Visitors to U.S. can expect probing terrorism questions


 Tamara Audi and David Zeman


 Detroit Free Press


 24 November 2001

Although federal terrorism investigators say none are suspects, thousands of Middle Eastern men in the United States will be asked detailed questions -- ranging from whether they sympathize with the Sept. 11 hijackers to where they have traveled. 

They will be asked whether they own guns or have scientific training. As well, investigators will ask for the phone numbers of their family and close associates, according to an 8-page U.S. Justice Department memo obtained by the Free Press. 

Information gathered in the interviews, which may begin as early as next week, is to be entered into an electronic database. 

The questions were developed by the deputy attorney general and distributed Nov. 9 to all U.S. attorneys and some police departments who have officers serving in federal terrorism task forces. 

But some police chiefs, including in Detroit and Ann Arbor, have raised serious reservations. 

An Arab-American leader said: "This is like the line of questioning for a suspect." Imad Hamad, Midwest regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said "It suggests the approach of a criminal investigation, not voluntary questioning as the authorities have told us." 

Justice Department officials in Washington were unavailable for comment Friday. 

The department has announced a nationwide effort to contact more than 5,000 people with nonimmigrant visas for information on Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization, Al Qaeda. The men on the federal list are 18 to 33 years old, mostly from Middle Eastern countries. 

Nearly 700 of the men are believed to be in Michigan. Earlier, federal officials had said they were looking for 840 men in the state. They have since discovered duplicate names on the list. Local police are being asked to help find and interview the men. 

In the memo, Justice Department officials write that the men they're seeking are not criminal suspects and not obligated to talk. 

Many of the questions are obviously to the point, such as: Do you know anyone connected to the Sept. 11 attacks? Do you know anyone trained in terrorism? But other questions are clearly intended to elicit information on political leanings and personal travels. 

Interviewers are instructed to ask the men for their phone numbers, and those of their family; whether their educational training includes "scientific expertise"; whether they have visited Afghanistan, or ever been in an "armed conflict." They are to be asked why they're in the United States and what landmarks they have visited. 

And they will be asked how they felt when they heard the news of the Sept. 11 attacks, and whether they sympathized with the hijackers. 

The memo emphasizes that interviews will be voluntary, but it says that questioners "should feel free to use all appropriate means of encouraging an individual to cooperate, including reference to any reward money." The memo states that enforcing immigration laws is important. 

The interview questions are raising the ire of civil rights leaders who accuse the government of profiling. They have also drawn concern from a less predictable source: police departments. 

This week, Andrew Kirkland, the acting police chief in Portland, Ore., announced his department would not help find some 200 men on the list from Portland, saying the request likely violated state laws. 

Oregon laws forbid police from asking about a person's political or religious views unless the questions are directly related to a crime, or from singling out foreigners solely because they might have violated immigration laws. 

Portland officials said the concern was the questions about people's visa status, whom they've called and the people they live with. 

Ann Arbor Police Chief Daniel Oates has criticized the investigation process and said he would need more information before committing resources. 

"I have questions about the propriety of this," Oates told the Free Press last week. "How does someone end up on this list?" 

Detroit Police Chief Charles Wilson said Friday that he would not send his officers out to question the 83 men on the list in Detroit. Wilson said his officers were too busy providing security at the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, and chasing down reports of possible anthrax. 

"There's no criminal prosecution here," Wilson said. "They are not suspects. I have to establish priority for the resources I have available to me as a chief. Right now, the issues I have to deal with are a more significant priority." 

But he said that even if he had people available, he would not send officers knocking on doors. Wilson said he would go through leaders in the Arab-American community. 

It is unclear whether the interviews violate Michigan law. Attorney General Jennifer Granholm discussed the investigation last week with Michigan State Police representatives. 

"The attorney general has some real serious concerns" that nationality not be used as the sole reason for the questioning, Granholm spokesperson Genna Gent said Friday. 

"I think everyone wants to ensure that whatever directive they're following from the federal government is in accordance with Michigan law." 

George Vuilleumier of Dallas, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was troubled by the Justice Department list, but did not think it amounted to racial profiling. 

"If the interviews are voluntary, that's one thing. But to round up a number of people like that without any probable cause, that may border on infringing on people's rights." 

Vuilleumier said that questioning 5,000 men will place a financial burden burden on departments of all sizes. 

Farmington Hills Police Chief William Dwyer said that he understands that cities that have large numbers of men to question may have difficulties with resources or local politics. 

More than 200 men on the list are in Dearborn, said Robert Cares, the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the antiterrorism task force in Detroit. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit sent letters to 56 police departments requesting their help in the investigation. Cares said that he has not heard objections from any departments. 

"So far, the response has been positive," Cares said Friday. The participation of local police is important to the success of the investigation, he said. 

Dwyer, who is part of Detroit's antiterrorism task force, said that a federal officer may be paired with a local police officer. The task force is to meet Monday to continue planning. The interviews may start next week, Cares said. According to the guideline document, the men on the list should be contacted before Dec. 22. 

Dwyer said that Farmington Hills will actively seek the six men on its list for questioning. 

"Each city has to make its own decision," said Dwyer, who is also president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "I'm going to encourage the chiefs to cooperate. These are difficult times. Our country is at war. 

"I realize that before 9-11, these things wouldn't have any support whatsoever. But it's a lot different today than it was on Sept. 10th."

Highlights from the questions list 

Here are some of the questions the U.S. Justice Department wants asked of 5,000 Middle Eastern men in the United States. Federal officials say none of the men are considered suspects.

In addition to name, date and place of birth, and citizenship, officers will ask to see passport and visa. They will make notes about travel history and visa status. They will be on the lookout for false identification. 

Telephone numbers
Officers will try to get all phone numbers used by the man, his family and close associates. 

Education and employment
Officers will ask about educational background, including scientific expertise and professional licenses. They'll also ask about current employment and sources of income. 

Foreign travel
Officers will ask what foreign countries were visited, and the dates and reasons for those trips. They will ask whether he or anybody he knows has ever visited Afghanistan. 

Armed conflicts
The man will be asked whether he or anybody he knows has ever participated in an armed conflict. 

Reason for being in the United States
If the man's status is tourist, officers will ask what cities, landmarks and other sites he has visited or plans to visit. If he is here as a student, he'll be asked about his studies and plans. 

Knowledge of weapons
Officers will ask whether he or anybody he knows has access to guns, explosives, harmful chemicals, or biological or chemical weapons, or has training or expertise in such weapons. 

Reaction to terrorism
The man will be asked how he felt when he heard about the Sept. 11 attacks and whether he noticed anybody who acted in a surprising or inappropriate manner. He'll be asked whether he knows anyone who is sympathetic to the hijackers or other terrorists, and "whether he shares those sympathies to any degree." 

Knowledge of terrorism
Officers will ask whether he "knows anyone who is capable of or willing to carry out acts of terrorism," or anyone raising money for terrorist activity, including by criminal activity such as drug trafficking or fraud. They'll also ask whether the man or anyone he knows has received any training that "could be applicable to terrorist activities, whether it be training at terrorist camps, flight lessons or other training programs in the United States or abroad." 

Advocates of violence
Officers will ask whether the man "has heard of anyone recruiting persons to engage in violent acts against the United States or its citizens," or anyone who is advocating "jihad." 

Terrorists overseas
Officers will ask whether the man is aware of people in his homeland advocating terrorism or able to help the United States in its fight against terrorism. 

Sources of false documents
The man will be asked whether he is aware of anyone who possesses false identification or is involved in selling or supplying others with such documents. 

Contact Tamara Audi at 313-222-6582 or


Detroit Free Press

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