If you’re corresponding with known terrorists and attempting to overthrow the US government, it’s safe to expect a knock on your door from the FBI. But what if you just happen to think that storm clouds look really, really cool?
Michael Galindo, 26, learned the hard way that anything and everything is seemingly fair game for an FBI investigation. He was taking photos of a dark and stormy rain cloud above his native Texas town of Houston last month and had to pay the consequences for it when a federal agent appeared at his front door on Friday.
Galindo answered honestly when FBI Agent David Pileggi showed up at his Houston household last week and asked him about some photos he took on September 13 near the former Lyondell Refinery.
“He said I was spotted near the refinery but I couldn’t even remember doing that. I thought it had to be somebody else,” Galindo tells Photography is Not a Crime. “It wasn’t until he mentioned my camera that I made the connection.”
Galindo says he never once stepped foot on the refinery’s property, but it was enough to raise suspicion nonetheless. Someone at the facility spotted him shooting photos and phoned in the police, who in turn rang up the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.
According to Galindo, he was just “looking for a clear line of site” so he could snap a photo of storm clouds overheard, something he does regularly as a volunteer member of he National Weather Service’s Skywarn program, a coast-to-coast system that lets civilians submit breaking information about any storms stretching across the sky. The Skywarn website acknowledges that the program is run in conjunction with 122 local Weather Forecast Offices throughout the country, including many that offer free training classes to amateur meteorologists.
Galindo tells Photography is Not a Crime that the entire incident with Agent Pileggi ended peacefully. “He told me, ‘you’re not a threat and you are doing a public service but just be careful next time,’” the man recalls. That isn’t to say, though, that he got off without a hassle: Galindo says the agent asked him questions off a three-page document that involved any history he may have had with the US military or traveling overseas.
Now, Galindo says, he is left wondering if the FBI has since opened up a file on him.
“The worst thing I’ve done is get speeding tickets, but I haven’t gotten one in three years,” he tells the website.