FBI Shows Up on Man’s Doorstep After He Shoots Photo of Clouds

The next time you’re photographing clouds, make sure those clouds aren’t hovering over a location that’s considered “sensitive”. National Weather Service volunteer Michael Galindo learned this lesson last month after pulling over to the side of the road near Houston to snap a photo of storm clouds brewing in the distance (shown above). Problem was, between Galindo and the clouds sat the Lyondell Refinery.

Carlos Miller of Photography is Not A Crime reports that someone at the refinery spotted Galindo photographing the scene, and contacted the local police department.

By the time the summoned officers arrived, Galindo had already left the location… so the police called the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Imagine the look on Galindo’s face this past Friday, when the FBI arrived on his doorstep to question him about his activities. Luckily for Galindo — a 26-year-old man with a squeaky clean police record — FBI agent David Pileggi was satisfied with his explanation after a 20-minute questioning, and simply left with a warning to “be careful next time.”

This story comes just two months after a “report photographers as potential terrorists” video posted to the Houston city website began making the rounds on the web.

(via Photography is Not a Crime via Boing Boing)

Image credit: Photograph by Michael Galindo

  • Nicholas Erwin

    Why is this happening more and more? I know people that are afraid to take photographs because they are afraid that they would get in trouble. Photography is not a crime, art is not a crime. These people and the police are putting bad reputation on us photographers.

  • Bryan Mordt

    Every time I see a story like this I think the terrorists have won.

  • DavePrime

    ‘FBI agent David Pileggi was satisfied with his explanation after a 20-minute questioning, and simply left with a warning to “be careful next time.”

    YES be careful next time your NOT breaking any laws

  • NDY

    They have their bosses to answer to, and in todays climate, better to be safe than sorry is the attitude. Unfortunately certain communities like ours are feeling the effects more than others. Not condoning, just observing

  • jdm8

    “You better be careful” when he actually didn’t do anything wrong?

    Were photographs ever really necessary to plan terrorist attacks?

  • the Truth

    We’re still in America aren’t we?

  • Joey Duncan

    probably a lot. I watch a lot of spy movies and they use camera’s all the time…. :-)

  • Jeffg53

    Couldn’t agree more! That is plain ludicrous!

  • Trausti Hraunfjörð

    Every time I read stories of this kind (police/security guards/other authorities bothering people) I know who the REAL terrorist are.

  • Stephan de Laat

    So a police officer goes looking for a photographer….can’t find him…..calls the FBI….and FBI spends a ton of time questioning the photographer.

    Why don’t they do something useful? They got bored eating donuts?!? Why aren’t they chasing any real criminals?

  • JoeNoName

    its better that they showed up to his door, than rather not, better safe than sorry, they didn´t do anything to him, just plain questions.

    Its not wether he is a photographer or not, its wether the pictures are for terrorism or not, which they arent

  • JoeC

    Actually, what the terrorists wanted was for the US to invade countries in the Middle East, which worked out pretty well for them (though not as much as they might have thought given more recent history). Despite the rhetoric of some over here, they don’t give a crap about our “freedoms” or anything like that; their primary goal was to bring about a series of Islamic revolutions in the Middle-East. Of course, when the revolutions did come, they were pretty much left out of the party, so it didn’t really go the way they wanted.

    What I think this shows is that the fascist/police state types and the military-industrial-complex types have won. It’s not foreigners who want to take away your freedoms, it’s your fellow Americans. They are, after all, the ones who’ve been advocating that staggering reductions in the rights and freedoms of American citizens need to be curtailed in the name of “security”, not Al Qaida, etc.

  • Fred Nerks

    When was the last time a terrorist was known to be taking photos for the purpose of destroying a facility? To my knowledge this has never happened. Law enforcement is woefully unaware of this, and unaware of photographers’ rights. Janet Napolitano sure got her message across to the nation: “See something – Say something!” But nobody seems to be able to get the rights of the public to take photos while on public property, across to law enforcement. It’s the police and the FBI who need to be careful about trampling on people’s rights!

