[News] FBI Gets Caught Tracking Man's Car, Wants Its GPS Device Back

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 8 11:41:14 EDT 2010

Gets Caught Tracking Man's Car, Wants Its GPS Device Back


FBI Gets Caught Tracking Man's Car, Wants Its GPS Device Back

Remember that strange 
tracking device found by young man under his car? 
Turns out that the FBI rushed half a dozen agents 
to retrieve it after photos started appearing online.

A California student got a visit from the FBI 
this week after he found a secret GPS tracking 
device on his car, and a friend posted photos of 
it online. The post prompted wide speculation 
about whether the device was real, whether the 
young Arab-American was being targeted in a 
terrorism investigation and what the authorities would do.

It took just 24 hours to find out: The device was 
real, the student was being secretly tracked and 
the FBI wanted their expensive device back, the 
student told Wired.com in an interview Wednesday.

The answer came when half-a-dozen FBI agents and 
police officers appeared at Yasir Afifi's 
apartment complex in Santa Clara, California, on 
Tuesday demanding he return the device.

Afifi, a 20-year-old U.S.-born citizen, 
cooperated willingly and said he'd done nothing 
to merit attention from authorities. Comments the 
agents made during their visit suggested he'd 
been under FBI surveillance for three to six months.

An FBI spokesman wouldn't acknowledge that the 
device belonged to the agency or that agents appeared at Afifi's house.

"I can't really tell you much about it, because 
it's still an ongoing investigation," said 
spokesman Pete Lee, who works in the agency's San Francisco headquarters.

Afifi, the son of an Islamic-American community 
leader who died a year ago in Egypt, is one of 
only a few people known to have found a 
government-tracking device on their vehicle.

His discovery comes in the wake of a recent 
ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 
saying it's legal for law enforcement to 
place a tracking device on a suspect's car 
without getting a warrant, even if the car is parked in a private driveway.

Brian Alseth from the American Civil Liberties 
Union in Washington state contacted Afifi after 
seeing pictures of the tracking device posted 
online and told him the ACLU had been waiting for 
a case like this to challenge the ruling.

"This is the kind of thing we like to throw 
lawyers at," Afifi said Alseth told him.

"It seems very frightening that the FBI have 
placed a surveillance-tracking device on the car 
of a 20-year-old American citizen who has done 
nothing more than being half-Egyptian," Alseth told Wired.com

Afifi, a business marketing student at Mission 
College in Santa Clara, discovered the device 
last Sunday when he took his car to a local 
garage for an oil change. When a mechanic at 
Ali's Auto Care raised his Ford Lincoln LS on 
hydraulic lifts, Afifi saw a wire sticking out 
near the right rear wheel and exhaust.

Garage owner Mazher Khan confirmed for Wired.com 
that he also saw it. A closer inspection showed 
it connected to a battery pack and transmitter, 
which were attached to the car with a magnet. 
Khan asked Afifi if he wanted the device removed 
and when Afifi said yes, Khan pulled it easily from the car's chassis.

"I wouldn't have noticed it if there wasn't a wire sticking out," Afifi said.

On Monday, a friend of Afifi's named Khaled 
of the device at Reddit asking if anyone knew 
what it was and if it mean the FBI "is after us." 
(Reddit is owned by CondeNast Digital, which also owns Wired.com).

"My plan was to just put the device on another 
car or in a lake," Khaled wrote, "but when you 
come home to 2 stoned off their asses people who 
are hearing things in the device and convinced 
its a bomb you just gotta be sure."

A reader quickly identified it as an Orion 
Guardian ST820 tracking device made by an 
electronics company called Cobham, which sells 
the device only to law enforcement.

No one was available at Cobham to answer 
Wired.com's questions, but a former FBI agent who 
looked at the pictures confirmed it was a tracking device.

The former agent, who asked not to be named, said 
the device was an older model of tracking 
equipment that had long ago been replaced by 
devices that don't require batteries. Batteries 
die and need to be replaced if surveillance is 
ongoing so newer devices are placed in the engine 
compartment and hardwired to the car's battery so 
they don't run out of juice. He was surprised this one was so easily found.

"It has to be able to be removed but also stay in 
place and not be seen," he said. "There's always 
the possibility that the car will end up at a 
body shop or auto mechanic, so it has to be 
hidden well. It's very rare when the guys find them."

He said he was certain that agents who installed 
it would have obtained a 30-day warrant for its use.

