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What is Suspicious Activity?

Recognizing Suspicious Activity

Identifying suspicious activity is not a hard science. You have to rely on your judgment. Your suspicion of a threat could be confirmed with one incident. It could take a series of incidents. In the long run, it comes down to:

  • Experience
  • Judgment
  • Common sense

Let’s review some possible suspicious activity. These examples may not always justify reporting. They may not always lead to criminal or terrorist activity.

Unusual Requests for Information

Unusual requests for information can be a warning sign of terrorist activity:

  • A telephone request at work asking about the security system.
  • Questions about the habits of your Chief Executive Officer.
  • A mail survey asking for comments on the response time and habits of emergency personnel.

Although possibly legitimate, these are also techniques used by terrorists to gather information while planning an attack. Do NOT give out sensitive information unless you know the party you’re talking to and they have a need for that information.

Unusual Interest in High Risk or Symbolic Targets

Maybe you are at a National Monument and you notice a person nearby taking a lot of photos. Not unusual. But then you notice that he is only taking photos of the surveillance cameras, crash barriers at the entrances, and access control procedures. Is that normal for a tourist? Absolutely not.

The following should cause a heightened sense of concern:

  • unusual interest
  • surveillance
  • inappropriate photographs or videos
  • note-taking
  • drawing of diagrams
  • annotating maps
  • using binoculars or night vision devices
Unusual Activity

Unusual activity does not necessarily mean that terrorist activity is happening, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of:

  • People acting furtively and suspiciously
  • People avoiding eye contact
  • People departing quickly when seen or approached
  • People in places they don’t belong
  • A strong odor coming from a building or vehicle
  • An overloaded vehicle
  • Fluid leaking from a vehicle, other than the engine or gas tank
  • Over dressed for the weather
Fraudulent Identification

Many 9/11 terrorists were in the country illegally using fraudulent IDs. Altering or using false government identification in any way and for any purpose is against the law. This includes:

  • drivers license
  • social security card
  • passport
  • birth certificate
  • INS identification

If you believe someone is using or has altered government identification, notify the police. Do NOT request to see another person’s ID when not appropriate. Let the police do the investigating.

Numerous Visitors

Terrorists, when not acting alone, need to meet with their conspirators. Pay attention to visitors:

  • arriving and leaving at unusual hours
  • trying not to be noticed
  • acting in a suspicious manner
  • parking an unusual distance from the meeting
  • an unusual number of unrelated people living together


Large/Unusual/High Risk Deliveries

Deliveries are a common method for terrorists to carry out attacks.

You should be aware of:

  • a vehicle with hazardous material parked or driving in an inappropriate area
  • unusual deliveries of chemicals or fertilizer
  • unattended bags or boxes in a public access place
  • fire extinguishers that may have been moved or tampered with
  • unusual or unexpected mail


Last Updated 5/21/2009
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