Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Buy a cellphone go to jail.

Two university students were arrested for purchasing too many cell phones. Of course the police are finding terrorism. But so far the accusations don’t make much sense and no evidence to support them is being publicized. It could well be two students arrested for being of Lebanese descent.

First, we will get the story from the students and their families. They say the two young men would drive around the mid-West purchasing large quantities of cell phones when sales were being held at major outlets like Wal-Mart. They would then resell the phones to smaller dealers and make a profit. This is quite plausible. I know that various items on sale at Wal-Mart have retailed at prices below the normal wholesale price to other dealers. So it’s a believable story.

Police pulled the boys over for a routine traffic stop. They found two boys with Arabic names. They found 12 cell phones in the car the boys were driving along with $11,000 cash. Their imagination apparently took over from there. Police in the United States have often arrested people merely for having large amounts of cash and confiscated the money claiming it was illegally obtained or for illegal uses. When they do that they get to keep the money for their department so they are very quick to accuse with no evidence at all since they benefit from the accusations under the tyrannical asset forfeiture laws.

The two students were charged with money laundering which is a pretty meaningless charge that can be concocted against any business that has a fast turnover. In this case it could be the $11,000 in cash was being turned into telephones which are then sold for a profit producing more cash. That alone is sufficient to claim money laundering since the original $11,000 is converted into phones and then into a different bundle of cash.

Police said the car contained a security guide for a major Arab airline. This, the family says, is because the mother of one of the young men left it in the car and she works for for Royal Jordanian airlines. Susan Vessels, a assistant prosecutor in Ohio where the boys were arrested was trying to come up with plausible terrorist links for the boys. She told one newspaper that maybe they were going to send the phones overseas where they would be used to detonate bombs.

That seems to be clutching at straws to me. If you were a terrorists using cell phone to set off bombs are you going to have two students in Michigan, where the boys live, running around and buying them all in the same place. Considering that the terrorists can easily walk into stores and purchase cell phones themselves why bother shipping them half way around the world? I would think that the way to divert attention is not by buying all the cell phones in the store. You would buy just one and only one.

Vessels also made the claim that prepaid mobile phones can be used to make international calls “and have been linked to use by terrorists.” Now this is a favourite ploy of the government. The term “linked” to terrorists may mean nothing at all. If the government says you are a terrorist you are “linked” to a terrorists merely by the accusation. It doesn’t mean they have evidence that you are connected to a terrorist. So the accusation itself becomes evidence through this slight of hand.

Vessels has to know she is being dishonest or at least implying something dishonest. What she is saying is that some terrorists somewhere have used prepaid mobile phones to make calls. These students thus had in their possession phones which are like the phones used by terrorists elsewhere in the world. But it sounds as if she is saying these particular phones were linked to terrorists. She isn’t. And if possessing such a phone links you to terrorism then every one in the world with a prepaid mobile phone is linked to terrorism. It is a statement that sounds ominous but contains no substance whatsoever.

USA Today seemed baffled by the charges as well, or at least the Associate Press reporter who wrote the story was. That article said: “Vessels declined to say how the phones, cash or flight information involved terrorism.” Perhaps she doesn’t know and had just shot off her mouth with evidence. In the Detroit Free Press it is reported: “Vessels would not comment on how the two men were tied to terrorism. But she said an Ohio law that went into effect this year allows prosecutors to charge people suspected of using money to purchase items that would support terrorists or that terrorists would use.”

This law is scary, sounds over broad and is no doubt written by brain dead legislators. What does it mean to purchase itmes “that terrorists would use”? Terrorist use cars, cell phones, shoes, refrigerators. Terrorists use about everything in one way or another. In this case the law is used to arrest two young men for buying cell phones. Vessels goes one futher and says that the sudents knew the phones were being used for illegal purposes because “no one would ever use over 600 phones for legal purposes.” No one except somebody in the business of selling cell phones.

Reuters reported the men were alleged to be “money laundering on behalf of Hizbollah” but noted that the “tie to Hizbollah was not detailed by authorities.”

Originally the men were charged with obstructing official business. That just means the police didn’t like their answers or their refusal to answer questions. Then when the men admitted they purchased cell phones and resold them the money laundering charges, which are more serious, were laid against them and the original charges were dropped. It appears the original charges were just excuses to hold the men until something more serious could be laid at their door. But so far there is no evidence being made public to indicate this was anything more than two students buying and selling to make money over the summer.

Their attorney says the two youths resold the phones and were paid by cheque for them. “This was not cash under the table or some hiddent hing. These are college students. This is what college students do. They’re more willing to drive around to try to make money.”

If the authorities have any evidence, and it doesn’t sound like they do, they ought to come forward with it. So far they are merely offering theory and no evidence. We shall see as time goes by but I think this one is bogus to the bone. I suspect this is wishful thinking on the part of an incompetent prosecutor and over-anxious cops each wanting to make a name for them self by “catching real live terrorists”. This is more hysteria than substance.

[Apologies, this was written two days ago and got lost in the shuffle of things.]