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Florida Police Search Cars for Bombs

Aired September 13, 2002 - 10:47   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Watching scenes that we saw live here just within the last hour here on CNN. A member -- a bomb technician from the Miami-Dade Police Department and their bomb squad suited up and worked toward these two cars that are pulled over on the side of Alligator Alley, I-75, in South Florida.
If you can look to the right center part of your screen, you can see there is also a robot. That robot also belongs to the bomb squad from Miami-Dade. The robot went in first to check out the situation, and now it is the technician who is doing that very dangerous and meticulous work.

We want it bring in Tina Osceola, she is with the Collier County Sheriff's Department, Collier County, the site of this breaking news story, to learn the latest about what we know with the situation -- good morning.


KAGAN: What can you bring us up-to-date on the situation there?

OSCEOLA: Well, unfortunately, we really don't have anything new other than, of course, the historical on how we got here.

KAGAN: Well, let's go ahead and do that because there are some folks who might just be joining us right now.

OSCEOLA: OK. Well, basically, we received information, as far as we, the Collier County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Florida, received information on what we call a BOLO, which is "be on the lookout" for a suspicious vehicle with suspects may be headed to the east coast via I-75, and they may have some terrorist intent in mind, something that would definitely impair domestic security.

Of course, we are under an orange alert, and we have actually been operating under yellow for quite some time. But what that did was, it caused us to deploy the regional domestic security task force as well as our traffic enforcement unit from the sheriff's office.

We were up on 75, and one of our deputies actually came into contact with the suspect vehicle, and pulled that suspect vehicle over...

KAGAN: Excuse me, Tina, when you say that suspect, which car?

OSCEOLA: The very first one, which would have been a light colored -- most people are calling it a Nissan Maxima, which it isn't. The car we have is not a Nissan, but the tag does match and the vehicle description is a light colored four-door sedan.

KAGAN: So as cars -- I don't know if you can see our air right now, but as the cars that are parked on the side of the highway, it is the car in front.

OSCEOLA: Right. The car in front was the first vehicle that we pulled over. After we pulled that vehicle over, another vehicle pulled over with it. So we ended up having two vehicles.

At that point, our backup units responded, and part of that backup was a K-9 that was a bomb detection unit. That K-9 alerted on both vehicles, and that's where we ended up here, now.

KAGAN: So two vehicles and three men between the two cars.


KAGAN: And then, those men have been taken into custody.

OSCEOLA: They are being detained.

KAGAN: But not charged so far.

OSCEOLA: Right. They haven't been charged with anything, because as we have seen throughout the country since 9/11, there are many incidents like these, and they don't necessarily pan in the sense of a criminal charge. But what they do I think is exhibits to the public that law enforcement, fire, EMS, we are ready and taking the call seriously.

KAGAN: Sure. As we begin the story, again I don't know if you can see our air, but on the left side of our screen, we have a map showing that as far as we are concerned, the story begins in Calhoun, Georgia, in northwest Georgia, where a well says she overheard three men of Middle Eastern descent talking in a Shoney's restaurant about some possible terrorist plot, and gave a very descriptive -- very tight description of these two cars, to law enforcement officials. Do we know in fact that these cars and these men match up exactly to that description?

OSCEOLA: Actually, the vehicles -- the first vehicle that you see matched to the exact letter on the license place.

KAGAN: So it is an exact match to the license plate, OK.

OSCEOLA: It is an exact match, which caused us great concern. We receive BOLOs everyday from suspects' vehicles, a myriad of crimes, and very seldom do we actually, are actually, able to stop the car.

In this case, we did. And we have a lot of good information, credible information, in that BOLO that we were able go by.

KAGAN: And so the make on the car, and wasn't exactly the -- but the license plate, was exact. OSCEOLA: Exactly, because so many cars look alike. We rarely take the make as serious as we do a license plate of course.

KAGAN: Right. Now these three men have been taken into custody. Our Kelly Wallace, our justice correspondent in Washington D.C., tells us her sources say that they all match up as citizens, two naturalized citizens, and that all three are medical students. Do you have any more information about these three men who have been detained?

OSCEOLA: No, I sure don't. We don't have any suspect information, to release that is. That's up to the appropriate authorities, which of course would be more federal in nature.

KAGAN: We are also getting information along Alligator Alley, which has closed this large stretch of the highway, has already taken a number of hours, and this is going to take much longer before this is all cleared up.

OSCEOLA: Yes. We anticipate being here at least another two to three hours, and that's just because of the process that the EOD must go through before we can clear the site.

KAGAN: EOD -- can you just help us for those -- for those of us who aren't law enforcement types, EOD?

OSCEOLA: I'm sorry, it's an explosive ordinance detection unit.

KAGAN: Bomb squad basically.

OSCEOLA: Yes, a bomb squad.

KAGAN: Got it. But I imagine this is causing huge traffic difficulty for people in the area.

