It sounds like something ripped from a movie script. Man finds suspicious device under car, tells his friends about it then gets a visit from gun-wielding FBI agents in black SUVs.
That's the snapshot version of what recently happened to a student in Santa Clara -- minus the Hollywood glitz.
Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old business marketing student at Mission College in Santa Clara, recently took his car to an auto mechanic for an oil change. When the mechanic raised the car on the garage's lift, Afifi saw something that raised his alarm.
There it was, behind the right rear wheel and exhaust -- a device with a wire sticking out. The mechanic was able to pull the device off of the car with no trouble, as it was only attached to the chassis with a magnet. Afifi was surprised to see the wire revealed a battery pack and transmitter.
Afifi, a U.S. born Egyptian-American, showed the device to his friend, Khaled, who snapped pictures of it and posted them on Reddit.com. They asked if anyone recognized the device and whether it meant the FBI was after them.
Someone posted an answer that the device was an Orion Guardian ST820 tracking device sold only to law enforcement. Our friends at Wired.com, who brought us this story, got confirmation from an FBI agent that the device was, indeed, a tracking mechanism.
The agent told Wired that the device is an older model and usually goes unnoticed -- unless it's not hidden well.
On Tuesday, Afifi was in his Santa Clara apartment when his friend alerted him to two "sneaky-looking people" outside near his car. When Afifi headed out for an appointment, he says, he crossed paths with a man and woman looking at his car. The man mentioned to Afifi that his car's registration had expired but Afifi brushed it off and got into his car.
Before he even got to the parking lot exit, two SUVs pulled up with lights flashing, carrying four cops wearing bullet-proof vests. They confirmed to Afifi that they had put the device on his car and told him they wanted it back.
"It’s federal property." An agent told Afifi."It’s an expensive piece, and we need it right now."
The agents asked Afifi a lot of questions, but already knew a lot of key facts about him, like what restaurants he and his girlfriend frequented, where he was recently hired and the fact that he was planning a business trip to Dubai in a few weeks.
They even asked him if he had been at a mechanics shop last Sunday, to which he answered, "that's where I found this stupid device under my car."
After all the drama, the agents left, telling Afifi not to worry and that he was "boring."
Afifi knows he's on a federal watchlist and is often pulled aside at the airport for extra screening. His attorney, Zahra Billoo, says it's unusual for the tracking device issue to escalate to such a high level. But after sharing the facts of the case with her colleagues at the Council on American Islamic Relations, she learned of two similar cases in Ohio.
Afifi's encounter ended with a handshake from the feds. We're staying tuned for the sequel in this espionage-esque thriller.