The DHS And FBI Present: You Might Be A Terrorist If… (Hotel Guest Edition)

from the glass-container-in-the-pool-area?-threat-level-upgraded-to-'orange' dept

As we seem to be told repeatedly, seeing something and saying something is perhaps the greatest duty an American citizen can perform in service to this country. It's simply not enough anymore to install an American flag in the front yard and purchase domestic vehicles. Now, every citizen should be keeping his eye out for (and on) his fellow citizens. The price of freedom may be eternal vigilance, but the price of security is endless paranoia.

To that end, the DHS and the FBI have joined forces to compile a list of oddities that might well indicate you are sleeping one paper-thin wall away from death personified (via Bruce Schneier's fine blog). 

Possible indicators of terrorist behaviors at hotels: The observation of multiple indicators may represent—based on the specific facts or circumstances—possible terrorist behaviors at hotels:

– Not providing professional or personal details on hotel registrations—such as place of employment, contact information, or place of residence.

[Place of employment? Seriously? “Alan Smithee, 123 Main Street, Anytown USA 5578H. Occupation: Death Hug Merchant.”] 

– Using payphones for outgoing calls or making front desk requests in person to avoid using the room telephone.

[Payphones? Are terrorists unaware of “burners?”]

– Interest in using Internet cafes, despite hotel Internet availability.

[This seems to suggest that the Feds have already let themselves in the back door on the (sometimes prohibitively expensive) hotel wi-fi.]

– Non-VIPs who request that their presence at a hotel not be divulged.

[Let me get this straight: normal, “non-VIP” people will just have their information divulged to whoever asks, simply because they're not “important” enough to deserve privacy? Perhaps that should be posted on a sign somewhere up by the check-in desk: “All guests are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”]

– Extending departure dates one day at a time for prolonged periods.

[Something only a terrorist would do. Let me give you a real life, happened-to-me example: in town to visit the famous Mayo Clinic seeking medical help for my wife. What started out as three days turned into seven days, with the stay at the hotel being extended one day at a time. Open-ended hotel stays: not just for terrorists anymore.]

– Refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods.

[This I believe. No one wants to make their own bed.]

– Extended stays with little baggage or unpacked luggage.

[Unless the staff have been instructed to do a little snooping in every room, how would anyone know how much baggage someone brought and never unpacked? No doubt this will soon make its way onto propaganda posters: “HAVE YOU PACKED ENOUGH? Traveling light is traveling with terror.”]

– Access or attempted access to areas of the hotel normally restricted to staff.

– Use of cash for large transactions or a credit card in someone else’s name.

– Requests for specific rooms, floors, or other locations in the hotel.

[Close to the parking lot, ground floor. Convenience or criminal intent?]

– Use of a third party to register.

– Multiple visitors or deliveries to one individual or room.

[Ruthless cabal or post-prom drinking party?]

– Unusual interest in hotel access, including main and alternate entrances, emergency exits, and surrounding routes.


– Use of entrances and exits that avoid the lobby or other areas with cameras and hotel personnel.

[Like the one nearest your vehicle?]

– Attempting to access restricted parking areas with a vehicle or leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel building.

[During your stay at the hotel, please remain in your vehicle at all times.]

– Unusual interest in hotel staff operating procedures, shift changes, closed-circuit TV systems, fire alarms, and security systems.

– Leaving the property for several days and then returning.

– Abandoning a room and leaving behind clothing, toiletries, or other items.

[You'd think the Feds would be happy to have CLUES and EVIDENCE just laying around.]

– Noncompliance with other hotel policies.

[Ah. The handy catch-all. If the other points don't directly implicate you, then maybe something from this list will!]

So, to be a standup, non-terrorist citizen, here's what you need to do:

Pack for two weeks if you're staying for two days. Park your vehicle a safe distance away from the hotel, perhaps across the street or at another hotel. Leaving your vehicle dangerously unattended, walk directly through the main entrance with hands open and displayed in a non-threatening manner.

