Friday, January 13, 2006

Disposable Cellphones - The Next Threat?

ABC has an intriguing story - a surge in sales of disposable cell phones may have terror links:
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 December 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.

The Midland, Texas, police report dated December 18 and obtained by ABC News states: "Information obtained by MPD [Midland Police Department] dispatch personnel indicated that approximately six individuals of Middle-Eastern origin were attempting to purchase an unusually large quantity of tracfones (disposable cell phones with prepaid minutes attached)." At least one of the suspects was identified as being from Iraq and another from Pakistan, officials said.
Considering how easy it is to obtain disposable cellphones that are essentially untraceable, the potential threat is significant. Terrorists may have already purchased disposable cellphones in far smaller quantities such that they wouldn't be noticed as has happened in these instances that are still under investigation. Purchasing cellphones singly or in small batches wouldn't arouse suspicion.

In any event, we're relying upon store clerks to use common sense to wonder why someone is purchasing large quantities of disposable cellphones. That's a worrisome proposition.

Expect a push by legislatures to limit the numbers of disposable cellphones that can be purchased at one time to no more than 3 (or 5), and use a rationale similar to that which is used in limiting the purchases of Sudafed and other drugs that contain pseudoephedrine because they could be mixed and combined into crystal meth. New Jersey is one such state that limits pseudoephedrine sales, (others are listed here).

Confederate Yankee, Flopping Aces, Sister Toldjah, and California Conservative have additional coverage.

PSoTD wonders whether the right wing bloggers are reading the entire story since law enforcement has known about the use of disposable cellphones as possible triggers for bombs since March 2004 (the Madrid bombings).
What have they been doing to monitor purchasing of these phones since then? Have they required greater record keeping? What progress have we made in almost two years on the anonymity of buyers of disposable phones? [emphasis added]
I wonder if that would be permissible under the ACLU/Left wing view of the world where terrorists can communicate freely and NSA wiretapping on foreign intercepts into the US are considered violations of civil liberties. After all, it could be a US citizen purchasing those cellphones for some other purpose. But, I reference above to my suggestion that legislatures or Congress will likely begin a push to limit sales of disposable cellphones to no more than 3 (or 5) at one time as a starting point for dealing with the problem.

The Anchoress Online wonders whether the NSA wiretapping story first proffered by the New York Times tipped terrorists off to change their methods to evade detection - switching to disposable cellphones. It's certainly a disturbing possibility. And she offers an interesting blowback proposition:
It’s funny, in a way…the NY Times and the rest have damaged their own playing field. Had we been attacked - and they not leaked the NSA information - many in the country (those not convinced that a second attack is inevitable) would reflexively blame the White House for slacking off. Now, thanks to the leaks, and all the pontificating about them…well, if there is another attack, people will look not at Washington, but at West 43rd Street, and similar addresses.

This story comes on a day when various cellphone providers are assembling a bid for providing NYC subways with cellphone service. (HT: The anonymous coworker) The establishment of cellphone service in the NYC subways isn't a new story, but one that has been around since at least this past August (prior coverage here). The arguments for or against cellphone service in the subways hasn't changed, even with the news that individuals may have tried making bulk purchases of disposable cellphones.

Michelle Malkin has picked up the story as well.

Others noting the cellphone story, which also includes analysis in light of the NSA story, and reports on various oddities (such as reports of casing tanker truck shipments): MacsMind, Darleen's Place, Rocket's Brain Trust, Myopic Zeal, Brutally Honest, Right on America, Fire and Hammer, and Right Pundit. Sensible Mom is questioning the authenticity of the document purporting to be the police report from Midland Texas. It's good to see that people are questioning the story from all angles, starting with the paperwork. Shows critical thinking is involved.

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