Persons involved in terrorist activity often exhibit indicators that, if observed, could identify a potential impending crime or terrorist attack.

You CAN identify a terrorist threat by observing suspicious activity that may lead to a criminal act!

Identifying suspicious activity is not a hard science. You have to rely on your judgment. Your suspicion of a threat could be confirmed with one incident. It could take a series of incidents. In the long run, it comes down to experience, judgment, and commonsense.

Warning signs include unusual requests for information, unusual interest in high-risk or symbolic targets, and unusual activity.

Unusual Requests for Information

Unusual requests for information can be a warning sign of terrorist activity:

  • A telephone request at work asking about the security system.
  • Questions about the habits of your Chief Executive Officer.
  • A mail survey asking for comments on the response time and habits of emergency personnel.
  • Although possibly legitimate, these are also techniques used by terrorists to gather information while planning an attack. Do NOT give out sensitive information unless you know the party you’re talking to and they have a need for that information.

Unusual Interest in High-risk or Symbolic Targets

Maybe you’re at a national monument and you notice a person nearby taking a lot of photos. Not unusual. But then you notice that he is only taking photos of the surveillance cameras, crash barriers at the entrances, and access control procedures. Is that normal for a tourist? Absolutely not.

The following should cause a heightened sense of concern:

  • Unusual interest
  • Surveillance
  • Inappropriate photographs or videos
  • Note-taking
  • Drawing of diagrams
  • Annotating maps
  • Using binoculars or night vision devices
  • Unusual Activity

Unusual activity does not necessarily mean that terrorist activity is happening, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of:

  • People acting furtively and suspiciously
  • People avoiding eye contact
  • People departing quickly when seen or approached
  • People in places they don’t belong
  • A strong odor coming from a building or vehicle
  • An overloaded vehicle
  • Fluid leaking from a vehicle, other than the engine or gas tank
  • People over dressed for the weather


In order to be as helpful as possible with terrorist investigations, it is important to give a thorough report when notifying law enforcement.

Here are some guidelines, suggestions, and details you will need to supply to an officer responding to your call of suspicious activity. Keep in mind, the responding officer may only have the information you gave at the time of your call. There are two key elements in giving a good report — accuracy and timeliness.


Accuracy means reporting what you saw and nothing more. Do NOT add juicy “might have happened” to make the situation sound more important. However, it is appropriate to include the reason the activity seemed suspicious, even if it’s simply, “It wasn’t normal.”


Timeliness means that after a certain period of time, the suspicious situation will change; people will leave or possibly alter their appearance. It’s very important to report anything suspicious immediately after you observed it.

What to Report

It is important for the responding officer to quickly spot the suspicious person or activity. You can help by providing details and creating a “word picture.” Changeable details such as activity are important but may not be the same once the officer arrives. Permanent details are very important because they are difficult to change quickly.

When reporting a person, include:

  • Hair color
  • Facial hair
  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Size
  • Scars
  • Tattoos
  • Disabilities

When reporting a vehicle, include:

  • Make
  • Model
  • Color
  • Body damage
  • Bumper stickers
  • Accessories
  • License plate number

When reporting suspicious activity:

  • Never endanger yourself!
  • Never confront suspicious activity!
  • Tell just what you saw!
  • Tell why it is suspicious!
  • Write it ALL down after you report it!

Practice developing descriptions of vehicles you see on your commute or people you encounter in your everyday activities. The more you practice, the better your observation skills will become and the better you will do when nervous or excited.

Who to Call

Emergency: If you think a life is in danger or a serious crime is about to be committed, call 9-1-1. If you are within an office building or place of business, you may first need to dial an access number for an outside line.

Non-Emergency: If it is not an emergency, but you think that the person or situation should be investigated, do NOT tie up the 9-1-1 emergency number, contact (360) 385-3831.

Perhaps you notice suspicious activity that doesn’t warrant immediate attention or a past incident or person is still on your mind, you can pass that information along to authorities by submitting a tip.