Friday, January 13, 2006

Terrorists and Disposable Cell Phones

This could certainly develop into a very big story:

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 phones -- which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have a credit card -- have many legitimate uses, and are popular with people who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away in glove compartments or tackle boxes. But since they can be difficult or impossible to track, law enforcement officials say the phones are widely used by criminal gangs and terrorists...

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.

When anyone comes into a store and begins buying a product in bulk that isn't normally sold in that way, rational people should naturally be suspicious. It may not necessarily mean that the person buying massive quantities of the given product is a terrorist, but it does mean that they are up to something that isn't typically regarded as normal. As Michelle Malkin correctly asserts, we are all Homeland Security agents.

Another aspect of the story that makes it a potential big scoop is that this huge increase in disposable cell phone purchases appears to be a sudden phenomenon. Furthermore, the fact that it is occurring across the United States makes it highly improbable that it is merely a coincidence.

One possible explanation, according to John Hinderaker, is that the mass purchasing of these types of cell phones comes as a reaction to the New York Times' NSA intercept story, which revealed the organization's formerly secret program of gathering information on terrorists by listening in on their phone calls. If this is true, says John, and it truly is much more difficult for the NSA to acquire information about al-Qaeda's contacts within the United States, then the New York Times will have certainly have a lot to answer for.