Cameras, The New Weapon of Mass Destruction

Here is my story of how I was ‘detained’ and ‘interrogated’ as a possible terrorist suspect by the FBI counterterrorism division of Chicago, IL.

It was a normal day heading to work in Chicago, IL this Tuesday morning 8/24/2004. It was my last day working in Downtown Chicago. I will be moving to Missouri this weekend. I took the same Metra train that I have for the past 4 years, the 7:17 AM leaving the route 59 station arriving in Downtown Chicago Union Station at 8:00 AM. I brought my camera with me today to take pictures on my last day downtown. When I arrived at Union Station I took a picture of the train car that I sit in, trains, rails, train station, etc. On the way out of union station, I took pictures of all the people walking around the area, a homeless guy asking for money, and various other things on my walk to the office.

I took a different route to work today. Typically I walk all the “back roads” to avoid people. Today, however, I decided to take the busy roads so I could take some “more interesting” pictures. I snapped a few more of the L-Train, more people in the street, a few places I eat lunch at, etc.

Here is where it all starts to turn.

I took pictures of the federal building, the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, police cars parked all around my building, cement barricades, and various other “security” related stuff they have been doing since the 9/11 attacks. Since I come from a small town in Michigan, most of my friends and family don’t see these sorts of things.

So far no problems. Our office is right across the street from the downtown prison. I was standing in front of the prison to snap a few pictures of our building. As I am taking these pictures I see a few suburbans and trucks pulling out of the prison. Inside these trucks are armed guards with AR15 rifles and full tactical gear (you can barely see through the smoked-out windows, but I was close enough to see it).

Here is where it gets crazy.

As soon as the motorcade of trucks and vans were out of the prison I pointed the camera in the direction of them and took a picture (that is the truck coming after me in the picture). Before I pressed the shutter button a suburban was up on the sidewalk in front of me. A guy with an AR15 tactical rifle drawn, we will call him US Marshal 1, was to the left of me. Another guy, we will call him US Marshal 2, came from the right and took my camera and told me to, “Put your hands on the truck”. I did what they said. The truck was hot, so I pulled my hands off the truck, I was told to, “Put your hands back on the truck”. I said it was hot, but was told to, “do it anyway”. So I put them on the plastic fender flair instead, he appeared to be OK with that. US Marshal 2 went into his truck and started to look at the pictures I had on the camera. A few minutes later and with a quick pat-down by US Marshal 2, my backpack was removed I was handcuffed. My wallet was removed from my back pocket and my ID removed from my wallet. He then took it to another guy to have a “background” search run on me. When I asked US Marshal 2 what I had done, his reply was, “we are checking to see who you are.”

By this time, there a few other suburbans, police cars, and vans with a half dozen or so armed US Marshals walking around talking on their cell phones and walkie-talkies. My camera and drivers license was the main focus of interest at the moment. They appear to not like the pictures I was taking and it raised their suspicion. They made me stand away from the guys who were doing the majority of the talking, so it was hard for me to hear, but I did hear stuff like “he took pictures of the federal building and police cars”. About 10 minutes have passed now. More people are talking on their phones and passing my ID around. A new guy comes up to me now, we will call him US Marshal 3, and asks, “how are you doing”. I said fine. He now looks at my camera and the pictures on it. He then proceeds to ask me, “Do you like America”? “Do you want to harm America”? “Do you have any hostel feelings towards police officers or law enforcement”? I answered, No, to all his questions. He then goes through the rest of my wallet. He finds a FOID card in there and asks me if I am carrying any firearms. I say no. He asks if I have any firearms in my backpack, I say no. He then searches my backpack and asks what I have in there. I tell him nothing but a laptop, first aid kit, and food. A few more minutes pass and more people are walking around passing my ID from truck to truck.

The first guy who cuffed me, US Marshal 2, now comes back over to me and does a much more thorough search. All my pockets are emptied, my shirt was lifted, my shorts patted down, the works. My cuffs were “double locked” (I am not sure what that means, but they had to put another key in them to do it). Then I was loaded into the back of a black suburban. I sat in there a few minutes before the guy with the AR15 tactical rife, US Marshal 1, and the driver, US Marshal 2, got in and quickly drove me off to the federal building. They had the sirens on and drove at a pretty rapid rate. Every time he took off he would squeal the tires like he was in a big hurry to get me to me someplace. We arrived in the federal building through the underground parking garage.

