Tourists, Not Terrorists

Remember the two men who were exhibiting “unusual behavior” on a Washington-state ferry last summer?

The agency’s Seattle field office, along with the Washington Joint Analytical Center, was still seeking the men’s identities and whereabouts Wednesday as ferry service was temporarily shutdown when a suspicious package was found in a ferry bathroom and taken away by authorities.

“We had various independent reports from passengers and ferry employees that these two guys were engaging in what they described as unusual activities on the ferries,” Special Agent Robbie Burroughs, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Washington state, told

“They felt that these guys were showing an undue interest in the boat itself, in the layout, the workers and the terminal, and it caused them enough concern that they contacted law enforcement about it,” she told

The two were photographed by a ferry employee about a month ago, and those photographs were distributed to ferry employees three weeks ago by local law enforcement.

Turns out they were tourists, not terrorists:

Turns out the men, both citizens of a European Union nation, were captivated by the car-carrying capacity of local ferries.

“Where these gentlemen live, they don’t have vehicle ferries. They were fascinated that a ferry could hold that many cars and wanted to show folks back home,” FBI Special Agent Robbie Burroughs said Monday.


Two weeks ago, the men appeared at a U.S. Embassy and identified themselves as the men in the photo released to the media in August, a couple of weeks after they took a ferry from Seattle to Vashon Island during a business trip, Burroughs said.

They came forward because they worried they’d be arrested if they traveled to the U.S. and so provided proof of their identities, employment and the reason for their July trip to Seattle, according to the FBI.

Posted on May 8, 2008 at 7:32 AM53 Comments


Miesmuschel May 8, 2008 8:06 AM

Is there any difference between tourists and terrorists nowadays? From what I constantly read lately, I doubt it.

John May 8, 2008 8:19 AM

Why where they not picked up as they attempted to flee the country with their ill-gotton photographs?

clvrmnky May 8, 2008 8:27 AM

“citizens of a European Union nation”

There’s your proof right there. One of those godless nations, no doubt.

“The two were photographed by a ferry employee about a month ago”

Wait, how would I, as a good citizen, be able to tell the difference between the bad photogs and the good photogs? I mean, if I was a terrorist interested in a target, I might dress up as a ferry employee and take photos. Then, in a devilish twist, I finger some innocent bystanders and get off scott-free!

I smell a movie plot!

David May 8, 2008 8:29 AM

Any word on the “suspicious package?”

Someone’s lunch, would be my guess. Terrorist bologna! (Similar to most pronouncements from DHS….)

Clive Robinson May 8, 2008 8:32 AM

It just so happens that a very short while ago (about 14:00 BST today) whilst traveling on the London Underground at Tooting Bec I saw to “asian looking young men” take photos of the end of the platform/tunnel entrance and CCTV (and yes one did have a beard).

I commented to my partner that I wished they wouldn’t.

Why not because I thought they might be bombers but because they where being so obvious they where more likley to be trying to create a security alert deliberatly.

The thought occured to me that the way to deal with this is “arms escalation” or “Mutualy assured destruction”. Each time you see sombody taking a photo that might upset the local security bods you pull out your camera phone and photo the person taking the picture.

If we all do it then the situation will get compleatly silly and perhaps people will learn to take a more responsable approach to the taking of photos.

Dustin May 8, 2008 8:34 AM

What fools, to think that merely identifying themselves will fix this! They will be arrested next time they enter the US, particularly now that DHS knows who they are.

Clive Robinson May 8, 2008 8:45 AM

Opps just re read my post the people I want to behave more reasonably are the security bods.

Basicaly I’m fed up with security alert after security alert the economic cost probably considerably out weighs the actuall (financial) cost of terrorist activity by now.

And no I do not want to start an argument about the human or moral cost of terrorist activities simply because it’s a game that the terorist will always win at in the end unless we deliberatly discount its effects.

monkey think, monkey post May 8, 2008 8:46 AM

So, they were on the terrorist watchlist with faces only, and now they’re on the terrorist list with namnes and faces. Because, as we all know, once you’re on the terrorist list, there’s no getting off it.

Josh O May 8, 2008 8:55 AM

They could be from Turkey. That’s Middle-Easternish. Furthermore, what’s stranger behaviour? Tourist taking pictures of the big boat their riding on, or ferry employees taking pictures of the passengers?

