A man who snapped photos of a brewing storm last month received a visit Friday from an FBI Agent, inquiring why he would want to take such photos.
Michael Galindo explained that he was simply volunteering for the National Weather Service.
And FBI Agent David Pileggi seemed to be satisfied with that response.
But Galindo was left wondering whether he now has a permanent FBI file.
“He told me, ‘you’re not a threat and you are doing a public service but just be careful next time,’” Galindo said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
The problem arose because Galindo happened to be taking photos near the Lyondell Refinery outside of Houston on September 13, even though he was never standing on the refinery’s property.
Someone from the refinery spotted him and called police, whom apparently arrived after he had left.
Police then contacted the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which bills itself as “nation’s front line on terrorism.”
“I was pretty freaked out when he came but I had no idea what it was about,” said the 26-year-old man. “The worst thing I’ve done is get speeding tickets, but I haven’t gotten one in three years.
“He said I was spotted near the refinery but I couldn’t even remember doing that. I thought it had to be somebody else.
“It wasn’t until he mentioned my camera that I made the connection.”
Galindo told the agent that he volunteers for a NWS program called Skywarn that trains citizens to monitor the weather in the name of “protecting lives and property.”
He said when he pulled off to the side of the road and began taking photos of a brewing storm and potential tornados, he didn’t even notice the refinery, but made sure there weren’t any “no parking” signs around.
“I told him I had been looking for a clear line of site and I had found it,” he said.
Although Pileggi seemed a little surprised by that response, he pulled out a three-page document and began asking questions off it, inquiring whether Galindo had ever been in the military or had ever traveled overseas and about what schools he had attended in the past.
“I wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything,” Galindo said.
The 20-minute visit took place less than a week after a scathing report was released on the inefficiency and ineptitude on urban fusion centers, such as the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Homeland Security Bureau, which was monitoring my Facebook page because of my blog, as well as the Houston fusion center, which produced a video depicting photographers as terrorists.
Joint Terrorism Task Forces are a little different than fusion centers but they both operate under the Department of Homeland Security and are under the assumption photographers are terrorists.