CNN BREAKING NEWS
Florida Authorities Stop Cars on Terror Tip
Aired September 13, 2002 - 09:58 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have been sitting here listening to the coverage here and also scouring the wires and trying to dig up some extra information on the story.
We actually do have someone on the phone right now to help us out.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: That we do. We are going to bring in Carlos Alvarez. He is director of the Miami-Dade Police Department. He should be able to give us the latest.
CARLOS ALVAREZ, MIAMI-DADE POLICE: Good morning, how are you.
KAGAN: I'm doing good.
The better question is what exactly is taking place and what is the status of the situation there on Alligator Alley?
ALVAREZ: The Miami-Dade Police Department received a request from the units on the scene of Collier County and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They requested some of our resources to respond to the scene. Basically, they needed a bomb squad to respond.
KAGAN: At what point did you get that call?
ALVAREZ: Several hours ago. Probably around 6:00 in the morning.
KAGAN: So that would still be some hours after this took place, because as I understand it, the suspects were taken into custody around 1:00 in the morning.
ALVAREZ: Exactly. I believe the initial incident occurred in the early morning hours, around midnight or so. And they have been working it. However, because we are dealing with an explosive device, supposedly, they requested our resources because we have, basically, a robot, that can handle it in a much safer fashion than anything that they would have over there.
KAGAN: And I'm very interested in how that robot works.
First, though, I want to take a few steps back. Some of our viewers are just joining us now as we get to the top of the hour. And as I understand it, when these cars were first pulled over and some bomb sniffing dogs were brought in, the dogs alerted to the possibility of some kind of explosive device or residue, is that right?
ALVAREZ: That is correct. That is correct. The dogs alerted, and that's when their bomb squad responded. They obviously observed something that they were uncomfortable with. They did process the cars somewhat. However, at some point in time, they made the determination that for safety that they needed something else, and that's when we were called when we have that capability.
KAGAN: And one more question before we get to the robot, and that is in between then and now, have certain items from the cars, one of the cars, been exploded as a precaution?
ALVAREZ: I believe some hours back they removed an item and it was -- it was detonated. However, I don't have any information as to why that was done. Like I said, my people arrived there about an hour ago. We're working it, and as soon as I know something as well as...
KAGAN: You will pass on...
ALVAREZ: As soon as they tell me, I will know something.
KAGAN: Before we let you go, let's get to that robot. Like you said, your police department has that.
KAGAN: How does it work? And how much capability does it have?
ALVAREZ: Well, I mean, obviously when you're dealing with an explosive device you're talking about safety factors. The robot has the capability of going there and videoing whatever it needs to be videoed so you can look at what the robot is looking at. It has the ability to remove the package. And, if need be, it has the capability of detonating it without anybody getting close to it. So it's an officer-safety factor.
KAGAN: And then in order to run the robot, how close or how far away does the officer need to be?
ALVAREZ: I don't know the specifics, but obviously they would be far enough where nothing would occur.
KAGAN: So what we're looking at, I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) don't know if you can see our air right now, but what we're looking at is a kind of far away picture of the -- of the robot up close to the car where we're at the point I guess where it goes up. And it's taking the picture and transmitting that information back to other officers so they can make a decision about what the next move should be.
ALVAREZ: That is -- that is exactly right. The robot has the capability of videoing and taking photographs of whatever it's in front of and relaying that back to the officers that are obviously at a place where their safety is of -- is paramount. So they have the capability of videoing it, looking at it, and if need-be, removing the item or detonating it with nobody getting close to it.
KAGAN: And that would be good news indeed for them for the -- for the robot to be able to do that. But before we let you go here, just for folks not familiar with the South Florida area, we keep referring to this as Alligator Alley, I-75. Describe this stretch of highway to us and how important it is in the -- in the traffic and flow of South Florida.
ALVAREZ: Well it's a -- it's a -- it's a -- it's a main artery. It goes west and it connects -- it connects, obviously, Dade County with Broward and Collier. It goes from basically the east -- the east part of the state to the west side. So it's heavily traveled. It's used. Fortunately, it's in a remote area so there are no buildings around. So that's good for us.
KAGAN: Another plus indeed. We're going to let you go. If you have more information about what the robot finds or the movings and the makings of your bomb squad, we'd appreciate it if you'd give us a call back.
KAGAN: Great. Carlos Alvarez, Miami-Dade Police Department, they being called into the situation because they have not only the bomb squads, but as Officer Alvarez was pointing out, that they have the robot and priceless that the robot can go up to the car. We still don't know exactly what's in the car or -- but as he was describing, he -- the robot can take pictures, transmit those pictures and information back and pick things up and if need be, even detonate something without any humans having to get close to the car.
HARRIS: Yes. Speaking of detonation, I have a question about whether or not that bag was actually detonated. I actually got a chance to see -- and scouring the Web sites, I got to see a replay of the video that was shot by the station. As a matter of fact, this video we have up on the air right now, WBBH.
