State Department to pull controversial anti-terrorism ad campaign

The controversial ad, show mugshots of 16 of the 31 people on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists List. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Following a huge community backlash, the Joint Terrorism Task Force is abruptly ending a “Faces of Global Terrorism” ad campaign piloted in Seattle this month.

How do you catch a terrorist?

Apparently, if you’re the US government, you cast a pretty wide net.

Ads depicting the “Faces of Global Terrorism” appeared on Metro busses and billboards around Seattle earlier this month, showing 16 of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists and encouraging Seattleites to come forward with information about their whereabouts and collect cash rewards.

The ads prompted outrage from civil rights organizations and local politicians, who suggested that they were an incitement to racial profiling and hate crimes.

“It’s a series of men who at first glance all look like immigrants with brown skin,” said Roxana Norouzi, Policy Manager for OneAmerica (and Globalist board member). “When these busses are going by at a pretty fast speed, the public is not reading the messages, they’re just seeing a series of brown faces with the word ‘terrorism’“.

The ads were organized by the Puget Sound Joint Terrorism Task Force  as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program, which pays sources up to $25 million for information that helps stop terrorism.

The campaign has been running in other countries since the Eighties and the State Department has paid out over $125 million for tips. Seattle was chosen as the first domestic market to pilot the program, apparently because of our city’s strong international connections.

“Seattle’s diverse and globally connected population frequently travels from this international hub and may come across useful information overseas,” according to the FBI press release on June 4th announcing the campaign.


It didn’t take long before the ads stirred up a backlash from civil rights groups and local politicians.

“These are people who are out there to protect us, and then they put out an ad that actually fuels the fire.” said Jeff Siddiqui, a member of American Muslims of Puget Sound, who was one of the first people to call attention to the ad campaign.

Last week Congressmen Jim McDermott sent this objection to FBI Director Robert Mueller, claiming that the campaign is “not only offensive to Muslims and ethnic minorities, but it encourages racial and religious profiling.” Mayor McGinn also sent a letter criticizing the campaign.

Apparently, the negative response came as a surprise to the State Department officials behind the campaign, who met Monday with a coalition of social justice and immigrant rights groups, including the Council of American-Islamic Relations Washington Chapter, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and the ACLU.

“They were literally shocked. They’d thought that they’d done a great job,” said Norouzi, who was at the meeting.

But she said the State Department officials took the criticism seriously, and agreed to pull the ads within seven to ten days.

Neither the State Department nor the FBI have released any new statements regarding the ads, but The Seattle Times is reporting that King County Metro has received a request to remove the ads from busses.