Vague suspicious terrorist behavior guidelines put innocent civilians at risk

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    A woman is patted down by airport secuirty at the London Heathrow Airport, England.  (Photo by Scott Ableman)

    A woman is patted down by airport secuirty at the London Heathrow Airport, England. (Photo by Scott Ableman)

    (MintPress)-The New Jersey Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Preparedness is one of many states to have created a terrorism awareness and prevention training as part of a nationwide effort to provide residents and workers with the skills to better identify and report terror suspects.

    The department’s guidelines, which align with those of the U.S. DHS “See Something, Say Something” campaign, are so vague that just about anyone could demonstrate at least one of the suspicious behaviors while conducting mundane tasks.

    The document lists average occurrences such as yawning, panting, and goosebumps as suspicious. DHS warns residents to “look for signs of nervousness in the people you come in contact with. Signs will become particularly evidence in a person’s eyes, face, neck and body movements.”

    If following the guidelines, an individual standing in a long line at the airport who begins gazing off in the distance, yawning from boredom and shivering from the cool room temperature may be questioned by TSA for suspicious terrorist activity.

    Other signs of terrorism include unusual perspiration, excessive clock watching and fidgeting, signs of fear or stress, and individuals sitting in a parked vehicle. Using cash instead of credit cards and shielding personal information on a computer may also be seen as suspicious behavior.

    DHS encourages residents to be observant and aware of one’s surroundings. If a resident or worker in New Jersey sees any of the listed suspicious activities, he/she is told to report the activity to DHS quickly. Although some residents may feel paranoid since many of the listed suspected behaviors are commonplace among neighbors, family members, or in social settings; however, DHS asserts that “staying alert is NOT paranoia.”

    The document states that “Of course, the average person may experience excitement, fear, or panic, when confronted with something we should report.” This implies, however, that when confronted with someone exhibiting suspicious terrorist behaviors, the average person may in fact exhibit similar terrorist behaviors.


    Part of a National Effort to Report Suspicious Activity

    New Jersey’s terror suspect training is part of a nationwide campaign to encourage everyday people to report suspicious activity to local law enforcement. The Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) previously released a video for recognizing the 8 signs of terrorism, and in the FBI and the Department of Justice distributed 25 flyers outlining suspicious activity pertaining to various local businesses this year.

    In July 2010, Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, launched the nationwide “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign, which aims to educate the public about indicators of terrorism and emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to proper law enforcement authorities.

    Napolitano emphasized the importance of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign in 2012 by airing public service announcements at the Super Bowl and visiting several high schools and athletic organizations.

    The campaign works in conjunction with the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI), which was established to respond to suspected terrorism reports by training state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement officers.


    Issues of Racial Profiling and False Accusations in SAR

    SAR programs across the nation claim not to promote racial profiling. “The ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign respects civil rights or civil liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity,” says the Department of Homeland Security. “Factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious.”

    However, critics believe the nationwide campaign opens a channel of immunity for civilians to accuse others of terrorism based on racial profiling. The See Something, Say Something Act of 2011, if passed, would grant immunity from civil liability under federal, state, and local law to any person who files a report “based on an objectively reasonable suspicion” of potential terrorist activity.

    Light-skinned, black folk musician, Vance Gilbert, was preparing for take off on a flight to Pennsylvania in August when he was escorted off the plane by a couple of TSA officers after he believes flight attendants reported him for ‘suspicious behavior.’

    Gilbert was questioned about a book he was reading about 1940s Polish aircraft before being allowed back on the plane, where he felt ostracized from passengers for the duration of the trip. Gilbert was not doing anything wrong and believes he was racially profiled.

    Critics argue that what constitutes “suspicious” differs for everyone. One FBI flyer geared towards Military Surplus stores warns owners to beware of people who “make bulk purchases of items to include…meals ready to eat.”

    Prison Planet believes the government’s characterization of what is “suspicious” is hypocritical considering the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ordered $1 billion dollars in dehydrated food, equalling 420 million meals, in one instance alone last year.

    Additionally, Prison Planet reports that the government encourages Americans to keep a stock of ready-to-eat food as part of a basic emergency supply kit as part of the Resolve to be Ready program.

    While some civilians and rights groups continue to raise concerns about the potential for racial profiling and the need to protect wrongly accused terror suspects, others, like Shannon Blanchard, Esq., whose friend was questioned for “suspicious activity” after taking pictures of airplanes while visiting San Diego, believe SAR is justified by the need to prevent another 9/11.

    Feisal G. Mohamed writes on the HuffPost blog, “It is a central principle of the modern legal tradition that there must be a balance of power between the accuser and accused.” And according to Mohamed, “See Something, Say Something” upsets that balance by protecting the civilian reporter and not the accused.

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