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Friday, August 11, 2006

Well, Let's Not Fool Ourselves

I went to pay for my tag today, and ended up talking with the clerk about the cell phone issue. When there are multiple arrests of people with hundreds of them so close to an attack threat, people are going to be talking. And people have been watching. Back in January, the large purchases of cell phones were already an issue:
Jan. 12, 2006 — 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 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 Dec. 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.

The Midland police report, dated Dec. 18 and obtained by ABC News, states: "Information obtained by MPD [Midland Police Department] dispatch personnel indicated that approximately six individuals of Middle-Eastern origin were attempting to purchase an unusually large quantity of tracfones (disposable cell phones with prepaid minutes attached)." At least one of the suspects was identified as being from Iraq and another from Pakistan, officials said.

"Upon the arrival of officers, suspects were observed moving away from the registers — appearing to evade detection while ridding themselves of the merchandise."

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 growing use of the throwaway cell phones has been cited by President Bush as an important justification for expanding the wiretap laws under the Patriot Act.
Now they are buying them in teams and on road trips:
Last week, the Grafton police pulled over 24-year-old Hashem Sayed for a routine traffic stop. But what they found in his car was far from routine. Patrolman Daniel Laymon recalls the scene, "There were multiple cell phones, roughly 150 to 200 cell phones from multiple retailers," he said.
Less than a week later, the authorities in Marietta, Ohio, arrested 20-year-old Osma Sabhi Abulhassan and 20-year-old Ali Houssaiky. Washington County Sheriffs deputies seized several pre-paid cell phones and thousands of dollars in cash. Because of the incidents, Grafton police believe the events are connected.
Those three guys were all from Dearborn, MI, and the last couple had flight info. They have now been charged:
Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sobhi Abulhassan were charged with soliciting or providing for an act of terrorism and also with a misdemeanor charge of lying to police, said Susan Vessels, assistant prosecutor in the southeastern Ohio city of Marietta. The two were charged on Wednesday with money laundering in support of terrorism after police said they bought hundreds of cell phones.
So is it legal? Their lawyer says they were just trying to make money over the summer, and in fact for all we know there may be a cottage industry out there of people who buy cell phones and sell them at nearly double the money to terrorists who don't want to be caught buying cell phones in WalMart and Target. Will they be convicted? Who knows. We can talk all we want, but the truth is that people are going to be arrested basically on suspicion now. There's no avoiding it. Then there's these three caught in Caro, MI, but who live in Texas:
Around 1:00am August 11th three men purchased cell phones from the Wal-Mart store on M-81 near the corner of M-24 in Caro. Wal-Mart places a limit on the number of cell phones that can be purchased at once, that number is three. The three men allegedly bought 80 by purchasing them three at time so that an alert wouldn't be triggered by the cash register. They also paid cash.
The three men were described as being of Pakistani descent but live in Texas. Police say the three, ages 19, 22, and 23 appear to be naturalized citizens. One man was driving while the other two were in the back opening the phone packages with box cutters throwing the phones in one box, batteries in another and the packaging and phone charger in another container. The suspects had 1000 other cell phones in the van. There was also a bag of receipts showing that someone was in Wisconsin the day before.
We are going to be profiling. The only way to avoid this is to use the general surveillance tactics the NY Times loves to disclose, which are certainly getting less effective. We're not going to be able to ban cell phones and hair gel altogether. This is coming down to the wire, and I certainly feel sorry for the vast majority of Muslims in this country, who have nothing to do with this but are going to be treated with, at best, a wary, watchful tolerance. If another significant attack succeeds within the days of that will be only a wistful memory. People want to know who is here and what they are doing, and Congress could not be more out of step with the American people.

I'm not sure that prepaid cell phones need to be legal.
Well, for one thing that's what most people use who don't have credit.

You could pass a law requiring fingerprinting and ID. I just don't know. We are coming to the end of what we can illegalize.

The situation is difficult, to say the least.
No ID, no cell phones.

ID has noting to do with credit.
But ID is easy to fake. Without fingerprints to accompany ID, such a procedure would accomplish nothing.

I'm trying to imagine someone going to a backroom at WalMart and getting fingerprinted in order to buy a cell phone, which would now cost $30 instead of $20 because of the additional expenses, including recordkeeping and reporting.

It's not all that feasible. We are at an end to debarring activities that could, in some circumstances, be criminal.
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