When registering, present as many forms of ID as possible. Be sure to mention where you work EVEN if no one asks. Brag if you have to. Hand out business cards to the staff. Let the desk clerk know that your stay here is no secret and that your room number should be given to anyone who asks, including those who don't ask. When asked if you have a room preference, answer with a bright, but unfrightening, “I've never had a 'preference' in my life! I'm easy to please and an American citizen!”

Head directly to your room, carefully avoiding eye contact with doors marked “Employees Only.” Immediately unpack all of your luggage. Make several phones calls using ONLY the in-room phone. Call the front desk several times so as to avoid appearing suspicious. Return to your unattended vehicle and clone yourself using existing, but non-potentially-dangerous technology. Make no sudden movements and keep your ID and passport displayed prominently. Return one of yourselves to your hotel room, again using the front entrance in a non-threatening, flag-waving manner.

Stay in your room. Use the provided wi-fi. Avoid sites that use any form of encryption. Be careful not to stay in your room too long. When venturing out for something to eat or a non-suspicious conversation with the suspicious staff, avoid stairwells, hallways, exits/entrances, and connecting roads. On second thought, just stay in your room. This will make it easier to avoid being caught up in the middle of a personnel shift change.

If you must leave your room, smile and wave at each and every security camera. Lift your shirt to display lack of weapons, explosives or identifiable scars and tattoos. If purchasing anything from the hotel, use only credit cards, checks or DNA. Return to your room using the most surveilled route. Use the in-room phone to order room service. Turn down the delivery when it comes, stating that you're trying to keep visitors and deliveries to a minimum. Apologize for not having any cash to tip with, but explain that this lack of cash directly contributes (not monetarily, of course) to the safety of everyone in the hotel. Repeat this apology to housekeeping when they arrive, being sure to answer the door before they get to the second knock. Try to ignore their just-out-of-earshot griping about having to clean around the scattered contents of four large suitcases. Smile in a non-threatening fashion and shrug as if to say, “LOOK AT HOW MUCH I DON'T HAVE TO HIDE.”

If you find that, despite your careful planning, your stay is going to be extended indefinitey, switch hotels. Pack all of your belongings carefully. Police the room for any stray socks, unused condoms or stealable toiletries. Turn the coffee maker OFF (if applicable). Leave in an unhurried fashion, but don't dawdle. Return to your attended vehicle and (most likely) dead clone. Drive to another hotel, preferably one a non-suspicious distance away and repeat the process. Once you return to your hometown, turn yourself into the nearest authorities for a thorough post-travel debriefing.

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Comments on “The DHS And FBI Present: You Might Be A Terrorist If… (Hotel Guest Edition)”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

I guess I need to self-report

I am actually surprised at how many of those warning signs I routinely exhibit.

I almost never provide personal information such a employer or residence. (I do divulge my employer when they’re footing the bill). On the other hand, they never ask, except for billing information.

I never, ever use the room telephone, not even to call the front desk. I’ve had one too many disputes over telephone usage, so it’s easier to be able to say that I’ve never even picked the handset up.

I have extended stays one day at a time on several occasions.

I have accessed employee-only locations a couple of times (my wife & I can get a little kinky sometimes).

I always refuse housekeeping services during my stay.

I often request specific rooms that I enjoyed before.

It is not rare for me to have multiple visitors & deliveries to my room. I tend to have friends in the places I stay and they do visit. Also, pizza.

I rarely enter and exit through the lobby, as I’m rarely parked near the lobby.

I have a professional interest in security systems and tend to examine them wherever I go out of simple curiosity.

I occasionally leave for more than a day at a time. Camping, hiking, overnights with friends, etc.

I didn’t know I was a terrorist. I think I need to report myself.

sehlat (profile) says:

Perhaps the airlines NEED more "excess baggage" fees

– Extended stays with little baggage or unpacked luggage.

