Terrorist vagrants? Unfortunately society’s least desirables, vagrants, would be a likely candidate for the first wave of true citizen detainees. It seems all too plausible that city-wide ‘vagrant-threat” raids could be a reality throughout the country. More disturbing might be the fact that the American public would fall right into line when the Department of Homeland Security annouced, “Not ALL vagrants are terrorists, however we must take precautions for the safety of all citizens, regardless of whether they are found to be a terrorist, it is for the good of everyone to have them off the streets of all hard working American neighborhoods!”
By MARK SHERMAN,
Associated Press Writer
Mon Aug 22,10:59 PM ET
Asking for increased vigilance in the wake of the London bombings, the government is warning that terrorists may pose as vagrants to conduct surveillance of buildings and mass transit stations to plot future attacks.
“In light of the recent bombings in London, it is crucial that police, fire and emergency medical personnel take notice of their surroundings, and be aware of ‘vagrants’ who seem out of place or unfamiliar,” said the message, distributed via e-mail to some federal employees in Washington by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
It is based on a State Department report that was issued last week. The State Department had no immediate comment Monday.
The warning is similar to one issued by the FBI before July 4, 2004 that said terrorists may attempt surveillance disguised as homeless people, shoe shiners, street vendors or street sweepers.
The e-mail stresses that there is no threat of an attack and that it is intended to be “informative, not alarming.”
Homeless people easily blend into urban landscapes, the message said.
“This is particularly true of our mass transit systems, where homeless people tend to loiter unnoticed,” the e-mail said.
It referred to a recent incident in Somerville, Mass., in which a police officer became suspicious about someone dressed as a street person. The officer questioned the man, discovered he had a passport from a “country of interest” ? typically a Middle Eastern or South Asian nation ? and a checkbook with a questionable address, the e-mail said. The investigation is continuing, it said.
The incident happened in early July, Somerville city spokesman Mark Horan said, when the man walked back and forth in front of the Social Security office in Somerville’s Davis Square and kept looking in the windows.
“This was right after one of the London bombings,” Horan said. “There was an even higher degree of sensitivity.”
The man was evasive about what he was doing but wasn’t arrested. Somerville police didn’t investigate further but passed the information on to the FBI, Horan said. There haven’t been any similar incidents in Somerville, he said.
FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz would not comment on whether an investigation is ongoing.
Three British citizens were indicted in the United States earlier this year on charges they conducted surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange and other East Coast financial institutions in 2000 and 2001.
Discovery of the alleged terrorist plan last year prompted the Homeland Security Department to raise the terror alert for the targeted buildings, located in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J. Security in those cities also was tightened.
Homeland Security also raised the terror alert for mass transit following the July 7 bombings in London. The alert was lowered on Aug. 12.