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by Arthur H. Rotstein
Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 at 6:43 AM
Hmmm.... Will you need to get a Brady Bill Background check before buying an assult cellphone?????
Counterterrorism group issues cellphone advisory
Arizona task force's alert comes 1 day after report of suspicious purchase
TUCSON - Arizona's Counter-Terrorism Information Center issued an advisory Tuesday to law enforcement officials statewide saying there is a possible increase in suspicious purchases of prepaid cellphones occurring nationwide.
The advisory from the statewide task force came a day after the Tucson Police Department said it had received a 911 call reporting a suspicious purchase of multiple disposable cellphones at a Sam's Club in Tucson.
The advisory also came on the same day that a prosecutor in Ohio dropped terrorism charges against two Michigan men who were arrested after buying large numbers of cellphones; a day earlier, the FBI said it had no information to indicate that three Texas men arrested in Michigan after a similar purchase had direct terror ties.
The state's counterterrorism center is monitoring the Tucson case, said Arizona Department of Public Safety Detective and task force spokesman Tim Mason. DPS sponsors the counterterrorism center.
Tucson police had alerted the center that two men had bought "a large amount, 40 to 50 phones," Mason said.
He said he knew of no other recent large cellphone purchases in Arizona. He declined to comment further.
Tucson police spokesman Dallas Wilson said the department investigated the Tucson purchase but didn't know who the buyers were. There were no criminal violations, but the case was labeled as suspicious activity, and the FBI was notified, he said.
FBI spokeswoman Deborah McCarley said the agency receives tips of suspicious activity frequently. "We would look into it," she said, but declined to confirm whether the FBI had opened a full investigation.
The counterterrorism center's advisory said there has been speculation about terrorists, extremists and separatists using cellphones to detonate explosives and also reselling them overseas to raise money.
But while the devices have been used to detonate terrorist explosives, "the quantities of cellphones that are being purchased are so overwhelming when compared to the actual number used in terrorist attacks," it said.
It noted that the use of resale proceeds "has not been linked to the financing of terrorist operations."
The advisory listed several examples of suspicious situations involving prepaid cellphone purchases, including people who seem quite familiar with a store's policy concerning their purchase and those asking how to get more than the store limits.
Mason said sales of large numbers of disposable cellphones raise suspicion unless the purchaser owns or represents a company needing them or there is another clear business-related purpose.
Criminal organizations frequently clone disposable cellphones to capture cellphone data and then sell them on the black market, he said.
Others use them in phone fraud operations, Mason said.
He said there could also be a legitimate purpose behind large purchases, but without being able to determine a legitimate use, law enforcement will investigate.
"I think we have an obligation to look into that," Mason added. "When you're purchasing 50 phones, you kind of have to look at it and go 'Why?' That's weird."
The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent out joint bulletins in February and March to police nationwide warning about the bulk purchase of phones for personal profit or financing terrorism.
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