OSCEOLA: Yes, it is. And of course the state of Florida has very few north-south corridors, or east-west corridors, especially when you get to South Florida, so it causing a lot of traffic delays, and people are having to be rerouted through the Everglades on U.S.- 41.

KAGAN: All right, Tina Osceola, with the Collier County Sheriff's Department. You've been very helpful in bringing us up-to- date on what's taken place pretty much since last night.

We will be checking back with you, but we will let you go right now, as, Leon, we continue to watch these pictures, fascinating to watch this man -- I'm assuming that is a man. I will make that leap of faith.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hard it tell definitively.

KAGAN: Yes, in the suit, getting so up close to the car, up to cars, that I guess as the deputy told us earlier, both cars alerted when they brought bomb-sniffing dogs.

HARRIS: This is a highly trained individual, and obviously one devoted to his job. We will keep our eye on him, and we're also keeping our eye on something that is happening a little bit closer to here in the studio, here in Georgia. The Georgia Department of Homeland Security is going to be having a press briefing. And as you know, they were the first on this story, because the report from that eyewitness at that Shoney's restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, which is, you probably have seen the map.

As you see on that map there we have on the screen there, its upper northwest Georgia. So they were on this report, and were covering it for the first few hours, and they were the ones that issued that BOLO report -- or that BOLO -- alert that was issued and actually paying off down there in Florida.

They'll have a press briefing any moment. And once that gets under way, we'll take you there live.

KAGAN: Hey, I'm going to call on you for something here, for someone who's lived in Georgia for just about half your life, for folks not familiar with the southeast, give them an idea of how far it is to go from Calhoun, Georgia down to Naples, to Alligator Alley. What kind of drive is that?

HARRIS: We talked about that this morning for a while, because when we first heard that these men were pulled over at 1:00 in the morning, it struck me as -- if this report did come out this morning from Calhoun, Georgia, for these guys to make it down to Naples, Florida, between Naples in Miami, that would be a heck of a feet, because we are talking about essentially what would be if you did it without stopping, except for maybe once or twice gas...

KAGAN: And not speeding too badly.

HARRIS: And not speeding too badly, or too obviously. It would take you at least 13, 14 hours to make that type of drive. We figure it is at least 10 hours or so to get to from Naples from Atlanta, Georgia. It is at least 10, 11, maybe 12 hours from there. Calhoun, Georgia is still another almost 2 hours, 2 1/2 hours north of Atlanta. It would take at least 15, 16 hours, and that's if they are driving at a pretty good clip and weren't stopping.

From what I understood, from the reports earlier this morning, one of the things that this eyewitness at the Shoney's restaurant heard these men saying is that they have to quit stopping, something about them being five hours behind and they have to quit stopping. Maybe that's how they got down there so quickly. As you know, they were stopped, and around 1:00 a.m., down there on Interstate 75 where it makes that turn to the east down there on that Alligator Alley, in that area known as Alligator Alley.

KAGAN: As we heard the deputy say from Collier County, it is an exact match of the lighter color sedan car, the car you see in front, the lighter color sedan car, an exact match of the description the woman in Calhoun, Georgia gave to that car that's pulled over on the side of the highway.

HARRIS: I'm just now being told by our intrepid crew in the control room, 683 miles from Calhoun, Georgia, and it would take 11 hours or so, depending on what rate of speed and depending how many times they stopped to make that sort of drive, so that's about what we figured.

KAGAN: Our Mark Potter is working the story from South Florida. Let's go ahead and bring him back in -- Mark.

POTTER: Hi, Daryn. I just spoke a moment ago with Mike Olar (ph). He is with the Florida State Fire Marshals Office. He is a bomb squad commander there. He is on the scene. He has been talking with us this morning. He says that they are in the process of unloading just one of the cars. They haven't even gotten to the second car yet.

The first car, the dark car, is the one you can see that you can see that the officers in the suites are working around. They have not even gotten to the second one. That will be next. He says they could easily be there three to four hours. I know the Osceola was saying two to three. He's thinking it could be even longer than that, because they're just having to go so slowly. One of the difficulties is they're working in the Florida heat -- the technicians are having to be changed out about every 20 minutes because of the heat in those suits there wearing.

KAGAN: You are doing fine.

HARRIS: Sorry, a little minor problem in the studio here with me. I am sorry, Mark. I am sorry to interrupt you.

KAGAN: Mark, are you still with us?

HARRIS: I jinxed him. It was my fault. I lost my earpiece there.

KAGAN: Yes, how about that.

HARRIS: Now, this is interesting, this shot here we're seeing with this officer there in the bomb-protection gear there out in the grassy area.

KAGAN: I don't know if he's looking for something or trying to communicate with somebody. You made a good point earlier, Leon, as great as these pictures are and as interesting it is to get up close, it's hard to get a perspective. Like right now, how far is he both from the cars and how far is he from the other officers that might be communicating.

