The Story of Yasir Afifi, the Redditor Under FBI Surveillance

At some point, we’ve likely all experienced the feeling that we’re being watched.

Whether inspired by conspiratorial media or an unfortunate defense mechanism against loneliness, it is hard for us to accept that we’re ever truly in solitude.

Of course, even considering the ever-evolving technology used to survey unsuspecting people, the majority of the time we’re just being paranoid.

In truth, most of our lives are not interesting enough to warrant surveillance. 

However, for a good friend of one Redditor, it quickly became apparent that his fears were grounded in reality.

A Redditor Makes a Strange Discovery

In 2010, a Redditor bearing the screen-name u/khaledthegypsy found a strange device underneath the exhaust pipe of his friend’s car.

When purchased a year prior, the car had been thoroughly inspected, and no such object was detected, meaning that whoever placed it there had done so recently. 

With neither he nor his friend having so much as a clue what the device was, u/khaledthegypsy — who from this point forward we will refer to simply as OP (original poster) — took to forum website Reddit, posting a photo of the device as well as a description:

“My friend and I went to the mechanic today, and we found this on his car. I am pretty confident it is a tracking device, but my friend’s roommates think it’s a bomb. Any thoughts?” 

The object, pictured below, resembled a walkie talkie; in tandem was a cylindrical item.

The Enigmatic Object Is Identified 

An image of the cylindrical device found underneath the original poster's car
The device found underneath OP’s friend’s car / Source: Reddit

To be expected, OP was met with a slew of responses accusing him of fabricating the story.

In the opinions of many Redditors, this “strange device” was nothing more than two pieces of junk that OP put together himself in an attempt to achieve some level of internet notoriety.

However, one user, u/jeanmarcp, quieted the naysayers when he correctly identified the object.

“It’s a Guardian ST820,” he commented. “It’s a GPS tracking unit made by the company Cobham… Sales is restricted to army and law enforcement…”

Online information about this tracking unit is scarce. The most detailed description of it can be found on a 2011 WikiLeaks document.

Why Was OP’s Friend Being Tracked?

Source: Unsplash

Upon the revelation that, yes, OP’s friend was most likely being tracked, the legality of such a thing was quickly brought into question.

Unfortunately, a California law had recently passed that legalized the authorities’ use of GPS tracking without a warrant.

This begs the question, why was law enforcement interested in tracking in OP’s friend?

The name of OP’s friend was Yasir Afifi.

According to edits made on the original post, he was a 20 year-old marketing student who, coincidentally, had recently been interviewed by the FBI with regards to his father, a Muslim religious leader who had recently passed away.

The Post Attracts the FBI’s Attention

Source: Unsplash

According to the Wired article “Caught Spying on Student, FBI Demands GPS Tracker Back,” Yasir Afifi’s situation somehow became even more surreal when the FBI made an appearance at his apartment.

“He was in his apartment Tuesday afternoon when a roommate told him that ‘two sneaky-looking people’ were near his car.

Afifi, already heading out for an appointment, encountered a man and woman looking at his vehicle outside.

The man asked if Afifi knew his registration tag was expired. When Afifi asked if it bothered him, the man just smiled.

Afifi got into his car and headed for the parking lot exit when two SUVs pulled up with flashing lights carrying four police officers in bullet-proof vests.

“The agent who initially spoke with Afifi identified himself then as Vincent and told Afifi, “We’re here to recover the device you found on your vehicle. It’s federal property. It’s an expensive piece, and we need it right now.”

“Afifi asked, ‘Are you the guys that put it there?’ and the agent replied, ‘Yeah, I put it there.’ He told Afifi, ‘We’re going to make this much more difficult for you if you don’t cooperate.’”

What We Still Don’t Know

Source: Unsplash

When Afifi handed over the device, he was hit with a strange line of questioning by the agents.

They wanted to know if he knew anyone who had traveled to Yemen, or was affiliated with overseas military training.

To this day, Afifi claims to be unsure as to why these questions were being asked.

Afifi soon filed a lawsuit against the government for overstepping their bounds on his First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights, a case that was thrown out five years later.

Obviously, Afifi was genuine in his feeling that his rights had been violated, considering that this lawsuit not only cost him immense legal fees, but it publicly painted him as someone who has had run-ins with the FBI: Not the best look when applying to jobs.

The reason for Afifi being tracked has never been made public. Perhaps his father was involved in illicit activities.

Considering that he had recently passed, however, it is more likely that the FBI truly was overstepping their legal boundaries in their surveillance of Afifi.

No matter, this case is proof that, while the odds of someone actually wanting to watch us are slim, it is possible to do.

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