An FBI Counterterrorism Agent Tracked Me Down Because I Took a Picture of This

This is a statement from one of the plaintiffs speaking at Thursday's press conference announcing the ACLU's lawsuit challenging the government's controversial Suspicious Activity Reporting program.

Good morning. My name is James Prigoff. I am 86 years old and a retired senior corporate executive, having been president of a Levi Strauss division and previously the senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago. I am also a professional photographer – in fact, I have been a photographer for most of my life. My specialty is photographing murals, graffiti art, and other community public art. I am the co-author of three books utilizing my photographs, one of which, Spraycan Art, has sold over 200,000 copies. My photographs appear in countless other publications and my photography has been exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington and in many other galleries. I have lectured on photography and public art in museums, universities, and venues worldwide.

I have never had an experience like I had when attempting to photograph the "Rainbow Swash" outside Boston in 2004. Let me explain.

The Rainbow Swash is an iconic piece of public art near Boston painted on the circumference of a 140-foot high liquefied natural gas storage tank in 1971 and repainted in 1992 at an adjacent site. It is actually one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world. The original artist was Korita Kent.

I went to Dorchester, Mass., to photograph it, but before I could take a picture, I was confronted by two security guards who came through their gate and told me I could not because the tank was on private property. I pointed out that I, being well outside the fenced area, was not on private property – but they insisted I leave. If one goes to Wikipedia there are number of excellent close-up shots for the entire world to see.

A few months later, I found a business card on the front door of my home in Sacramento from Agent A. Ayaz of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, asking me to call him. One of my neighbors, an elderly woman, told me that two men wearing suits had come to her door to ask her about me, her neighbor.

When I called Agent Ayaz, he asked if I had been in Boston recently. At that moment I realized that the security guards at the Rainbow Swash site must have taken down the rental car license plate number and reported me to a law enforcement agency. I never gave the guards any information about myself, so I must have been traced across country via my rental car record.

So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?

I lived through the McCarthy era, so I know how false accusations, surveillance, and keeping files on innocent people can destroy their careers and lives. I am deeply troubled that the SAR program may be recreating that same climate of false accusation and fear today.

Photography is an important part of my life, and I plan to keep photographing public art and public places that contain WPA murals and other architectural sites – as I have been doing for 69 years. Why have my artistic pursuits landed me in a national database potentially linking me to "terrorist" activities? There is no reason for it. This program must be stopped.

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Isn't the artist's name "Corita Kent" ?


There were no accusations here no arrest nothing even slightly intimidating. Your concerns are misplaced. What has the world come to where law enforcement can't even call upon a citizen or engage then in a conversation without that citizen engaging in a campaign on false accusations and misplaced mistrust. It's scary what people will believe.


This "is" defiantly a winnable case and can set a president with regard to, "Over Zealous" government agents who practice, "Covert" spying on citizens.


I'm impressed, moved and angered by your account, Mr. Prigoff, and as a long-time fan of the artist Corita (with a C) Kent, I believe she would be as well. Thanks for your testimony, and for your dedication to principle.

Paul Dirks

I suppose we could point out that on the bright side, they didn't smash his camera......

An American

It is an absolute disgrace that having "overcome" the fear mongering that last all the way up through the Cold War, we find ourselves back in the same position now.

How is it that as citizens we can stand idly by why legislation such as The Patriot Act (Which effectively annuls our constitution when we meet a criteria set by the very people who use fear to control us) is made into law?

This type of warrant-less pursuit of a photographer is an assault against our rights as a whole. it is detrimental to the integrity of the commonwealth.

The Third Reich liked to use trigger words like Strength, Power, Terror, Security, Fear, and Responsibility, too.

Now here we stand on a precipice of individual's freedoms, and the security to enjoy those freedoms by effectively securing the person(s) so thoroughly that they can enjoy none of them.

I wish my generation had taken more away from their history and government lectures. I wish they could see that an absolutely controlling government is still vulnerable to corruption, and at that point the only ones with the authority to undo the corruption in legislature are those that are corrupt.

We've got to wake up as a nation, in a country where the threat of a terrorist attack is just cause for detainment of individuals based on their ethnicity, the searching of their belongings, and the nude viewing of their bodies by strangers; there can be no freedom.

Soon the only freedom that will exist is that enjoyed by those wealthy enough to pay for it.

Lobbying needs to end, and we need to hold those responsible for it as traitors as they take bribes over their elected duties and responsibilities to the people.

And when these war hungry politicians take to arms over how we should bomb a nationstate to prevent destabilization in the region, we should encourage them to send their own children in the first wave of infantry.

When you hear about children being burned over a non-violent substance abuse charge by smoke grenades cast into a home by SWAT teams descending on a family's home (in a country that allows privatized prison systems to discreetly contribute campaign funds to politicians that set the laws those SWAT teams enforce), you should be angry!

And when they stop you in the street at a random junction and ask may they fan through all your personal belongings you should say NO.

This is AMERICA, and if WE do not say NO: then this nation will become no better than the cancer that grew within Germany during WWII.

The government has already put in place numerous laws which are outright violations of our Bill of Rights.

Consider the Occupy movement and all those college students rallying against tuition costs for them to be able to find employment: they were disbanded with noxious chemical and auditory weapons.

Article 1:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Your very first amendment, does it still exist?
It's certainly not respected.

Consider Bradley Manning having leaked tons of documents showing the murder of civilians, where is his 6th amendment?

Article 6
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

The Patriot Act, where is our 7th amendment?

Article 7
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

All of the unwarranted searches, our 4th amendment.

Article 4
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

It is time we started standing up collectively for these rights as it is clear their constitutional presence isn't enough to have us protected.

Exercise your rights people, they are all slowly being eroded.

We are the people of the United States of America, it is time for us to take back our constitution.

Time to brush off the necrotic layer of corruption that is eating away at our liberty.

It is time to make freedom a priority again.

We still have the majority, and we can vote.
We can resist unreasonable searches.
Record and publish murder by excessive force.
Aid our fellow brothers when they are in need.
Raise our nation up from the stagnant pool of injustice in which in lay.

Let them record this, register it into a log and add my name to a list of unfounded hate.

But let them know that I am an American citizen, I know my rights.
All those around me will know theirs too, and together we will defend our rights for the integrity of our nation.

If security means we will have to give up our liberty, we will fight to assure our own security, and then to reclaim our liberty.


Uneducated, non-thinking security guards! It's people like these that we need the real protection from!

Vicki B.

While you're at sue John Boehner and impeach him for being too stupid to be in office and too inhumane to have even a MORsel of compassion for anything or anybody.

I'm a Republican for Obama because John Boehner grew up where I live now and he's decided to bring down the decency and humanity curve of this whole town.
I hope he dies of hypoxia that causes pulseless electrical activity.


You probably pissed off the guards. Its a good program and its purpose is to protect the people.


What's wrong with them talking to you about it? How have you been harmed?


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