Afifi considered selling the device on Craigslist 
before the FBI showed up. He was in his apartment 
Tuesday afternoon when a roommate told him "two 
sneaky-looking people" were near his car. Afifi, 
already heading out for an appointment, 
encountered a man and woman looking his vehicle 
outside. The man asked if Afifi knew his 
registration tag was expired. When Afifi asked if 
it bothered him, the man just smiled. Afifi got 
into his car and headed for the parking lot exit 
when two SUVs pulled up with flashing lights 
carrying four police officers in bullet-proof vests.

The agent who initially spoke with Afifi 
identified himself then as Vincent and told 
Afifi, "We're here to recover the device you 
found on your vehicle. It's federal property. 
It's an expensive piece, and we need it right now."

Afifi asked, "Are you the guys that put it 
there?" and the agent replied, "Yeah, I put it 
there." He told Afifi, "We're going to make this 
much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate."

Afifi retrieved the device from his apartment and 
handed it over, at which point the agents asked a 
series of questions – did he know anyone who 
traveled to Yemen or was affiliated with overseas 
training? One of the agents produced a printout 
of a blog post that Afifi's friend Khaled 
allegedly wrote a couple of months ago. It had 
"something to do with a mall or a bomb," Afifi 
said. He hadn't seen it before and doesn't know 
the details of what it said. He found it hard to 
believe Khaled meant anything threatening by the post.

"He's a smart kid and is not affiliated with 
anything extreme and never says anything stupid 
like that," Afifi said. "I've known that guy my whole life. "

The agents told Afifi they had other agents outside Khaled's house.

"If you want us to call them off and not talk to 
him we can do that," Afifi said they told him. 
"That was weird. [...] I didn't really believe anything they were saying."

When he later asked Khaled about the post, his 
friend recalled "writing something stupid," but 
said he wasn't involved in any wrongdoing. Khaled 
declined to discuss the issue with Wired.com.

The female agent, who handed Afifi a card, 
identified herself as Jennifer Kanaan and said 
she was Lebanese. She spoke some Arabic to Afifi 
and through the course of her comments indicated 
she knew what restaurants he and his girlfriend 
frequented. She also congratulated him on his new 
job. Afifi got laid off from his job a couple of 
days ago, but on the same day was hired as an 
international sales manager of laptops and computers for Cal Micro in San Jose.

The agents also knew he was planning a short 
business trip to Dubai in a few weeks. Afifi said 
he often travels for business and has two teenage 
brothers in Egypt whom he supports financially. 
They live with an aunt. His U.S.-born mother, who 
divorced his father five years ago, lives in Arizona.

Afifi's father, Aladdin Afifi, was a U.S. citizen 
and former president of the Muslim Community 
Association here, before his family moved to 
Egypt in 2003. Afifi returned to the U.S. alone 
in 2008 to further his education he said. He 
knows he's on a federal watchlist and is 
regularly taken aside at airports for secondary screening.

Six months ago, a former roommate of his was 
visited by FBI agents who said they wanted to 
speak with Afifi. Afifi contacted one agent and 
was told the agency received an anonymous tip 
from someone saying he might be a threat to 
national security. Afifi told the agent he was 
willing to answer questions if his lawyer 
approved. But after Afifi's lawyer contacted the 
agency, he never heard from the feds again until 
he found their tracking device.

"I don't think they were surprised that I found 
it," he told Threat Level. "I'm sure they knew 
when I found it. [...] One of the first questions 
they asked me was if I was at a mechanics shop 
last Sunday. I said yes, that's where I found this stupid device under my car."

Afifi's attorney, who works for the civil 
liberties-focused <http://ca.cair.com/>Council on 
American Islamic Relations, said this kind of 
tracking is more egregious than the kind her office usually sees.

"The idea that it escalates to this level is 
unusual," said Zahra Billoo. "We take about one 
new case each week relating to FBI or law 
enforcement visits [to clients]. Generally they 
come to the individual's house or workplace, and 
there are issues that arise from that."

However, she said that after learning about 
Afifi's experience, other lawyers in her 
organization told her they knew of two people in 
Ohio who also recently discovered tracking devices on their vehicles.

Afifi's encounter with the FBI ended with the agents telling him not to worry.

"We have all the information we needed," they 
told him. "You don't need to call your lawyer. Don't worry, you're boring."

They shook his hand and left.

Photo of tracking device courtesy of Yasir Afifi

FBI Gets Caught Tracking Man's Car, Wants Its GPS Device Back
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