Just Got Off the Phone with the FBI…

Photographing BP's Carson Refinery is a "Double Standard"I just got off the phone with Terry Carter from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Carter contacted me regarding my run in with Securitas security guards (pictured to the left) down in Carson at the BP Refinery month before last.

The call was friendly enough. Carter assured me that his call was a courtesy call and that I was not in any sort of trouble. His main concern was asking to make sure that I harbored no ill will towards the United States Government.

I assured Carter that I harbored no ill will towards the U.S. Government that I was a proud American, etc.

We talked for about 15 minutes over the incident. Carter said that Securitas reported that they asked me and a friend not to take photographs and we ran away from them and jumped into a black SUV. I explained to Carter that this was not how the incident went down, that we spent a good 15 or 20 minutes talking to the security guard, but insisting on our rights to photograph the refinery. And only left after that.

I gave Carter my blog address which he asked for. I suspect I won’t be hearing from the FBI again over the incident.

Update: Apparently I got the agent’s name wrong. It’s Terry Carter, not Chris Carter as originally reported, my wife just called me from home and told me that he’d stopped by the house earlier today and left his business card asking me to call him.

Be Sociable, Share!
Loading Facebook Comments ...


  1. Louis Gray says:

    My assumption is that if you harbored ill will toward the government and jumped in a black SUV, you probably wouldn’t answer your phone when it said FBI on the Caller ID. 🙂

    I myself got called by the FBI (at work no less) because one of the direct mail programs were doing had suspicious packaging (3 dimensional, and the address didn’t show on Google Maps). That was a funny call.

  2. Rasmus says:

    For someone who reportedly ran away and jumped into a black SUV (odd detail, btw), you sure had a good aim with your camera. Assuming that you photographed the guard above while running.

    It’s interesting that this would warrant the interest of the FBI. You’d think they had more important things to do, but I suppose they have to act on reports of suspicious activity. Even if that report is more or less a flat out lie. But shouldn’t Securitas get in trouble for lying to the feds?

  3. Tim Solley says:

    Wow. I guess that about sums it up.

    Do you think a terrorist answers the agent’s question with “Yes, I harbor ill will toward the U.S. Come arrest me before I do something horrible”?

  4. Kristine says:

    I can’t understand why anyone would be so blatant with the lies in this day and age of blogging. I’m sure this FBI guy will be able to go back and read your side of the story..going back to BEFORE he spoke to the guard and HOPEFULLY the liar will have to answer to the FBI about that.
    And how freakin’ cool are you? You got to talk to the FBI.

  5. Mike says:

    So, there is Chris Carter from the FBI and Chris Carter who created the X-Files. Seems suspicious to me. (Cue the x-files theme music.)

  6. Jeff says:

    Not mentioning The greatest Cris Carter of all. WR of the Minnesota Vikings
    Very strange indeed…

  7. Jeremy Hall says:

    I hope there are some repercussions for making a false report with the FBI. I am sure they don’t take kindly to having their time wasted over some security guard’s ego.

  8. Julie says:

    @Ramsus, the FBI does have better things to do, but they’re probably obligated to follow up on the complaint.

    Thomas, that’ll teach you and your friends to drive a beat-up Chevy Nova next time. Far less threatening! 😉

  9. Julie says:

    @Rasmus So sorry for getting your name wrong. I’d go back and edit if I could. Excuse me while I go off and weep in a corner.

  10. Rasmus says:

    @Julie No worries, people have trouble with my name all the time. 🙂

  11. air says:

    As a Canadian, we don’t have FBI. But I watch TV. And this is a cool story. Kind of nice to know they are on top of things.

  12. […] Thomas Hawk – Thomas Hawk Digital Connection Just Got Off the Phone with the FBI… […]

  13. Shannon says:

    In this day and age, people should not be taking pictures of refineries. That’s strange behavior in my books.

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    Shannon, maybe strange. But certainly not illegal. But seriously refineries are beautiful when they are lit up at night.

  15. Cooper says:

    What the hell…

    Shit just keeps getting crazier…

  16. Nick Nichols says:

    This is blatant intimidation, IMO. Clearly, you Thomas weren’t intimidated by this incident but that probably doesn’t hold true for most people. If, whenever one attempts to stand up for his rights with a security guard, one can expect that an FBI agent will come around to your wife and family members (if you’re out) asking to see you, then many people will just not do it (stand up for rights). They don’t want the stress of an FBI agent’s presence being imposed on family members.

    And I simply do not buy that “His main concern was asking to make sure that I harbored no ill will towards the United States Government.” That’s not the role of the FBI and even if it were, I’d not buy that statement for a millisecond. They have other things to do. This is intimidation, with sugar on top.

    Guess I’m going on a list. So be it.

  17. Nick Nichols says:

    Well maybe I missed the agent’s point. If by making sure you “harbored no ill will” he wanted to make sure you did intend to carry out terrorist activity toward the Government, then yes, I understand why he’s spending his time on this and it would make sense.

