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FBI Releases Unsubstantiated Terrorist Threats to U.S. Banks

Aired April 19, 2002 - 14:02   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.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to take you back up to Washington for that breaking story, as the FBI now releases information about unsubstantiated threats against U.S. banks. Let's go to Kelli now.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, that's right. The U.S. government is warning of a possible physical attack against a U.S. financial institution, including banks. That's based on unsubstantiated information from an unspecified terrorist group.

The states that are involved are along the Northeast. They include Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia. Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

This was an intelligence-gathering information process that was coming through. And they do have some information that a financial institution could be under attack. However, no specific target, no specific date.

But it was information that the Office of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Justice Department and the Treasury Department felt was important enough to pass on to financial institutions. What they do with that information, of course, is up to them.

The level of alert here in the United States -- I believe we may have a chart that explains what these levels look like -- remains at yellow. That is an elevated level of alert. It's been at yellow though for some time.

So this new information hasn't changed that level of threat at all. It remains at yellow. What does that mean, in plain English? The attorney general, FBI and Justice Department are asking that citizens remain vigilant. Be aware of your surroundings.

If someone comes into a financial institution and drops off a package and leaves, if you see something that looks peculiar, if you hear a conversation that is troubling to you, that you should report that to authorities, to a manager at the bank or at the New York Stock Exchange.

Don't forget, financial institutions is a very generic term. That could mean many things. It could mean a brokerage house. It could mean, like I said, the stock exchange or a bank. So it's very unspecific.

Once again, I will say that the FBI has urged a great abundance of caution here. Because of the fact they don't have any specifics, the last time this happened, it turned out to be a scam. It was actually a 13-year-old boy in the Netherlands who had called the D.C. police and said D.C. area banks could be target of a threat. Of course, that was a scam.

This, too, could not be true. But the FBI hasn't been able to rule it out. So therefore it's dispensing the information -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Kelli, for security reasons, of course, federal investigators don't want to reveal much about what type of attack there could be when talking about these unsubstantiated claims of any unspecified attacks, right?

ARENA: Fredricka, I don't think they know. I think that the word physical attack was as specific as they could get. I don't believe that they have any information -- none that I've heard of yet, that talks about specific types of explosives. If you remember, last time we went through this, it was very specific information about the types of explosives and law enforcement...

WHITFIELD: Or if it would be an explosive.

ARENA: Right. You don't know. It could be a suicide bomber. There are many different ways that terrorists can -- and let's also back up. This isn't necessarily al Qaeda, either. They said it's from a terrorist group, but it's unspecified.

So there's a lot that we don't know here. And that's why the FBI has said, you know, with a great abundance of caution we send out this information. And as you mentioned earlier, Fredricka, you know, it's a fine line that everybody is walking, in terms of not causing too much chaos and trying to be diligent and inform the public about information that's coming in. It's tricky.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll keep tabs on that. Thanks very much, Kelli Arena from Washington.

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