TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Disposable Cell Phones and Terrorism

Re: Disposable Cell Phones and Terrorism

Telephoneman (
Fri, 13 Jan 2006 22:36:19 -0000

Given the quantities being purchased I suspect it's more likely that
the phones are being purchased for some international premium rate
"arbitrage" scam. This happened widely in the past with phonecards -
some telecom operators have inadvertently allowed international calls
through to premium rate (900 type) services. Thus a call of a few
cents can generate a healthy revenue at the other end. Here in the UK
many Telcos have software that flag up if one CLID makes a large
percentage of calls -- thus having lots of different handsets can be


Marcus Didius Falco <> wrote in message

> The link might be to terrorism, but there are a lot more illegal
> immigrants than terrorists in Texas and California.


> Surge in Sale of Disposable Cell Phones May Have Terror Link

> Phones Can Be Difficult or Impossible to Track; Large Quantities Purchased
> in California, Texas


> Jan. 12, 2006 Federal agents have launched an investigation into a surge
> in the purchase of large quantities of disposable cell phones by
> individuals from the Middle East and Pakistan, ABC News has learned.

> The phones which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have
> a credit card have many legitimate uses, and are popular with
> people who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away
> in glove compartments or tackle boxes. But since they can be difficult
> or impossible to track, law enforcement officials say the phones are
> widely used by criminal gangs and terrorists.

> "There's very little audit trail assigned to this phone. One can walk
> in, purchase it in cash, you don't have to put down a credit card, buy
> any amount of minutes to it, and you don't, frankly, know who bought
> this," said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI official who is now an ABC News
> consultant.

> Law enforcement officials say the phones were used to detonate the
> bombs terrorists used in the Madrid train attacks in March 2004.

> "The application of prepaid phones for nefarious reasons, is really
> widespread. For example, the terrorists in Madrid used prepaid phones
> to detonate the bombs in the subway trains that killed more than 200
> people," said Roger Entner, a communications consultant.

> 150 Phones in One Sale, 60 Phones in Another

> The FBI is closely monitoring the potentially dangerous development,
> which came to light following recent large-quantity purchases in
> California and Texas, officials confirmed.

> In one New Year's Eve transaction at a Target store in Hemet, Calif.,
> 150 disposable tracfones were purchased. Suspicious store employees
> notified police, who called in the FBI, law enforcement sources said.

> In an earlier incident, at a Wal-mart store in Midland, Texas, on
> December 18, six individuals attempted to buy about 60 of the phones
> until store clerks became suspicious and notified the police. A
> Wal-mart spokesperson confirmed the incident.

> The Midland, Texas, police report dated December 18 and obtained by
> ABC News states: "Information obtained by MPD [Midland Police
> Department] dispatch personnel indicated that approximately six
> individuals of Middle-Eastern origin were attempting to purchase an
> unusually large quantity of tracfones (disposable cell phones with
> prepaid minutes attached)." At least one of the suspects was
> identified as being from Iraq and another from Pakistan, officials
> said.

> "Upon the arrival of officers, suspects were observed moving away from
> the registers appearing to evade detection while ridding themselves of
> the merchandise."

> Other reports have come in from other cities, including Dallas, and
> from authorities in other states. Authorities in Pennsylvania, New
> York and other parts of Texas confirmed that they were alerted to the
> cases, and sources say other jurisdictions were also notified.

> The growing use of the throwaway cell phones has been cited by
> President Bush as an important justification for expanding the wiretap
> laws under the Patriot Act.

> "Law enforcement officials can now use what's now called roving
> wiretaps, which will prevent a terrorist from switching cell phones to
> get a message out to one of his buddies," Bush said on April 20, 2004.

> Legitimate Uses May Have Spurred Sales, Too

> Law enforcement sources say it is possible some large purchases that
> have been identified as being sent to the Middle East could have been
> sent for resale in a sellers' market for handsets, or simply given to
> friends and relatives. Officials are also investigating these
> possibilities.

> Managing the complex balancing of these two issues significant and
> legitimate uses and their potential for misuse has been an ongoing
> dilemma for law enforcement.

> For now, both intelligence officers and bomb technicians have been
> monitoring reports of large-quantity purchases.

> Some such purchases may have innocent explanations, but even law
> enforcement officials themselves say disposable phones are sometimes
> their own phones of choice when operating in hostile environments. The
> CIA recently used them in a kidnapping in Milan, Italy. Italian
> authorities were able to track the telephones. But they mostly tracked
> them to a dead end the false identities in which they were purchased.

> Possible purchasers of disposable cellular phones could also include
> political extremists, terrorist supporters, sympathizers or others
> simply shaken by the recent revelations of the spy agency's widespread
> monitoring of calls, including calls to and from the United States to
> foreign countries.

> Police Report Identifies Terror Links

> The Midland, Texas, arrest report police also identified the
> individuals as linked to a terror cell:

> "Evasive responses provided by the subjects, coupled with actions observed
> by officers at the onset of the contact prompted the notification of local

> FBI officials to assist in the investigation," the report said. "Upon
> the arrival of special agents, and as a result of subsequent
> interviews, it was discovered that members of the group were linked to
> suspected terrorist cells stationed within the Metroplex.

> Law enforcement officials have not elaborated on the information in
> the report or specified which terrorist group the individuals were
> allegedly linked to.

> In addition, special agents reported that similar incidents centering
> on the large-scale purchases of tracfones had been reported throughout
> the nation identifying individuals of Middle-Eastern descent as the
> purchasers."

> ABC News is working to confirm the details in the police report.

> "Upon conclusion of the initial investigation, three of the suspects
> were taken into custody on immigration violations, with one individual
> arrested for possession of marijuana the drug having been discovered
> during the search of the group's vehicle. Also found within the green
> 2002 Kia van were additional cell phones, the total believed to be
> approximately 60."

> FBI officials told ABC News that while the cases may wind up in the
> hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the FBI would benefit
> from any intelligence gleaned and would take the lead if a solid
> terrorist connection emerged.

> ABC News' Jill Rackmill contributed to this report.

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