Do you routinely put the "do not disturb" sign on your hotel room door? If you do, you may fit the profile of a suspected terrorist, and the FBI and Homeland Security Administration want to know about it.
The FBI and HSA have released a joint bulletin to hotels throughout the world alerting them to potentially suspicious activities by hotel guests representing "potential indicators of terrorist activity."
Suspicious behaviors by guests include:
- Avoiding questions typically asked of hotel registrants
- Requesting a specific room or floor at the hotel
- Paying cash
- Using payphones for outgoing calls
- Use of Internet cafes when Internet is available in the hotel
- Requesting that their registration at the hotel not be divulged
- Evading hotel staff, including "refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods"
- Registration through a third party
- Entering and leaving the hotel using entrances and exits other than the lobby
- Leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel building
- Non-compliance with other hotel policies
Reviewing this list, it's obvious that I'm a terrorist. Let's review a typical hotel stay, say, in Zurich.
- Avoiding questions. After a long flight, I check into my hotel. At the registration desk, I refuse to provide my email address to avoid spam.
- Requesting a specific floor. I prefer a quiet room on a higher floor and ask for it when I register. Terrorists like peace and quiet, too, at least until it's time to go "boom."
- Paying cash. Since my credit card charges a 3% fee for overseas transactions, I often pay in cash.
- Using payphones. Foreign hotels typically charge $3 or more per minute for outgoing calls to the USA. So, I often purchase a prepaid phone card and make the calls for 1/10 the typical in-room rate from a pay phone.
- Using Internet cafes. After one hotel stay in Zurich, at checkout I received a bill for SFr 200 for Internet use in my room. The hotel billed by the minute rather than a flat daily fee. My mistake for not asking, but I would have happily used an Internet cafe had I known in advance.
- Evading hotel staff. I often work from my room, and restrict access to it for security and to avoid possible theft. Sometimes I sleep on the same sheets and use the same towels for two or three days. I always thought I was just a slob, but now I know that I'm a terrorist as well.
- Avoiding the lobby. I will enter and leave a hotel through whatever entrance or exit is most convenient to my room. Obviously, that makes me a terrorist.
- Leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel. I don't usually have a vehicle with me when I travel internationally, but when I do I park near the hotel, generally in the hotel parking lot. Once I park the vehicle, it's unattended. After all, it's a bit hard to take it into the room with me.
- Non-compliance with other hotel policies. I'm notorious for such nefarious actions as storing food or drink in the min-bar refrigerator, even if the refrigerator is reserved for mini-bar items. Sometimes I even take an apple from the breakfast buffet to snack on later.
Yes, that unshaven, white, middle-aged guy with the receding hairline slithering out the side exit to the Internet cafe might just be the next Osama bin Laden. He's carrying a laptop and looks a little confused. Stop him now and send him to Guantanamo Bay for waterboarding. You never know, he just might confess to inappropriate use of a hotel mini-bar. Not to mention being a known or suspected breakfast buffer terrorist.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Mark Nestmann