Back in mid-September, the NYPD (and the city of NY) was embarrassed by the work of an artist who managed to install 100 posters in pay phone kiosks that appeared to show the city was using armed drones to control crime.
Last week, police finally arrested Essam Attia, the man they believe was at the center of the campaign. Mr. Attia has been charged with 56 counts of possession of a forged instrument -- a fairly serious crime for someone who put up some posters that he claims were meant to spark a conversation about the troubling us of drones both domestically and abroad. In fact, shortly after he posted the signs, the artist told AnimalNewYork.com that he hoped the subject would “reach a mainstream level where we are talking about this at the dinner table.”
Some are wondering about the severity of the charges. From New York's penal law (170.30) on the charge:
Under our law, a person is guilty of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the First Degree when, with knowledge that it is forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he or she utters or possesses a forged instrument which is or purports to be or which is calculated to become or to represent if completed .
It also seemed curious that no charge of criminal vandalism or impersonation was included in the group of charges filed against the arrested artist. After all, Essam and his crew posed as employees of the Van Wagner company (the owners of the small advertising billboards in the phone kiosks) and replaced revenue generating advertisements with Essam's posters. TheBlaze has reached out to the company in hopes of finding out how many of their kiosks were victimized by Essam's campaign, how much revenue was lost, and would they be pressing any charges against Mr Attia?
As concerns the rather serious charges against Mr. Attia, there is speculation from some that the city was embarrassed by the actions accomplished by Attia and his crew, and the charges are meant to send a message to other would-be pranksters.
Image: Photo: @Jay Shells via AnimalNewYork.com
The embarrassment hit the cops hard on a couple of levels.
- The NYPD does not currently have a drone program and certainly does not have an armed drone program that could be used against citizens.
- A large number of the posters were installed in pay phone kiosks in the highly patrolled Times Square area of Manhattan.
- The prank took place on the 1st anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement and just days before the United Nations General Assembly met. A time when NYC is on high alert and police presence is substantial.
The professional-looking posters were designed and installed by 29-year artist, Essam Attia from Maine. Mr. Attia has also taken credit for another drone spoof from earlier in the year. Attia admits (in the video below) that he placed some official-looking signs on street lights in Brooklyn stating that local laws were being enforced using drones.
Image: Screen capture from AnimalNewYork.com
Following the mid-September installation of the "NYPD Drones: Protection When You Least Expect It" campaign, the police were reportedly engaged in an aggressive investigation to find the culprit(s).
Five days after the stunt, the artist known as Essam (he even signed the posters with that name), sat down with AnimalNewYork.com to explain his reasons for the project. Contrary to many rumors, he was not involved with or connected to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. AnimalNewYork reports:
As far as his political views, the artist feels that Obama and Romney are “essentially the same.” If anything, he says his work “identifies strongly with libertarianism.”
That statement was made back in September, a few days after the posters were installed. At the time, the NYPD was apparently pulling out all the stops to find out who was responsible. Essam Attia claims that his art was meant to start a conversation about drones. How we use them around the world and how they might end up being used here in America. The AnimalNewYork piece continues:
He agrees that there is an inherent irony in his spoofs: the very fact that the NYPD (which claims to be strongly pursuing him with their “counter terrorism squad”) hasn’t caught him yet, is proof that we have not reached a state of Orwellian control. “But we’re going in that direction and no one’s talking about it,” he says. “And I think that’s pretty scary.”
Some are crediting this interview from AnimalNewYork with helping the NYPD finally track down the man they believe was responsible for the 100 poster "vandalism." In the video, Mr. Attia gives some fairly specific clues to his identity -- talking about his military experience (he was in the Army during a time when drones were "an eye in the sky"), and his home state of Maine.
As stated above, last week Essam Attia was arrested and charged with 56 counts of possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons charge. Attia apparently had an unloaded .22-caliber revolver in his apartment. However, one report about the gun claims that it was a 120 year old heirloom.
TheBlaze has sent a personal request to interview Essam Attia about this story. If he decides to break his silence, we'll post the interview as a separate story.
In the meantime, here is the video AnimalNewYork interview from September that is being credited with leading to police to Essam.
Closer examination of the video teaches us even more about Mr. Attia. It appears that he has been worried about the government encroaching on personal freedoms for a while. In the background of the video, assumed to be the artist's studio, you can see some large stencils.
Image: AnimalNewYork.com screen capture
The stencils bear a striking resemblance to those seen around Brooklyn and posted on UrbanInfidel.blogspot.com nine months ago. Keen observers will note the three horizontal lines in the lower corner seem to match the lines in Essam's signature on the NYPD Drone posters.