You May Already Be an FBI Terror Suspect: 85 Things Not to Do

Communities Against Terrorism enlists everyday busybodies to spy on us.

asian tourist taking pictures

This couple exhibits unusual interest in transportation routes and has staged an opportunity to photograph security personnel. The FBI wants you to report their coordinates. (Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Keeping America safe from totalitarian ideologues is a big, big job, too big in fact for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the entire Department of Justice to handle on their own. The DOJ commands a $27.7 billion annual budget, and the FBI employs 35,629 full-time foes of evil. Their business is to protect the United States from bad people. Those bad people might be 15-year-old computer punks; they might be sophisticated zealots who hate America’s freedoms with such vehemence that they want to blow us all up. And the bad people just might win, according to our country’s law-enforcement elite, unless we, the American public, help.   

The FBI and DOJ have launched the “Communities Against Terrorism” program. The campaign seeks assistance from workers in 25 industries to spy on their fellow citizens ferret out the terrorists among us. Citizen spies are being recruited from hotel and motel personnel, dive shop operators, car and property rental agents, the inky patriots who run tattoo parlors, gun dealers and baristas at Internet cafes.

Obviously, an invective-mumbling individual “refusing to complete appropriate paperwork” while paying cash to buy large quantities of explosives and asking for driving directions on a map that has skulls-and-crossbones marked across every Mall of the America emergency exit has raised a red flag. Report this person to the appropriate authorities.

If you visit an airport, stay in a hotel, drink coffee at an Internet café, or in some other way interact with one of the Halloween G-men in the American public, a full-fledged FBI investigation is only one phone call away.

The Communities Against Terrorism directives go further, warning some on the American labor force, such as Airport Service Providers, to monitor even their coworkers for suspicious behavior. But when the FBI’s “Suspicious Activity Reporting” forms are distributed to all potential spies on a given airport food court, any terrorist manning an espresso machine is given a heads-up.

Meanwhile, some free spirit whose FBI memo went to a spam folder, oblivious that profiling eyes peer out from behind every cash register, unknowingly embodies an alarming combination of DOJ-designated terrorist traits.

4) Do Not: Attempt to shield your computer screen from the view of others.

The lesson here is that if you visit an airport, stay in a hotel, drink coffee at an Internet café, play paintball or in some other way interact with one of the presumed legion of Halloween G-men in the American public, a full-fledged FBI investigation is only one phone call away. In light of this fresh peril necessitated by the threat of totalitarian ideologues, TakePart presents 85 behaviors to avoid if you want to stay off the FBI’s lists of terror suspects:

1) Do Not: Use Google Maps to find your way around a strange city.

2) Do Not: Use Google Maps to view photos of sports stadiums.

3) Do Not: Install online privacy protection software on your personal computer.

4) Do Not: Attempt to shield your computer screen from the view of others.

5) Do Not: Shave your beard, dye your hair or alter your mode of dress.

6) Do Not: Sweat.

7) Do Not: Avoid eye contact.

8) Do Not: Use a cell-phone camera in an airport, train station or shopping mall.

9) Do Not: Seek to work alone or without supervision.

10) Do Not: Appear to be out of place.

11) Do Not: Have bright colored stains on your clothing.

12) Do Not: Be missing any fingers.

13) Do Not: Emit strange odors.

14) Do Not: Travel an “illogical distance” to do your shopping.

15) Do Not: Have someone pick you up from a beauty supply store.

33) Do Not: Act impatient.

16) Do Not: Be nervous.

17) Do Not: Be a new customer from out of town.

18) Do Not: Use a credit card in someone else’s name.

19) Do Not: Chant environmental slogans near construction sites.

20) Do Not: Enter a construction site after work hours.

21) Do Not: Rent watercraft for an extended period.

22) Do Not: Make comments involving radical theology.

23) Do Not: Make vague or cryptic warnings.

24) Do Not: Express anti-U.S. sentiments.

25) Do Not: Purchase a quantity of prepaid or disposable cell phones.

26) Do Not: Leave store without preprogramming disposable phones.

