Homeland Security and FBI Release Document Once Again Labeling Photographers as Potential Terrorists


Photographers are still being classified as potential terrorists in a newly released document from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

The “Roll Call Release,” dated November 13, 2012 and titled “Suspicious Activity Reporting: Photography,” gives a vague reference to a single example where a terrorist may have used cameras to plan attacks.

“In late 2000 and early 2001, convicted al-Qaida operative Dhiren Barot took extensive video footage and numerous photographs of sites in downtown New York City and Washington DC in preparation for planned attacks.”

But then it goes on to list three other examples where people were detained for using cameras in airports, parking garages and shopping malls – which the report describes as “consistent with pre-operational activity and attack planning” – that turned out to have nothing to do with terrorist activity.

But the feds still refer to these detainments as a sign of success because they served for “awareness and training purposes” – as if they need any more training to harass innocent photographers.

And although Barot was convicted of planning attacks, authorities could not connect a video he recorded of the World Trade Center to the actual 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Barot undertook reconnaissance missions in the UK and US in 2000 and 2001, during which he filmed buildings including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington DC and the Stock Exchange and Citigroup buildings in New York.

Although there was no evidence that he had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks on the US, one clip, played in court, showed the World Trade Centre with someone imitating the noise of an explosion in the background.

Barot was also known to visit public libraries to plan possible attacks, so perhaps visiting your local library will soon be regarded as suspicious.

Labeling photographers as potential terrorists has been rampant since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but in 2010, after forcing a man to the ground for video recording a federal courthouse in New York City, the Department of Homeland Security agreed to a settlement, acknowledging that photographing federal buildings is not a crime.

But that still didn’t stop the feds for spreading the message that photographers should be deemed suspicious, including funding municipalities to produce propaganda videos.

Two months ago, it began encouraging citizens to photograph other citizens who take suspicious photographs in order to report them to Homeland Security.

In October, the FBI visited a Houston man at home after he had been seen taking photos near a refinery. He had only been taking pictures of a brewing storm for the National Weather Service.

In 2008, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote his famous “War on Photography” article, in which he stated the following:

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

Thanks to Massachusetts Private Eye for the heads up on this story, who found it on an interesting site called Public Intelligence that collects these types of documents, including one from February 2011 where a man was detained in Seattle for “suspicious iPhone photography.”

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Or to send a donation to help maintain Photography is Not a Crime, click here.

About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • HonorYourOath

    Infuriating! I might stop by the Jax DHS Facility and test them on this!

  • rust

    Next to be considered suspicious: pens and pencils!

  • jsteele98

    Welcome to Obama’s New Improved America 2.0; the Police State perfected.

    • Michael Turcotte

      Just exactly how is this the President’s fault? These programs were started under Lil’ Bush…

      • eddy

        Perhaps because The Messiah has already had 4 years to fix it. Instead, we have Big Sis running DHS and Obama has done NOTHING to limit DHS or civil liberties abuses. He also extended the Patriot Act and lets not forget Obama’s new and improved NDAA which allows for unlimited detention of American citizens with no Due Process. Obama is just like Bush.

        • synapse13

          Indefinite detention was struck down by the courts. Keep up.

      • Wayne Rathbun

        …and continued under Obama.

        • DAMNCAS

          they always try to get out of blaming Obama by using bush as a scape goat its both of their faultS and they both should be impeached or face legal punishment for their crimes against our nation and humanity abroad BUT NOOOOO THAT WONT EVEN HAPPEN BUT LET ME STEAL A CANDY BAR AND THEY WILL GIVE ME A FELONY

        • Jim Bean

          Bush and Obama are just puppets. They don’t run SHIOT or make decisions. It’s those rich bitch mother F$$$ERS like the Rothchilds and Rockefellers who make the calls.

  • rick

    Chances that picture taken is being used for terrorist activity = 0.00000000000286

    Low estimate is 350 billion pictures in 2011!

    “Just this year, an estimated 70 billion to 100 billion photos will be uploaded to Facebook, which amounts to 20 percent of all photos taken in 2011.”
    Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/one-third-years-digital-photos-are-facebook-120576

  • Guest

    While I agree that we need to fight for our right to record in public, you make yourself appear silly when you say things like, “And although Barot was convicted of planning attacks, authorities could not connect a video he recorded of the World Trade Center to the actual 9/11 terrorist attacks.” Do you think he was sightseeing?

  • Wayne Rathbun

    So…..let me get this straight…..since terrorists often….or even usually photograph intended targets, photographing potential targets (such as ANY building in almost ANY city) is considered a “suspicious” activity and is grounds for classifying the photographer as a “potential terroist,” which means he (or she) could be held indefinitely under the NDAA. I can’t help but wonder if terrorists eat breakfast or use the bathroom before a terrorist attack…..or pray. This country just keeps getting better.

