have made the decision as a society that we can never again create something in which we can take pride, for fear that someone will destroy it. Moreover, we must suppress any trace of individualism, lest someone have the desire to rise above the bland sameness that protects us. I have, alas, no idea how to recapture our courage.

  16. We need to take down ALL the signs, turn off the lights, and stay very quiet. The terrorists will just go away because they’ll think we’re not home.

  17. Quick quiz: Anyone from anywhere farther than, say 50 miles of this station even heard of the sign before?

    Note to DHS: a single attack almost ten years ago does not equal constant imminent threat.

  18. That ok, I went to the city swimming pool a couple of days ago and they have the official terrorist threat level board posted there….we’re still at yellow, in case you’re wondering….

  19. They floated this idea at work several years ago, suggesting we go from a .gov to a .org. “we’re too attractive to hackers with a .gov extension” They folded pretty quickly after universal ridicule and a steaming heap of oh-no-you-didn’t from our funding agency.

    I’m betting the sign goes up within the next 30 days.

  20. Did you know there are targets depicted on thousands of retail stores across the nation? Maybe if these became portraits of an Islamic religious figure they would no longer be a temptation to terrorists. That’s America, home of the Brave!

  21. Excellent strategery: we are all now living in an undisclosed location, making us invulnerable to attack. In the future, only terrorists (and rummy geocachers) will carry atlases. Perhaps this is latest Birthers’ strategy: Obama can’t be a citizen of the United States if we make that country impossible to find! – wipe it off the map as they did in Soviet Russia. New World Order, indeed.

    It kind of reminds me of this phenomenon I noted last week near Burlington, Vermont: What happens when an innocuously-named-for-local-natural-features street in a college town area happens to match the name of a teenage heartthrob superstar musician? Clearly, it gets stolen a lot for adorning bedrooms/dorm rooms. The solution? Advanced protection:

  22. I’m getting incredibly sick of living in a country of cowards.

    Freedom isn’t free- the cost is minor insecurity.

  23. Matt Deckard@26: “Yeah! These colors don’t run!”

    Heh! They don’t run, but they hide.

  24. I’m pretty sure that they will need to have a large stockpile of duct tape and plastic sheeting on hand, because the terrah level is at chartreuse.

  25. They’ve already completed this work, actually–I’m posting from a motel in Cornwall because I tried to get back into the U.S. yesterday and COULDN’T FIND IT.

  26. This, is actually shoddy reporting by the NYT. This sign was most likely removed because of the ongoing dispute with aboriginal people.

    Erecting a ten foot sign declaring that it is the “United States” on land that is subject to an Aboriginal Sovereinty claim, might be seen by some as rubbing salt in the wound.

    of course, NYT makes absolutely no mention of this, in spite of the fact that this particular border crossing has been in Canadian National news for months.

  27. @ #18 danlalan: If the threat level at your swimming pool is raised from yellow to brown, get out immediately!

  28. In other news, the closing lines of The Star Spangled Banner have been removed as to not provoke any terrorists who interpret it as a challenge.

  29. New DHS policy: We cannot have nice things.

    Anybody notice that big green chick on Liberty island in New York? She’s just asking for a terrorist to take notice. Let’s send her to the scrapyard before somebody gets hurt!

  30. #31 AdamN: Wow, now that is an interesting angle. Here I was thinking they should have been sneaky and just changed it to say CANADA.

  31. @brainspore

    When my parents recently sold their house, someone broke in to steel about 2 feet worth of copper pipe. Considering that the outside of Lady Liberty is pure copper, I’m surprised somebody hasn’t run off with her already.

  32. ADamn: This, is actually shoddy reporting by the NYT. This sign was most likely removed because of the ongoing dispute with aboriginal people.

    As much as I’d like to believe that something as sensible as that was involved, I think you overestimate the US Government’s regard for aboriginal people.

    The Times piece does include a direct quote from Customs, saying it was a security matter. Would Customs just be making that up to cover something else, then?