HARRIS: These television cameras are doing a great job. They do a great job of compressing a three-dimensional image a into two- dimensional one, and you lose the depth perception.

KAGAN: That's exactly it.

HARRIS: When we were watching that a moment ago, it looked as if, like for instance, in this camera shot here...

KAGAN: It looks like they are standing next to each other, and you just know that is not the case.

HARRIS: That is not the case. When we had the longer shot, you could tell, they were separated by at least a hundred feet or so. So that's just one of the peculiarities of working with these television cameras, that are put out on what we call extenders. And now we are back to a more clear shot of what's happening there on the scene, and you can see what Mark was saying moments ago, why it would take so long to go through each of these cars, particularly because they did appear to have so much gear inside the vehicle.

Now, one item we did see that received most attention this morning was in one piece that was not detonated, but it was actually taken apart by some sort of water cannon, and we did see that moments ago. And it turns out that was a bag which had some medical equipment in it.

KAGAN: We have all our resources here at CNN working and trying to put the story together. So far, the story goes from Calhoun, Georgia to South Florida.

Now, we are getting word there might be a possible Chicago connection to this story.

And our Jeff Flock, our Chicago bureau chief is with us with that information.

Jeff, good morning. What do you have?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Daryn, indeed a Chicago area connection. I am this morning in suburban Hanover Park, Illinois.

It is outside Chicago, to the west and slightly north, in front of a house where we believe one, at least one of those cars, the plates have been traced to this home here in Hanover Park, 2141 Cedar Street is the location. And at this point, we are unsure what the connection is, the family that lives here is a family from Mexico. I have been told by local authorities that no one at this point is in custody, although one local resident tells me that at least two members of that family have now been taken to the Hanover Park Police Department, where they're presumably being questioned.

FBI confirms they have agents out here, although they say at this point, they have no one in custody. The family that lives here is, as I said, described to me as -- their family are descendants from Mexico. They have a large family, two older brothers and some younger sisters as well living here. The two older brothers do not live here.

So at this point, unsure of what the connection is, but this is where, at least one of the cars had been traced -- Daryn.

HARRIS: Jeff, have you heard anything at all about whether or not a car has been reported stolen or anything, or whether plates had been reported stolen? One of the other items that may be of interest here is a snippet of a report that I was able to catch also this morning about there being a possibility that the plates on the cars in Florida may not be matching up with their vehicle ID numbers.

FLOCK: Well, yes, and that's something that we don't know here. I can just tell you the local -- the woman that lives next door to this family who knows them, not real well, but says, you know, this is a quiet family. This just does not compute. The local police out here, though, the lieutenant on station out here in Hanover Park says this is an extremely quiet neighborhood. He has been on the force for 30 years and has never had a call to this neighborhood.

So, it kind of doesn't compute, so that may go along with what are you saying there. But at this point, we do not know for sure.

HARRIS: And what part of town is that in, Jeff?

FLOCK: It is -- again, this is Hanover Park, Illinois. It is quite a ways outside Chicago...


FLOCK: ... to the north and west. It is a suburb, as I said, a very quiet suburban community.

KAGAN: All right, Jeff, we're going to let you go and find more information.

We have just passed the top of the hour. I imagine we have a lot of new viewers joining us. So we're going to go ahead and recap the story as we know it so far.

As it begins -- now, there is that possible Hanover Park, Illinois connection. We'll leave that to the side right now.

As far as we know, the story begins in Calhoun, Georgia, a couple of days ago. And on that note, we do want to let you know that, as you can see at the bottom of your screen, the Georgia Homeland Security Department is planning a news conference any minute now. When that begins, we will go to that live.

But as we wait for that news conference and watch the pictures from south Florida, let's go back and talk about what happened in Calhoun, Georgia.

HARRIS: And that's the reason why the Georgia Homeland Security Department is on it, is because they were called in this story fairly early. As we hear of the report this morning, there was an eyewitness in a Shoney's restaurant there in Calhoun, Georgia, which is, as you can see there on the screen is northwest Georgia. An eyewitness there said she overheard three men, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, in her own words and also in the description of those officers who have these men in custody right now in Florida.

And she says she heard them talking about the September 11 coverage. They were watching it on the television there in the Shoney's and, apparently, these men were smiling and laughing during the coverage, saying -- and she quoted the men as saying, "If the Americans are crying over 9/11, wait until 9/13. They'll really be crying over 9/13."

KAGAN: And some illusion to what might happen in Florida.

HARRIS: She also said she heard them say something about heading to Miami, and then begin to talk about whether or not they had enough with them to bring it down.

Another gentleman -- one of the gentlemen is alleged to have said, "If we don't have enough, I have a contact who does, and we have to stop making stops, and we have to move on."

