Spotting Terrorists

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by Gene Callahan and Stu Morgenstern

(TNN, the Terrorist News Network) – U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has told Americans be alert in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and report anything suspicious to law enforcement agencies, with a “heightened sense of awareness. Once we’ve won this war or terrorism,” says Ashcroft “you can go back to muddling through life half-awake.”

But a definition of suspicious behavior is difficult to establish, said Thomas Weeney, co-chair of the IAPASB (International Association of Professionals Against Suspicious Behavior), because almost everything makes him suspicious.

However, there are several key things to look for, added Weeney, who is also the police chief in Glastonbury, Connecticut – a town known for its myriad suspicions, as well as the nation’s most magnificent collection of rare Dutch elms.

“It’s better to spot things at the level of suspicion, before they become an incident,” advised Weeney. “But if it should become an incident, at least try to catch it there, before you have a scene on your hands. Once, it’s a scene, well… next thing all hell could break loose.”

Be sensitive to your environment.

Watch for:

1. Someone attempting to gain access to something they shouldn’t have or somewhere they don’t belong. Examples include men trying to access dangerous chemicals, HAZMATs, elevators, water coolers, shag-carpet cleaning machines, your wife’s bedroom, or Dutch elm trees, without proper credentials.

2. Strange or frequent comings or goings. Weeney knows the signs that point toward criminal activity: For instance, is there some foreign-looking fellow racing in and out of the local pizza parlor all night, carrying piles of white boxes? What could he be up to? Did one of the guests at your last party run off to the bathroom every fifteen minutes, then stay in there for like five minutes? What in the world was he doing in there? Is there a Pakistani man who is always hanging around the local convenience store, claiming he is the owner? Is someone visiting the elms at odd hours? Perhaps videotaping them?

3. Someone carrying a weapon People should already be notifying police if they notice unauthorized people carrying weapons or using them threateningly, Weeney said. Whittling knives and axes are especially suspicious.

4. Someone who appears to be concealing something or attempting to put something over on somebody. Keep your eyes peeled for the construction of tree houses and rope swings. Left unchecked, they are just the kind of suspicious activities that could lead to crippling attacks on a tree’s immune system. Water tables could be poisoned. Watch out for rented crop spraying planes, capable of delivering huge quantities of Round-Up in minutes. Containers loaded with assault weapons, such as chain saws, could enter U.S. ports. Thus, for a limited period, it may be necessary to expand the powers of investigative authorities and even to augment them with trained arborists. Our tree-lined main streets are the symbol of small-town America. Those who hate our freedom, democracy, and prosperity must never be allowed to harm a single branch of our green, leafy friends.

5. Clues on the job. Weeney says some crime solving has come from tips by people at work – for example, landscapers who noticed something out of the ordinary. Is there someone whose perennial borders are not at least twice as wide as they are tall? Are they planting a lot of exotic, foreign species? Are they attempting to mix herbaceous plants and evergreens in the same bed? Do they show the proper respect and attitude toward the majestic Dutch elms that are a prominent part of our American heritage?

6. Suspicious mail or packages. Watch for packages with air holes, which might contain the European elm bark beetle (Scolytus multistriatus) or the native elm bark beetle (Hylurgopinus rufipes), both carriers of the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi. Just 25 pounds of beetle larvae, spread efficiently over the Glastonbury metropolitan area, could cause a catastrophe.

7. Watch for people conducting themselves in a strange manner or making unusual requests An example: The man who was poking around the local lumber mill, inquiring about lessons on operating the treadle. Weeney said it might be something that strikes you as not appropriate for whatever environment you’re operating in, or something that just seems really freaky, like your Aunt Gertrude’s navel ring.

8. If you notice something suspicious, call 911, or the local police department. Police officers across the country are experiencing increased calls reporting incidents of suspicious people and packages, Weeney said, which is exactly what he wants to see. “It beats chasing down criminals all day,” he said. “Some of those guys are dangerous!”

“We had 80 calls of suspicious substances or packages yesterday,” added one of Weeney’s men. “We’ve had to check every donut shop between here and Hartford.”

9. Remain calm, without overreacting. For instance, don’t look behind you now. No! Really! There’s no one lurking in the shadows back there. All right, are you calm now? Good.

Some law officials have expressed frustration that well-intentioned citizens, frightened by the most innocent of circumstances, have stretched their workforce thin. A rider ordered a bus stopped and evacuated because someone passed gas. A cardboard box on a curb was assumed to be a hydrogen bomb. A truck that kicked up a cloud of dust was stopped and the driver was assaulted by angry nuns. So forget we mentioned number 8.

When asked what result he would like to see from our war on terror, Weeney answered: “I’d like to see Osama bin Laden swing for this. After all, what’s more American than a lynch mob hanging a fellow from a big Dutch elm. That’s a lesson we could pass on to our children.”

Gene Callahan [send him mail] has just finished a book, Economics for Real People, to be published this year by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Stu Morgenstern [send him mail] was a frequent contributor to Slick Times, until the presence of his articles drove the magazine out of business.

2001, Gene Callahan and Stu Morgenstern

Gene Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives

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