[Unless the staff have been instructed to do a little snooping in every room, how would anyone know how much baggage someone brought and never unpacked? No doubt this will soon make its way onto propaganda posters: “HAVE YOU PACKED ENOUGH? Traveling light is traveling with terror.”]

Lord Binky says:

Oh come on now! This is just getting silly. They obviously just made up a list of stuff.

Have they even caught terrorists in the US yet with all their ‘effort’? I really hope that would be bigger news than McAfee’s shenanigans if they actually find one. Which makes me think if they can’t find them, how do they know the indications are even right?

Mesonoxian Eve (profile) says:

Okay, Tim, that’s not funny.

Right now, I enjoy paying for my hotel rooms using the credit card I lifted from the FBI trailing me, because they violated the law to lo-jack my car.

Once inside, I immediately don a pair of sunglasses, both for the intimidation of the staff as well as looking as though I’m someone with authority. Like the FBI.

After I enter my room, I immediately plug snooping technology into all communication systems, hack the hotel’s registration, then download the guest list so I can forward it the laptop of an FBI agent, who’ll then lose it to Anonymous.

I visit areas of interest, photographing them. I be sure to take multiple angles and note interesting changes. When I’m approached by the other nervous wreck, the local PD, I insist I’m doing surveillance for the FBI, and then point to the two following me. Works ever time, those sunglasses.

When I leave, I don’t even bother checking out. My way of saying “Thank you” to the FBI agent whose card I lifted. Though, I do wish I could see the look on their face when they see how much porn and room service I ordered.

So, while I appreciate your advice not to look suspicious, I’ll just continue playing G-Man, because no one ever questions the fact the FBI are the true terrorists.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

I would like a room with a view


“Requests for specific rooms, floors, or other locations in the hotel.”

Wow they are really trying to make every action tied to terrorism.

Use a travel agent… TERRORIST!!!!
“Use of a third party to register.”

Want to use free internet instead of the 50 bucks for 24 hours… TERRORIST!!!!
“Interest in using Internet cafes, despite hotel Internet availability.”



Anonymous Coward says:

Shit the last time I stayed at a hotel they did not even fucking ask for my name.

I think they’re making these list stupid as possible just to see if anyone is watching.

Really what would this list stop anyways? It’s not like our track record of stopping terrorist is very good. Every single terrorist we’ve stopped was a FBI made/converted terrorist. Really terrorist does not even mean much these days because they’ve completely fucked up the meaning of it.

They’ll tag your ass as a terrorist for jaywalking these days.

Ian (profile) says:


This list was a real eye-opener. I can only conclude, after careful perusal of the list, that I used to be a terrorist.

After all, I used to travel for work, and while there I exhibited the following signs:

1. Declined to provide place of residence: At the time, I thought I just liked my privacy, and disliked getting promotional materials from hotels.

2. Making front desk requests in person/not using the room phone: Much as I thought it was just convenient to make my requests in person when I was going in/out, especially given that I was at the same hotel week after week and thus was recognized visually by far more staff than would recognize my voice or name (and thus got fantastic service when they knew it was me), I can see now that there may have been more sinister motivations for my actions.

3. Interest in using internet cafes, despite hotel internet being available: In theory the hotel had internet. In practice… not always so much. Or maybe I was just trying to hide my nefarious plans.

4. Non-VIPs who request that their presence not be divulged: After having a creepy student drop by unexpectedly (the work involved teaching, often out of the conference room of the hotel I was staying at), I asked that they not divulge my presence. But apparently this takes me one step closer to bomb-making.

5. Extending stays for one day at a time: Didn’t do this one often, but I did do it a couple of times.

6. Access or attempted access of areas normally reserved for staff: At a couple of points when I was stuck in rooms with no internet, they started letting me hang out in one of the employee areas, where I could sit and use the internet. I could have done the same thing in the main lounge, but oddly enough the hotel didn’t like the advertisement of “the internet in the rooms is sketchy as hell” being conveyed to new guests.

