Associated Press - MINNEAPOLIS -- Truckers in Minnesota are becoming a sort of neighborhood watch on wheels -- learning to monitor roads, bridges and other possible terrorist targets for suspicious activity.
A national public-private partnership called Highway Watch hopes to train 7,500 of the state's truckers, bus drivers and highway workers in the next year. About a dozen truck drivers got their first bit of training Thursday in a hotel room near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
They learned what to watch out for, and what to disregard.
"I hear far too much of the 'I saw three Arabs and it made me nervous' kind of talk as I go around the country," said Ray Brown, of TotalSecurity.US, the consulting firm doing the initial round of training.
Brown, a former CIA officer, told trainees that terrorists come "in every skin color and both genders. There are Palestinians with red beards and blue eyes."
He told the truckers: "Don't be fooled by stereotypes ... What you're looking for is behavior."
He said terrorists pick sites with the potential for many casualties, spectacular images, economic disruption and destruction of symbols of American might, if possible.
"You won't see them attack I-90 in South Dakota," he said, "because there's no one there."
Highway Watch has been around since 1998. It started as a transportation safety measure to aid local authorities.
Minnesota had a pilot project back then on a narrow section of road, said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, which is part of the Highway Watch partnership. But there was so little activity there that the program folded.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the program has been infused with new life, thanks to a $9.3 million federal grant. It has been relaunched in all 50 states. Hausladen said the aim is to get those most familiar with roads and bridges to call in when they see something unusual.
Calls go to Lexington, Ky., and trained operators decide when to call law enforcement and intelligence officials.
Hausladen said he's aware of concerns about racial and ethnic profiling, and said the training will emphasize suspicious behavior over looks. Operators will vet the calls, and callers will need a Highway Watch ID number that shows they've been through the training.