  • Gail Des Jardin

    I had this exact same thing happen to me a few years ago. I had pulled off the road to take a photograph of steam from an industrial building filtering out the setting sun. It was also in Texas. A few months later, the FBI showed up at my door and asked numerous questions about why I was there, what I was photographing, why I took the picture, etc. It probably took about 45 minutes or so to answer their questions. They were perfectly nice and understanding about it, but it freaked me out nonetheless.

  • Steven Alan


  • Jonathan Maniago

    Even for security issues, a 20-minute chat seems to be a bit too long for questioning over taking pictures.

    “Were you shooting RAW or JPEG? What was your white balance? Is the horizon tilted for artistic reasons? If you were shooting the clouds, why didn’t you employ the rule of thirds and keep the horizon lower instead of having it in the middle of the frame? Was the frame-within-a-frame shot intentional or the result of you being too lazy to move closer to the window? Does that improve the composition or does it actually reduce its overall impact?”

  • Matt Vocks

    Every time I see the stories like this, I shrug and say “ok”…..The FBI did nothing wrong, the photographer did nothing wrong. Net loss zero. It doesn’t make me feel like we are living in a “police state” or any other scary whatever. The person who reported the photog was doing what they are told to do. If it looks like someone is reconnoitering, report it, because yes, photographing targets IS possibly a step towards an attack. Same situation applies to a stranger sitting out in front of your house in a car. Call the police, they talk to them. They were either pulling over to talk on the cell phone, eat a drive through meal or some other innocuous chore…….or planning a robbery. Not every photographer or person with a camera gets talked to. Law enforcement does more than just eat donuts. They do actually protect the citizens they serve…..

  • Kristin Oldfather

    They need to make a list of places we ‘aren’t’ allowed to photograph because you never know if you can or not photograph a certain place until the security or fbi comes knocking or running at you telling you to stop.

  • slvrscoobie

    Crazy – I got harrased about taking a picture of the sun behind the American Flag on a post office back in 2005. Suddenly 2 rent-a-cops were on top of me talking into their shoulders. Asking me what I was doing. I deleted the photos and they were satisfied. I was lucky!

  • slvrscoobie

    Cant they get better detailed info from Gmaps/Bing/Yahoo ???

  • Pierce Anderson

    An arbitrary list of places that are not allowed to be photographed is a horrible idea.

  • Tony de Bont

    This is not just an issue in the USA. I’m 70+, served in the Australian Army for 20 years and have twice been roused by ‘security’ and made to delete the images. Just didn’t know I was in the no-go zone.

  • Greg Vojtko

    Guy in the grocery store passes me at the magazine rack today, wearing t-shirt with what appears to be the presidential seal on it. he sees me looking at it, and says, “I’m Joint Task Force. Anti-Terrorism. You probably don’t know what that is.” “Sure I know what that is,” I reply. “It’s one of the biggest boondoggles to ever occur at taxpayer expense.” I don’t have much patience for people with too much arrogance for their own good. To top it off, the guy is such a trained observer, he has to ask me where the gun magazine I’m reading is located on the rack!

  • Coyote Red

    Something just doesn’t seem right with this story. How is it the FBI figured out who took that picture? Did that “observer” get a car tag? If so, then why did the cops not go and talk to Galindo themselves? If they did have a tag and didn’t investigate, it could be they realized it wasn’t important enough to bother with and passed it to the FBI. Also, it could be the refinery folks called the FBI themselves. The article was written by Carlos Miller–someone I personally think has an agenda other than photographer’s rights. That’s not to mention I don’t visit Boing Boing anymore because of their rabid anti-police stance.

    Cops are in a no-win situation many times. Tasked with preventing crimes, yet the public wants this crime fighting completely invisible. This story is nothing but some enthusiast taking an innocent picture, someone being concerned and calling it in, and some poor schmoe in a “feebee” jacket asking a few questions in a voluntary encounter. That Galindo was “intimidated” is on him–he shouldn’t have been.