KAGAN: What did it look like?
HARRIS: They were there on the scene. They actually...
HARRIS: ... had video of the -- of the -- of the moment when that bag was actually taken out and arranged in the middle of this highway. It was hard to tell whether it was detonated or whether it was -- someone shot the bag. And I -- but I also heard was that, you know, one of the tactics that these groups use, that these -- those folks that deal with the bomb squads and whatnot, there sometimes is they will fire a round into a bag or into an item in order...
KAGAN: Just to see the reaction?
HARRIS: ... to see what kind of reaction they will get from that. And I heard that report, and I happened to see the replay of the video and it wasn't clear if the bag actually exploded. It did jump, it did move and part of it split off, but it did not look like an explosion. And of course there was no audio on the tape, so -- on the Web site, so it's kind of hard to tell.
Maybe our Mark Potter knows more about that. Let's check in with Mark. Mark's been following this for quite a bit this morning, and he's checking in right now to give us the very latest.
Mark, are you there?
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Leon, and I can answer your question about the very thing you're talking about what they did with that package. And this information comes from Mike Oller (ph) who's with the Southwest Florida Regional Bomb Squad. It's an umbrella group that represents a number of different agencies.
Mike said that they had a package in one of these cars that they were suspicious of. It -- they took an X-ray device and looked at it and they couldn't quite accept what they were seeing. They had thought that a number of the devices were benign, but this one had some wires in it and they were worried about that.
So they used a device that they described as a water cannon and used a technique that they call water stress to blow apart the package with water. Now they didn't fire into it, they didn't blow it up. And when they were done with the procedure, they came to learn that it was a -- it was some medical equipment. It was not any sort of safety threat. It was not a bomb device. It was medical equipment.
And the advantage of using this water system is that you only use water, you don't -- you don't destroy the device to the degree that you would if you fired into it or blew it up, and so you're left with more of the remains to analyze afterward. And that's what they did. And once they -- once they completed that procedure, they were satisfied that they had seen -- that they had found nothing dangerous.
He also went on to say, if I might add, that this search is going very slowly. They -- they're about 25 percent through the complete search. They've done a visual search, as best they can, of the -- of the cars and say that they have found nothing there that gives them reason to believe that there might be an explosive device inside. But now of course they go back and they do a very thorough search, inch by inch, and they're about 25 percent through that. They stopped at that point to wait the arrival of the officers and the robot from Miami- Dade. And now that the robot, as you have been talking about, is on the scene, they can resume the search and they'll get going. But this is going to take some period of time.
He went on also to say that in the -- in the car they have found some books, some suitcases, a laptop computer, and they also found, and these are in his words and I'm going to express them exactly as he said them and I'm also going to give the caveat that he gave afterward. He said they found "manuals and -- with Islamic writing." Now that's -- those are his words. He's not a linguist, by his own admission. I'm not either. I can't see them. I don't know with that means, but those are his words. But he was very cautionary. He said now that's his impression and he does not know what those manuals are. And again, don't forget that the first time that they had concern about something it turned out to be benign. This might, too. But again, we don't know what that is as this search continues very, very carefully.
HARRIS: Yes. Exactly. Mark, let me ask you this, have you been able to get any more specific information on exactly what it was the dogs hit on? As we understand it, there were two bomb-sniffing dogs that were brought in and apparently one actually made some sort of a hit or had some sort of a response on the first vehicle. Then that second vehicle also was searched and a second dog was brought in. Any more information about what exactly it was, was it the luggage, was it the car itself, was it one of the bags that we saw taken out and picked apart or what?
POTTER: No, we don't know. We know that the dogs alerted, but we've also been given caution by the officers there that this doesn't necessarily mean that there is an explosive device inside. These dogs are very good. They're extremely accurate at finding residue. They have a great track record, but they're nonselective and they don't -- they can't tell you the history of whatever it is they find.
It could be that they alerted on a firecracker. It could be that something was in the car at some other time and the residue is still there and the device is not there now. It could be benign. It could be a sign that indeed there is something there that's dangerous. It's an early warning system, and it's certainly an important alert that the officers respect fully, but it requires further investigation and that's the stage in which they are now.
And as we have heard from the supervisor from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in the news conference a moment ago and from Mike Oller from the Bomb Squad himself, right now they see nothing in there that leads them to think there's an explosive device in the car. But again, that alert from the dogs got everyone's attention.
HARRIS: Yes, and it's all got our attention this morning.
Mark Potter, we're going to let you go for a quick second. You go out and pick up some more information if you can.
We're going to go over to Daryn Kagan who's got someone else to talk to right now.
KAGAN: Well meanwhile, what's interesting is the large number of law enforcement agencies working on this. We talked to Miami-Dade Police, other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI involved in this as well.