And that's when they apparently went outside to their vehicles. This eyewitness -- intrepid eyewitness, we should say -- went outside, got tag numbers and got descriptions of the vehicles and of the men, and then left and then contacted the Georgia Highway Patrol immediately, and that is the Georgia Homeland Security Department got involved.

KAGAN: It looks like we're getting close to this news conference beginning, and of course, we're standing by for when it...

HARRIS: No, this is actually in Florida.

KAGAN: Yes, this is Florida.

HARRIS: This is the Florida one. This is not the Georgia one.

KAGAN: And you know, we'll take it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a briefing to help you guys out to get some more information, here. We're going to have Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter, who is also the chairman of the Regional Domestic Security Task Force, Region 6, here in the Fort Myers region, Florida Department Law Enforcement Regional Director, E.J. Picolo, who is also the co-chair of the Regional Domestic Security Task Force here in Region 6, and Korey Nelson (ph), who is with -- who is a senior supervisor resident agent with the FBI.

I'm going to start off with Sheriff Hunter.


We -- as we reported earlier, we are going to try to keep you updated as best we can on any new developments.

As you can see, we are still down at the vehicles. The robot that had been provided by Metro Dade, has wonderful capabilities, but unfortunately, it's not human. And it is limited to some extent in terms of what it can do as far as articulation. We are having to ask our bomb techs and investigators to go back down again and try to clear those vehicles. As you can see, it's a very slow, meticulous process. And again, this is just trying to give you what we have, which is very little at the moment. So, it's part of the process just to clear the vehicles. QUESTION: Where are the suspects, Sheriff?

HUNTER: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Where are the suspects?

HUNTER: The suspects are being held in a van, and we're trying to make them as comfortable as possible. We are not actually considering them suspects per se at the moment. We would certainly like to see them a little bit more cooperative.

QUESTION: Are they talking to you?

HUNTER: Very little. As Director Picolo reported earlier, we have some -- we have had some discussion with the subjects, but they really aren't that cooperative.

QUESTION: Can you describe what happened when your deputy pulled that car over when it went through the toll booth?

HUNTER: Our deputy, of course, had the information pertaining to the bulletin, recognized the vehicle. The vehicle went through the toll booth, and because of that, became even more suspicious. The deputy stopped the vehicle. As you can see, we're a good eight miles from the toll booth. He was able to finally pull the vehicle over, and once he pulled the vehicle over, a second vehicle pulled in behind him. That would be the second vehicle you see down behind us.

QUESTION: Have you determined whether English is their first language?

HUNTER: No, I don't know that.

QUESTION: Can you describe the suspects at all?

HUNTER: I'd rather not at the moment.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if they are middle-aged, if they're young?

HUNTER: No, we haven't actually gotten into that. We really don't want to say much about our -- about the individuals that we are talking with yet.

QUESTION: Sheriff Hunter, you mentioned eight miles down the road is when they -- you finally pulled them over. Talk to us about the incident. Did they resist? Were they cooperative when they were pulled over?

HUNTER: No. The information that we have is that they were not cooperative once they were pulled over. They didn't offer anything. And due to the fact that we had the information on the bulletin, and it was the vehicle in question with the precise tag number that we were looking for, we did call the bomb dog out to make a sniff search, which is provided by law. And as you have already heard, we did have an alert on both vehicles. QUESTION: Were you waiting for them? Because some of the local residents (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not many who live in this area, said that when they came in around 2:00 in the morning crossing over the bridge past here, they saw a deputy up there (UNINTELLIGIBLE) waiting for someone to come through here to catch?

HUNTER: Yes, we were waiting. We were waiting. We deployed a number of units. It would have been yesterday afternoon after we received the bulletin. And we were waiting along the interstate to determine whether, in fact, the vehicle would continue on the interstate towards Miami, which was the original information.

QUESTION: Did you pick them off up before they even came through the actual toll gate?

HUNTER: No. Right at the toll gate. We had one member stationed at the toll gate, and it was right at the toll gate that we became aware of the vehicle. And of course, that's well-lit. It was dark at night, and he used that to his advantage.

QUESTION: Was there any kind of struggle? Did they resist the officer or try at any point to get away?

HUNTER: No, there was no struggle that I have been informed of, merely that they were uncooperative in the sense that they wished not to offer anything up.

QUESTION: Did they provide identification to the officers?

HUNTER: We eventually received identification, but that's during the normal course of our work. We asked for identification, and we were provided with various credentials.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they claimed to be naturalized U.S. citizens that are actually -- they could be medical students. Can you confirm that?

HUNTER: Well, I'm not going to discuss that. We've had a number of different discussions and stories given, and I think we are going to have to wait, and you also, if you will, wait until we get the final version.

QUESTION: With that said, they are giving conflicting information?

HUNTER: I would say there has been some conflicting information given, yes.


