Axe Gang Security Bumbles Again

The map that caused the ruckus.

We laugh at the single minded foolishness of the Axe Gang in Kung Fu Hustle Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master, but do we laugh when we see it in our own security policies? To intelligence staffers and border guards working under a policy of hammers, all the world is a nail. Here’s an example:

In August 2001, US Customs Agents stopped and searched Ahmad El Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian and a truck driver crossing the US-Canadian border at Buffalo, NY. The search uncovered a photocopied map of a Canadian government complex with “coded” numbers marking certain areas. Customs agents claimed they had found a “terrorist map,” and somehow El Maati found himself in prisons in Syria and Egypt, where he claims he was tortured for information about the map.

An article in the Globe and Mail reports:

in the past four years, the “terrorist map” has taken on almost mythic qualities. It has figured in various leaked accounts describing thwarted al-Qaeda plots to blow up targets in Ottawa, including the Parliament Buildings and the U.S. embassy.


the map — scrawled numbers and all — was in fact produced and distributed by the Canadian federal government. It is simply a site map, given out to help visitors to Tunney’s Pasture, a sprawling complex of government buildings in Ottawa, find their way around.

Atomic Energy of Canada and Health Canada Virus labs that caused so much suspicion have been gone from Tunney’s Pasture since 2000 and 1999.

Even better, the trucking company El Maati was working for explains that the truck was a replacement while his regular truck was in for maintenance. The map and much of the cab’s other contents likely belonged to an Ottawa-based employee who regularly made deliveries in the capital region, including to Tunney’s Pasture.

Summary: A Canadian citizen is held, questioned, imprisoned, and tortured for driving a company truck that happens to have a publicly distributed parking map of a government complex to which anybody might expect the truck to make deliveries.

Thanks to Jonathan Crowe’s Map Room for the pointer.