  18. Dave says:

    I’m gonna call the JTTF office there and talk to Terry, they need to do something about the false allegation,
    We DID not run or anything, we actually talked for 15 minutes, then politely told him we were done talking and walked away. The car was about 1/2 mile away and we took our time shooting things on the way. They stalked us to our car and wrote down the plates, we actually were behind them and they turned off the road in front of us. WTF

    Their report should show time difference between when they called it in and when they returned, if we ran away why did the call come 45 minutes before we were on the road!!!

    What tools.

  19. Eric in SF says:

    In March 07, six Imams were reported as “suspicious” and removed from their plane:


    My google-fu is weak right now but I’m pretty sure later they pushed HARD for the ID of the passenger(s) making the complaint and pushed in a very public way. Once they pushed for the complainant’s ID, Congress quickly passed a law giving full immunity to anyone making a police report in good faith. That’s a loophole you could fit a battleship through.

  20. natadd says:

    *off topic*:
    How do you integrate those friendfeed-comments in the blog? Is it a plugin?

  21. natadd says:

    Ah, me stupid, should have searched before posting, it’s here:

    You can delete my two comments if you like too.

    Tough story btw. Must feel very strange in the first few seconds when beeing phoned by the FBI 🙂

  22. smiff says:

    A few weeks ago, I was kayaking around a refinery near Martinez, CA. End of the day, the tide was low and the only place to pull out was on their property. This lead to an encounter with their noticeably-armed security guards. They were very helpful, especially considering that unlike you we were technically trespassing, but they also took lots of info. A week later, got a phone call similar to yours, though only from the county sheriff’s office. Same basic conversation. So far, nothing further.

    I assume that everyone involved has a pretty strict checklist and procedure to follow after any encounter with refinery security. From what I can tell, my guys passed along an accurate report of the incident. Your guys, hmmm….

  23. adam weiss says:

    have you ever considered putting together some kind of preemptive boiler plate letter that could be shared with other photographers and faxed over to owners and property managers of places you’d like to shoot? something like “this is to inform you that we will be shooting during the week of blah blah from public property. we are within our rights to do so persuant to blah blah. we’ve had problems in the past with uninformed security and would appreciate it if you could ensure that we are not disturbed in our work. blah blah blah…”

    yeah sure, it kinda sucks. and yeah sure, you shouldn’t have to do it. and yeah sure, it takes time. and yeah sure, it kinda spoils spontaneity. but that said, it would probably go a lot further to further your cause. in fact, you could possibly end up with a situation where you leave a nice trail of reformed photography policies in your wake.

    ..and in the case where they disagree… then you have some real meat to post on the internet… written arguments with those in charge who are clearly wrong and have had the time to think about their positions.

  24. kevin white says:

    @adam weiss: Hopefully the letter says ‘photographing’ and not ‘shooting’.

    I’m serious.

  25. Griffon says:

    This is classic indirect intimidation. A sort of friendly putting you on notice and look here are some of the case notes we might have on you should we ‘want’ to do something official. You hit the big league you should immediately file a FOIA and demand your file :).

  26. Andy Frazer says:

    Chris Carter, Terry Carter… close enough.

    Actually, Chris Carter is guy who made the “X-Files”. Easy enough to get them confused when you’re talking about the FBI and photographing government buildings. Not surprisingly, that “refinery” that you were photographing has been rumored to actually be a secret facility where they breed alien pods in giant hatchery.

    No, wait… now I’m getting the story confused with the X-Files, as well.

  27. Thomas,

    I’m glad you’re not reacting over the top like some of the commenters here and on FF. It may be a ghastly idea to some, but put yourself in an FBI agent’s shoes. They took a job to protect a country they care deeply about. They’re not around to intimidate photographers, but to investigate reports of suspicious activity. I think it’s obvious how someone could find photographing refineries as suspicious, as you point out, it certainly is not illegal. The guards with Securitas were clearly in the wrong here, but the FBI will take these (and any other) reports seriously and investigate the claims. That doesn’t mean they’re going to brow-beat, intimidate or otherwise detain you. Every FBI agent I’ve ever met has been extremely intelligent, trained extensively to interview and investigate, and have the best intentions.

    The report from Securitas carries no more validity or credence than if I as a citizen had called to report your photography. Of course, if I called, it would’ve been to report your photography as too good…

    Keep your head level, and keep shooting!


  28. JFK says:

    Every time the FBI comes up, they seem to rise to the level of their nickname: Famous But Incompetent

    I guess if you were a liberal, like Thomas Jefferson, or an anarchist like Lysander Spooner, and harbored “ill will” towards the government then you would be worth persecuting?

    Literally he asked you if you had committed a thought crime. Asinine.

    This is far more offensive than being run off by clueless security guards.

  29. TranceMist says:

    The fact that the FBI needs to waste tax money pursuing photographers is very troubling.

  30. g says:

    “I assured Carter that I harbored no ill will towards the U.S. Government that I was a proud American, etc.”

    Sounds similar to what some people said to the Nazis in WW2.

  31. TPM says:

    Every story has two sides and we’re all reading yours Mr. Hawk and that’s probably why mostly everyone is taking your side.
    I’m certain that if we read the security guards side of the story it would be completely the opposite of what your saying.
    So who is telling the truth here? We’ll never know, because your friend and your will stand with your story and the security guard will stand behing his.