7. Use of credit card in someone else’s name: The company booked the hotels, and needless to say, the card did not have my name on it.

8. Requests for specific rooms/floors/etc: Remember what I said about the sketchy wireless? I definitely asked for rooms known to have good wireless, if they were available. Perhaps this was an integral part of my scheme. Or perhaps I just occasionally liked to browse porn, which isn’t really acceptable to do from the hotel lobby/internet cafe/employee lounge/hallway/etc. But maybe there were terrorist plots steganographically encoded into the naked lady bits.

9. Use of a third party to register: My company. Were they involved? How far does this conspiracy go?!

10. Multiple visitors/deliveries to one room. Before I stopped letting students figure out where my room was, I’d do tutoring out of my room. Which meant I might have one student from 12:00-2:00, another from 2:30-4:00, and then later another one from 6:00-8:00. And then I might order Chinese. Clearly this is nefarious.

11. Unusual interest in hotel access, including main and alternate entrances, emergency exits, and surrounding routes: I know it’s unusual, but I like not dying in fires. Also, when the hotel is on a city block comprising joined buildings, and my favourite restaurant is behind said hotel, it’s nice to know how to get out the back door so that I don’t have to go around the entire block to get there and back, even if this means cutting through a service entrance.

12. Unusual interest in hotel staff operating procedures, shift changes, closed-circuit TV systems, fire alarms, and security systems: I was there often enough to know a lot of the staff, many of whom would cut me all manner of breaks, some of whom wouldn’t. Knowing when the guy who’d get all huffy about me using the internet in a hallway or taking the service entrance was on shift was useful. Also, perhaps I was needing to figure out when the nuclear device could be smuggled in.

13. Use of entrances and exits that avoid the lobby or other areas with cameras and hotel personnel: Oh my god, that back door route was even more dastardly than I thought.

14. Attempting to access restricted parking areas with a vehicle or leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel building: Man, sometimes I left my rental (OMG!) vehicle parked for entire days without attending to it.

15. Leaving the property for several days and then returning: Sometimes I was invited over by friends. Sometimes the invitation included alcohol. Sometimes I did not feel inclined or able to return immediately afterwards. And sometimes I just felt there were better places to spend my time than in a hotel room that was decorated in what I’d call “suicide beige” (or suicide bomber beige?).

16. Abandoning a room and leaving behind clothing, toiletries, or other items: I’m forgetful. Also, when you’re going back each week, and they know you, if you forget something important it’ll be waiting in your new room next week.

17. Noncompliance with other hotel policies: I used to cook myself food in the hotel coffee maker. I suspect that ‘coffee pot eggs’ are probably a violation of some sort of policy.

The worst part is that this list clearly establishes that I was up to some sort of terrorist activity, but that I still don’t know what it was. Was I some sort of sleeper agent? I didn’t read about any major disasters, but maybe it was covered up. Maybe it was just a dry run. Not knowing is really going to bother me.

Ian (profile) says:

The moral of the story...

The moral of the story is that if you have nothing to hide, the FBI will just make up reasons why you’re guilty anyway.

Innocent people look terrible on the stats. No one ever got promoted finding a million innocent people, but find a guy you can talk into buying a fake bomb and that’s another 10 grand/year. Not to mention that if you arrest a guy, he’d better have been suspicious, so it’s more convenient if you find excuses to ensure everyone’s suspicious in some way or another.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


It does exist.

Really? Where’s the proof of that?

The only “terrorist” incidents I can recall in the last 10 years in the US have either:
-been planned, executed, and encouraged by the FBI finding some troubled person and railroading them into performing
-failed entirely due to the stupidity, poor execution or planning by the “terrorist”

If you want to go and be paranoid, don’t let me stop you, but there are entirely better and more entertaining things to occupy yourself with (anything involving why Romney lost the election, for example).

