Codes, ciphers, and Naruto grounds for suspension?

14 February 2008

Near the city of Panama City, Florida, 14-year old high school student Dakota Gates has been incarcerated in juvenile detention for 21 days following his arrest because administrators of his school are afraid that he was planning to come to school one day and start shooting the place up. Their reason? A note he wrote in a cipher inspired by an anime series by himself and some of his friends. A 'school resource officer' (I guess that's what they're calling the armed guards these days) found the note, sounded the alarm, and picked out the weird kid of the school who's been identified by his family as 'offbeat' and 'gothic' (okay.. fair enough, these days). Apparently, Dakota is a fan of the series Naruto, an action-comedy series about an adolescent ninja in training... what bearing this has on the case, I've no idea. It seems to have been part of a game that the students were playing - information's a bit sketchy because the investigation is still on-going, though vague mention of such and Dakota's friends was made in the article. My hypothesis is that such messages have something to do with plotlines in the series, and that the kids were goofing around somewhere within spitting distance of that idea, but I really don't know.

School officials contacted the FBI, who returned their call and told them that the note was 'an elaborate code' outlining plans to attack the school. The administration of the school is hunting down other students who may have been involved in this matter for disciplinary action.

Interestingly, the contents of the note have been nowhere disclosed, at least at this time.

Frankly, without knowing what was in the note, I can't say if the school's administrators are on crack or not. Given the school shootings that have occurred since 1999 or thereabouts, they might have had real cause to worry, though offhand I don't know of anyone would would go to the lengths of developing (or finding) a substitution cipher to conceal their plans. In their position, I would be more inclined to think that some of the students were playing around with simple cryptosystems, and would have gone to the instructors teaching comp.sci classes to ask if they'd happened to have mentioned encryption or ciphers in class in the past couple of weeks. Then again, my personal approach to things is to not call in the big guns until the simpler possible solutions have all been explored.

Time will eventually tell.