Photography, surveillance, FBI warnings preceded California wildfires

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By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

“The two men appeared to be in their 40s, spoke broken English, and were possibly of Middle Eastern descent… The captain got the license plate, but the car turned out to be rented.”–Dennis Townsend, chief of fire prevention and law enforcement for two Cal Fire stations in the Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit.

26 October 2007: Within the last 90 days, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued warnings to fire stations across California about incidents of “covert photography and surveillance of fire response stations” observed at various stations in rural areas of the state. Several incidents were reportedly being conducted by men who appeared to be Middle Eastern in appearance, taking photographs of fire stations located primarily north of the greater Los Angeles area.

According to fire officials and information contained in the DHS/FBI bulletins, the actions of those taking the photographs were suspicious and did not appear to have any legitimate purpose. The Northeast Intelligence Network has provided numerous cases of such surveillance across the U.S. With the onset of the current California wildfires, however, at least two of which were intentionally set “by individuals who knew exactly what they were doing.” Such surveillance presents itself as more ominous and sinister in the context of the events, from the acts of attempted covert surveillance to the fires themselves. Although at least two suspects of two of the several fires have been identified and in at least one case, shot and killed by authorities while in the act of arson, others have yet to be identified.

Surveillance of fire stations, response locations

In addition to the information provided to the Northeast Intelligence Network, an article of specific relevance appeared in the Union Democrat on September 28, 2007. In that edition, “Homeland Security issued a bulletin to fire personnel a few months ago, warning fire stations to be aware of such incidents, said Dennis Townsend, chief of fire prevention and law enforcement for the unit.”

The article continued: “Monday, a firefighter at the Green Springs station looked out the window and saw two men taking photos of the station.”

When the station captain confronted them, they said they were students from Flagstaff, Ariz., on their way to Yosemite. The subjects left in a white sedan. The two men appeared to be in their 40s, spoke broken English, and were possibly of Middle Eastern descent, Townsend said. The captain got the license plate, but the car turned out to be rented.”

Forensic evidence

Based on information obtained through our federal contacts, it has been suggested but not confirmed that at least one “device” that consists in part of a timing or detonation mechanism was found at the point of origin at the initial and most ravaging fire. While some sources have indicated that components of cellular telephones fashioned in such a manner that it could serve as a method of starting a fire in several nearby areas, other federal sources refuse to comment on the evidence found due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. If proven true, however, such evidence would be consistent with instructions found on Arabic language Internet forums that illustrate methods of using cellular phones as detonation contrivance for bombs or incendiary devices. Use of these mechanisms would allow the possible perpetrators the time and distance from the scene to avoid being detected or associated with the fires, and could be used at the most perfect time in terms of weather and wind conditions.

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