I sat in the truck for at least 15 minutes. During this time a few more cars and trucks drive up with more people walking around. At least I think there were more people, I can’t see anything because they are all standing in the back of the truck and it was hard to turn around when you are handcuffed and seat-belted into a truck. Every so often I would hear them calling for people to come down. A few minutes later, I hear more people and someone says, “he has pictures of the federal building, police cards, and security cameras”. Shortly after this talking, a new guy in a suit and tie arrives. I am escorted out of the truck by US Marshal 2 and I am told to follow the guy in the suit, we will call him FBI Agent 1. So now it is FBI Agent 1, US Marshal 2, and myself walking through the basement of the federal building, we arrive at an elevator and head up to the 9th floor (I think). We exited the elevator and walk down some back hallway that looks like a service entrance. Once we go through a keypad locked door, we enter what looks like typical office space. I am escorted down a hallway or two into a room labeled ‘interrogation room’. After sitting in here with the 2 other guys for a while, a female walks in, we will call her FBI Agent 2. They all introduce themselves to me at this time. (I was a bit tweaked out at the time, I don’t remember any of their names).

Just to be clear, I didn’t say much this entire time. At least nothing I remember that is useful in this document. I answered all their direct questions and nothing more.

Now, I get to do some talking. FBI Agent 2 reads me my Miranda rights and asks if I need to speak with a lawyer before they talk with me. I am a bit nervous right now, but I still decided to wave my right to an attorney at the moment. I figured if something got out of control I could stop and ask for a lawyer. The handcuffs are taken off and I have to sign some paper waving my rights to a lawyer. Everyone else in the rooms signs the paper after me. I am asked a bunch of basic questions (in no particular order and as best I as I can remember):

Name: Jason Murray
Birth Date: XX/YY/ZZZZ
Birth Place: XXXXX, MI
Employer: XO Communication
College: Saginaw Valley State Univ.
Marital Status: Married
Children: 1
Child's Age: almost 11 months
I was also asked stuff like:

Do you take the Metra train to work: Yes
Are you Muslim: No
Are you affiliated with Muslims: No
Are you a converted Muslim: No

Looking at pictures number XX on your camera, why did you take a picture of this camera: Because I come from a small town and I wanted to show family and friends back home what it is like to live in Chicago. I answered everything honestly.

FBI Agent 2 left the room for a while. When she returned she had a small stack of papers. These were the results of my background check. She asked me a few more questions like, “I see you applied for the FBI in the past, what is the status of that”. I answered, “I never completed the second part of the application.”

She let me know that everything checked out OK and I was free to go.

Once everything settled down, I had a few questions of my own:

Question: “Why was I detained for taking pictures”? Answer: “You happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. We were moving high profile prisoners”.

Question: “Am I allowed to talk about this with anyone”? Answer: “Yes, but please spell my name right when you talk with the Chicago Tribune tonight”.

Question: “Will you allow me to take a group photo of all of you”? FBI Agent 1 said it was OK, but he did not want his picture taken. FBI Agent 2 also declined to get her picture taken. I asked US Marshal 2 if he minded, he also declined. I was disappointed.

They had all of my stuff stacked in the back of the interrogation room for me to collect. I picked it all up, did a quick inventory, and was on my way. FBI Agent 1 and US Marshal 2 led me out to the lobby. I asked if I could snap a few pictures of this area and they agreed it was OK.

This is my story. At first, I was frustrated but OK with the whole incident. I thought it was interesting to see how this whole process worked. After I had time to analyze this more, it started to bother me. How could someone taking a picture deserve to be stopped at gunpoint, have all their possessions taken from them, handcuffed, and interrogated as a terrorist? I took a picture of a prisoner being transferred out of a prison. At the most someone should have walked over to me and said, “Please don’t take pictures”. That would have been good enough. What if I was with my child or wife. What would have happened then? Would be all be arrested? Would my child be separated from me? Think of the lasting impression that would leave on a young child? Daddy was arrested at gunpoint for walking downtown and taking pictures of cars driving by.

All photos from this (mis)adventure are: here