officials said that a claim made by a captured al Qaeda member that
Washington, New York or Florida would be hit by a "dirty bomb"
sometime this week had proven to be a product of his imagination.
The informant described a detailed plan that an al Qaeda cell
operating in either Virginia or Detroit had developed a way to slip
past airport scanners with dirty bombs encased in shoes, suitcases,
or laptops, sources told ABCNEWS. The informant reportedly cited
specific targets of government buildings and Christian or clerical
"This piece of that puzzle turns out to be fabricated and
therefore the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in
Washington this week, has been dissipated after they found out that
this information was not true," said Vince Cannistraro, former CIA
counter-terrorism chief and ABCNEWS consultant.
It was only after the threat level was elevated to orange
meaning high last week, that the informant was subjected to a
polygraph test by the FBI, officials told ABCNEWS.
"This person did not pass," said Cannistraro.
According to officials, the FBI and the CIA are pointing fingers
at each other. An FBI spokesperson told ABCNEWS today he was "not
familiar with the scenario," but did not think it was accurate.
Despite the fabricated report, there are no plans to change the
threat level. Officials said other intelligence has been validated
and that the high level of precautions is fully warranted.
New Yorkers Taking Police
Presence in Stride
In New York, police are out in force in the subways, at train
stations and airports and at the bridge and tunnel crossings into
the city with radiation detectors and gas masks. In a press
conference this afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 16,000 law
enforcement officials trained to combat terrorism were deployed in
the city. Air patrols have also returned to New York.
"We are constantly changing what we're doing so no one can
predict what instruments we'll be using and where we'll be going,"
Bloomberg said. The mayor stressed that while people should be
vigilant, they should also be aware that New York City has been on
code level orange for 17 months since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks
that destroyed the World Trade Center.
New Yorkers, and people around the country, should not be frozen
by fear and must carry on with their daily lives, the mayor said.
New York Gov. George Pataki said it is important for people to be
alert to anything suspicious around them, but that they should not
spread rumors that could create panic.
Threat Is Still There
"By no means do people believe the threat has evaporated," said
Cannistraro. "The threat is still there, the question really is the
timing and when this is going to happen."
It's not the first time a captured al Qaeda operative has made up
a huge story and scared a lot of people.
The FBI concluded the information that led to a nationwide hunt
for five men suspected of infiltrating the United States on
Christmas Eve was fabricated by an informant, and the agency called
off the alert sparked by the information.
Officials said this one got so far because it coincided with
other intelligence, that officials still believe points to a coming
attack, timed to hostilities with Iraq.