The further we move away from 9-11, the more inclined we are to let our guard down. As we learned in the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and again in 2001, Al Qaeda knows that time is on their side. The fact that there has not been a significant terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11 doesn’t dismiss the fact that we are in a war against extremists who are intent on attacking us.
So why is there so much concern with training firefighters in major cities to take on a new role as lookouts for terrorist activity? The Department of Homeland Security is testing a program with the New York City Fire Department to share intelligence so firefighters are better prepared when they respond to emergency calls. DHS trains FDNY personnel in how to identify material and/or behavior that may indicate terrorist activity. When entering a location, the firefighters are instructed to be alert for hostile, uncooperative and resistant behavior; chemicals or materials that seem out of place; surveillance equipment; little or no furniture; and other signs that could indicate a terrorist hideout.
“Broadly speaking, firefighters with their responsibilities can provide key information as they operate,” a spokesman for the FDNY stated in confirming their participation in the training. If the program is successful, DHS intends on expanding the initiative to other cities.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says using firefighters to gather intelligence is another step towards lost privacy rights. According to the ACLU, the concept is dangerously close to the Bush Administration’s proposal in 2002 to have postal workers and telephone repairmen report suspicious behavior to law enforcement authorities. The ACLU’s concern seems to center on the fact that firefighters do not need a warrant to access thousands of homes and buildings each year.
If a law enforcement agency utilizes this program and the FDNY to circumvent the requirement to obtain a search warrant, then shame on them. My experience tells me that is not the true intent here and the program will not be exploited. DHS should be commended for continuing to develop “lookouts” for suspicious activity and sources of information in this War on Terror.