I’ve recently been informed that some Cruise ships are full of people taking pictures. Until this is resolved, you’re taking a huge risk if you go on a cruise.

Roger Moore May 8, 2008 9:03 AM

@clvrmnky “Wait, how would I, as a good citizen, be able to tell the difference between the bad photogs and the good photogs?”

Easy. The good photographers are god-fearing Americans who speak proper English with a good old American accent. The bad photographers are those evil furriners who speak English with funny accents or jabber away in some weird non-English language. You can be especially sure if they don’t have lily-white skin. HTH.

Clive Robinson May 8, 2008 9:03 AM


No I’m quite serious,

Firstly the easiest way to get rid of a process is to prove to the process owner that it does not work and is actually hurting them more than any benifit (ie the security boss).

Secondly if they are terorists their image will be recorded for future use (which CCTV has not been good at).

Thirdly if the security bods jump on one set of people (photographa) they have to accept that their response is going to be effectivly recorded and will hopefully moderate their behaviour appropriatly.

I could give a whole lot more reasons but I’m sure most folks can think of them for themselves.

Chris May 8, 2008 9:19 AM

@Roger Moore “The good photographers are god-fearing Americans who speak proper English”

Um.. Don’t you mean American English.. It’s only people in England that speak proper English after all. Funny how people always mix that up.

It’s scary to say, but people have become so scared when people talk in other languages. Last time I went back to London with my Girlfriend, we were talking on a tube in German (she’s Austrian) and the looks we got were almost scary… Glad I didn’t have a backpack with me. Might have been shot o_O

Paeniteo May 8, 2008 9:27 AM

Uhm, they voluntarily entered a US embassy (= US territory) while they were searched for by the FBI?!
Bold decision, if you ask me…

bob May 8, 2008 9:33 AM

“…nor do their names appear on a government watch list or no-fly list…” – Sure, until they got the men’s names. Search the list again NOW.

derf May 8, 2008 9:37 AM

Shouldn’t the employee that took pictures of the “terrorists” be arrested and investigated for possible terrorist links? After all – he was photographing people on a ferry! How suspicious is that?

Clive Robinson May 8, 2008 10:34 AM

I read in a newspaper this morning that yet more people have been accused of terorism.

Guess what apparently they had a “powerfull magnet” besides laptops and cammers.

Now I do not know about the rest of you but I have a several powerfull magnets around my house some very powerfull. Like a lot of people there are a couple in the kitchen another is for my son to play with (under supervison) and another I use for erasing magnetic media befor I dispose of it.

I guess I could now be in trouble 8)

What next to be a terorist weapon, maybe Bruce should run a competiton 8)

Albatross May 8, 2008 10:39 AM

I admire the courage that it must have taken for these men to walk into a U.S. Embassy to identify themselves. They could have been whisked away to Gitmo for an indefinite period.

Speaking of which, this AP article
about a former Gitmo detainee who carried out a suicide bomb attack raises the question, would the man ever have been a threat to the U.S. if he had not been detained?

Cmos May 8, 2008 11:16 AM

I cant help but to feel inclined to promote a “Undue interest” day. You know, a day where thousands of people go out and get “unduely interested” in the great engineering around us…. Just mix things up a bit.

godzilla808 May 8, 2008 11:20 AM

I’m prone to being interested in things that maybe most people wouldn’t be, so I tend to point my camera at quirky things.

@ Clive: Maybe the “asian looking young men” were just fascinated by the sheer overabundance of CCTV cameras? Maybe they weren’t “trying to create a security alert”, maybe they’re just tourists who’ve never been in the tube before?

Craig Hughes May 8, 2008 11:46 AM

Pretty ballsy going in to a US Embassy, which is US sovereign territory. They could have been arrested under US law there, and shipped to Guantanamo in a diplomatic pouch.

Martin May 8, 2008 11:59 AM

It’s a good thing that the US economy is doing so well these days that you can afford to scare off more and more tourists. It’s not like you need their money, after all.

10 years ago I would seriously have considered the USA as a vacation destination. Today it’s completely out of the question due to the blatant hostility towards tourists.