HUNTER: I'll just say that they gave us credentials. The credentials are being checked. We have INS on scene, as well as FBI. This is a task force effort, Florida Department Law Enforcement, fire marshal's office. You have heard the list -- the cadre of agencies that are involved. And we each have a role, and we're trying to confirm the information and do it in as quickly as possible a timeframe, so that we can make some decisions here.

QUESTION: Is it possible they were not legally in this country?

HUNTER: Is it possible that they were not legally in this country? That's not my information. I don't have confirmation final, but again, that's some information we would rather not discuss until we hear the final version.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that there might be other suspicious people maybe who are taking I-95 down to Miami (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

HUNTER: Well, obviously, we'd be concerned about any decoy action. We're not suggesting that at this time. But this particular information comes from a source that had no reason to mislead us. In fact, we now have a following-up interview...

KAGAN: We want to take you from Collier County, South Florida, to where this story began: Calhoun, Georgia. This is Mickey Lloyd with the Georgia Department of Homeland Security -- let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Deputy Commissioner Mickey Lloyd from the Department of Public Safety. He is to my left. Mickey Lloyd is also the deputy coordinator of Georgia's Homeland Security Task Force. And also with us the acting director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. His name is Vernon Keenan. And also with us today is John Bankhead (ph), the Public Affairs officer for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

We're going to start out with Mickey Lloyd, who is going to give us perspective on the events that occurred yesterday from Georgia. We're going to be very limited in what he can say at this time, because it's still ongoing. Deputy Commissioner Mickey Lloyd.


Some time around noon yesterday, there was a lady in a Shoney's restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, who observed some what she appeared -- appeared to be Middle Eastern males eating in the restaurant. They made some statement that she overheard, which were alarming to go her, at which time she reported this incident to someone.

At that time, the State Patrol post was called in that vicinity, who relayed the information to the GBI, the GSEC (ph), the intelligence arm of the GBI, who is a part of the homeland security effort. They, in turn, dispatched an agent to that location to interview this witness.

Subsequent to that, information was received that the subjects could be on the way to Florida, maybe to the Miami area. At that point, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was notified, and given a description of two vehicles and the Middle Eastern males.

They, at that time, produced a lookout, a BOLO, which went out to the law enforcement agencies. Sometime early this morning, the two vehicles were stopped by a Sheriff's Department officer in Florida, at which time, subsequent to that, some bomb-sniffing dogs were dispatched to the scene. And that's the point where we are at this point.

What I would like -- the message that I would like to relay this morning is that the system that we have in place and what we've been relaying to our public in Georgia to be alert and be aware and report has worked. We don't know if this is going to be a legitimate report. There are precautions being taken, of course, for everyone's safety that's involved. And even if it turns out that it's not, the system has worked.

The people out in the state working and moving around out there are our best information. They are our eyes, ears. We've have been asking people over and over if they see anything unusual or anything out of place, please report it, which it did -- which she did, and I'm just really happy about that.

QUESTION: How many reports like this are you guys getting on a daily basis?

LLOYD: I'll let -- they are investigating -- for the past year, they have investigated an average of one report per day.

QUESTION: This description of the vehicles, did this come from this woman or from a separate source?

LLOYD: Well, as far as individuals who made different reports is, we're not going to get into that at this point.

QUESTION: Did the men leave anything behind at the restaurant, papers, a map, anything?

LLOYD: As I said, Morris (ph), I'm not at liberty to excuse those things at this point. I'm sure, as the investigation goes on, we'll be able to give you more. But at this point, this is a crime scene. It's being handled by the Florida authorities, and I'm at liberty to give you the basic information now, which you probably already know, but that's all we can say at this time.

QUESTION: What time did the BOLO go out, and who sent the BOLO?

LLOYD: The BOLO was sent by Florida authorities after being notified by the FBI.

QUESTION: What time were they notified by the GBI?

LLOYD: I'd have to talk to Mr. Keenan about that one, so at this point, I'll just turn it over to Director Keenan.

VERNON KEENAN, GA. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I'm Vernon Keenan, and I'm the acting director of the GBI.

The first thing this morning, I received a telephone call from Commissioner Tim Moore (ph) of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He was expressing his appreciation to Georgia law enforcement for the manner in which Georgia law enforcement had obtained information which related to a possible terrorist activity in the state of Florida. And the state of Florida was very appreciative that Georgia and Florida law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal level were working together to resolve the issue and to determine the validity of the information.

An hour ago, I participated in a conference call with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement command staff, as well as leadership from the FBI in Florida and other federal agencies and local Florida law enforcement agencies. The purpose of the conference call was to ensure that all of the agencies involved in working this issue had the latest information, and that we are exchanging information among ourselves as this situation develops.

There are many agencies that have individual roles in investigating this information. We are confident that as the investigation unfolds that we will get to the bottom about what has happened.