    I’m sorry to say it, but it seems to me that the simplest explanation is: Yes, Customs really is adopting (yet another!) stupid policy that makes our world a little less pleasant yet no safer.

  33. Canada and “South Canada” are both good suggestions for a less tempting target. Given the notorious American ignorance of geography, a sign telling Americans that they are entering or leaving the United States would be pretty much useless any way. Only Canadians could possibly care.

    I suggest you put up a sign which reads NOT CANADA. This would puzzle terrorists just long enough for the United States to have time to make its escape, while many travellers would be informed and intelligent enough to draw the inferrence.

    If you coordinate the sign with Canadian signage, you could possibly put up a sign post with arrows, one pointing North and reading “CANADA” and the other pointing South and reading “NOT CANADA”.

    I expect this would be a popular subject for photographs once installed.

  34. Well, it could legitimately be reasoned for security. This region has seen escalation to violence in regards to land claims.
    (not the same reservation, and decades ago, but think like a cop for a moment.)

    While I do not, in any way want to characterize this specific demonstration as violent, (It is not, and has not been. This dispute has to do with arming Canadian Border Guards, which they see as an escalation they want to avoid.)

    There is certainly a much greater likelyhood of a violence from this, than from some unseen foriegn muslim terrorist monster that the NYT article implies.

  35. There are some things left to do before the customs agency can breathe a sigh of relief; surely they must not only kill the workmen who installed the ridiculous invitation to attack, but also those workmen who dismantled it. Finally, they must put out the eyes of the designers. Only then will the danger subside.

  36. I think the real solution is to move the Giant USA sign to the canadian side of the border in an effort to confuse the terrorists, and cast doubt in the trustworthyness of there navigational devices. As an additional saftey measure the USA sign should be replaced with one reading Switzerland.

  37. Me 1: “Land of the Free!”

    Me 2: “US has the largest prison population of any nation on the planet.”

    Me 1: “Home of the Brave!”

    Me 2: “….what….wait a War on Terror?”

    Me 1 and 2: “WTF?”

  38. They’re just getting ready to put up “United Nations Socialist-Communist-Fascist Economic Zone 1.” Since Obama wasn’t born here, and therefore can’t be president, he’s selling the country to the United Nations so he can legally be dictator of this New World Order Territory. And then he’ll outlaw guns, Christianity and white skin. It’s time to split the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs because it’s going to get about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter than just some months ago.

  39. The Late President Reagan was heard rolling in his grave and yelling “Mr. Obama tear down this sign”!

  40. What they need to do is change the sign to read “China”, problem solved or I guess “Canada II” would work.

  41. United States Border Patrol, where the colors run and hide their heads in the sand. Not to be confused with the US Marines.

  42. Oo?

    Next up: displaying the American flag in public places determined to be offensive to extremists, and only to be viewed in secret, highly secure display areas after signing a disclaimer and passing a background check.

  43. To all you unAmerican foreign types who keep making fun of us USA Americans, like such as, stop it. Most of us don’t even HAVE maps. You are hurting our self-esteem. Keep it up, and we’ll sue!

  44. Wait – just put the sign in Times Square, and all the terrorists will gather there, then you can ‘ave ’em all simultaneously – surely that’s the plan! Genius!

  45. Truth of the matter was that a few CBP bureaucrats did not like the color yellow and thought the sign looked bad. The architects/contractors delivered the project about 4 million dollars under budget so they had the extra 30 grand available to remove the 21ft sign. Seems the bureaucrats felt they were better judges of design excellence then the award winning architecture firm and obviously have no qualms about wasting tax payers’ money.

    The ‘security concerns’ explanation was the only thing that could cover this blunder after it became a story. To tell the Times the truth would be have been an issue for a few CBP bureaucrats continued employment. As evidence, take another look at the article and GSA’s Les Shepard’s quote which alludes to this truth “… at the end of the day, I think they (CBP) were somewhat surprised at how bold and how bright it was …”

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