    I’ve been questioned more than a few times for various activities. Never once have I been intimidated. I just give them an explanation and because I’m not breaking any laws I go on my way.

  • romney

    I wonder if someone was sitting out the front of your house taking photos, of what appears to be nothing in particular, if you would feel the need to call the cops? I bet most would have a ‘better to be safe than sorry’ position. Unfortunately this is the world we now live in. Also imagine if someone had attempted to actually bomb a piece of your infrastructure? The public would be the first to demand they be caught. Preventative measures are important also, and the guy photographing near a sensitive site IS deemed suspicious behaviour by authorities.

  • John

    I’ve been harassed at 1 o’clock in the morning for taking a picture of a full moon, for taking a picture of wildflowers on the side of the road, and for taking a picture of a train. I guess when they’re not in the doughnut shop, they have nothing else better to do.

  • harumph

    You were “lucky” because you gave up your rights? Don’t let any cop, especially a security guard, bully you into deleting photos.

  • harumph

    “Same situation applies to a stranger sitting out in front of your house in a car. Call the police, they talk to them.”

    You’re the second person in this thread to advocate calling the cops to report people who are sitting in their cars on a public street. Where do you people live that you would consider this a suspicious activity? Do you find yourself calling the cops on a nightly basis? A weekly basis?

  • muckfislam

    “Of course, when the revolutions did come, they were pretty much left out of the party, so it didn’t really go the way they wanted.”

    You’re a moron and/or you are working for the muslim brotherhood, al queda, or the shiites in Iran who are about to have nuclear weapons.


  • muckfislam

    no they JUST MAKE IT EASIER.

  • jdm8

    It’s even easier to find your recon photos on the internet. All this is just security theater.

  • Sila Mahmud

    Seriously, you put in a lot of
    effort in creating this tutorial. You made it too easy for us and I’m stuck at
    the simplest step

  • Anon

    Yes, maybe it would be best if they detained him for just a few days. You know, just in case.

  • Lee Harris

    “Photography is not a crime, art is not a crime” Oh i don’t know, some of the stuff I see using filter effects and HDR are definitely a crime…

  • Soap

    Yes you are. You can tell by the hysterical paranoia of the general populous.

  • Eziz

    This means more trouble for me, a middle-eastern looking guy who likes to photograph

  • Anatole

    “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
    Oscar Wilde

  • JoeC

    Not Al Qaida. If you’d have read real journalism, you might know what I’m talking about.

    The military is running Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with Al Qaida, by the way), and neither Libya, Syria nor Iran are run by Al Qaida, nor will they ever be.

    If the recent revolutions in the Middle East have shown anything, it’s the increasing irrelevance of Al Qaida as a political force in the region.

    Might I politely suggest that you read some serious journalism on the Middle East before you write any further?

    Also, assuming that someone else, particularly someone who is much better informed than you are on a subject, is an idiot or is working for a foreign political organization is not a great starting point for a debate or a conversation. Par for the course for the internet, sadly.

  • Patrick Ahles

    Beauty is in the eye…

  • HaroldF

    American STASI… nuff said

  • Coyote Red

    Actually, in the U.S., there is.

    Places which are marked “No Photography.” These are generally military installations. I don’t know of any civilian installations that can place those signs with any force of law.

    What really sucks is the parking areas on airport perimeter roads where one used to be able to park and watch the planes are now closed–all that I’ve seen anyway.

    See, the difference between live photography and Google Earth is timing. Photography has generally been prohibited at military installations to prevent intelligence gathering concerning troop and munitions movements. Near where I live are several former Naval Bases where nuclear weapons were housed and serviced. They had to move weapons from one base where the weapons were serviced to another where they were stored until deployment. These movements were randomized as much as possible, but I’m sure there were some tattle tell actions that preclude a weapons movement. So, no photography was allowed in the area. This was very much a National Security issue decades ago.

    Additionally, I believe many of these “No Photography” areas can also assert “No Fly” restrictions as well.