The -- all of us on the local, state and federal level are very, very appreciative and thankful that the systems that we have put in place worked. It is -- when we get involved in a situation, which is unfolding like this one is, it is too late for law enforcement leadership to worry about whether they have trained their investigators properly. It's too late to worry about whether the bomb-disposal technicians have the proper equipment to do their work. It's too late to worry about whether we have procedural safeguards in place to protect the rights of citizens no matter what the situation is.

So, we are very -- we are very appreciative that our systems that we have worked to develop, that are being tested under fire as we speak, and we are pleased we are exchanging information.

QUESTION: Can you give us a chronology -- the chronology of what time the first call came in, who was contacted and taken us to where we are this morning?

LLOYD: OK, now, I'm not in a position to -- because, frankly, I do not know the chronological timetable, and I don't want to put out any misleading information. I know that the system worked, that information came from a concerned citizen, who had -- who appears to have credibility in what they have reported. That information certainly warranted an immediate action by law enforcement, considering the circumstances that this nation is now operating under, a heightened sense of alert, immense public concern.

KAGAN: We have been listening in to Georgia officials here, talking about the situation that started yesterday right in the state, where we are. A woman in a Shoney's in Calhoun, Georgia overhearing a conversation between three men. She felt it was suspicious and, indeed, law enforcement officials applauding the effort of that woman to report that to officials. That has led to the situation in south Florida today.

We move to this news conference from an earlier news conference with the Collier County sheriff, Don Hunter. He letting us know that the robot that's on the scene checking out those two cars -- you can see there, a live picture in south Florida along Alligator Alley. The robot has limited capabilities, and because of that, they've had to send in a well-protected bomb technician. You can see both of them in the middle of your screen right now.

This work they need to do to check out both of those cars, we are told, could still take a few hours before that is cleared.

The suspects, three suspects -- and, in fact, the sheriff saying that that was bit of an overkill to use the word, "suspect." But three men are being detained that were in those cars. They are being held in a van on the scene, and they are being described as "not very cooperative."

One more note. One of the cars kind of blew through a toll booth early this morning, and the other car stopped and paid. But as a sheriff's deputy in Collier County tried to pull over the first car, it took them eight miles from the toll booth to get the car pulled over. Once that first car was pulled over, the second car pulled in behind them.

The three men are taken into custody, which brings us to the situation where we are right now.

HARRIS: I'm watching another situation right now on one of our other monitors. And you know, they could be using some protective gear like we just saw that one officer there wearing in Alligator Alley. In an area called Bryan Mound, Texas, outside of Houston, that's the scene right there now live pictures we're getting in from our affiliate KPRC, I believe.

What we understand, there was an explosion at this BASF plant, and what we see there burning, we believe, is an ammonia tank. And as far as we know, there has not been any report of any -- there have been no reports of any injuries there on the scene.

We don't know if there has been a widespread evacuations or what kind of a threat to health or whatever that may be posed by some of these fumes that are leaving the area. No idea, even, if this is anywhere near a residential area, or if any of these fumes could actually reach one.

But we do understand this is an ammonia tank that is burning somewhere near where these rail cars are sidled up in the station where they usually get sent either to fill up or off load their wares.

And again, this is at a BASF plant in Bryan Mound, Texas, and we'll keep our eyes and ears open on that story, and we'll let you know what we learn on that one.

In the meantime, let's go back to Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. And I guess we're going to go ahead and follow the situation. Are we bringing up a live picture of what's happening in south Florida? I believe that -- there we go. And you can see the live picture there.

There's that bomb technician that we've been following for about an hour now. We heard the sheriff of Collier County describe there's really only so much -- as remarkable as that robot is that can they bring in -- and I think when we first saw him on the air about an hour and 20 minutes ago, we had somebody from Miami-Dade that described to us the robot is able to take pictures and transmit pictures. It is able to pick up things. And, indeed, it's even able to detonate items if they are deemed dangerous.

However, as the sheriff pointed out, the robot is a robot and not a human, so there are limitations as to what it can do. And that's when they made the call for the bomb technician to suit up in that protective gear and go in. And as we understand it, his job is, one by one, to take those items out of the car.

One reason there is so much suspicion around these two vehicles, when they were first pulled over and they brought the bomb-sniffing dogs in, the dogs did alert. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean there are explosives in that car, but certainly is cause for concern, especially in the situation where we are under this high state of alert for terrorism.

HARRIS: That, in addition to the amount or the kind of information that was given to the police by the eyewitness in Calhoun, Georgia, where she said she specifically heard them talking about trying to blow something up in Miami. So, when this "be on the lookout" order was issued, or BOLO alert is actually issued, and the exact vehicles, as they were described, as we heard in that press conference, they say the vehicles...

KAGAN: Well, actually, remember, the sheriff's deputy said the vehicle description was a little off, but the license plate was exact...

HARRIS: The license number was exact.

KAGAN: ... which is even more important than the actual vehicle description.