  • Eric

    So, since Big Brother has *far* more cameras, who is the real terrorist here?

    (It’s hard to find something Inside the Beltway with more karma than the fact that DHS HQ is on the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s, the oldest “insane asylum” in the country

  • http://twitter.com/sfdb SFDB

    Carlos, if you don’t think that officials should be on alert for “suspicious photography and photography consistent with pre-operational activity and attack planning,” what policy should they follow? You raise some valid points in your complaining but you don’t offer any solutions or alternatives. Should we just ignore everyone videotaping potential terrorist targets? Or just certain people? What protocol should be followed?

    It’s easy to complain.

    What are your solutions?


    • http://excoplawstudent.wordpress.com/ ExCop-Lawyer

      I’m not Carlos, but the Bill of Rights trump DHS directives. The people have a right to free speech, and it is well established that photography and videography of areas or people in the public is protected speech.

      Since we know that terrorists build their bombs in apartments, should we toss the Fourth Amendment also? We can allow general searches at the whim of the police to combat terrorism. We also need to set up checkpoints every mile or so, so the police can check our papers, and implement a program where the police can track us all the time so it makes there job easier.

      Being a cop is not an easy job, but each and every one of them are supposed to uphold the Constitution – not ignore it.

      “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

      Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin 142 (1818).

      • Saul B

        >> … should we toss the Fourth Amendment also?

        Sorry, you missed the boat on that one.

        • http://excoplawstudent.wordpress.com/ ExCop-Lawyer

          How so? If we are going to toss the First Amendment and have police officers believe that they have a right to detain individuals for exercising their free speech rights (i.e., taking photos in a public place), why not let them trash the rest of the Bill of Rights?

          • Saul B

            My point was, advocating for the Fourth Amendment is getting to be a helpless cause. Just look at all the ways in which the “administrative search special needs exceptions” have been used to tear away at the Fourth, from invasive airport searches to warrantless searches of bags on mass transit.

          • http://excoplawstudent.wordpress.com/ ExCop-Lawyer

            Gotcha, and I don’t disagree.

    • Saul B

      >> Should we just ignore everyone videotaping potential terrorist targets?

      Absolutely, if they are in public and not committing any other crime.

      How hard is it to understand?

      Repeat after me: “Photography is not a suspicious activity.”

  • ed2276

    I find it ironic, if not hypocritical, that the F.B.I labels photographers as “potential” terrorists when the F.B.I. openly boasts about its own efforts to foment terrorism against the U.S. by recruiting and arming “terrorists” to make terrorist overtures against the U.S.

    Of course the naysayers will whine that the F.B.I. only provides fake weapons to the terrorists they recruit to attack the U.S. and arrests them before they can actually do harm to the U.S., but that is not always the case. It is well-known that the 1983 World Trade Center bombing was an F.B.I. managed event and that the F.B.I. allowed the terrorists to use real explosives in the scheme, despite the objections of one of the F.B.I. informants involved in the plot.

    The F.B.I. are not only potential terrorists, they are actual terrorists, as they were the enablers who allowed the WTC to be bombed in 1983, resulting in the deaths and injuries of several innocent U.S. citizens.

    • Jerry W. Kelley

      Wasn’t that 1993?

  • http://twitter.com/PrometheusUSA Prometheus Unchained

    Obama’s America = Hitler’s Germany

    • http://www.facebook.com/darshderp Brent Rost

      hitler’s germany was way more badass..

    • yttrx

      Another fucking idiot.

    • synapse13

      Actually, it all started with Bush. Obama has shut down the Extraordinary Rendition sites around the world. It was Bush who created Homeland Security, the TSA and all of the agencies that are now plaguing us; and the Patriot Act was his doing. Obama is just continuing some of it (while stopping some of it too; gotta give him a little credit for trying in some aspects but I don’t think the folks really in control will allow him to undo all of it.) Either way, they are both just doing what the men behind the curtains want. Obama is better than Bush in terms of the security state. Not by much, but he is better.

      • lindy19

        Obama did not one major thing that he promised, Patriot Act still in force, Guantanamo Bay still a prison, medical insurance a sell out to medical-industrial complex and tens of thousand still uninsured. Now he is attacking veterans, active military, social security and medicare by increasing cost and cutting benefits. He increased NAFTA to include additional countries. Next to Bush he is almost the same. It is time for a real 3rd party that will give power back to the people.

  • indy00

    I would think that google and goole earth should make suspicions of photographing seem pretty stupid. but then again look who it is

  • acltech

    People are blaming Obama?! For real? And comparing to Hitler? Get off it people. That kind of thing makes me sick.


      he is like hitler he has done the exact same thing the nazi party did before the war you better do the research about your beloved federal government

      • yttrx

        You’re a fucking idiot.

