“Excuse me are you the owner of this?” a man wearing jeans and a t-shirt was asking me as I was about to pull out of my driveway.
“Yes it is can I help you” I said back as another man joined him by his side, this man more authoritative then the first, spoke very bluntly.
“And you are Steven F. I assume”
“Yes I am, do I know you?”
(I forgot their names because this happened a while ago)
“Hi we are agent John and Jack, we are with the FBI and Homeland Security Anti Terrorism Task Force”, they said as they flashed their badges.
“Can I see your badges again I asked?” not believing them, and also thinking it was cool as anything that I was being questioned by the FBI.
“We need to ask you a few questions about where you have been in the past few weeks”
“Go ahead ask away I said happily” I was getting all pumped up by what was next because I had no idea what the wanted.
“Well where have you been lately, have you taken any trips in the last two weeks?”
“Well a couple weeks ago I was out in
“What were you doing there?”
“Well I was mostly biking and driving around and wondering around the old mining areas taking pictures, that sort of thing.”
“Where else did you go?”
“Well I drove back through
Kansas then up through
Missouri and back through all the regular eastern states.”
A couple weeks earlier I had had a little time off and decided to wander around
Southwestern Colorado. I had always wanted to see the Silverton-Ouray highway and mining towns in the area, as well as the many ghost towns that had once been huge mining centers and were now full of cool abandoned stuff of which I loved to photograph. Part of the trip was also to ride in the Telluride and Durango areas of which are famous for their mountain biking, I had also never been to New Mexico before and had wandered around the upper portions of it sticking mostly to US highway 40, a phenomenal road if you ever get the chance to drive it. A solo trip, it had been quite refreshing and a long needed break before my summer job was set to start.
“So while you were out there, did you take any pictures that might be deemed offensive?”
I thought about what he might mean. I definitely was not into child pornography or anything of that sort. What could this FBI guy possibly mean? He further probed me and then said something quite interesting to me.
“Where you in
Ponca City Oklahoma on Thursday May 19?”
Wondering how the heck they knew that information and what that had do with anything I answered yes and asked why.
“Well what were you doing there?”
“Passing through, went to a garage sale probably took some pictures”
“Pictures of what?”
“Well it is home to some cool factories and oil refineries, oh actually there was this huge oil refinery and I did take a bunch of color and black and white pictures of it from a highway overpass.”
“Do you think that would be offensive or possibly dangerous to do?”
“No why would it be?”
I sincerely didn’t realize until they later told me that the oil refinery I had photographed was one of the largest ones in the country it was the Conoco-Philips main refinery. I had pulled off the shoulder of a busy two lane highway to run across the street to photograph the huge maze of pipes and railroad tracks all leading to hundreds of smokestacks jutting out of the utterly flat
Oklahoma plains. It had been an amazing shot and when I was finished I had hopped back in my car and driven off. Apparently as I drove off a company car had been sent to question me on why I was taking pictures of such a potential terrorist target. The security cameras had caught me and my car on tape and they were able to track me via my plates.
After this little interrogation I invited the two agents into my house to look at the pictures and proved that I had many pictures of other oil refineries, factories and other industrial sites. They noted it was a weird and interesting hobby, and didn’t even ask me for the pictures. I however kept asking if they could send me some proof on FBI letterhead that they had investigated me, they said they didn’t have the jurisdiction to do that. Well at least I was left with a cool story to tell.