Our Kelli Arena, our Justice Department correspondent, joining us now from our D.C. bureau to tell us more about the FBI involvement and perhaps more information on the three suspects who are in custody.
Kelli, good morning.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.
Why don't we start with what -- with what we have at least confirmed through a variety of law enforcement sources. Let's start off with the fact that we have confirmed that there was a conversation that was overheard in a restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, by a patron who was there with her son. She called that information in to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. That is the state version of the FBI. There was a BOLO put out, which is a "be on the lookout," for these two vehicles. There was a very good description of the vehicles and license plate tags that was given to law enforcement.
After one of the cars, we are told, confirmed by law enforcement, blew through a tollbooth, a sheriff pulled over one of the vehicles. The other vehicle voluntarily pulled in behind that first vehicle, and the law enforcement officer began some questioning.
There were three individuals who have been taken into custody are being questioned by members of the joint terrorism task force. As we all see, there are two vehicles also in custody. When, as we have heard Mark Potter report, the bomb squad dogs were brought, they did react to something in the vehicles.
Now I am -- I have been cautioned by the FBI that those dogs are primarily trained to react to black powder. Black powder can be found, as Mark has also said, in fireworks. It can be found in shells for hunting. So there could have been at some point something as innocuous as a -- as a hunting rifle in that vehicle that the dogs did reacted to.
And as we see, the bomb squad is being very cautious, has closed off part of that highway to ensure the safety of all involved, civilians as well as law enforcement personnel. And that is going to take some time. I am told that this process that we are watching right now on the screen can take several hours.
As for the men in custody, right now what is trying to -- what investigators are trying to do is one, determine whether or not the identification that has been presented by the individuals is in fact real. That they are taking the names that they have at least been presented so far and running them through a variety of intelligence systems to see if there has been any prior intelligence on any of these individuals. You have eight -- you have the INS involved, you have Customs involved, you have FBI involved. And of course if they do strike a hit on any of these names, there may be an opportunity to involve an overseas agency as well. But right now they have no information that indicates that any of these individuals has any connection at all to any terrorist organization.
Right now it is an ongoing conversation, interrogation. They are trying to find out what they can at this point. But I am told by a variety of sources that right now they're -- they've come up empty so far in terms of having this name hit on any intelligence database that they have run those names through so far. They do remain in custody and will for some time I am told. There's been no one that's been able to venture a guess as to when they will be released. But we have gotten some indication that at least all three of them, all three of the gentlemen were here legally. They are in the country legally. And that's what we've got at this point.
Daryn, back to you.
KAGAN: Kelli, I'm just going to jump in here for a second. I just want to take notice of the pictures that we're watching live here from our affiliate WFOR. That's the robot that we -- belonged to the Miami-Dade Police Department to their bomb squad.
KAGAN: And we had the representative on with us a little bit earlier describing to us how that works, all the things that that robot is able to do, not only take and transmit pictures, it can pick things up and it can even detonate items if they're deemed to be dangerous, all of that without a person having to get close to anything that is considered dangerous like that.
It looks like they're maneuvering it a little bit back from the car, perhaps to get a different picture. We'll keep that picture up while, Kelli, I want to ask you a couple more questions about these suspects. In the news conference they seem -- that we saw I don't know maybe a half hour ago, the officials seemed pretty intent on not giving any identification out as to who they are.
ARENA: That's right. Well these men haven't been charged with anything -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Yes, they're just being detained.
ARENA: They -- this could be -- this could be, as one official said, a big nothing. You know they may come up with nothing on these men, and which is why everyone is very careful not to release any name, any identifying information about the individuals that are being held. That is -- that is a major concern right now because this -- they could come up empty here.
Yes, there was a woman who thought she overheard a certain conversation. People can misinterpret things. Everyone, as law enforcement officials have pointed out, it has been very much on edge these past several days this week as it surrounds the September 11 anniversary. So, yes, this was exactly the right thing for this person to do if she -- if she overheard something that she thought was suspicious is to call local law enforcement. That's what we've been hearing from the attorney general and every other U.S. official that gets an opportunity to say that, and so she did the right thing. But now this is exactly what will happen, things need to be checked out. And right now there are no charges that have been brought against anyone.
ARENA: As one official said to me, investigation is an active verb.
KAGAN: Yes, I appreciate that.
ARENA: So that -- it continues.
KAGAN: That news conference I was referring to, we have a little clip from it that we can listen to. I want to do that and then ask you a couple of more questions. Let's listen in.
ARENA: Sure thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E.J. PICOLO, FLORIDA LAW ENFORCEMENT DEPARTMENT: We're taking it very serious until we can eliminate the possibility of a threat or verify that there is a legitimate threat.
QUESTION: Do you know where they were going?
PICOLO: We have investigative leads relative to where they may be going. We're following up on that right now.
QUESTION: Is it Miami?
PICOLO: Not going to verify that at this point.
