Homeland Security

FBI Video Schools Rental Car Companies on Spotting Possible Terrorists

A new video from the FBI and industry partners shows car rental employees a scenario in which a person throws up red flags while attempting to rent a box truck for a potentially nefarious purpose.

The 11- minute video notes that vehicle rental attempts with suspicious indicators “may constitute perfectly lawful and explainable actions; in some cases, they might indicate something more nefarious.” Employees are also instructed on how to gather identifying information to pass along to authorities.

The joint effort from the FBI, DHS and TSA — in conjunction with the Truck Renting and Leasing Association and the American Car Rental Association — comes as terror groups and independent propaganda generators continue to encourage vehicle attacks, urging would-be attackers to acquire the heaviest vehicle possible to inflict the greatest degree of harm.

Six months before the October 2017 Manhattan bike path attack, the TSA warned about the threat of “unsophisticated” vehicle ramming attacks and distributed guidance for rental counters, prepared in conjunction with the truck leasing industry, on spotting potential terrorists.

The security and awareness brochure prepared by TRALA and DHS advised employees of companies that rent out trucks how to spot and report suspicious behavior, including customers “inquiring whether vehicles can be modified to handle heavier loads, create additional storage areas, increase fuel capacity, or vehicle speed.”

The new video opens with a parade and a man in a minivan contemplating the crowd, then glancing over at a handgun and rifle sitting on the front seat.

The driver accelerates, tires peel and the video goes to black as he presumably slams into pedestrians.

“If you believe there is a strong likelihood that a vehicle will be used to do harm, consult your corporation’s policies for denying the rental and for appropriate notification protocols to corporate security and law enforcement,” says a narrator. “If safe to do so, gather important information and documents such as a description of the individual, why the encounter was suspicious or alarming, rental agreement documents and identification documents provided to you by the customer, information on any associates present with the customer, and any information regarding how the customer departed the counter, whether it was in a vehicle, on foot or using public transportation.”

In the scenario, the customer “Frank Roberts” tries to rent a van or small box truck for a few hours with a temporary driver’s license and no second form of identification. He says he’s visiting from Sacramento, but can’t answer specific casual questions about the California capital city in conversation with the rental employee.

When the clerk tells him the largest available vehicle is a minivan, the suspect asks, “Do you know how many gallons of fuel a minivan can hold?”

He also tries to pay with cash instead of a credit card.

“Do you know if there’s a parade still going on downtown today? I heard there’s going to be a lot of people there and it’s something I should see,” the man asks.

The rental employee breaks away to talk to a manager, and comes back to deny the rental to the customer.

“While this scenario contained many red flags for suspicious behavior, no one thing may constitute anything out of the ordinary. But taken together, you may determine there’s a strong likelihood that a vehicle will be used to do harm. If so, denying a rental is the right thing to do,” the narrator states. “But if you’re not sure, we once again urge you to follow your company’s protocols for notifying corporate security or law enforcement. Your company thanks you for your efforts. Your local, state, and federal law enforcement partners thank you, and your nation thanks you.”