27) Do Not: Be overly interested in satellite phones and voice privacy.

28) Do Not: Ask questions about swapping SIM cards in cell phones.

29) Do Not: Ask questions about how phone location can be tracked.

30) Do Not: Rewire cell phone’s ringer or backlight.

31) Do Not: Express out-of-place and provocative religious or political sentiments.

32) Do Not: Purchase a police scanner, infrared device or 2-way radio.

33) Do Not: Act impatient.

34) Do Not: Drive a vehicle that appears to be overloaded.

35) Do Not: Depart quickly when seen or approached.

36) Do Not: Be a person “acting suspiciously.”

37) Do Not: Make illegible notes on a map.

38) Do Not: Take photos of the Statue of Liberty or other “symbolic targets.”

39) Do Not: Overdress for the weather.

40) Do Not: Ask questions in a hobby shop about remote controlled aircraft.

41) Do Not: Demonstrate interest that does not seem genuine.

42) Do Not: Request specific room assignments or locations at a hotel or motel.

43) Do Not: Arrive at a lodging with unusual amounts of luggage.

52) Do Not: Make notes that are illegible to passersby.

44) Do Not: Refuse cleaning service.

45) Do Not: Avoid the lobby of a hotel or motel.

46) Do Not: Remain in your hotel or motel room.

47) Do Not: Leave your hotel for several days, then return.

48) Do Not: Leave behind clothing and toiletry items.

49) Do Not: Park your vehicle in an isolated area.

50) Do Not: Be observed switching a cell phone SIM card.

51) Do Not: Be observed using multiple cell phones.

52) Do Not: Make notes that are illegible to passersby.

53) Do Not: Communicate through a PC game.

54) Do Not: Download “extreme/radical” content.

55) Do Not: Exhibit preoccupation with press coverage of terrorist attacks.

56) Do Not: Wear a backpack when the weather is warm.

57) Do Not: Speak to mall maintenance personnel or security guards.

58) Do Not: Make racist comments.

59) Do Not: Mumble to yourself.

60) Do Not: Pass along any anonymous threats you may receive.

61) Do Not: Discreetly take a photo in a mass transit site.

62) Do Not: Arrive with a group of people and split off from them.

63) Do Not: Demand “identity privacy.”

64) Do Not: Appear to endorse the use of violence in support of a cause.

65) Do Not: Make bulk purchases of meals ready to eat.

66) Do Not: Arrive in America from a land where militant Islamic groups operate.

67) Do Not: Take a long absence for religious education or charity work.

68) Do Not: Travel to countries where militant Islam rules.

69) Do Not: Study technical subjects that would aid a terror operation.

70) Do Not: Work in a field that “serves as a cover for preparing for an operation.”

71) Do Not: Exhibit ire at global policies of the U.S.

72) Do Not: Balk at providing “complete personal information.”

73) Do Not: Provide multiple names on rental car paperwork.

74) Do Not: Receive an unusual number of package deliveries.

75) Do Not: Replace rental property locks without permission.

76) Do Not: Modify your property to conceal storage areas.

77) Do Not: Fail to pay rent for a storage unit in a timely manner.

78) Do Not: Inquire about security systems at your storage facility.

79) Do Not: Place unusual items in storage units or dumpsters.

80) Do Not: Avoid contact with rental facility personnel.

81) Do Not: Access storage facilities an unusual number of times.

82) Do Not: Request deliveries of items directly to a storage unit.

83) Do Not: Be part of a group requesting identical tattoos.

84) Do Not: Request tattoos that could conceal extremist symbols.

85) Do Not: Fly while appearing to be Muslim on September 11 of any year.


The FBI flyers include a disclaimer following the list of terrorist behaviors, right above the Anti-Terrorism Tip Line number.

NOTE: It is important to remember that just because someone’s speech, actions, beliefs, appearance, or way of life is different; it does not mean that he or she is suspicious.

For emphasis, the FBI sets off this note encouraging tolerance in italics, the typographical equivalent of a wink.

All 25 FBI flyers can be found here.

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