Bill B May 8, 2008 12:12 PM

I sympathize with these guys. I was detained by a local cop in Alliance Nebraska for photographing a coal train pulling out of the Alliance yards. “Anytime we see someone taking pictures of a BNSF train, we gotta ask questions,” said the cop.

bob May 8, 2008 12:56 PM

In Germany, on the Weser river between Kassel and Goettingen, there is a ferry. It cycles across the river each way in about a minute. It holds around 6 automobiles and a couple of pedestrians. It costs very little and under most circumstances keeps up with traffic demands.

The (extremely) neat part is that it uses no power whatsoever except that of the river current. I find this so fascinating that every time I am in the area I am compelled to videotape at least one complete roundtrip (the fact that the hotel whose terrace I stand on to take the video makes wonderful cheescake has almost nothing to do with this).

Good for me they dont have anything this efficient/entertaining in the US or Id have been cuffed and stuffed by now.

Brannosuke X May 8, 2008 1:07 PM

Hey Bruce if you think that this little scenario is over, you should have checked out fox news two days ago when the LAPD announced that they are going to have their uniformed officers keep watch of people with camcorders and cameras who are recording landmarks, and buildings in the area.

Here’s a link to the story for you and
anyone else that is interested:,4670,PoliceIntelligence,00.html

Alex May 8, 2008 2:51 PM

What a flimsy excuse, tourists! Can’t everyone see that they were sleepers, ready to act when they see Osama on TV speaking a bunch of Holy Crap? They even looked like arabs somehow!

Ed T. May 8, 2008 3:02 PM

“Turns out they were tourists, not terrorists:”

Not true: in fact, they were tourorists. I am sure I will have more to say (or write) on the subject as soon as I knock back a few brewskies.


Keith May 8, 2008 3:20 PM


tourists getting on/off @ tooting bec, poor so and so’s; they must have been lost. The least Clive could have done is point them north – at least as far as the Gateway to the South.

Clive Robinson May 8, 2008 3:53 PM


“Maybe their just tourists”

Probably not, unless they where from another part of the UK. There is just something about the way people dress and move in the UK that tends to make them stand out as such.

It’s a bit like Bruce’s “acting hinky” it’s something you know when you see it but trying to describe it is like trying to make water flow uphill (not imposible just difficult and likewise difficult to explain 8)

I guess as a “cop out” you could say the British just lack style and prescence. It’s why European tourists are so easy to spot (and sadly rob in London). And as for people from the US and Canada, well hmm how do I put it tactfully?

@ Chris,

“… In England that speak proper english …”

Saddly no, the “Queen’s English” tends only to be spoken by those to whom it has been taught abroad or in the better parts of Scotland…

The use of words like “whom” etc are a dead give away that you are not from England, unless you have a particularly type of “Mid North Surrey” or “home counties” “plummy” accent once heard world wide on “BBC anouncments” that now tends only to be taught at elocution lessons.

You are much more likley to hear such localised “outh speak” as “init, betcher, teached” all of which make my soul cringe and offer up a heart felt plea to those British and Irish novelists and poets who in times past brought a genteal elegance to the English language 😉

Mark Mc. May 8, 2008 4:00 PM


According to the WikiPedia article on reaction ferries, there’s one in Missouri, so you have your chance to get busted.

A more photographer-friendly reaction ferry crosses the Fraser River near Lytton, BC. It’s the means of access to the Stein Valley, a backpacking destination in the Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park. I heedlessly took tonnes of photos when we crossed a year ago, and didn’t find the RCMP waiting on the other side.

Grace May 8, 2008 6:27 PM

Perhaps I’m simply being absurd here, but can anybody provide a definate guess as to, say, how much that cost, in dollars?

I’m dead serious here. That’s the kind of number that shuts up the faux-patriotic “nothing to hide” nimrods, because they understand fully that the cost of doing something like that is going to bankrupt the economy.

Governments don’t produce, and now they barely even prevent. >.>

Davi Ottenheimer May 8, 2008 6:36 PM

Wow, apparently everyone does not know “tourists” = “unusual behavior”?

Seems like if you want to be seen as someone who fits in and has a look of confidence, there’s nothing worse than being called a tourist.

