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Backpack by White House Grounds Poses no Danger

Aired April 12, 2001 - 13:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're back at the White House. You see a member of the D.C. Bomb Squad apparently.

We have this package here, which is considered unusual situation around the White House, of course. This is on the -- just outside the north gate of the White House.

On that lawn, as you may have heard Major Garrett, our senior White House correspondent, say earlier, on that North Lawn is where reporters usually stand to present their information, the news they have to report. They have been cleared out of the area.

D.C. police have cordoned off the area. And this package is being closely scrutinized. I would guess that this is a video camera of some sort. We have also heard there's some robotic equipment being held off outside of our viewing area here in case it's required to go in and lift this bit of business out of here.

That looked like an X-ray plate or something. They may have some kind of equipment they can look through this package, which appears to be a backpack of some sort.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, obviously pink backpack. We know here, although some people may be concerned by the amount of attention we're devoting to this, Major Garrett is our White House correspondent, has been at the White House a number of years, notes that this is the first time this has ever happened to him, although they certainly understand at the White House that tourists, a lot of visitors, come to the White House, get a little excited, and leave things behind. This does happen from time to time.

But he has said that the level of concern about this is unusual. Major Garrett is on the telephone line with us now. I understand you've been getting some additional information about all this, Major. What's going on?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Joie. I just spoke to Secret Service. And they have said that this backpack has been cleared, which is the Secret Service terminology for saying it is completely safe. There is nothing ominous, nothing threatening. The momentary evacuation of the press corps from the North Lawn has been lifted.

What is happening right now is they are taking a picture of it. That is for their identification purposes. It is a Winnie the Pooh backpack that they believe...

(LAUGHTER)

GARRETT: ... was left by a tourist. As I mentioned in my first conversation with you on the phone, this happens so often. There was a slight higher degree of activity. But the secret Service assures us nothing ominous, routine. It has been cleared.

They're simply taking a picture of it now so that it can be identified so the person may find out in an hour or two or...

CHEN: Someone is going to be missing their lunch, Major.

GARRETT: ... that's right. Well, not only did they miss their lunch, hey, you left it at the White House. And it was on television all over the world.

WATERS: Saw your backpack on TV.

CHEN: Major, I have to ask you, though, seriously, looking at this picture, I think maybe it's just a visual image. But it looks like they let people get fairly close even though they moved those of you who would normally be on the White House lawn away. Is this just an illusion of the visuals? I mean, looking at this, you're looking across the street, you can see people walking in the park, walking around pretty nonchalant about this whole thing.

GARRETT: Right, of course. You have to understand the genesis of this entire episode.

Here this is Friday at the White House. We're entering beautiful Washington spring weather. Lots of tourists come here justifiably excited about seeing the White House. It is by far the most popular tourist attraction here in Washington. And Pennsylvania Avenue no longer is open to vehicle traffic. But it is a heavily traveled walkway.

And people come and they stand at the gate. And from that gate where you see this backpack, you can see the West Wing and you can see a beautiful look at the White House itself and the fountain.

So people stand there sometimes for minutes on end posing for pictures and just looking. Many people upon the first time seeing the White House are so amazed and happy to see it, they stand there for a long period of time and sometimes forget themselves, or in this case forget a Winnie the Pooh backpack.

The Secret Service does deal with this a lot. But because of its proximity to the West Wing and proximity to also people coming in and out of that gate I mentioned just to the left of that backpack is where one of the main checkpoints is for anyone authorized. That would include White House staff, press personnel, anyone who's authorized to come into the White House on this given day. That's where they would walk past.

The Secret Service decided to put a slightly larger security perimeter around that just to protect those people who would come in and come out of the gate. And that's what they did.

But that camera is taking a picture of it so they can positively identify it to whomever might come back today for that lost Winnie the Pooh backpack.

WATERS: Is it a sign of the times, is it not, Major? When I was growing back, I don't think we ever heard of an incident of people being ordered to back off. There is a Winnie the Pooh backpack there on the sidewalk.

GARRETT: Well, the Secret Service likes to say it takes no chances, Winnie the Pooh backpack or otherwise.

WATERS: All right, Major Garrett at the White House. And...

CHEN: All is well.

WATERS: ... all is well. We're happy about that.

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