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When People Saw Something and Said Something, They Said Inane and Racist Things

Turns out some Americans have a questionable definition of "suspicious." According to copious complaints acquired by the ACLU, "suspicious" is a person who is Middle Eastern. Or Chinese.

by Meghan Neal
Sep 27 2013, 8:50pm
Screenshot of Suspicious Activity Reports, via

The ACLU recently got its hands on a report listing hundreds of "suspicious activities" called in by concerned citizens that took the nationwide suggestion, "If you see something, say something," to heart.

Ten years after the government launched its campaign to crowdsource anti-terrorism efforts, the group found it did little more than foster blatant racial profiling and a distrustful society of tattle-tale citizens spying on each other. 

It turns out some Americans have a questionable definition of "suspicious." According to copious complaints, "suspicious" is a person who is Middle Eastern. Or Chinese. Or a person who is taking a photographs of a building, or a train. Worse yet, a Middle Eastern person taking photographs of a building or a train.

The complaints are submitted to regional surveillance-collection hubs called fusion centers, which were set up to collect leads in the wake of September 11. But an investigative report on fusion centers last year revealed that after $289 million to $1.4 billion in public funds, the crowdsourced "intelligence" hadn't yielded any useful information to support counterterrorism efforts. Instead, the ACLU argues, it enables the government to investigate private citizens and trample on their civil liberties.

In a blog post titled "The Government is Spying on You," the group wrote that it's calling on the US Justice Department and FBI to adopt stricter standards to the intelligence-gathering programs, "so that individuals' innocent activity will cease being reported, shared, and maintained for decades in anti-terrorism databases." 

The ACLU published Suspicious Activity Reports from two fusion centers in California from 2012. We picked out some of the discriminatory and asinine complaints people filed.

Of the racist variety:

Suspicious Middle Eastern Males Buy Several Large Pallets of Water

An individual living in New York, New York, may be here in the United States illegally. The complainant also stated that they do not know how the individual affords such a lavish lifestyle

Neighborhood occupied by a Middle Eastern male adult physician who is very unfriendly

Of the innocuous variety:

Female Subject taking photos of Folsom Post Office

An identified subject was reported to be taking photographs of a bridge crossing the American River Bike trail

Source advised that he had observed five white males using a tripod-mounted camera to photograph a mannequin on a bus bench…Subjects were described as being between 19-22 years old

Authorities at Yosemite National Park received several strange emails; one in particular discussed the Environmental Protection Agency and the writers disappointment to their response to the nuclear crisis in Japan

A Private citizen reported that a male subject, named --- "brags" about pulling people over with his fake cop car

Of the overparanoid sort: 

The words 'Tax Government' were found painted on the a roadway on the Sacramento International Airport perimeter, next to the approach end of Runway 34R

UC David PD officer took a vandalism report at Emerson Hall Dorm, 1st floor men's restroom of anti-government graffiti written in black marker on the wall

And this one, which has a little bit of all of the above:

While checking a Motel-6 parking lot we saw a male Middle Eastern sleeping inside his vehicle. We woke him up and spoke to him.

While speaking to him he appeared nervous almost scared that we stop him. He gave us permission to check his vehicle for drugs/weapons since that motel is known for drugs.

Once inside his vehicle I saw several porn magazines that were wrap with a rubber band. Inside the porn magazine pages were flyers of Christian, Muslim and Jewish churches and dates of events that those churches were going to host. Inside the vehicle I found a lot of fast food containers and snack foods with lots of water and clothing (dirty/clean). Almost looked like he was living in the vehicle.

I also saw two types of folded California maps. One showed all the freeways and off-road highways and the other showed the whole state of California with all the cities.

I then found a very small canon video camera (palm size) that takes photos also. I saw that some of the saved files in the camera had recordings of a person standing outside the parking lot of three different movie theaters. In the video it shows a couple women with some other males and kids. It look like they were positing for a picture.. Another clipping showed a mosque with several people hugging each other.

Maybe the ACLU should ask the Feds to add an adjective or two to the slogan better describing what people should be looking out for. You know, anything a little more specific than "something." 

H/T Tech Dirt