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In Response to M.T.A.’s ‘Say Something’ Ads, a Glimpse of Modern Fears

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In Response to M.T.A.’s ‘Say Something’ Ads, a Glimpse of Modern Fears

 

[float=right]07see.190.jpg

The Metropolitan Transportation

Authority’s posters with the number

of tipsters who called the hot line

in 2006. But officials had no clear

explanation of how the authority

arrived at the figure.[/float]After 9/11, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority coined the slogan, “If you see something, say something,” and put it on posters encouraging subway and bus riders to call a police counterterrorism hot line if they encountered anything suspicious. Then, last July, the authority trumpeted results on new posters and in television ads: “Last year, 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.”

 

But the new posters, also placed in the commuter railroad trains, left out two things: What, exactly, did those 1,944 New Yorkers see, and what did they say? Presumably, no active terror plots were interrupted, or that would have been announced at the time by the authorities.

 

Now, an overview of police data relating to calls to the hot line over the past two years reveals the answer and provides a unique snapshot of post-9/11 New York, part paranoia and part well-founded caution. Indeed, no terrorists were arrested, but a wide spectrum of other activity was reported.

 

Suspicious people were seen in subway tunnels, subway yards and bus garages. Some callers saw people suspiciously photographing subway facilities.

 

The vast majority of calls had nothing to do with the transit system, including reports of people believed to be selling phony ID cards. Or stockpiling weapons. Or attempting to buy explosives on the Internet (those turned out to be fireworks).

 

Some callers tried to turn the authority’s slogan on its head. These people saw nothing but said something anyway — calling in phony bomb threats or terror tips. At least five people were arrested in the past two years and charged with making false reports.

 

Eleven calls were about people seen counting in the subway, a seemingly innocuous act that was interpreted as ominous by at least some who witnessed it.

 

One thing the overview did not clear up: just where did the number 1,944 come from? Police and transit officials could not say exactly.

 

All together, calls to the hot line, 1-888-NYC-SAFE, have resulted in 18 arrests by the New York police over the past two years; none have turned out to reveal a direct connection to terrorism.

 

“It’s just one small part of the initiative the Police Department has to capture any information that might prevent another 9/11 or another catastrophic attack on the city,” said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman.

 

“One call one day may be the one that stops an attempt to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.” He said that some cases related to hot line calls were still being investigated.

 

It is impossible to tell how many people called the counterterrorism hot line because of the posters. In all, the hot line received 8,999 calls in 2006, including calls that were transferred from 911 and the 311 help line, Mr. Browne said. They included a significant number of calls about suspicious packages, many in the transit system. Most involved backpacks, briefcases or other items accidentally left behind by their owners. None of them, Mr. Browne said, were bombs.

 

There were, however, 816 calls to the hot line in 2006 that were deemed serious enough to require investigation by the department’s intelligence division or its joint terrorism task force with the F.B.I. Mr. Browne said that 109 of those calls had a connection to the transit system and included reports of suspicious people in tunnels and yards, and of people taking pictures of the tracks.

 

The hot line received many more calls in 2007, possibly because of the authority’s advertising campaign, Mr. Browne said. Through early December, the counterterrorism hot line received 13,473 calls, with 644 of those meriting investigation. Of that group, 45 calls were transit related.

 

Then there were the 11 calls about people counting.

 

Mr. Browne said several callers reported seeing men clicking hand-held counting devices while riding on subway trains or waiting on platforms.

 

The callers said that the men appeared to be Muslims and that they seemed to be counting the number of people boarding subway trains or the number of trains passing through a station. They feared the men might be collecting data to maximize the casualties in a terror attack.

 

“They saw someone clicking this device and gave different interpretations to that and saw a possible threat,” Mr. Browne said.

 

But when the police looked into the claims, they determined that the men were counting prayers with the devices, essentially a modern version of rosary beads.

 

The counters are similar to those used by baseball coaches to keep track of the number of pitches thrown in a game or by stores conducting inventory. They are a common item in the Islamic shops on Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, where they sell for $5 to $8.

 

Ali Mohammed, 44, a Brooklyn grocery owner who was shopping on Atlantic Avenue recently, said that many Muslims use a tally counter as they repeat the many names of God.

 

“Anybody’s dress, anybody’s behavior or outlook, it can be suspicious to anybody,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But especially if they’re Muslim, somebody is going to be suspicious.”

