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Navy checks out terrorism leads

Special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have been scurrying around North Whidbey, following up tips of suspicious activities, since Sept. 11.

While some of the tips seemed downright sinister at first, Supervisory Special Agent James Campbell said “they have pretty much all checked out,” meaning they haven’t found any evidence of terrorist activity on the island.

Campbell supervises an office of nine NCIS employees at the Navy base. The agents have received about 80 tips of suspicious activity since Sept. 11, though they only obtained enough information to investigate 50 of those.

NCIS has been working with local law enforcement agencies — including the Oak Harbor Police Department, the Island County Sheriff’s Office and Navy security — but Campbell said NCIS has taken the lead in investigating anything that could be related to terrorism.

Perhaps the most suspicious lead the agents investigated was a report of a Middle Eastern man who asked for plat maps of the rural areas surrounding the Navy base right before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The man supposedly asked for the maps at the Oak Harbor city hall and then purchased them at the Island County assessor’s office in Coupeville.

But it turns out, Campbell said, there were two different men, though neither of them have been identified. The man at the assessor’s office probably wasn’t Middle Eastern and he didn’t ask for maps around the Navy base.

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley held a press conference in October about suspected terrorist activity on Whidbey Island after a Washington Times article detailed a leaked NCIS advisory. The advisory warned that there had been suspicious activity around the Whidbey Naval Air Station, but Hawley said the reports had been investigated and cleared — except for the map-buying incident.

Campbell said Hawley was “mostly right,” though he got some of the details wrong in the press conference.

NCIS received dozens and dozens of tips of suspicious activity immediately following Sept. 11, but Campbell says the pace has slowed in the last week.

Yet Campbell says he encourages people to continue reporting anything suspicious, now more than ever. While descriptions of suspicious people and cars are handy, he says the most important information a person can provide is the license plate number.

“We want people to report anything that seems out of the ordinary as soon as possible and with as much description as possible,” he said. “We don’t think anything is too small to report.”

There are several different numbers citizens can call to report suspicious stuff. The NCIS tip line is 257-4376 and the NCIS office number is 257-3359.

Or just call 911.

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