Reminds me of a guy I almost ran over in a cross-walk today. He had some ridiculously ugly garb on, with a funny gate, and a suspicious look on his face while his head bobbed around in direction of buildings up,down, left….

I guess now instead of muttering “tourist” under my breath, as though it were an expletive of its own, I should say “terrorist”.

James May 8, 2008 7:52 PM

@ Clive

Would you have reacted the same to a group of young girls trying to be arty taking photos of the tunnel entrances and CCTV cameras?

Chris May 9, 2008 12:23 AM


It’s a little off topic… but you’d be very surprised to find that a great deal of people working in Central London can also speak surprisingly good Queens English when forced to.

Anyway, I’m off to take some pictures of some Austrian Lanmarks and see if the local Polizei even take a second look 😉 I’m betting not…

Clive Robinson May 9, 2008 1:00 AM


“Would you have reacted the same to agroup of young girls trying to be arty …”

First off I should make clear that the two gentelmen where not photographing each other and the camera was a small digital compact, and it was the flash that alerted me to them and the gent using the camera had his back to me when I made my comment to my partner and she noded agrement.

Secondly it depends on what you mean by “young”. If you mean less than teenage then no I would have thought “why do their parents let them do it”. If early to mid teen and not under obvious supervision then I would have thought “why don’t they grow up”. Mid teen and later my thoughts would have been the same.

And as for “girls” v “men” I doubt if it would have effected my thinking at all.

The reason behind my thinking was simply my whole hearted loathing of “security alerts” and the bunch of idiots who think it’s a great way to “cry wolf”. Having lost something like a week of my life to the dam things.

Bruce calls it “security theater” but that implies you have a choice as to if you want to be in the audience.

A simple fact that most people have not realy stated. If you take the number of people that have either died or been maimed in road traffic accidents since 9/11 in any given country. And weigh it against the number killed or maimed by terrorist activity in the same country you are likley to find a difference of atleast an order of magnitude.

Now ask yourself how much that country has spent (direct costs) on preventing “death on the roads” compaired to “fighting the war on terror” then ask yourself what the further “indirect costs” are.

Finaly ask yourself where all the “direct cost” money has gone and the benifit gained by the rest of the populace in the country.

To put it simply there are a large number of signs we are about to enter a major recesion that might lead to a global depression.

Currently the finger is being pointed at the banks and bad lending on mortgages as the cause. But in reality there is to little money in the economy due to the “war on terror” and it is this that will probably define the level of pain felt by the average person for the next few years.

And for the doubters look at the level of pain in any given country v it’s costs on the “war on terror”.

Oh and remember to make adjustments for dependancy. For instance Spain and Portugal have had very high inflation of property prices due to people from Britain and Germany bying holiday homes and taking holidays there. The colapsing UK economy has caused significant problems for both Spain and Portugal.

Ewan Gunn May 9, 2008 3:17 AM

The amusing thing is that to the British, the pronunciation of “terrorist” by an American sounds very much like “tourist” in the first place. 🙂

Joe Deegan May 9, 2008 6:15 AM

Strange acting people should be checked out as these guys were. I take a lot of pictures, if questioned I would be happy to explain what I was doing. If I were to run away of hide, wouldn’t that be very suspicious?
I think Europe has car carrying ferries so being fascinated by the car carrying capacity of the Ferry sounds pretty lame to me, and referring to them as citizens of a Euro Union country isn’t reassuring considering the rioters in France were also citizens of such a country.
So they were checked out and apparently are not terrorists, but assuming everything is OK even when something looks funny, is foolish.
Maybe these same guys would be equally fascinated by the cockpit of a 767, and would enjoy going in and taking some innocent pictures. Then when they get home they could describe to interested parties what the security is like when you attempt to get into the cockpit of a 767


csrster May 9, 2008 6:26 AM

Joe – not all European countries have car-carrying ferries. I don’t think Austria has any, for example.

PittCaleb May 9, 2008 7:52 AM

I used to live in a SMALL TOWN in SE Michigan, population 2,500. A guy in a blue pick-up truck was seen photographing the local post office. Unfortunately this was about a month after some major terrorist event, can’t remember the date.

Those in charge decided to shut down the post office, cordon off the block and put out an ABP for the truck.