QUESTION: Can you describe the status of alert both for this region and for Southern Florida in general?
PICOLO: The state of alert is what was advertised two days ago, three days ago by the Office of Homeland Security nationally which is a high state of alert.
QUESTION: How credible do you feel the information coming out of Georgia was? And how credible do you feel the threat was considering the fact that you have the vehicles and men?
PICOLO: It was credible to that extent at this point in time. That's, again, why we're doing a complete investigation to determine the entire validity of the information.
QUESTION: Does it seem almost too easy in some ways the fact the threats were so obvious and that the cars showed up and in the timeframe that was expected?
PICOLO: I wouldn't say it would seem easy. We're in a period in time where we can't afford to ignore valid leads. When we get solid information, we need to follow up on it. That's what we do here in Florida. We're going to keep doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: And that E.J. Picolo, Florida Law Enforcement official.
Kelli, let me -- I want to go to this, the upping of the alert status as it happened a couple of days ago and you heard Officer Picolo talk about that.
ARENA: Right. KAGAN: How much is that current status as high affect how this is being handled right now? And did you have a chance to ask the FBI about being under this current alert status?
ARENA: Well, I did. And you know it is up to state and local law enforcement to determine how they will react to the fact that we are now on orange, which is a high risk of attack here in the United States. There are recommendations that the federal government puts out, but obviously, being on the front lines, state and local officials have to determine how to do that.
I am told that had this happen this week or two months ago, the reaction would have been very much the same, that this really did not have anything to do with the fact that we've moved from yellow to orange. This has to do with the fact that law enforcement is taking very seriously information that comes in regarding a possible terrorist threat.
But it is probably very important to underscore here, Daryn, that I did also check to make sure that there wasn't any new intelligence information that has come in in the past 24 hours suggesting that there might be an attack planned on U.S. soil. And I was told no, the intelligence still points to an attack on U.S. interests overseas, which, as we know, is what led to the White House upping that state of alert to orange from yellow.
I also specifically asked about Florida, if there had been any information that came in that was specific and credible in nature pointing to any target in Florida, specifically the Miami area, which is -- which is the information that came in last night. And again, we were told no, nothing specific and credible. So that needs to be said.
And as I said, this is -- this is an ongoing situation, Daryn, and information will be trickling in I'm sure.
KAGAN: And it will do that as we let you go, and work the phones, Kelli. We're going to let you...
ARENA: I will do that.
KAGAN: OK, we're going to let you do that. We will definitely be checking back with you in a little bit.
That's Kelli Arena, our Justice Correspondent.
I'm not quite sure who that is, but that's going to happen as we cover...
KAGAN: ... our breaking news with live television here.
Leon, what do you have?
HARRIS: Well we're working the phones as well right here. And joining us now on the telephone is CNN's terrorism expert Kelly McCann who's in Fredericksburg, Virginia, this morning.
Are you there, Kelly?
KELLY MCCANN, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: Hi, Leon, how are you?
HARRIS: I'm doing well. And just want to ask you first off the question that -- a question on the point that Kelli was talking about just before she signed off here, do you have any idea or is there any indication as to why Miami would be a target to here?
MCCANN: Regionally, no, and I think everyone is very, very sensitive, of course, around high-traffic areas, ports of entry, international areas. And for that reason, I think that Florida is correct to very, very cautiously go after this.
HARRIS: All right, now let me get some more, I guess a better picture of exactly what might have happened there on that highway at 1:00 in the morning. The report that we've gotten, and that seems to have been confirmed by what we've heard from the police there, is that one of these vehicles really tipped their hand by going through a checkpoint there on the turnpike without paying. And the other vehicle followed through. I guess -- I suppose that one did pay. Nothing was said about that one. And then that first vehicle was pulled over by a police officer and the second vehicle pulled up voluntarily behind it. What exactly happens in a stop like that?
MCCANN: Well there's a couple of very, very interesting things here, one of which of course is the alertive behavior. People who run narcotics, illegal narcotics, sometimes will run a vehicle illegally through something like that to gain focus on that vehicle so another could pass or at least, you know, police in the nearby area who are patrolling or would respond would respond to the decoy instead of the main vehicle. But when the other vehicle pulled in behind the first vehicle that negated that kind of thought, but it was still strange alertive behavior.
If you were being cautious and moving contraband or moving explosives, you certainly want to -- wouldn't want to do anything that would, you know, put attention on you. But I would imagine that the officers that stopped that first vehicle was very, very -- an uncomfortable situation when another apparent -- apparently unrelated vehicle then involves itself in what should have been a law enforcement and one car stop. So I would imagine there was some very, very tense moments while they kind of sorted that out and gained control of that initial situation.
HARRIS: Yes. You know what occurs to me, if you're the police officer in that situation and -- or if -- and if you're the men coming up behind them and there's the squads who bring on the bombs -- the bomb-sniffing dogs and all, would this make you think that perhaps they'd already dropped off the whatever they may have been carrying and it may have already been delivered?
