Eyes And Ears Of The Nation

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STEVE JONES FOR TIME

I SPY: “From trucks to taxis, school buses to NASCAR.” That’s the exuberant motto of a program to train drivers like Larry Lawson, of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, to identify terrorists

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Highway Watch, which will receive an additional $22 million next year, preserves the part of TIPS concerned with monitoring behavior in public space. The Department of Homeland Security has also launched Port Watch, River Watch and Transit Watch. Then there are the familiar Neighborhood Watch groups, many of which have expanded their missions to include homeland security. In New York City, government outsourcing of surveillance has even trickled down to doormen and building superintendents, thousands of whom are being trained to watch out for strange trucks parked near buildings and tenants who move in without furniture.

After the session in Little Rock, two newly initiated Highway Watch members sat down for the catered barbecue lunch. The truckers, who haul hazardous material across 48 states, explained how easy it is to spot "Islamics" on the road: just look for their turbans. Quite a few of them are truck drivers, says William Westfall of Van Buren, Ark. "I'll be honest. They know they're not welcome at truck stops. There's still a lot of animosity toward Islamics." Eddie Dean of Fort Smith, Ark., also has little doubt about his ability to identify Muslims: "You can tell where they're from. You can hear their accents. They're not real clean people."

That kind of prejudice is hard to undo, but it's a shame Beatty's slide show did not mention that in the U.S., it's almost always Sikhs who wear turbans, not Muslims. Last year a Sikh truck driver who was wearing a turban was shot twice while standing near his tractor trailer in Phoenix, Ariz. He survived the attack, which police are investigating as a hate crime.

The Highway Watch website boasts that the program is open to "an elite core [sic] of truck drivers" who must have clean driving and employment records. In fact, their records are not vetted by the American Trucking Associations. At the Little Rock event, some came in off the street without preregistering. However, the organization is highly security conscious about other parts of its operations. It refuses to disclose the exact location of its hotline call center or the number of operators working there. "It could be infiltrated," says Dawn Apple, Highway Watch's director of training and recruitment.

What's clear is that Highway Watch is a morale booster for drivers. "I don't want to sound too hokey, but truck drivers are a very patriotic bunch," says Mike Russell, a spokesman for the organization. "It made sense for us to take advantage of what we do every day — which is, basically, patrol major highways through a windshield."

Just three days after his training in Little Rock, veteran Wal-Mart truck driver Danny Ewell found cause to call Highway Watch. On Father's Day, as he was leaving a Red Lobster in Johnson City, Tenn., he saw a young man walking between two cars with an orange T shirt draped over his arm. Peeking out from under the T shirt was a semiautomatic weapon. "Because of the training, I knew to look at his height and his hair color, and I got the make and plates of his car," Ewell says. "Normally I would have just looked at his clothes. But now I know to look for things that won't change." Ewell called 911 and Highway Watch. Local police responded but were unable to find the man. Ewell, at least, had done his part.

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