Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday looped industry leaders into the See Something, Say Something messaging campaign by showing them new public service announcements for their company websites.
The public awareness movement, which was launched by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and now is ubiquitous in the Washington area, encourages everyday people to report incidents that raise suspicions of terrorism. As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the department has been praising the public's vigilance for keeping other potential attackers at bay.
Speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, Napolitano noted that city workers in Spokane, Wash., likely thwarted a deadly bombing on Martin Luther King Day when they reported a backpack, later found to contain explosives, along a parade route. In another example of business community intervention she cited, a gun store owner near Fort Hood, Texas, prevented a potential attack against U.S. troops by calling authorities when he spotted an individual in his shop behaving oddly.
"When you return home to your businesses and your communities, you can share the PSAs with your colleagues, with your employees, and you can help us reach an even broader audience by showing them in your own venues, by showing them in things like stores, businesses that you operate, linking them to company websites," she said.
The online videos show a woman leaving behind a bag on a bench at a train station and, outside the station, a man planting what appears to be a wireless-enabled bomb in the trunk of car. Passersby pause when they notice these actions and, at the end of each segment, notify security.
The government's policy is that only reports documenting "behavior reasonably indicative of criminal activity related to terrorism" will be shared with federal agencies such as the FBI.
But privacy groups say witnesses do not have the proper training to discern between a suspect from a terrorist group photographing a bridge and a person from a tourist group photographing a bridge.
"We are concerned about moving the program beyond law enforcement," said Michael German, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI special agent. "They are specifically being told, 'Don't make your own determination. Report it all.' What is likely to happen is people are going to report people they are already biased against." He fears the campaign will open the door for racial profiling.
Meanwhile, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who also was in attendance on Wednesday, said he was "agitated" that the government has failed, after 10 years, to create a way for public safety officers to talk to each other and share data on a reliable network during an emergency.
"I think it's a national disgrace," he said. "It's simply unbelievable in my mind that on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 , knowing what transpired at the Twin Towers and knowing the inability of these men and women who rushed in to save the lives of other Americans and international visitors and citizens, were unable to communicate."
Senate leaders had been pressing to dedicate a hunk of broadband spectrum known as the D-block to first responders before Sept. 11, 2011. But their plan ran up against resistance from some House Republicans who want to auction off the airwaves to broadcasters.
"We have the capacity. We have the technology," said Ridge, now a private security consultant. "What we don't have is the political courage and the focus of trying to help these men and women who we celebrate with speeches."
German suggested the money funding the See Something campaign perhaps could go toward communications hardware or radios to assist first responders. "There are certainly better ways to spend the money that is spent on this program," he said.
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