Police Creating "Terror Tip Sheets" for National Database

Meet the new "Operation Pipeline." The brainchild of the LAPD, it's being used by police departments nationwide to create a new national database of people engaging in suspicious behavior.

Here and in nearly a dozen other cities, including Boston, Chicago and Miami, officers are filling out terror tip sheets if they run across activities in their routines that seem out of place, like someone buying police or firefighter uniforms, taking pictures of a power plant or espousing extremist views.

Ultimately, state and federal officials intend to have a nationwide reporting system in place by 2014, using a standardized system of codes for suspicious behaviors. It is the most ambitious effort since the Sept. 11 attacks to put in place a network of databases to comb for clues that might foretell acts of terrorism.


"Operation Pipeline" is the drug interdiction profiling program used on highways to search cars stopped for traffic violations when certain indicators are present. Some of the indicators (pdf)are laughable, others are completely inconsistent. In the first category: fast food wrappers in the car. In the latter: there was no visible luggage or there was too much visible luggage.

The LAPD takes the insanity one step further in an attempt to identify would-be terrorists via suspicious activity reports, called SARS. Here's the final draft of one such program (pdf). The part about SARS is here. A few of the casualties of the program, which to date, have uncovered zero terrorist plots:

In September 2007, a 24-year-old Muslim-American journalism student at Syracuse University was stopped by a Veterans Affairs police officer in New York for taking photographs of flags in front of a V.A. building as part of a class assignment. The student was taken into an office for questioning, and the images were deleted from her camera before she was released.

Also that year, a 54-year-old artist and fine arts professor at the University of Washington was stopped by Washington State police for taking photographs of electrical power lines as part of an art project. The professor was searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car for almost half an hour before being released.

So what other behaviors are on the list? According to this 2008 ACLU advisement,

LAPD Special Order #11, dated March 5, 2008, states that it is the policy of the LAPD to “gather, record, and analyze information of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism,” and includes a list of 65 behaviors LAPD officers “shall” report. The list includes such innocuous, clearly subjective, and First Amendment protected activities as:

  • taking measurements
  • using binoculars
  • taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value”
  • abandoning vehicle
  • drawing diagrams
  • taking notes
  • espousing extremist views

Photos with no esthetic value? According to whom? Taking notes? This borders on the absurd.

The behaviors identified by the LAPD are so commonplace and ordinary that the monitoring or reporting of them is scarcely any less absurd. This overbroad reporting authority gives law enforcement officers justification to harass practically anyone they choose, to collect personal information, and to pass such information along to the intelligence community.

Suspicious activity report (SAR) policing opens the door to racial profiling and other improper police behavior, and exposes law-abiding people to government prying into their private affairs without just cause.

The ACLU says the program may just be illegal:

Moreover, the LAPD’s collection of “non-criminal” information runs afoul of Title 28, Part 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that law enforcement agencies:
shall collect and maintain criminal intelligence information concerning an individual only if there
is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.

More reports on the LAPD program from 2008 articles here , here and here.

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    so (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Jen M on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 05:35:04 AM EST
    artists birdwatching are pretty much screwed?

    does this mean all of us slobs are going to be stopped every few feet because our cars have trash in em?

    Good luck here in DC with all the tourists and their video cameras taking videos of high profile targets everywhere you look.

    Does watercoloring count as 'sketching'?

    "Tovarisch, vasha boomagah!" (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 07:28:41 AM EST
    ("Comrade, your papers!")

    Jeez, that's where this is heading. And, believe it or not, it didn't get started with 9/11, but has been around for some time, thanks to the War on Drugs and anonymous tipping.

    Does your neighbor keep his shades drawn all the time? Does he have odd hours, coming and going?  Does he keep to himself, and seems hostile to (nosy) questions? Smell something funny coming from a neighbor's open window? Quick, drop a dime on him and call 1-800-RAT-FINK!

    Never mind what the circumstance might actually be (your neighbor works shift, sleeps during the day, takes his privacy seriously, and is a hobbyist who makes wood-burning plaques) that guy's (gasp) 'suspicious'! He won't tell you what's going on in his life (and yours is so effin' boring you have to find entertainment in inserting yourself into his) so he's gotta be a 'bad guy', right?

    The surveillance state got started and was ramped up with the DrugWar. It was already churning away when 9/11 came along. That gave it steroids. But make no mistake, the house didn't suddenly appear, the foundation was already laid for it thanks to Tricky Dick and his damnable War on (Some) Drugs.

    I would like to point out (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 10:11:37 AM EST
    that if some curious official had investigated the legal -- but strange -- behavior of a man who paid good money to learn to fly a 747, but not take it off or land it, we might have been spared 9/11.

    Except, um (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by cenobite on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 11:26:47 AM EST
    The FBI knew about the hijackers training to fly and hijack airplanes before 9/11.

    Perhaps if their systems weren't swamped with bogus reports of people taking pictures they could concentrate on actual threats.


    I take pictures all the time (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by nycstray on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 11:19:24 AM EST
    "with no apparent esthetic value". It's called research! And some end up gaining "esthetic value" when I incorporate them into my work, sometimes years later. I also do sketches/take notes if ideas strike me while I'm out and about. Perhaps I should save them some time and trouble by turning in my hard drives and notebooks?

    The slippery slope is here to stay (4.50 / 2) (#1)
    by Dadler on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 03:12:30 AM EST
    I personally like "taking pictures or video footage 'with no apparent esthetic value'".

    Ah, good, police as mind readers now, able to infiltrate the creative capacities of every person with a camcorder.

    Also like the LAPD program called SARS.  Nothing like naming something after a deadly disease to shake things up.  Remember the diet supplements in the 70's called A.I.D.S.?

    Why not just put us all on the list and save time?

