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CNN BREAKING NEWS

FBI Says Terrorists Might Target Banks

Aired April 19, 2002 - 13:51   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: Breaking news now. We want to report to you that the FBI is now releasing information that they've gathered, alleging that terrorists are targeting banks. We want to go now to Kelli Arena in Washington with more on that -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. We just received a statement from the Justice Department and FBI saying that they have unsubstantiated information that unspecified terrorists may be considering attacks on financial institutions in the northeast. The terrorist group has not been identified. Sources say that this is from an intelligence gathering process, but that the information is unsubstantiated.

However, the government felt that it was strong enough to at least issue an alert to several states. Those states include Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.

Basically, what has gone out is a warning to disseminate information that there was information gathered that could be a threat to financial institutions. There is no recommended action to be taken. What financial institutions do with the information is up to them.

The last time we had this situation, if you remember, Fredricka, there was information that was gathered that D.C. area banks may be the target of a terrorist act. And some financial institutions here chose to close for the day. This time, however, there is no specific time or date or even a very specific targets, just financial institutions, which, of course, could include banks or perhaps the Stock Exchange.

As I said, the information is unsubstantiated and very unspecific. But that is the latest. It did issue a warning. I was in consultation with the Office of Homeland Security, the Department of Treasury, of course, the Department of Justice and FBI. They all got together, discussed it, and said, yes, this is important enough to get out there, even if we don't have a whole lot to go on. Let's make people aware and keep people vigilant. There you go.

WHITFIELD: Now, Kelli, isn't this another one of the occasions where the question will be asked, why the Homeland Security Office? Why would other branches within the Justice Department have made a decision on so little that really informs any of us about this situation in their evidence gathering as to why they decide to make it public? Doesn't this further alarm people, as opposed to providing information that really might be helpful for you and me?

ARENA: That has been a criticism all along since September 11th. It is a very fine line that the government has to walk here. And I think the decision making process, as it has been explained to me, is that if there is enough intelligence pointing to a possible threat, that it is better to get that information out there, to keep citizens vigilant and alert.

The recommendation has always been -- and have you heard it from the attorney general, heard it from the FBI director -- that as we as citizens, that the people who own businesses and so on need to be aware. They cannot think that just because we haven't seen an attack since September 11th that there won't be one today or tomorrow.

So I think, when they get enough information in, they feel it is imperative to disseminate. I have to say, obviously, FBI bureaus across the nation, field offices across the nation, probably get hoaxes daily. When they can knock it down, they knock it down. But I think, in the case when they can't knock it down, even though they say it is unsubstantiated, if they can't completely rule it out, they feel it is their obligation to get it out to the necessary parties.

In this case, it was the financial institutions. Does it cause great concern? Yes. Am I concerned sitting here? Yes. But I think it is a very fine line. And you know, I think each one is called very differently, depending on the situation.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kelli Arena from Washington. We will keep tabs on this story as it develops.

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