Seriously, how would blowing up the Saline, MI post office or tampering with any of its mail pose any legitimate threat to national security? And is it no illegal to photograph public places from public locations?


bob May 9, 2008 9:04 AM

The problem is not with people taking pictures.
The problem is not with people reporting people for taking pictures.

The problem is when the cops come and start confiscating cameras and locking people up when there have been no laws violated.

And if they have managed to ramrod a law through the system that makes it unlawful to take pictures of something out in plain sight, thats a problem too (all 3: the stupid law, the people pushing stupid laws to be enacted, and the voters who elect stupid legislators). Because if it is in plain sight then terists will be able to get pictures of it if they want them regardless of whether anyone with a camera is ever seen in the viciinity.

George May 9, 2008 2:08 PM

@Clive Robinson: “Thirdly if the security bods jump on one set of people (photographa) they have to accept that their response is going to be effectivly recorded and will hopefully moderate their behaviour appropriatly.”

That probably explains why security officials have branded photographers a high-priority enemy in the War On Terror. A photographer can (intentionally or otherwise) document the stupidity and ineffectiveness of so-called “security measures” and thereby cause public embarrassment to those officials. Photographers thus represent a threat even greater than that of terrorists, and thus need to be banned, arrested, and otherwise hassled. And besides, there are a lot more photographers than terrorists, so focusing on that threat gives “security” officials useful practice as well as a quota of Numbers that can prove effectiveness during the long wait between opportunities for actual terrorists to stumble into their dragnets. If we’re going to protect the public by simultaneously fighting Wars on Terror, Drugs, and Child Pornography, adding a War On Photographers adds little cost with great benefit (for the “security” officials).

Anonymous May 9, 2008 8:38 PM

@Joe Deegan

Have you ever been to Seattle? Have you ever been on one of those ferries? The car-carrying capacity really is amazing, especially if you’ve never seen anything like it before.

And frankly, Seattle and the Puget Sound area is one of the few places in the US where such large ferries are common.

Clive Robinson May 10, 2008 1:25 AM

@ Anon…,

“Have you ever been to Seattle”

Washington State is probably the only part of the US I would consider “flying into” these days.

In my now (post 9/11) very limited experiance most other US airports appear to have a plague of sub “cave dwelling” primates running the “shop front”. Putting not just the normal staff but passengers as well at some considerable discomfort, apparently just for their own amusment.

More worryingly is various press reports that sugest that these sub “cave dwelling” primates actualy get given more than twice the amount some of the bods flying the planes in and out of the airports earn!

Go figure that one…

da May 11, 2008 10:07 PM


you state: How long before it’s illegal for citizens to leave the U.S. without approval?

Citizens can be denied passports. Courts can confiscate passports, the US Govt can place citizens on ‘no fly lists’ which would deny them exit via plane, but passport confiscation largely impact their entry into anywhere.

for the rest, you seem to be more of a troll than a puppet, but they are not mutually exclusive, i’d imagine.

Wesley Parish May 12, 2008 3:24 AM

Well, one man’s terrorist is another man’s US President … though if you wanted to really defame the terrorists you’d say “US Senator” ….

Actually, the individuals concerned – and I can come out and say this now – they were intending to sink the Seattle Harbour by drilling a hole in the bottom of the sea and letting all the water out. You really have to watch all these tourists – one of these days they’ll sink all the lakes in the good ol’ US by drilling holes in the bottom and letting all the water out!!! We are doomed!!!!!!!

Either that or we have numbskulls in charge … no, it’s the lakes that are in danger.

turk May 15, 2008 1:09 PM

These two guys are most probably from Turkey. I am from Turkey, and they look like Turks. I haven’t been to states since 2004. I live in Canada. When my wife (also Turkish) was boarding a flight from Canada to US for a conference recently, she was interviewed by an agent who knew everything about us. That’s OK, not looking for privacy anymore, however, what happened to these two guys makes me think that it is probably not a good idea to go back to states even for touristic purposes.

Having said that, I’ve been to US many times, traveling back and forth from Canada to visit my wife who was a student there, though each time I had to tell my life story to a border agent. Once I was even asked about the political landscape and the fate of the government. I was lucky, I remembered a few things to say.

By the way, It is heart wrenching to see one of them smiling at the photo.

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