Some 75 bus drivers, truckers and van operators gathered recently in Little Rock, Ark., to be trained as terrorist hunters, reports Time magazine. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this year gave $19.3 million to the American Trucking Associations to recruit a volunteer “army” called Highway Watch. So far, 10,000 truckers have signed on. Over the next year, the goal is to add tollbooth workers, rest-stop employees, and construction crews, creating a corps of 400,000 people drawn from every state. The tutorial was led by Jeffrey Beatty, a security consultant, formerly of the FBI and CIA. He showed clips of al Qaeda training videos. “They are out there training for operations in the U.S. homeland. Make no mistake about it,” he said. “You’re getting a presidential library here – for a President who launched cruise missiles against al Qaeda,” Beatty said, referring to Bill Clinton. There are not enough police and federal agents to protect all of America, but transportation workers could be a “force multiplier,” he said. “We want to turn the hunters into the hunted,” he intoned for the first of four times that day.
Members of Highway Watch are given a secret toll-free number to report any suspicious behavior – people taking pictures of bridges, for example, or passengers handling heavy backpacks with unusual care. “We want to hear from you when something just doesn’t look right,” Beatty said. “Say you’re out at a truck stop and you see someone hanging out near your truck, wearing a jacket. Maybe it’s too hot out for a jacket. Go back inside, alert someone and check him out through the window.” Highway Watch members are just messengers, not superheroes, Beatty said. The hotline call center in Kentucky logs the information it receives in a database and contacts law enforcement when necessary. Of the 200 or so calls that come in each month, only about 10 have anything to do with suspected terrorism. Most callers report abandoned vehicles, stranded motorists, or roadway hazards. Highway Watch members are told to look for certain kinds of behavior – not certain kinds of people. “Profiling is bad. Bad, bad, bad,” Beatty said.