|NMU||MARYLAND||Newsgathering||Sep 10, 2002|
Television journalist questioned for activities near military installation
- A Voice of America television journalist set out to capture footage of telephone wires last week and grabbed the attention of law enforcement officials, who suspected his employer of being a “terrorist organization.”
A television journalist photographing telephone wires for a story was questioned Sept. 6 by several Prince George’s County police, their supervisor and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent for “suspicious activity” near a military installation.
Prince George’s County Police received a citizen’s complaint at 3:07 p.m. that a suspicious car with a bag strapped to the hood was circling the gate to the Army National Guard Pvt. Henry Costin Armory in Laurel, Md., according to police spokesman Corporal Robert Clark.
Voice of America’s Larry Clamage said he was driving back and forth in front of the installation’s entrance on a public road in order to get footage of telephone wires, which he planned to use later for a story that involved wiretapping.
Two county police officers came to Clamage’s home in Laurel, Md. — about a quarter-mile from the installation — and told Clamage “the whole army was coming to look for me,” he said.
The officers also asked about the “unknown device” strapped to his car, Clamage said.
“In my business we call it a camcorder,” Clamage told the officers.
Clamage identified himself as a VOA journalist and showed the officers his business card and driver’s license as he could not find his government ID.
According to Clamage, a police supervisor who later arrived told him that “they never heard of Voice of America but they believed it to be a terrorist organization.”
A police officer asked to see the tape, which contained shots of telephone wires and treetops, he said.
“I showed him the tape and he got very bored,” Clamage said.
Clamage refused to handover the original tape, but offered to copy it, saying he needed the tape for the story.
Later, an FBI agent arrived. Clamage offered the agent his supervisor’s work and home phone numbers. Ultimately, Clamage said the agent assessed the situation and left.
Although the incident turned out to be innocuous, Clark said, “It could’ve been something major.”
Clamage said the officers were just “doing their job.”
“They were nice,” he said. “In my opinion, [the incident] was a bit overboard.”
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press