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You Look Too Calm. What Are You, a Terrorist? Now You Look Nervous, Terrorist.

AmtrakAmtrakLook too calm, you're suspicious. Look too nervous, you're suspicious. These contradictory assumptions are just several transportation guidelines on "reporting suspicious activity," revealed by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

They comes from an employee document for Amtrak, which is publicly funded. These are signs that you should be paranoid of your fellow Americans, and call the police on them:

  • Evasive path through train station
  • Carrying little or no luggage
  • Last minute reservation
  • Traveling by an unusual itinerary (multi-changes in reservations)
  • Carrying unusually large amount of currency
  • Purchase of tickets in cash
  • Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
  • Unusual nervousness of traveler
  • Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
  • Looking around while making telephone call(s)
  • Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)

So, Amtrak travelers, make sure you walk straight, travel straight, look straight ahead but don't look straight ahead, keep pace with the rest of us, carry just the right amount of clothes, and wipe that look of fear or curiosity or contentment off your face, or else the terrorists win.

The ACLU explains that it made this FOIA request because it "has received reports from individuals wrongfully searched and arrested on Amtrak trains," and wanted to know what policies led to these arrests.

Amtrak has a "See Something, Say Something" campaign like the Department of Homeland Security, and like the Transportation Security Agency, Amtrak's "broad categories of 'suspicious' behavior is problematic because it almost always results in racial and religious profiling, as well as the targeting of perfectly innocent activity. Most importantly, building mountains of irrelevant data is ultimately an ineffective law enforcement tactic."

The ACLU points out several stupid cases that make no one safer: one woman was arrested for talking to loudly, and a photographer was arrested while participating in Amtrak's annual "Picture our Train" competition. 

Photo Credit: cc

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  • Rich||

    With all due respect, several of those signs apply to the purported officers.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Looking around while making telephone call(s)

    Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)

    "Where are you, I've been waiting in the terminal for over an hour. My meter is going to run out if you don't hurry it up."

    "This chump is hassling me for trying to get off the train in a hurry."

    "Some idiot is asking me why I've been looking around..."

  • John||

    If the terrorist is already on the train, the system has failed and it is too late to do anything. Suppose this guidance actually made sense and some enterprising conductor noticed a no kidding terrorist there to blow up the train. Okay, what then? If you confront the guy, he is going to just blow himself, you and the train up. If you do nothing, he blows the train up a little latter and as planned. Both outcomes are equally bad. So what is the point of having conductors look for terrorists if it is too late to do any good even if they find one?

  • John||

    That or more likely fly the train into a high rise building.

  • widget||

    Maybe the terrorists take over the conductors' booth and force the passengers to convert to Islam.

    Converted, done. Whatever, pal. What's next? Twelve years of Roman Catholic education did not convince me that there is procession of saints in Heaven awaiting my arrival. If you're offering me 50 virgins to fuck, I'm going to have to hold out for one 27 yo on the rebound.

  • sarcasmic||

    They're not trying to catch terrorists.

    They're trying to terrorize the public.

  • John||

    Effectively yes, though I think their immediate motive is to cover their own asses by doing "something" so that if an attack does happen they can avoid blame.

    The end result is the same. So it doesn't really matter. They might as well be out to terrorize the public since from the public's end it looks exactly the same.

  • sarcasmic||

    They know they're not going to catch any terrorists. So they will use it as an opportunity to harass, intimidate, and terrorize random people just for the sick fun of it.

  • John||

    I don't think it is that. They know they won't catch any terrorists, true. But the point is to make sure they have done something so they can avoid blame for anything that might happen. If covering their ass means terrorizing the public, well that is just the price of civilization as Tony would say.

  • sarcasmic||

    But the point is to make sure they have done something so they can avoid blame for anything that might happen.

    From a managerial perspective, yes. I was coming from the perspective of the underlings with guns and power.

  • Swiss Servator, spare a franc?||

    "How lucky you are that your job is also your hobby!"

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Sort of. But I give a lot of credence to the maximize my budgetary needs argument as well.

  • ||

    Security theater, John. It's all security theater.

  • John||

    Yes. It is all about covering the people in charge's asses so they won't get blamed for anything.

  • RBS||

    You're in to some dark territory there John.

  • John||

    This is why I am not a go getter at my job and just advise my clients and do my best to keep them out of trouble. Doing anything more leads me to say things like this and that never ends well for anyone, least of all me.

  • RBS||

  • John||

    I am pretty good at pop culture references. I am however very weak on my Steven Segal movies.

  • ||

    Well, considering that movie is from the start of when he got in hock to the mob and had to make any movie they threw at him, it's pretty excusable if you don't know it well. Because it's terrible. At least the first one had Erika Eleniak jumping out of a cake topless.

  • John||

    How did he get in hock to the mob? Was he a degenerate gambler?

  • ||

    That was just the rumor, I don't know if it's true. He made a string of direct-to-video flops (that often had environmental themes, no wonder they flopped) for a while, and one theory was about him being under the mob's thumb. I see nothing about it on Wikipedia and that's about all the research I'm going to do right now.

  • paranoid android||

    That was just the rumor, I don't know if it's true. He made a string of direct-to-video flops (that often had environmental themes, no wonder they flopped) for a while, and one theory was about him being under the mob's thumb.