MCCANN: All of those scenarios, Leon, I'm sure are being considered because it is a very strange circumstance. Once the dogs of course alerted, they do their initial isolate, contain and control. They isolate the threat. They basically want to contain it so that evidence is protected, etcetera, and control it.
A lot of the talk about the no-fly zone, that could have to do with an RF threat, or radio frequency threat, because if you don't know how the device could detonate, then in fact all electrical kind of devices, anything that emits radio waves has to be considered as a potential element that needs to be controlled so the -- so the device would not detonate.
HARRIS: Yes. Well you know what else occurs to me too, Kelly, I'm thinking now going back to some of the things -- just taking advantage of the hindsight that we have from September 11 of last year.
HARRIS: As I recall, there were reports that at least one of the hijackers in Boston had picked up a speeding ticket on the way to the airport there. And again, if here's a case where these people may have been bent on doing something like that, they're -- they had disregard for being tipped off or conducting themselves in complete secrecy. So seeing the same sort of activity here might actually be a tip off of some kind of a -- I guess some kind of profile here, would you not think?
MCCANN: Absolutely. There was another stop in Maryland, as well, associated at that -- at that -- during that timeline. So, again, there are patterns. And of course to do business as a bad guy you will have a signature and that's the exact kind of vulnerability that will go out over the law enforcement network to kind of ratchet down the capability of these people to have mobility.
HARRIS: Yes. Now we -- of course we don't really have much more direct information on what kind of report that this woman at the restaurant there actually did give to policemen. Something that she said was specific enough to make them go ahead and pull out things like these bomb-sniffing dogs and the robots. What kind of information would you require, do you think, before you make that move? How specific would the -- would the call have to be?
MCCANN: Well given the current climate, of course everybody is very, very sensitive. And we don't know, too, whether or not the state troopers in fact called for that specific dog. A lot of times you know there are dogs on the road every day and at night and because people move narcotics. So it's hard to say whether in fact that was a dog that was working that region anyway or that K-9 unit was specifically brought in in regards to that link to what the woman overheard.
What is -- what it is an indicator of is just how alert people are. And even though this might be totally, totally innocent and benign, in fact people are talking, they are using their law enforcement links, law enforcement is alert and I think it's a -- it's a good indication.
HARRIS: Yes. Taking advantage of hindsight once again, did you hear our Mark Potter mention that one of the items that happened to be the -- inside one of these -- at least one of these vehicles was a laptop computer? I would have to imagine that after the Zacarias Moussaoui incident up in Minnesota where they did not take advantage -- where the FBI did not take advantage of having his laptop, that they won't be making that mistake this time around. What do you think is happening with that?
MCCANN: Oh I think that they're looking at the laptop for a variety of different reasons, a potential intelligence source, if this in fact is a good hit. Also, remember that the al Qaeda manuals were reduced to CD format. There was a CD-ROM put out by the al Qaeda that, you know, would be accessible through laptop computer.
And in fact, because explosives can be malleable and fit into anything, PATB (ph) or SEMTEX (ph) or C4 or other kinds of things, every single thing in that vehicle, although it might look innocent, not knowing how they structured this device, you know, has to be very carefully observed or examined.
HARRIS: Yes, speaking of being very careful, I'm not sure if you've got a TV monitor in front of you to watch CNN, but what we've got up right now, courtesy of our affiliate WBBH, is a scene where they're outfitting it looks like an officer there. You can see it on the right of the screen, the green figure is actually a man inside of what looks like some sort of a protective suit and that this, with that robot, still there in the vicinity of the vehicle. What was that -- what would that tell you -- Kelly?
MCCANN: The suit -- you know what is a big indicator, Leon, is when -- if you watch the initial approach when the EOD guys went to the first car, they looked through it, they were actually touching things in the trunk. When they went to the second car, they looked, backed off and then the robot was brought in, which meant that they saw visually something that gave them pause.
Now on that robot, you know, we have been using the term detonating. It's a disrupter. And what that is is that water cannon, sometimes it's a -- it's a frangible ammunition device that actually blows apart a bomb before it can detonate and causing a low order explosion. So these guys have obviously seen something that has given them great pause or they would already be physically in that -- in the vehicle.
HARRIS: Well they are -- it appears as though they are now physically moving toward the vehicle. The officer there who did man that -- did don that suit, I should say, is now walking and he's got a couple of items in his hands. Is -- do you have a TV in front of you -- Kelly?
MCCANN: I do.
HARRIS: Any idea what he may be carrying there?
MCCANN: Other kinds of devices. They have portable devices that can test for different things. They have devices that can read signals. They also could be going up there to conduct the second phase of the search would be -- which would be a physical search. Having looked at the TV and said OK, we think we now can go in and actually touch devices.
