Disposable Cell Phone Purchases a Result of NSA Leak and NY Times Story
by Jim Kouri, CPP
The FBI has initiated an intense investigation into the increase in purchases of large numbers of disposable cell phones by individuals who emanate from the Middle East and Pakistan.
The cheap cell phones, which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have a credit card, have many legitimate uses, and are popular with those who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away in motor vehicle glove compartments. But, according to law enforcement commanders, since they can be difficult or impossible to track, the phones are widely used by organized crime gangs, drug traffickers and terrorists.
The FBI agents are closely monitoring this dangerous situation, which came to light following recent large-quantity purchases in California and Texas. In fact, these two purchases occurred after the New York Times published a story regarding a top secret NSA surveillance program which was leaked by an official or officials unknown at this time.
In a December 31 transaction at a Target store in California, 150 disposable cell phones were purchased. Suspicious store employees called the local police, who in turn notified the FBI.
In a December 18 incident at a Wal-Mart store in Texas, six individuals attempted to buy about 60 of the phones until store clerks became suspicious and notified the police who informed the FBI of the transaction.
The Midland, Texas, police report dated December 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.
When the local police officers arrived, the suspects were observed moving away from the registers while trying to avoid detection while they discarded merchandise -- 60 tracphones.
These purchasers are believed to be linked to a terrorist cell operating within the United States, according to counterterrorist sources.
According to sources in the federal law enforcement community, reports are coming in from other cities, including Dallas, and from cops in other states. Authorities in Pennsylvania, New York and other parts of Texas confirmed that they were alerted to the cases. It's believed other local law enforcement agencies and anti-terrorism task forces have also been 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.
"Law enforcement officials can now use what's now called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones to get a message out to one of his buddies," said the President during a press conference following the NSA spy leak.
Law enforcement commanders are being sensitive to allegations of profiling, so they are saying it is possible that some large purchases are being sent to the Middle East for resale in a sellers' markets in their home countries, or as gifts for friends and relatives.
In fact, as a result of news stories regarding suspicious disposable cell phone purchases, the American Civil Liberties Union is looking into legal action they might take to stifle law enforcement's investigation of Middle Easterners making large-quantity purchases.
However, both intelligence officers and law enforcement investigators are monitoring reports of large-quantity purchases.
It's believed that some purchasers of disposable cellular phones could include political extremists, terrorist supporters, sympathizers or others simply shaken by the recent revelations of the National Security Agency's widespread monitoring of calls, including calls to and from the United States to foreign countries.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.