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Tom Tancredo has released a television ad for his presidential campaign that is getting as much attention for its fright factor as for its message that his opponents are soft on border security.
Tancredo, a longtime advocate of increased border security to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, is now making the case in this ad that porous borders are a terrorist threat, too. The ad closes with the image of an abandoned backpack in a bustling shopping center and the sound of an explosion.
After the ad was released, Tancredo defended it on CNN with this statement:
"Well, about four days ago, I think, there was a report that came out from the FBI – a warning, not a report – that came out from the FBI, went out to all local law enforcement agencies, saying that, in fact, al-Qaida was planning to attack malls during the Christmas holidays. They specifically cited Chicago and Los Angeles as being the places where these attacks were potentially to occur. They said that it was a credible source."
Tancredo is correct that the FBI considers the source of this information "credible," but as for the threat itself, not so much.
"There's absolutely no information to indicate this is a credible threat," says Tom Simon, FBI special agent in Chicago. "Our source gave us this information with the full disclosure that this is third-hand information."
"Every year since Sept. 11, 2001," says Simon, "we've had some kind of vague inkling of something, some chatter that something bad is going to happen come Christmastime in America. Nothing has so far. The important thing is this was never intended to be something that was going to scare the heck out of every American and keep them out of the malls. If we had specific information that Americans were in danger by going to the mall, we'd release that to the public."
Simon goes on to say, "This was something that was released to the law enforcement community out of an abundance of caution."
Tancredo's spokesman, Alan Moore, cited the sources for Tancredo's statement as briefings that the congressman receives and National Intelligence Estimates, as well as an FBI and Chicago Police Department news conference that addressed the leak to the media.
Tancredo is correct that Chicago and Los Angeles were cited in the November report. And he is correct that the report went to all law enforcement agencies.
But the wording of his statement gives an urgency to the FBI report that the FBI itself doesn't. Officially, the document sent out to law enforcement is called the Interim Intelligence Report, as opposed to "warning." Simon doesn't quibble with Tancredo's use of the term, but says it should also be stated "that the warning was unsubstantiated and very nonspecific."
Yes, al-Qaida has made its horrifying intentions clear, but this FBI alert, meant only for the eyes of local law enforcement, was not vetted or verified and was one of thousands (8,000 were issued in 2006) of such reports that are meant to help the FBI's law enforcement partners intelligently provide security and peace for all 12 months of the year.
"There was no law enforcement purpose in getting everyone screwed into the ceiling, screwing up the economy and causing panic," says Simon. "But it did make sense for us to notify our colleagues. Local law enforcement knows best how to patrol their communities."
Tancredo is generally accurate in his statement, but in two places he overstates his case to serve a political point. First, he calls the FBI report a "warning, not a report," which suggests a distinction that the FBI doesn't acknowledge. Second, although he correctly notes that the source of this information is credible, he doesn't say the information itself isn't. Therefore, we find his statement Half True.
Interview with Alan Moore, Tancredo for President spokesman, Nov. 14, 2007
Interview with Steve Kodak, special agent, FBI Headquarters, Nov. 14, 2007
Interview with Tom Simon, special agent in Chicago, FBI, Nov. 14, 2007
Transcript, interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Nov. 13, 2007
NBC 5 Chicago "FBI, police announce possible terrorist threat," Nov. 8, 2007
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