KAGAN: I just want to jump in here a -- I just want to jump in here a second. Fascinating to watch these pictures. And with all due respect to the officer doing this, you got to wonder about the person who volunteers for this job. I mean talk about courage.
MCCANN: These men are very, very highly trained and know very well, you know, what risk they're undertaking. They're very, very methodical. They're very, very careful. All their techniques, Daryn, are redundant so that they don't miss anything. There's checks and balances, but obviously they are literally at risk every time...
KAGAN: Special breed.
MCCANN: ... they walk up on this.
KAGAN: How much -- how protection does a suit like that give somebody?
MCCANN: Well it'll give you protection from various things, flash from a fragment. It will give you some protection from over pressure. But obviously, if the device is -- exceeds the safety of the suit, you know they could still be killed. So it is a very, very dangerous business they're in.
KAGAN: Well be happy that there are people who want to volunteer for that. Let's have...
HARRIS: Yes. But this camera shot -- just to -- just to clarify one thing, this camera shot really does not give us a good enough -- an accurate perspective, I don't believe. The camera shot that we have overhead shows you exactly how far away this vehicle is from those -- that staging area where the other officers are.
HARRIS: That staging area is well off to the right of your screen, outside of this screen.
HARRIS: The other camera shot that we had almost made it seem as though that they were almost right on top of each other, because you notice it seemed as though when that one officer was helping him don that suit, he almost seemed as if he was just as close to the car as this officer is right now.
We've got our John Zarrella with us.
Now, Kelly, you stand by there. Are you still there, Kelly? Well, Kelly, you stand by if you're listening...
KAGAN: I think we can only get one on the phone at a time.
HARRIS: ... and we want to hold on to you and get back to you in just a bit. KAGAN: So we'll bring Kelly.
John Zarrella -- John, as I understand, you've been able to make it to the scene, although, as I understand it, what we're able to see from the camera positions is a lot more from how far back they're keeping reporters.
John, are you...
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Hi -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Yes, John, are you there? Are you at the scene?
ZARRELLA: Yes. Yes. No, no, no, we have been rerouted. We got to the first blockade, the first roadblock, which was on Alligator Alley at mile marker 80, at which there is a Florida Highway Patrol -- about six highway patrol vehicles turning everyone off of Alligator Alley, which there was virtually no traffic on this morning as we came across. We have been rerouted south now which takes us south and then back around to the other side of Alligator Alley which is, of course, Interstate 75.
But just to give everybody an idea, they're taking it very, very seriously. Obviously that road is completely closed off to westbound traffic from the eastbound side and again, being rerouted around way to the south about 20 miles to the south in Everglades City and then to the west to get over to the Naples area.
KAGAN: John, what about a no-fly zone that's been instituted as well?
ZARRELLA: There is no air traffic in the one hour that it took us to come across. Usually you, you know, you would see commercial jetliners that would come across from the West Coast heading to the east. Apparently they too have been rerouted to another --
KAGAN: John let me -- hold on to that thought. I do want to know more about that. But our Kelli Arena is in Washington, I understand she has breaking news information on the story. What do you have?
ARENA: Well Daryn, we have learned that all three of the individuals are citizens. Two are naturalized citizens. One is a U.S. Citizen. All three have been described as being of Middle Eastern descent. Sources say that all three extremely uncooperative. That was a quote from one U.S. Official in terms of giving any information in the questioning session that has been going on since about 1:00 this morning.
And we are told by one government official that the three are medical students, which would jive with the equipment that was taken out of one of those vehicles that Mark had reported earlier. That they weren't sure what it was and it turned out to a piece of medical equipment. So that information does drive with the information we just got from one government source who says that the three individuals are medical students. So -- KAGAN: Do we know where they are medical students?
ARENA: We do not know that yet, Daryn. I'm -- We're working on it. But I'll tell you, we know that they are citizens. Two naturalized, one U.S. Extremely uncooperative at this point and of Middle Eastern descent.
KAGAN: And one more question Kelli, going back to the original tip coming from Calhoun, Georgia. Have they able to establish these were the men who were in that diner in Calhoun or could this be a coincidence they matched the description?
ARENA: Well, I think they're pretty certain that these are the individuals that were in that restaurant. As we reported earlier, the description of the vehicles, the tag numbers, lots of information that was given to law enforcement in Georgia for them to be able to put a be-on-the-lookout out for those vehicles. So they are pretty confident they are dealing with the three individuals that were over, you know, allegedly, you know, discussing a possible terrorist attack in a Shoney's in Calhoun, Georgia. So, so there's a very good comfort level there.
HARRIS: As a matter of fact, from what I also heard, the amount of information given about these vehicles was so specific that the eyewitness was also able to describe a Carmax sticker that she saw in the front window of the white vehicle.
ARENA: We are told she was very helpful. That was as far as the official would go for me, was that she very, very helpful.