 

None of those calls led to arrests, but several others did, although they had nothing to do with the subway or buses. At least three calls resulted in arrests for trying to sell false identification, including driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. One informer told the police about a Staten Island man who was later found to have a cache of firearms. A Queens man was charged with having an illegal gun and with unlawful dealing in fireworks.

 

A Brooklyn man was charged with making anti-Semitic threats against his landlord and threatening to use sarin gas on him. At least two men arrested on tips from the hot line were turned over to immigration officials for deportation, Mr. Browne said.

 

And then there were the phony tipsters.

 

A Brooklyn jeweler, Rimon Alkatri, was convicted last month of making a false report and faces up to seven years in prison. Mr. Browne said that in May 2006, Mr. Alkatri told a hot line operator that terrorists were planning a subway bomb attack. But Mr. Alkatri was charged with falsely reporting an incident and accused of making up the story to get back at some former business associates.

 

On Sept. 3, 2007, a man called the police and said there would be an attack on Pennsylvania Station the next day. The police traced the call, and in October they arrested a Long Island resident, Yvan Peralta, and charged him with making a false report, Mr. Browne said. He said Mr. Peralta told the police he had been drinking when he made the call.

 

Other apparently phony tipsters included a man who said that Police Headquarters in Lower Manhattan would be hit with a rocket attack, a man who said he was going to use plastic explosives to blow up a Queens hospice and a man who called in a bomb threat against a Pepsi-Cola building in the Bronx.

 

The current version of the “See Something, Say Something” ads began running in July, said Christopher P. Boylan, a deputy executive director of the authority. The television and newspaper ads ended late last year, but posters remain on some trains. The campaign cost $3 million.

 

But despite the ad’s specific mention of 1,944 New Yorkers, there was some mystery surrounding the number.

 

Mr. Browne and Mr. Boylan said that it included the police hot line calls that were followed up by counterterrorism investigators and similar calls to the New York State Police, the F.B.I. and the Port Authority Police Department.

 

Mr. Browne, however, provided figures showing that a total of 2,096 terror tips to the four agencies were investigated in 2006.

 

Mr. Boylan said he did not know exactly how the authority had come up with the number. “I don’t want to say that the accuracy of the number is secondary to the message,” Mr. Boylan said, “but the message that we wanted to get across is that those calls are, in fact, having an impact.”

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those ads are stupid, they are pointless, and they just want to make our lives sad and miserable.

 

and the thing about muslims counting prayers being considered terrorism show how racist and disgusting people are these days

 

i don't get what is wrong with these people, its like in their mind EVERYTHING is suspicious. basically what they are trying to say is that we live among terrorists, everyone and everything should be considered "suspicious" and we should live amongst constant fear and not enjoy your lives.

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I always what people said too.....

 

Heres one: Theres this guy on the platform taking pictures of the trains. Can't makeout whether he just a buff......

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There's a suspicious looking kid taking photos of the subways... oh wait that's just error nevermind.

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There's a suspicious looking kid taking photos of the subways... oh wait that's just error nevermind.

lol

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those ads are stupid, they are pointless, and they just want to make our lives sad and miserable.

 

No they just want to make sure you get home at night, in one piece.

 

and the thing about muslims counting prayers being considered terrorism show how racist and disgusting people are these days

 

sorry, but that was usually done before they sacrificed themselves and innocent people to Allah. I'll be suspicious too.......

 

i don't get what is wrong with these people, its like in their mind EVERYTHING is suspicious. basically what they are trying to say is that we live among terrorists, everyone and everything should be considered "suspicious" and we should live amongst constant fear and not enjoy your lives.

 

No, that seems to be the way you take it. We do live amongst terrorists, and everyone and everything is not considered suspicious. Considering the number of people that ride subways, those "see something, say something" numbers are sadly low. I can't get what you are so negative about. Those numbers are equal to one rush-hour 4 train going down Lex. Avenue, one way, until about Onion Square (I know it's Union). I enjoy my life amongst all the fear the Gov't instill in us, cause if eyes gone die, eyes gone die. You should do the same young man, and not let this get to you so much. But then again, I can understand since you were called on before...........

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The threat of terrorism is very real, and I understand the objective behind the signs.

 

However, one has to keep the statistics realistic. If I'm going to die before my time, odds are, it's not going to be from a terrorist attack, but from a stray bullet right here on my block.

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