Saturday, January 14, 2006

Disposable Cell Phones

ABC News reported Federal agents have launched an investigation into a surge in the purchase of large quantities of disposable cell phones by individuals from the Middle East and Pakistan, ABC News has learned. The phones — which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have a credit card — have many legitimate uses, and are popular with people who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away in glove compartments or tackle boxes. But since they can be difficult or impossible to track, law enforcement officials say the phones are widely used by criminal gangs and terrorists.

On April 20, 2004, George Bush said "Law enforcement officials can now use what's now called roving wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones to get a message out to one of his buddies." This is why it is so important that the Patriot Act be renewed.
"There's very little audit trail assigned to this phone. One can walk in, purchase it in cash, you don't have to put down a credit card, buy any amount of minutes to it, and you don't, frankly, know who bought this," said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI official who is now an ABC News consultant.
I believe that all cell phones now need to contain GPS tracking information. I hope that this includes the disposable cell phones, and if so, I hope that the NSA will make use of this to track these disposable cell phones. They may not be able to track who purchased it, but they should be able to track which cell phones were purchased in quantity, and where each one is.
Law enforcement officials say the phones were used to detonate the bombs terrorists used in the Madrid train attacks in March 2004. "The application of prepaid phones for nefarious reasons, is really widespread. For example, the terrorists in Madrid used prepaid phones to detonate the bombs in the subway trains that killed more than 200 people," said Roger Entner, a communications consultant.

The FBI is closely monitoring the potentially dangerous development, which came to light following recent large-quantity purchases in California and Texas, officials confirmed. 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 Dec. 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.

Sister Toldjah blogged When did the story on the NSA eavesdropping break? Dec. 16. I hope the "whistleblowers" and those who once upon a time claimed to be so concerned about how leaks could damage our national security suffer some sleepless nights and restless days over this. A lot of them.

Anchoress blogged Let us be clear, here. Although the US press pretty much buried the story, terrorists actively planning against the United States were recently captured and arrested in Italy, thanks to these wiretaps. The post at Powerline is huge and there is more on the story here and here. (H/T Reader RM). The Turkish press (via Redstate) spelled it out pretty out, clearly.

Junkyard Blog blogged The story points out that the Madrid bombers used pre-paid cell phones in their work. It doesn’t point out that the last time the press leaked operational information like this, it helped Osama bin Laden decide to move from satellite phones, which presumably the NSA had been using to track him, to harder-to-track means of communication including human mules hand carrying notes. That was quite a while before 9-11; the disclosure of the satellite phone tracking probably helped him stay alive long enough to make sure 9-11 happened.

UPDATE: The Watcher commented that the phone sales rise may be linked to the recent Zawahiri tape. Here’s that story. Brown believes that the first tape of the pair emerged last October, with the Jan. 6 tape being the second. Which, if he’s right, means we can expect a major al Qaeda attack within the next thirty days. But where? He points to either Italy, where the Olympics start in February and where there will be an election this spring, or the US, because we’re the US and because of some veiled references in the Zawahiri tape that might have been code speak to activate cells here.

Which brings us the the surge in disposable phone sales, which led the FBI to known terror cells in Texas and California. The Spain bombings used such phones to detonate bombs on trains and tipped the election toward the defeatist Socialists. The same could be the plan for Italy. Our elections are a ways off, and that might factor into the scenario. But the terrorists here had to be procuring those phones for some purpose.

Macsmind blogged For those who think the NY Times story was "freedom of the press" and "right to do", consider that all these slugs need is a chance. Reporters like James Risen and leakers like Senator Rockefeller have not only damaged our national security - if for no other reason that the almighty buck (in Risen's case) and political bias (in Rockefeller's), and subsequently put us all in danger.

You can't mess with these animals. They're not stupid. I helped chase The Red Brigades/Black September groups across Europe in the early 80's and most times just when we thought we had them, someone would tip them off. Usually its was some socialist leftwing news rag who got a leak "from a friend". The problem, one more day out of captivity was one more day they could attack. Make no mistake "Loose Lips Kill" - period. Defensive measures and tactics aren't a matter of the public's right to know. There is no such right - especially when our national security is on line.

Blog for All blogged 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),
Actually I would rather allow them to purchase as many as they want, but have bulk purchases reported, including the numbers of the phones purchased, so they can be tracked.
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.

Mike’s America blogged Democrats, who recently crowed about killing the Patriot Act, were also opposed to extending a provision for "roving wiretaps" which allows law enforcement to monitor individuals using any phone, not just wiretaps on specific phone numbers. Without that authority, the use of multiple disposable phones would make monitoring those calls nearly impossible. Law enforcement would have to go back to a court and get a new warrant every time a suspected terrorist grabbed another phone out of the bag. Combine Democrat opposition to extending the Patriot Act with the leak describing the NSA program to monitor terrorist calls into the United States and you find Americans are at greater risk for terrorist attack. Is Another Attack Imminent? Flopping Aces has a troubling new report.

Flopping Aces blogged But you know what the typical lefty response to this would be? How dare these folks be profiled by the police! Maybe they just wanted to call their friends to have them wish a happy Ryder truck rental experience as they cross the Golden Gate. Nothing wrong with that. IT’S AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION!

1 comment:

Mike's America said...

Interesting to note that Midland, Texas is also where George W. Bush grew up....

Don: I'm having a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the 1st Inauguration of President Reagan.

You're invited:

Drop me a link to any Reagan remembrance you would like to share. I'll be running excerpts of blog posts on that subject all week.

P.S. You're welcome to use the image of the invite if you care to.