KAGAN: Just the kind of advertising Carmax is not looking for.
ARENA: Just the kind of witness that you want. You know, if there really is something in this, she's just the kind of witness you want. An again, this is -- as we talked about earlier -- this is exactly what the attorney general and other U.S. officials have urged citizens to do. If you see anything suspicious around you to call and obviously they do take that information and use those leads and follow-up on them quite seriously.
KAGAN: Just one more time for us, Kelli, repeat the information that you were just getting in about citizenship status and what they were doing here.
ARENA: All three individuals were citizens. Two are naturalized, one is a U.S. born citizen. They all of Middle Eastern descent. Sources say that all three of these individuals have been -- quote -- extremely uncooperative in terms of providing any information that would be considered helpful.
And we are told by one government official, and I stress one here, because usually I don't come on the air with something I have heard from one person, but this is a pretty solid source for us, and he says they are medical students. So I stress we have that from one person. But I'm going to run to the phones and see what else we can find out. KAGAN: All right, we 're going to cut you loose to let you do that. Bring our picture back up where you see the one member from the bomb squad in the green suit, heavily protected going back to the car with the robot right to his side.
HARRIS: There is a lot of information we would love to get from this woman who gave the police the information that made the call.
KAGAN: Starting in Calhoun, Georgia.
HARRIS: Starting in Calhoun, Georgia at that Shoney's restaurant. Apparently, reports haven't been able to glean -- searching web sites from the different outlets covering the story, she and her son were sitting there, in a booth, not -- just juxtaposed next to the booth where these three gentlemen happened to be sitting. She described them as Middle Eastern looking men. One man was wearing some sort of a skull cap, the kind that most -- many devout Muslims do wear. One had a beard as well. And she actually said something about hearing them say something about they were actually watching coverage of the September 11 ceremonies there at the World Trade Center. And according to this eyewitness, these men were in the restaurant and smiling and laughing. During the coverage.
KAGAN: Which would cause attention anywhere. And as you and I would know, Calhoun, Georgia, just three men of that description would stand out in a town like Calhoun, Georgia.
HARRIS: Particularly when one says, that they are crying now, they will really be crying on 9/13. That apparently was enough for her, that tipped her off, and she later heard, I also listened to this other report where she said that she heard them say, heard one man ask the other, whether or not they have enough to bring it down. And that is what caused her to get up and leave the restaurant and to smudge them in the parking lot and to contact the police herself.
KAGAN: Well, and Kelli was pointing out, as John Ashcroft and other authorities have pointed out, in these times, we all need to be on our toes and anything suspicious you don't just keep among yourself, you go ahead and report it.
HARRIS: Well, if you hear something that specific and you know it's a code orange alert status across the country, that is a sign to get moving. Our Mark Potter has been moving as well as our John Zarrella.
John Zarrella I believe has just moved himself in the vicinity of this location that we're watching here right now with this officer outfitted with this bomb protection gear.
John, what else do you know right now?
ZARRELLA: Well Leon again, we are rerouted around the actual area, taking us far south on some rural roads to get back to the actual vicinity of it again.
As I pointed out earlier, Florida highway patrol has the entire Interstate 75 blocked off past mile marker 80 and they are rerouting the traffic south to Everglades City. Very, very little traffic on the road, Leon, at all and on Alligator Alley there was, very, very little traffic as well. So apparently folks who might have had intentions of driving this way, did at least get the word and they are staying clear of this area.
HARRIS: All right. What we are seeing now -- we just lost that camera shot.
That officer who was there inspecting the vehicle is now returned back to the staging area. He is removing his protective face mask. And it looks as though they may be taking some of that gear off. I don't know if that would indicate the car has been cleared or whatever. Lots of questions still remain to be answered. Let's check in now with our Mark Potter.
Mark, are you still there?
POTTER: Yes I am, Leon. And I was listening carefully to what my colleague John Zarrella was talking about. The traffic headaches and the detours, and unfortunately the word from the Collier county sheriff's office a moment ago is that it's going continue to be just like that for several more hours. The cars are on the scene. The search, I don't believe is completed, we -- it was described to us a short while ago that they were 25 percent done, then they had to wait for the robot to come in and then they would continue to thorough search. So the bulk of the search still is ahead of them.
A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said that as long as they are out there on the highway with all that gear and the cars there and the potential threat, related to explosives, they're going to keep the highway closed and those detours and those problems and headaches will continue. And again, the description that we got from the spokesperson is that we can expect this to last for several more hours. Now that's the bad news.
There is a little bit of good news. It comes from the same office and it is that hazardous materials detection specialists, HAZMAT teams, came from the Naples area, has gone in there and has cleared the area or determined the area is clear of biological and chemical hazards. The area surrounding the car has been found to be clear of, again, biological and chemical hazards. So that's a little bit of good news. They can concentrate on the cars without any -- without fear of there being any contaminants in the nearby area.
