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WE ARE ALL HOMELAND SECURITY AGENTS

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 13, 2006 11:06 AM

Picture this: You’re a retail store clerk. It’s the busy Christmas season. A half-dozen men of Middle Eastern/South Asian descent walk into the store. They want to buy between 60-150 disposable cell phones–you know, the kind that can’t be traced. The kind that have been used by terrorists as detonators.

What do you do?

Do you think nothing of the incident? Hope for the best, sell them what they want, and move on?

Do you feel guilty for “profiling” them and dismiss any misgivings you have?

Or do you listen to your post-9/11 conscience and contact the authorities?

Lucky for us, some clerks who work at Wal-Mart and Target did not give in to ingrained P.C. impulses. ABC News reports:

Federal agents have launched an investigation into a surge in the purchase of large quantities of disposable cell phones by individuals from the Middle East and Pakistan, ABC News has learned.

The phones — which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have a credit card — have many legitimate uses, and are popular with people who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away in glove compartments or tackle boxes. But since they can be difficult or impossible to track, law enforcement officials say the phones are widely used by criminal gangs and terrorists.

…Law enforcement officials say the phones were used to detonate the bombs terrorists used in the Madrid train attacks in March 2004.

…The FBI is closely monitoring the potentially dangerous development, which came to light following recent large-quantity purchases in California and Texas, officials confirmed.

In one New Year’s Eve transaction at a Target store in Hemet, Calif., 150 disposable tracfones were purchased. Suspicious store employees notified police, who called in the FBI, law enforcement sources said.

In an earlier incident, at a Wal-mart store in Midland, Texas, on December 18, six individuals attempted to buy about 60 of the phones until store clerks became suspicious and notified the police. A Wal-mart spokesperson confirmed the incident.

ABC News has posted the Midland Police Department police report of the incident, which notes that “Upon the arrival of special agents, and as a result of subsequent interviews, it was discovered that members of the group were linked to suspected terrorist cells stationed within the Metroplex.”

mpd.jpg

Click here for full size document.

According to ABC News, “other reports have come in from other cities, including Dallas, and from authorities in other states. Authorities in Pennsylvania, New York and other parts of Texas confirmed that they were alerted to the cases, and sources say other jurisdictions were also notified.”

The investigations may yield solid terrorism leads. Or they may not. But if 9/11 taught us anything, it was to be unapologetically vigilant. To act now and avoid the cacophany of hindsight hysterics later. What good are all the “Be alert” admonitions from the government if no one alerts authorities when their alarms go off?

Some civil liberties absolutists will no doubt go bananas over “racist” store clerks who blow the whistle on suspicious behavior. But the rest of us, including the feds who are now following up on the citizen watchdog reports, should be nothing but grateful–and ready to do the same.

***

Textually.org noted back in October 2005 that Thailand authorities had taken steps to regulate pre-paid phone users after a spate of terrorist bomb attacks in which mobile phones were used:

Starting November 15, no matter if you’re travelling from Bangkok or Malaysia, you must have registered your number… in order to be able to use your mobile in the three provinces,” Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasathidya told reporters on Tuesday, reports Todayline.

“Otherwise your signal will be cut.”

Since May only users of pre-paid mobile services have been required to register with authorities, but Thai communications authorities have expanded that programme to include all cell phones.

The plan aims to stop bomb attacks triggered by mobile phones in the three southern provinces bordering Malaysia — Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala — where an insurgency has raged since January 2004 and claimed more than 970 lives.

“We wanted the three southern provinces to be a special zone, and for the sake of public safety, in summary we must know all telephone numbers in the area,” said Chidchai, who is also justice minister…

***

Lastango at Daily Pundit commends the local Midland police for taking the clerks seriously and adds that “every one of us, no matter what we do, can make a difference. I know that if I see something suspicious I’ll be calling it in.”

AJ Strata connects the incidents to the publication of the NYT/NSA leak stories. His message for James Risen: “If you ever needed evidence you are a Benedict Arnold this is it. And if we do get attacked because of these adjustments by terrorists – you and the NY Times will have the blood of innocents on your hands.”

Reliapundit: “ALL of these large sales came RIGHT AFTER the NYTIMES NSA leak (12/15/05). Though this is circumstantial, it is HIGHLY SUGGESTIVE that the leak alerted the sleeper cells HERE (and perhaps elsewhere), and that they are adapting their SOP’s as a result; thus, they are making it tougher for us to prevent an attack.”

Bryan Preston at Junkyard Blog is on the same wavelength.

Chris Christner has similar thoughts.

And don’t miss The Anchoress, who puts us all in the right mindframe: “I haven’t forgotten.”

***

A Power Line reader and Sensible Mom raise questions about the MPD report obtained by ABC News. I’ve got a call in to to the MPD, but Sensible Mom has already heard from the public affairs officer, Tina Jauz. The document’s real–it’s an internal, official-use-only preliminary report that was leaked to ABC News. (Just talked to Jauz. Confirmed. Identifying headers and footers were removed from the document.)

Meantime, the Midland Reporter-Telegram has more details on the Wal-Mart incident. And Chris Christner has further updates.

***
Previous/related:

The do-nothing ACLU
NYC subway alert

Hey, terrorists: We’re still not profiling
NYC plays eeny meeny miney mo
Heather Mac Donald: Looking the wrong way
Paul Sperry: Politically Correct Suicide: Still No Subway Profiling
The 7/7 attacks: Looking homeward
Heather Mac Donald on profiling
The curse of Norm Mineta
In support of profiling
Flying blind
On profiling
The Mohammed Atta Memorial Quota Plan
It had nothing to do with “luck”

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