HARRIS: Exactly.

KAGAN: They had the make wrong. They had the description right.

HARRIS: So, when all of that shows up on this highway in Florida, considering the fact that we are under a nationwide orange status of alert here, the officials jumped to the -- you know, the most threatening conclusion here, and decided to go ahead and pull out all of the stops.

KAGAN: I think so, too.

HARRIS: And as you can see, they are in the process of doing that, and that's why it's going to take them maybe a couple of hours...

KAGAN: That's what they say.

HARRIS: ... to go through these two cars. It appears as though what they have been doing is going into the vehicle and taking items out. And I guess after they have gotten them cleared, you can see them laid out there in the grass. And it may be the reason why we happen to see this one technician here going back and forth from the grassy area there.

KAGAN: I want to go ahead and bring in our Mark Potter in. He is in south Florida to bring us the latest on what he knows.

Mark -- hello.


After speaking about 15 minutes or so ago with Mike Boller (ph), who is a bomb squad commander for the Florida State Fire Marshals office, we learned that as this search progresses, slowly, the agents and the technicians on the scene still have not found anything that they would consider to be an explosive device.

Now, this search is continuing slowly and methodically. His estimate is that it could take three or four more hours down the road before they say that they have completed this search. One of the problems that they are having is that the technicians wearing those suits that you are talking about have to be changed out very quickly, because -- about every 20 minutes, because of the heat here in Florida and the humidity. Right now, with low-hanging clouds and the storm off in the Gulf, the humidity is very high, and those suits are extremely hot. And so, the technicians can't work very long before they need to be taken away from the scene and replaced by somebody else. So, this is a very slow process.

He said that at that time, again, about 15 minutes or so ago, they had only begun working on the first vehicle, the dark-colored vehicle. The second vehicle, the light-colored one, they had not gone into yet. They have done a visual inspection, but the thorough search is only under way in the first of the two vehicles. And so, they are going to be at this for quite some time.

And as the Collier Sheriff's Department -- their office, rather has said, they're going to keep that highway stretch closed as long as those cars are on the vehicle (sic). And the questions still abound as to what's in them.

KAGAN: Mark, we see...

POTTER: So, it'll be...

KAGAN: I'm sorry. We see those clouds moving in. I think that's Tropical Storm Hanna, pieces of that. That will be challenge.

We want you to hang on with us, Mark, just a second. Leon has somebody -- or actually some tape?

HARRIS: Yes, we actually did get some sound from the eyewitness there at that Shoney's restaurant...

KAGAN: Oh, in Calhoun.

HARRIS: ... in Calhoun, Georgia, who was the one that first alerted the authorities.

Her name is Eunice Stone, and this is a snippet from a conversation that she had with someone at WLFZ Radio -- let's listen in.


EUNICE STONE, WITNESS: We were seated right next to three men that appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. And at first, you know, I just went ahead with my breakfast, but then, they were setting there and they were laughing. And they were talking about -- they were laughing about Americans mourning September 11. And I have very good hearing. And then, they were saying, "If they mourn September 11, what will they think about September the 13th?"


HARRIS: And as I heard reported earlier, Eunice Stone went on to say that she did hear these men in the restaurant speak specifically about something in Miami that they were trying to go to, and talking about and questioning whether or not they had "enough with them to bring it down."

And then, one of the other gentlemen responded by saying, "If I don't have enough to bring it down, I have a contact who does."

Now, that's very troubling conversation to listen to, and you can understand why Eunice Stone then went and alerted the authorities.

Right now, we're being joined by Representative Porter Goss, who actually represents this area of Collier County, Florida.

And, Congressman, are you with us?


HARRIS: Where are you right now? Are you down there in the district?

GOSS: I'm in Washington in my office, about to go to a meeting on terrorism.

HARRIS: What a coincidence, huh?

GOSS: Isn't that amazing?

HARRIS: Yes, what do you make of this?

GOSS: Well, obviously, it's my backyard, and I was as startled as everybody else to wake up this morning and turn on CNN and see my backyard on the screen. And I was caught totally by surprise.

But what's happened here is that the system is working. We have worked for a year to try and make better coordination, communication, increase awareness and alertness among the citizenry. And we are seeing proof that that works.

So, even if this should turn out to be a false alarm, despite the suspicious nature of the circumstances in it, I think it proves that our system is much better, and Americans can take some satisfaction out of that.

As you know, our intelligence service works primarily overseas. We have a foreign intelligence service, so getting information about what goes on in our own country is still an unfinished business for us. And when you have citizen awareness doing the job for you, I think it shows that we're going to do fine in the war on terrorism with alert people out there.

HARRIS: Do you have any information on the investigation you can share with us?