But again, until they definitively know what is in that car and the cars can be cleared, that highway, that stretch of highway, is going to stay closed and people are just going to have to drive around it. And it's going to be --
HARRIS: Mark, let me ask you something real quickly. Was there perhaps any thinking that there might be a specific --
KAGAN: Leon, I'm just going to jump in here because we have some kind of news conference going on and we want to jump in and get the latest information. So let's have Mark stand by. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...from the dog and what our information is from the robot.
QUESTION: What kind of pictures are they getting from the robot now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, right now the robot's not working. It is stationary because they're doing the physical search of what;s occurring.
QUESTION: And, were there some items taken from the vehicle already? What kind of evidence, if any, do we have so far?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We haven't assessed anything that's been removed yet. You know, it's a very methodical process. You have to take the contents out of the car and then process each item as the time is afforded us to do that.
QUESTION: What kind of items have you taken out? can you give us just a general description of some of the items?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tina, I really don't know everything that's been taken out and I don't have any specific information what has been removed.
QUESTION: Take us through the procedure of what it is they do. You think they're taking ropes over. What do they actually do? Do you have to reach in and tie things up and pull them out or how does that work?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a hook on the end of the line. And what happens is is a result of the robot not being able to assess certain areas, the physical search is required. So what he does is he attaches a line to it, there will be a technician on the other side of the rope, perhaps, or a safe distance away, and he will actually pull on that rope, removing the item from the passenger compartment.
QUESTION: And as he is doing that, are you looking through binoculars from a distance, or do you have a video feed coming back to you in a car? What are you doing (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, obviously, you can see there is a lot of people that are on the scene that are equipped with binoculars. There is a visual recording of that, and obviously we are assessing this very seriously.
QUESTION: Was there anything removed earlier this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not aware of that.
QUESTION: And what about -- I know there is occasion that when you go through areas where there is believe to be a bomb, people have to turn radios off and stuff like that, are you having difficulty communicating with them out there, fearing that a radio signal might detonate something?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we are very fortunate, that has not been an issue.
QUESTION: With these gentlemen and the vehicles, any idea where they go from here? Who will take the lead in the investigation? Do they go to Miami-Dade or to the West coast?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is dependent upon what is revealed with this search. I mean, if everything in there is good, and their story stands up, then obviously it would take a different turn than if we did find something of a threat situation.
QUESTION: If they find nothing in these vehicles, even though there were reports of the threat out of Georgia, is it possible these gentlemen could get back in these cars and just drive away?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn't really be for me to say. You would have to ask the FBI.
QUESTION: In terms of what you do on a regular basis, how unusual is it the way you are having to approach this vehicle versus what you do when there are other bomb threats that you have to approach?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the dynamics are a little bit different here, but when you are dealing with any device of an explosive nature, you obviously have to take precautions, and the training process to deal with these are fairly similar in nature. The observation through the camera on the robot, and then the physical search if it has to be done.
That's pretty basic.
QUESTION: How long does it take to know exactly what was found in the car?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, depending on how much is in there. They are going to have to remove all of the items before they start assessing each individual...
QUESTION: Was there an item that was already taken out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand there were some issues or some items on the street, but what they are, I don't know.
QUESTION: Nothing has been detonated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, nothing has been detonated. You would hear.
QUESTION: And explain how this works. Sometimes things look like they have exploded, but you actually cause that explosion. Explain why you do that, and how that happens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is something we are not able to determine if it is an explosive device, we have, in the past, exploded those to remove any possible threat of further harm to anybody. There is a bomb truck here. The devices will be put into a container and they will be detonated.
QUESTION: In your experience, are these dogs ever wrong when they sniff and do have a positive ID.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is really not up to me. I mean, the dogs are -- they are great. They are very good at what they do, and obviously we have considered this to be a very serious threat, based on their alert so we are here.
QUESTION: Who is actually suited up? Who is that out there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is one of our bomb technicians, Miami-Dade Police Department bomb technician.
QUESTION: Can you give us your name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name? Pete Andrew (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miami-Dade Police.
QUESTION: OK. Miami-Dade Police. Could you just recap quickly -- recap quickly, what is the robot's function, and what are the men doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The robot's function -- excuse me.
KAGAN: Well, this is live television, and we are following as it goes. That was Sgt. Pete Andrew (ph) with Miami-Dade Police Department describing what is taking place.
You can see it, and you have been following it with our live pictures here, the situation along Alligator Alley. There is both a robot from the bomb squad from Miami-Dade, also a technician, a bomb technician in protective gear out there checking out that particular car. Sgt. Andrew (ph) describing that the robot just standing by while the technician is there. There have been items removed from the car. The sergeant not able so far to tell us exactly what has been taken out.
We have been told time and time again this is going to be a painstakingly long process. It is going to take hours to figure out exactly what was in these cars and if they pose any threat to the folks in Florida.
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