    The mafia directed him to make movies with preachy environmentalist messages? Is green energy mobbed up? This story sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than any movie Segal ever made.

  • John||

    Android,

    When you think of the amount of money a company like Solyandra was able to steal, if I were a mobster, I probably would be way into Green energy. Green energy is an earner.

  • ||

    The mafia directed him to make movies with preachy environmentalist messages? Is green energy mobbed up?

    If I recall correctly, the idea/rumor was that it was some kind of money laundering operation for the mob. No movie ever makes money by Hollywood accounting practices anyway, and there are probably a lot of ways to unload some cash into a movie production to launder it, without regard to how well it does at the box office and rentals.

    I'm not a mafia accountant so that's about the limit of my knowledge about any laundering schemes. It's probably all a load anyway, unfortunately, because you're right: that would be a lot more interesting than Half Past Dead.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    You've got the makings of an excellent movie script there.

  • From the Tundra||

    Was that the one where he got into a knife fight with Tommy Lee Jones? Beyond stupid, but the Baywatch chick was good.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The all-powerful seem to like their rules to be a little difficult to reconcile.

  • Charles Easterly||

    I've had several "debates" with a co-worker during which I predicted similar results ("if everyone can be considered a criminal or terrorist then individuals in law enforcement could detain anyone on suspicion alone).

    "I've done nothing wrong and therefore have nothing to worry about/I don't make any trouble/I look normal" were her most common types of responses.

    She also found comfort that, of the two of us, the government is probably watching me and not her since she minds her own business/isn't politically active.

  • John||

    The only thing that makes a person a terrorist is being a terrorist. So all focusing on qualities other than them being a terrorist does is harass innocent people and provide terrorists a better means to conceal themselves by avoiding the sorts of things we have decided make you a terrorist.

  • sarcasmic||

    It gives the government an excuse to arrest anyone at all for no reason other than arousing suspicion.

  • John||

    There is that.

  • Rich||

    the government is probably watching me and not her since she minds her own business/isn't politically active [/doesn't make any trouble/looks normal].

    Show her this article, Charles. She's *much* more suspicious and subject to detention than you.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    She's also missing a spine.

  • Charles Easterly||

    I took your advice in a modified sort of way Rich, and showed her the actual Amtrak document.
    She understands more clearly now, if only for the near future (until Dancing with the Stars, Sons of Anarchy, and similar diversions lull her back to a familiar comfort).

    Thanks,

    Charles

  • ||

    Its all about making sure that your body language transmits that you are acknowledging the State Agent's power over you, but not giving them cause to fear that you're going to be a problem.

  • Gorthan||

    We should implement the Israeli approach to domestic counter-terrorism: Ethnic profiling. Unfortunately our PC overlords would never countenance such a thing.

  • Acosmist||

    What is per se problematic about racial profiling?

  • Rich||

    RACIST!

  • jmomls||

    The rag is on the table, not being used as headgear, so obviously these cats ain't turrists.

    NEXT.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    You know who else made "multi-changes in reservations" and suffered the consequences?

  • Swiss Servator, spare a franc?||

    The Galloping Gourmet?

  • Rich||

    The Bureau of Indian Affairs?

  • Swiss Servator, spare a franc?||

    That is freaking TOP NOTCH, that is. Bravo!

  • Res ipsa loquitur||

    You Sir, win the interwebs !

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Me. The babysitter had to go home and my wife and I didn't get to go to Valentine's Day dinner.

    Have I mentioned that I like food and alcohol?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Oh no!!! Not our passenger rail system!!! Dozens of people will be affected!!!

  • Sevo||

    "Dozens of people will be affected!!!"

    They already have been; they're two days late.

  • From the Tundra||

    The fuck are you looking at, Blondie bin Laden?

    Nice, Zenon!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    These are signs that you should be paranoid of your fellow Americans, and call the police on them:
    ...

    Unusual nervousness of traveler

    Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare

    So if you're too nervous about getting on Amtrak (which is reasonable, given Amtrak's dodgy history of rail safety), or your too calm (Yay, the majesty of rail travel!), then you're very likely a terrorist?

    Seems legit.

  • trshmnster the terrible||

    You must be slightly agitated and a bit disheveled. Anything else and you're a turrurrust

  • Swiss Servator, spare a franc?||

    You must be slightly agitated and a bit disheveled.

    Ah, so you've seen me on a METRA train then?

  • The Laconic||

    Looking like a terrorist? That's a paddling.

    Trying not to look like a terrorist? You better believe that's a paddling.

  • creech||

    Last time I was in 30th Street Station, the place was crawling with cops - Philly cops, Amtrak cops, who knows whom else. All looked bored and more interested in chatting with each other than observing the public (except for a couple of hot women who sauntered by.) I was wandering all over, gawking at the ceiling and architecture (and the hot women) and none of the cops paid me any attention. I guess for every overly officious cop out there, there are a dozen more who are bored shitless.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    there are a dozen more who are bored shitless.

    And can tell you to the day how much longer until they qualify for a full pension.

  • croaker||

    As a diabetic, I wait until I'm at my destination before using insulin. This crap is why. Rather have high glucose temporarily that end up dead in a holding cell.

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