    You've got it turned around (none / 0) (#6)
    by Inspector Gadget on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 08:54:46 AM EST
    "AYDS" the diet supplement/candy was around for years (decades, actually) before the discovery of AIDS, the illness.

    Hmmm (none / 0) (#3)
    by catmandu on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 07:16:31 AM EST
    Using binoculars to peer into someone's windows is illegal, abandoning vehicles or abandoning any valuable property is suspicious to the extreme,
    measuring on private property is trespassing,
    drawing diagrams of other people's property is suspicious, videotaping of other people's children is suspicious......all the points are valid reasons for an officer to look twice at somebody.  Actually for anyone to become suspicious.

    you are kidding, right? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by cpinva on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 08:54:43 AM EST
    just using binoculars, to look at birds, isn't illegal, yet. taking a vehicle to a junk yard is technically "abandoning" it. last i checked, if i want to abandon any valuable property i own, i have that right. because you think it's suspicious is your problem.

    measuring on my private property, or public property, is perfectly legal. if i have the owner's permission, i can measure other people's property too.

    who said anything about videotaping other people's children? again, this sounds like you have some serious personal issues. if i have their parent's permission, i can videotape to my heart's content, regardless of what you may think.

    of course, those are specific examples, not the general ones listed.


    Interesting how you added (none / 0) (#8)
    by sj on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 09:51:07 AM EST
    your own circumstances to each of the items on the posted list.  Pulled them out of ... the air .. did you?

    So do you have the kind of fantasy life where you now believe that your vastly modified interpretation resembles reality, or are you just throwing a bone out there to see who chews on it?


    Paranoia runs deep (none / 0) (#7)
    by joze46 on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 09:41:59 AM EST
    "Paranoia runs deep into your life it will creep, there is a man with a gun over there..." The song by the Buffalo Springfield group was a Vietnam era cultural melody. For me defines more of what is the problem in today's political culture.

    It's not good.

    What we should never forget is that those in power those long time politicians with long time media counterparts have brought America to where we are at in this mess. There is no excuse, these long time corporate individuals that have had the opportunity to be on top in the corporate structure for decades are responsible for this mess.

    A lot of people like myself have had to scramble periodically through the decades to redo a resume, get screwed on my pension, stand in unemployment lines all the while big money secretly always made deals behind closed doors via the electorate tax money pipelined through the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board. Now it's horrible, disgusting, and in our face everyday with network broadcasting bias of extraordinary proportion handing out trillions avoiding addressing real corruption and now expressing confusion on simple straight forward torture issues as exampled from MSNBC and it counter part CNBC.    

    Like taking picture of the power grid likely is a paranoia that could unfold either way as done by terrorist of the foreign influence, or something totally avoided in the mainstream media as corporate wars, that is also influenced in a domestic free market struggle? If one reads history about Tesla and the invention of the electric motor giants like General Electric, J.P. Morgan, Westinghouse, have been involved in domestic development, likely only the pretty stuff told, besides the money and power struggle it perpetuated. From what was considered the new technology in upper New York being electrified by Tesla in early 1900.  Yes, like perpetuated poverty and dependence at another area we now endure as a class act in Detroit as the most violent city in decay.

    Anyway what America has now is a mix of the Middle East embedded in America's economic system for about a century. The major product being oil and the Arabs, especially known as the Wahabbi are the primary benefactors of huge profits all the while manipulating America, economic, political, and corporate cultures. America is so dependent on Arab oil, and they, the Arabs are in horrible contradiction with the extreme core theoretical believes, think Americans are infidels that should be wiped off the earth.

    This is the most horrendous paradox do to greed; the electorate has been placed in the limbo of the constant theme of teetered destruction because consequences beyond control because of closed door back room deals is preposterous.

    Perhaps if politicians like Lieberman and Arlene Specter along with news media people like Sean Hannity or Limbaugh should be in a tea party dunked in a glass aquarium in a straight jacket like Houdini, chained locked and hung from their feet for about twenty minutes for validation of their citizenship and renounce torture. Sounds stupid huh. So does giving away a trillion dollars to people we doesn't know or what it is for. For one hell of a mess at least we should be a little entertaining, don't you think? Isn't that what Limbaugh claims he does?      

    Uh, what? (none / 0) (#10)
    by wagnert in atlanta on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 10:05:10 AM EST
    And Arlene Specter?  I mean, really.

    "Taking notes"??? (none / 0) (#9)
    by Zorba on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 09:53:03 AM EST
    "Espousing extremist views"????  What the hell does that mean?  In whose opinion?  Big Brother is watching, and the Thought Police are on the job.  

    Very slippery indeed (none / 0) (#14)
    by Iamme on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 01:00:56 PM EST
    Thinking of this in a different light.

    1.) Clearly there is an opportunity to abuse this list.
    2.) Should we not be aware of our surroudings?

    I have burnt my hand on a stove.  When its on I tell my 9 year old the pan is hot dont touch it.  Is this paranoia?  Not even close.  It is preventative.  Do I take extra heed when there are very hot things in the kitchen yes.  I am careful of snakes when walking in the woods? YES.  Paranoid? NO.  Snakes bite and can cause human harm.  We are talking about a police department and while yes they do some wrong there are many others who were glad they were around at their time of need.

    So its easy just to blindly look at rule number 1 and go to the extreme...oh they are crazy.  Mind reading etc.

    It is also prudent to be aware of what is going on around you.

    Very slippery indeed.  Dont throw out one side just because you dont like it.

    surely it's prudent (none / 0) (#15)
    by sj on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 04:27:06 PM EST
    to know what's going on around me.  That is not the same thing as having the police gather information on 65 behaviors "of a criminal or non-criminal nature".

    There's more than a slippery slope between me being aware of my surroundings the police being aware of my [criminal or non-criminal] activities.