Fact Check

Fresno Terrorism Threat: Women in Burqas Buying Cell Phones

Grossly exaggerated version of an anti-terrorism presentation warns about women in burqas buying up cell phones.

Published April 28, 2010

Anti-terrorism presentation warns about women in burqas buying up cell phones.

The account quoted above is a second-hand forwarding of a report by Earl Wright, who was in attendance at a December 2009 presentation given by Lt. Col. John G. Cotter of the California Air National Guard to the Rotary Club in Clovis, California, about the EagleEyes program for teaching military personnel and civilians to "recognize elements of potential terror planning when they see it."

However, in reference to the above-reproduced report, Lt. Col. Cotter told us, "That is my real name, and I am the Antiterrorism Officer at the 144th, but that's the end of the accuracy of Mr Wright's viral e-mail account":

This is a viral e-mail that went out from a fellow named Earl Wright following my Eagle Eyes presentation to the Clovis Rotary Club in December. It has gone around the world several times and I have heard back from folks who know me all over the place. The purpose of the Eagle Eyes program is to familiarize military and civilian folks with the eight observable steps leading up to a terrorist event and to encourage them to call the phone numbers I provided to the FBI, Fresno Police or Air Force OSI if they see something that doesn't look right. That way the appropriate agencies can intervene and stop an attack from taking place.

Our program has been very effective and has been cited as the best in the Air Guard for two years in a row. I've given this presentation hundreds of times to military and civilian organizations, and this is the first time something like this has happened. The quotes apparently attributed to me are false. I never refer to people as "ragheads" or f***ers, although I do stress that we don't profile. The examples cited in this e-mail have been distorted, mis-represented and inaccurately reported and attributed to me. If you or your agency would ever like to see the real presentation, I'll be happy to come and give it at your convenience.

The Fresno Bee also reported that other attendees did not recall Lt. Col. Cotter's having made the remarks attributed to him:

Rotary member Bill Mayhugh, who is in charge of lining up speakers for the club, backs up Cotter.

"It was typical community outreach," Mayhugh says. "He said that if you see something suspicious, call the police, FBI or Homeland Security. I sure didn't hear the stuff that's in the e-mail."

Lt. Col. Cotter was kind enough to send us a copy of his Eagle Eyes presentation, and it was indeed merely a general outline describing how citizens can help deter terrorism by recognizing and reporting pre-attack activities. It contained nothing about women in burqas buying up cell phones or "ragheads" probing the Air National Guard base in Fresno.


McEwen, Bill.   "Viral E-Mails Infect, Disrupt Public Debate."     The Fresno Bee.   27 May 2010.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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