    Other than that, if you have a legal right to be where you’re standing, feel free.

  • Coyote Red

    “Where do you people live that you would consider this a suspicious activity?” Suburbia.

    Actually, unknown subjects sitting in a car in a modest single family dwelling neighborhood IS suspicious. Sure, sometimes it’s a friend waiting for the homeowner to return. Sometimes it’s canvassers or door-to-door sales. Sometimes it’s the look out for the guy around back kicking the door.

    You’d be surprised at the number of burglary reports taken were neighbors remember seeing a unrecognized vehicle in the driveway, unrecognized subjects in the backyard, and those same subjects putting TVs and other objects in the vehicle before leaving. …and they never called because they didn’t think it was suspicious! Really!?

    So, yes, there are folks who live in areas where a car they don’t recognize is parked on the side of the road is suspicious. They do call. Most of the time it’s nothing. Occasionally, it’s the folks who have been plaguing the neighborhood with break ins.

    Be thankful you live in an area where there is no crime or content you live in an area where you think there is no crime.

  • Nicholas Erwin

    Yeah I agree with you on that, but not everyone is an artist.

  • madmax

    Be more careful next time! ;-)

  • doc Zox

    Lets play “What Would a Terrorist Do”?

    How about, either use google street view or mount a camera in a window and remote trigger it.
    I got investigated by the NYC police while i was shooting VR nodes at ground zero, my Natty Geo business card diffused that situation, but how hard is one of those to make? A person that wanted photography of a place could get it very simply and there would be little observable indications that they had a hat cam.

  • harumph

    Yes, the brave denizens of the high crime area known as Suburbia must remain ever vigilant, lest strangers invade to park on their streets or photograph their clouds.

    I moved to a crime-free suburban hell-hole after Katrina hit my adopted hometown of New Orleans. My first week here, I was stopped by a cop for taking a walk around my block. Apparently nobody walks in California. In the 7 years I’ve been here, I’ve had more unwanted–and unwarranted–contact with the local police than I ever had with with NOPD. It’s highly ironic to me that these suburbanites all live in fear and paranoia of anything or anyone who looks “suspicious.” Our police blotter is a never ending stream of, “investigated suspicious vehicle in Safeway parking lot,” and “investigated suspicious vehicle in Library parking lot.” Not surprisingly, there’s never any actual crime happening. Just a bunch of people trembling in fear over nothing.

  • Coyote Red

    INAL, just a cop. Consult an attorney in your state or country. That said…

    I think we need a bit more information, but from what I’m reading I would have simply told them what I was doing and if they didn’t like I would have left. Only someone with arrest powers can detain you. They can ask you to stick around until the police arrive, but that’s it. (Barring some certain circumstances concerning citizen’s arrest.)
    Next time, walk away. If private security physically detains you, then the cops should be coming. Period. You call them, they call them, it doesn’t matter. A good rule of thumb is if you hear the words, “you are under arrest” then don’t resist, you don’t want an additional charge. Let them do what they’re going to do without resistance, but don’t give consent.
    Point being if you are taking photographs illegally a cop will not (should not) make you delete the photographs. Why? Because it is evidence of your crime. If they take your equipment–really they only need the card–you should get a Chain of Custody. Otherwise, if they are not taking it as evidence, it is theft.
    Personally, I think anyone making you delete a photo, or any other intellectual property, is or should be a crime. What statute I would write for that I don’t know as an image file is not a physical thing. Otherwise, you could go after them civilly.

    The bottom line, though, is how much hassle you want to put up with to protect your rights. Me, I’ll go all the way while staying within the law.

  • Mach74

    Homeland Security and the Big Sis at their best

  • hayyana

    crazy country

  • Redblood Blackflag

    “The person who reported the photog was doing what they are told to do.” Yeah. . . just like the Nazis who tossed Jews into ovens. . .
    “Law enforcement does more than just eat donuts”- You’re right. They also run around harrassing people, intimidating people, threatening people, and initiating violence against people for disobeying “the politician.”