Customer Acts Odd? U.S. Wants to Know
R. A. Hettinga
rahettinga at earthlink.net
Mon Dec 10 09:54:39 EST 2001
December 10, 2001
Customer Acts Odd? U.S. Wants to Know
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 - Federal agents are planning to fan out across the
country this week in an effort to recruit American businesses in the war on
terror, urging companies to notify the government of suspicious customers.
Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of the Customs Service, said he had
developed a list of about 100 items that the authorities believed
terrorists wanted to buy in this country. Starting Monday, Mr. Bonner said,
federal agents will visit the manufacturers, emphasize the need for
vigilance and encourage them to inform the Customs Service at once if they
are approached by anyone trying to buy these items for possibly illegal
The terrorists' shopping list, the Customs Service says, includes missiles,
grenades, grenade launchers and other munitions; aircraft parts; computer
encryption devices; and components of biological, chemical and nuclear
weapons, as well as items that might be used to manufacture or deliver such
Officials said the list included equipment needed to grow anthrax bacteria
and grind the spores; chemicals like thiodiglycol, a precursor of mustard
gas; and electronic timers known as krytrons, which can be used to trigger
The Customs Service enforces export-control laws, and Dennis H. Murphy, a
spokesman for the agency, said it was shifting its priorities to focus on
machinery, equipment and technology sought by terrorists.
Customs agents will visit 300 companies in the next few months and "will
start knocking on doors" on Monday, Mr. Murphy said.
If companies identify a suspicious customer, he said, they should call the
Customs Service's office of investigations on a toll-free number, (800) Be
Alert, or (800) 232-5378.
Officials said corporate sales agents should be suspicious if customers
request products that do not correspond with their normal line of business
- if, for example, a foreign shoe manufacturer orders centrifuge machines
that could produce material for nuclear weapons.
Some items on the list have legitimate civilian uses, and the Customs
Service initiative is not intended to restrict or discourage legitimate
exports, officials said.
The Customs Service does not expect American corporations to investigate
buyers of goods and services to determine if they are engaged in illegal
activity. But when customs agents visit American businesses, they will
describe certain signs of suspicious activity, including these:
¶A customer wants to pay cash for high-tech items or military goods.
¶A buyer has not obtained the necessary export licenses or insists that the
licenses are not required or will not be a problem.
¶A customer is willing to pay much more than the usual price or value of a
¶A buyer has little or no understanding of the product he or she is
requesting or the commercial activity in which he or she is supposedly
¶A buyer has no interest in the customer service offered with a product or
rejects the manufacturer's offer to train employees in proper use of the
¶A customer insists on unusual packaging requirements - for example,
extra-large boxes that could be used to smuggle merchandise or contraband.
¶A buyer deviates from normal shipping practices in exporting goods.
"We must not choke off trade in the process of ratcheting up security," Mr.
Bonner said. But, he added, with the nation at war and facing new terrorist
threats, it is important for American companies to know their customers.
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Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
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"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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