- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

The incident surrounding the Georgia woman who called police last week after overhearing three men apparently talking about committing a terrorist act in Miami has raised concern among government officials that her experience might discourage other tipsters.
Eunice Stone's tip proved to be a false alarm, but authorities, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, commended Mrs. Stone for her actions. Some Muslim groups called her a racist, saying she acted on her prejudice against the men, who are of Middle Eastern descent.
Several days later Mrs. Stone, 44, was hospitalized with chest pains, possibly brought on by stress related to the name-calling and threats of lawsuits that followed the news of her phone call.
"I was really surprised at how critical people were of her actions," Mr. Bush told reporters earlier this week. "So I called her up on Saturday morning and said, 'You did exactly what the president of the United States has asked people to do.'"
Immigration and Naturalization Service officials said yesterday they don't think Mrs. Stone's case will dissuade anyone with important information from contacting police.
"It is important for people with information that they believe is material to suspect activity to come forward," said one INS official who did not want to be identified.
Generally, the source of a tip remains confidential so as not to discourage people from leaving information with police, the INS official said. "That's the part that is unusual in the Florida case," the official said.
"Most of the time the originating source of the tip does not become public knowledge. Law enforcement agencies generally protect identities."
Justice Department officials said there is some concern that people may come away from this case discouraged about leaving tips. "The right thing was done in the Florida case, absolutely," said Bryan Sierra, a department spokesman.
"Even though what transpired may not be to everyone's satisfaction, we were able to follow up on the tip, and determine within less than 24 hours that there was no threat. We would like it that this kind of reporting is not discouraged."
Muslim groups argue that government and local police agencies need to "fine-tune" their policies with regard to tips and other information they may receive from citizens on Muslims or other groups.
"There's a problem when you basically deputize everyone in America," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "Does a person reading the Koran in the airport, or a man wearing a skullcap, constitute suspicious activity? Where does it leave us?"
Faiz Rehman, with the American Muslim Council agreed: "There needs to be some kind of checks and balances put in place to prevent incidents like this from happening."
Government officials said citizens should continue to pass on information they think would benefit police in protecting the country from potential terrorist activity.
"There is no type of racial profiling going on," said Barbara Comstock, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "We've heard too many stories about people remembering before 9/11 that they had talked to the terrorists, that they noticed them acting suspicious, but didn't do anything about it and now are regretting it."
One of the FBI's department's initiatives for expanding public vigilance Operations TIPS has run into widespread opposition from both sides of the political spectrum. The program would have allowed truckers, utility workers and mail carriers to report suspicious behavior to local police agencies.
Muslim groups such as the AMC have called for an investigation. "We have two sides: one that the lady was wrong and that she did this maliciously, or that she is telling the truth and the men did play a bad joke on her," Mr. Rehman said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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