PRMan says:


My list is similar, guess we are both terrorists…

I never provide place of employment
I always make front desk requests in person (I don?t like calling people when I could talk to them face-to-face, it?s more human)
I always put up a do-not-disturb placard all day. I don?t want people going through my stuff. I?ve had too many things stolen by hotel staff and would rather they just stay out. I?m only there for 2-3 days anyway.
I always live out of my suitcase. I never unpack anything.
I always request certain rooms, mostly away from the elevators because of the noise.
I always park in back and use the back stairs in and out. I like the exercise and I don?t want to be bothered in the lobby.
I always park my unattended vehicle right next to the hotel building (in back by the back stairs by my room).

DogBreath says:

I knew it!

– Requests for specific rooms, floors, or other locations in the hotel.

[Close to the parking lot, ground floor. Convenience or criminal intent?]

The handicapped/disabled/elderly are all terrorists! (or are at least treated as such. Just ask any handicapped/disabled/elderly person who has been “screened” by TSA, they’ll tell ya all about it.)

The TSA has known about this for years! (or at least they act like they’ve known it for years.)

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:


I’m normally in just about 100% agreement with just about everything on this site.


“Possible indicators” vague enough to cover normal behavior by millions of hotel guests isn’t good enough. As you say, there’s potential for misuse. If you start using guidelines like this to detect “suspicious” behavior, you’ll find that everyone looks like a suspect. This list needs some serious pruning and quite possibly, a complete rewrite.

mister anderson (profile) says:

Right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing

I find this interesting… This contravenes the best practices for staying safe while traveling.

One of the primary things to do is not make yourself a target. Ideally, this means keeping personal information to a minimum. A hotel does not need to know where I work or what I do when I am staying there. They may need to know where I live, for billing and what not. The more information that is divulged means the more information available to exploit, possibly making you a target.

Another thing that is a best practice is to request a particular room. The ideal room, for security reasons, would be one that is on a middle floor. A few floors up means that access and observation of the room is more difficult while still being within easy reach of rescue crews in the event of a fire.

I’ve personally had to extend my stay at a hotel several times. I was traveling on business, and things came up that required my input outside the dates I originally planned to stay.

I also prefer to go down to the hotel desk should I need anything hotel related. For me, I prefer the personal contact of a face-to-face conversation over a telephone call.

One final thing: Business travelers may not book their own hotels. Depending on company policy, people traveling on business may have to book through a preferred travel agency.

On the whole, this list is asinine. It completely disregards common sense and best practices in order to increase the amount of information available for collection and exploitation by whomever is interested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Extended stays with little baggage or unpacked luggage.

This is normal if the traveller travels more than one places.

My sister visited lots of places in her last holiday. And the baggage containing items she bought on the way won’t be opened until she’s back to home (or by customs to check things inside… I don’t know).

This line don’t match reality as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

– Requests for specific rooms, floors, or other locations in the hotel.

Funny, taking the anti-terrorism courses the government keeps giving me on how to NOT get kidnapped or car bombed, it’s outlined where you should get a room, and specifically says to request such a room. So by following the US anti-terrorism guidlines, I meet the critera of being a terrorist. HUZZAH!

– Unusual interest in hotel access, including main and alternate entrances, emergency exits, and surrounding routes.

Again, something you’re SUPPOSED to do, by all the anti-terrorism training I’ve had. That’s just good habits, be it for security or disaster concerns.

– Use of entrances and exits that avoid the lobby or other areas with cameras and hotel personnel.

Again, another guideline lifted straight from the anti-terrorism course. The idea is to avoid letting your schedule or habits be known, so you aren’t as easily abducted.

– Leaving the property for several days and then returning.

The one reporting this is someone that the FBI should be far more interested in. Assuming you don’t have a legitimate reason to be interested in my activities and you’re reporting me missing, then even knowing this tells me you have an unhealthy interest in me, and I should likely seek police protection from you.

I have to admit, it was certainly an amusing read.

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