        • JdL

          You’re a fucking idiot.

          Are you so dense that you don’t realize that replying to a serious point with an empty insult merely proves you have nothing of substance to offer in reply?

          It happens that I disagree with Prometheus Unchained and Damcas: I think we’re reaching Hitler’s Germany with the eager support of BOTH political parties. I’d like to see Bush, Obama, Romney, and all the rest banished to the North Pole.

          • Kevin

            That is not a serious point, it is absurd. You ARE a fucking idiot.

      • synapse13

        When was the Patriot Act put into place? Whose Administration created the TSA, Homeland Security, and had color coded terror warnings so that everyone was kept in a state of panic? Obama has actually closed the extraordinary rendition sites around the world and tried to close GITMO (but was stopped cold by the Repubs in congress.) If you think Obama alone is the problem, you aren’t bothering to look behind the curtain. Those who are controlling this country aren’t actually in govt.

  • Truthler

    With the Dept of Homeland security and FBI declaring photographers as terrorists, what stops the citizens to declare the Dept of HS and FBI as terrorist orgs out to attack citizens such as photographers?

    Bad thing about all this, is that not a single politician is stopping the person who decided this decision to call people who take picks as terrorists…

  • Burt Crapo

    Homeland Security did not begin with Obama. It seems as if every right wing conservative has even forgotten that George W. Bush was president for eight years before Obama took office and that Obama voted against most of W’s policies. This is a hold over from the culture of fear that W and Cheney started after 9/11 and it continues to this day because it is still profitable for Homeland Security and all the other law enforcement agencies after being given a blank check to make the country “safer”.

    • fed up

      And exactly what of those policies has obama discontinued or reduced in the 4 years he has been in office? How many has he extended or expanded?

      • synapse13

        Obama closed the extraordinary rendition sites around the world and tried to close Gitmo, but he was stopped dead by the Repubs in congress. If you think Obama is the one making the rules, you aren’t looking at what’s really going on.

    • Anon

      Homeland didn’t begin with Obama, but none of it’s policies ended with him either. He’s just as guilty as far as I’m concerned.

  • anny onymous

    the mess our country is in is much older and deeper than anyone thinks. keep thinking obama is more than a figurehead, he pulls few strings. Take a look at the sh*t you type…you don’t think there are folks enjoying the chaos? look up maritime admiralty law, and who “owns” the united states, then b*tch at yourself for being a dumb*ss. thank you

  • Snowy Smith

    There is NO such thing as TERRORISTS.

    Jew Criminal MAFIA own al Qaeda

    Destabilizing every country in Africa.

    Their motto:

    Africom is owned by the JEW Criminal MAFIA


    The JEWS did 9-11

    I am NOT Anti-Semitic I am PRO Semitic.

    I support the Palestinian people 100%

    I support the Arab people 100%

    I support the Muslim people 100%

    Therefore I am PRO- Semitic.

    This is just a JEW Communist Criminal Mafia SCAM.

    Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden died +-11


    THE JEWS DID 9-11


    the police and our goverment are totally out of control,and if we the people of the united states plan to keep our bill of rights and the contitution intact we the people must by force if need be,take this country back from the tranny that has taken over our government our our corrupt police corrupt courts and our corrupt local leaders.This country which I love now makes me sick and everybody that goes along with this agenda including all the mexicans invading our country and our government does nothing about it,and our president not even being born in this country is pathtic we should be outraged the 2nd Amendment gives us the right to bear arms for exactly this reason and its time to exercise and put it to use ASAP!!!!!Blood will be spilled in our streets but for the greater good for our children and their children to come..I myself would rather die fighting for our republic for which it stands then be sheep and headed for slaughter like so many of you dumb witted blind assholes.FUCK OBAMA AND HIS MAMA

  • Andrew MIller

    to be fare, Japan did photograph for pearl harbor but they did it with cameras hidden is brief cases……….. I really hope something like this goes to seprem court soon and puts and end to it, or at least for photogs to stand on.

  • zonsb

    From the perspective view point of government agents, video recording them is an act of terrorism because it can expose them for who and what they are; a gang of killers, thieves and liars.

  • Anon

    The real terrorist is our government. How many citizens have been abused since 911? Countless. How many terrorists were caught taking pictures? Zero

  • Toley

    The police could have gotten more with a smile and a cardigan sweater.
    But irrational fear is trickling down from an administration that sees a boogeyman behind every blade of grass.
    And where does governmental paranoia come from?
    From the fact that they are doing something wrong and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and human decency!

  • jeanne miller

    Get video glasses and they also have video pens .

  • Rodan!

    Does this mean Google Street Street View is a terrorist too? It has images of everything, everywhere.