GOSS: Absolutely none. I -- as I told, I am sitting in Washington D.C., and this is unfolding in my district. I happen to know Sheriff Hunter very well. He's a very fine lawman and a good person. And obviously, these folks were alert. Sheriff Hunter was actually the one who took the initiative in the state of Florida to contact my office and set up a meeting with federal officials almost a year ago over concerns just like this. And meetings transpired, because of his initiatives, and I think we are seeing the harvest of that energy.

HARRIS: What about the fact that they actually -- allegedly, we should say...

GOSS: You shouldn't say that, for sure.

HARRIS: Yes, because of what the -- this conversation that this lady, Eunice Stone, overheard would indicate that they were allegedly heading to Miami to actually execute some sort of a terrorist attack. What do you make of that? And does that surprise you?

GOSS: Well, I know of no specific threats to anyplace in the United States, but obviously, the orange warning we have does get to the timeframe that we are in. Miami would be a big target in the sense there is a concentration of people there. Terrorists try to go to crowded areas as part of their playbook, and they try to do the most damage to the most vulnerable areas and attack the most innocent and vulnerable among us, so they get the maximum mileage out of the terrorist event.

HARRIS: What do you think happens next with this?

GOSS: I presume we are going to, in an orderly way, have an investigation, and all of the people who are trained professionally to do these kinds of things are going to do them. And we'll just have to be patient. Part of this is -- I know, it's hard and there's always a lot of speculation and jumping to conclusions. We shouldn't do that. We need to take the information as it unfolds and apply it carefully, connect the dots, and see if there is anybody else involved.

And the first mission is to head off anything else from going wrong. The second mission is, of course, to bring anybody who needs to come to justice to justice. And the third thing is to keep on with the war against international terrorism.

HARRIS: Well, as you know, we in the media like to keep our eyes open to see how all of these different agencies work together, particularly since we are all trying to flesh out exactly how this homeland security system is supposed to work in this country. Based upon what we have seen happen in the last 12 hours or so -- or 24 hours or so, what do you make of the way the system is working?

GOSS: Well, what I make of it is that the people in the field who are charged with doing the job are probably way ahead of the people in Washington who are still trying to scratch their head and figure out how should we set up the Department of Homeland Security. And I think that's very important.

HARRIS: Well, what lesson do you take from that?

GOSS: The lesson I take from it is that Governor Ridge is an absolutely fabulous guy doing his very best to focus on the No. 1 threat, and he has succeeded in doing that, because we have the homeland security people out there doing what they're supposed to be doing, even though we don't have the formal legislation and organizational structure and Cabinet building and so forth in Washington that we are presently hoping that the United States Senate is going to vote on one of these days.

HARRIS: You say you are heading to a meeting on homeland security. Will you talk about this incident? Will you bring this up? Will this come up?

GOSS: Of course it'll come up. I'm meeting with Senator Gramm. We're actually working on the 9/11 review matters that we are soon, I hope, going to be able to make a very informative report available to the public. We've come a long way on that. And I think there will be a large learning curve on what happened on 9/11, how it happened and what capabilities we have and how much better we are off today. I trust you understand that even though this scene is in Florida, there is the rest of the globe and we are working very hard on the whole problem of international terrorism and believe me, it is global.

HARRIS: No doubt, we understand that fully here at CNN, I can tell you that.

GOSS: I know you do.

HARRIS: If I can, let me ask this final question. You mentioned going to this meeting, looking at a review of the 9/11. Did you happen it catch the comments that Eunice Stone said she heard these men making in Shoney's about if they are mourning what happened on 9/11, just wait until 9/13. Does that mean anything at all to you? GOSS: It means nothing to me except as I hear it in the ears of an American citizen, is highly offensive to me, of course. If there is any code in there, I'm certainly not aware of it.

HARRIS: Representative, thank you very much. We will let you go to get to that meeting. If you do get anything from that meeting can you share with us, please, please do. We invite to you do so.

GOSS: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: We will continue to keep our eyes on this scene from this helicopters shot we are able to get over the stretch of Alligator Alley which apparently is eight miles away from the toll booth where apparently, one of these cars, the white vehicle, crashed through or went through without paying, which is what tipped off authorities and actually caused that police chase that pulled that vehicle aside and then strangely, this black vehicle, pulled up right behind it voluntarily. And that is basically when this scene began to ensue from 1:00 a.m. local time there in Alligator Alley.

KAGAN: Couple items here, while you were talking to the Congressman. First of all, getting word that Governor Jeb Bush of Florida will be holding a news conference. That should be in about an hour and 15 minutes. We will carry that live, of course.

Also, getting out first pictures in of Eunice Stone. This is the woman, you had her sound, now we get a look at what she looks like. The woman who was in that Shoney's in Calhoun, Georgia, who reported her information to authorities. She also had a few to say on camera. I think we are still getting that together.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry what did you say?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to let me in my truck? Thank you.


KAGAN: Well, apparently she wasn't interested in talking to the camera.

HARRIS: So, reluctant hero is Eunice Stone.




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