Terrorism remains a major threat to national security in the United States. While citizens may appreciate the diligent efforts of the FBI to thwart more terrorism on American soil, many citizens might be astounded by the list of common activities the federal agency considers possible terrorism indicators.
Many of the items on the FBI’s “What Should I Consider Suspicious?” agent training list are routine tasks for the average American citizen.
The FBI terrorism lookout list details:
- Purchasing coffee with cash on a regular basis: Apparently citizens who prefer cash to accruing credit card debt or debit card fees are considered potential suspects. Until the 1950s, credit cards which could be used at more than one store did not even exist.Cash was still king well into the 1970s. During this era of cyber hacking and identity theft, paying for coffee (or anything else) in cash is just good old-fashioned common sense.
- Paying cash for a rental car or a tattoo:Once again, merely opting to live within your budget and a desire to protect your identity from cyber hackers could land Americans on the FBI watch list. Presumably, rental car agencies require a driver’s license before leasing a vehicle to anyone. Law enforcement officers often have a valid reason to review rental car records and tattoos related to a particular gang or group while investigating criminal cases – with a warrant, or course. While law-abiding and patriotic Americans do not want to place obstacles in front of officers and agents, many also do not want to be considered potential terrorism suspects simply because they use cash for such activities. Searching through computer records is a tedious and time-consuming task. There is no reason to further clog up the process by tossing in all the names of thousands of citizens who just prefer to use cash and not credit cards.
- Taking inappropriate photos or videos:FBI agents surely should be made aware of individuals who appear to be doing surveillance of buildings, water plants, or various forms of infrastructure. Such surveillance could pose a threat to national security. There is a very fine line between possible surveillance and innocent picture or video taking. While questioning someone (and even requesting ID to run) who appears to be engaging in potential surveillance activity is understandable, Gestapo tactics should not be used when a citizen opts to shoot a video or take photos of any government office, facility, or piece of infrastructure for educational, professional, or sightseeing purposes.
- Being somewhere you “don’t belong”: Exactly who does not belong where involves quite a subjective set of decision-making skills. Profiling is a necessarily law enforcement skill, in my opinion. Profiling does not equate to racism, as liberals would like the general populace to believe. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are trained to quickly ascertain threats and size-up potential suspects encountered during the commission of a crime A border control agent looking for an illegal immigrant would likely carefully review a person of Hispanic descent as a possible suspect. All Hispanic folks encountered in a border town are obviously not illegal immigrants. Profiling training allows agents to differentiate between a possible suspect and the individual walking down the street. The manner in which the individual is treated when stopped or investigated determines whether or not Civil Rights violations occurred. The Department of Homeland Security presence at a Tea Party rally in front of an IRS office last fall illustrates how quickly an individual or group can be stereotyped or targeted based upon not a matching physical description but a warped threat assessment. None of the Tea Party protestors were hampered during the demonstration, but the reason for the presence of federal agents was never explained. Perhaps it was a case of “being somewhere you do not belong.”
- Having missing fingers or a hand: The assistant fire chief at my rural department a missing finger. His older brother was apparently not supervised well enough during a sibling dispute over chopping wood several decades ago. Under the FBI terrorism activities training report, he could wind up on a watch list – especially if he loved coffee and bought a lot of it with cash. Bomb makers often lose fingers when going about their illegal activity, so the physical attribute could help agent differentiate between two likely suspects, but coupled with several of the other mundane and harmless activities on the FBI watch list, a multitude of innocent citizens could come under law enforcement scrutiny as well.
- Showing an “unusual interest” in remote-controlled aircraft: My uncle is part of a remote-controlled aircraft club.He is part of a large group that meets, engages in tournaments, and spends a lot of time at the small local airport. Should he be watched by the FBI as a potential terrorist? A person who engages quite innocently in three of the activities on the FBI terrorism training chart could become a target by law enforcement. Once again, there is no reason to hamper efforts to maintain national security efforts by casting such a large surveillance net.
- Traveling an “illogical distance” to an internet café: If you gather with your best friend for coffee and online shopping too far from your home or office, you could meet the FBI threshold for suspected terrorist activity. Going 10 blocks out of your way to flirt with the coed pouring coffee at an internet café could also make you a suspected terrorist, under the current training guidelines.
- Wearing a backpack during warm weather months:Alert, college students taking summer classes, carry your heavy textbooks and laptops in your arms.
- Engaging in a flurry of financial transactions in a short time period:Unless you want to end up on an FBI watch list, start buying school clothes, vacation items, and a new wardrobe because you lost weight, over an extended period of time.
- Making “suspicious” anti-United States or “radical theology” comments that could be considered “provocative” or out of place: Perhaps the anti-IRS comments and angst over being targeted based upon political ideology is why DHS agents appeared at the Tea Party rally. Threatening statements surely deserve FBI and law enforcement scrutiny, but even the most anti-American and radical statements, as repugnant as they may be, are protected by the First Amendment.
The terrorism watch list was distributed to businesses by the FBI and Department of Justice in an effort to encourage citizens to report anyone engaging is “potential terrorist activity.”
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