Origins: This rumor appears to have been the product of a single source, a Knight Ridder news report from
The six men stopped by police were traveling in groups of three in two white sedans, said the senior law enforcement official, who requested anonymity. In addition to the photographs and other suspicious material, they carried "box cutters and other equipment," the official said. They appeared to be from the Middle East and held Israeli passports.
They were let go after the Immigration and Naturalization Service determined the passports were valid and that the men had entered the United States legally, the official
It could not be learned in what state the six men were stopped or how they aroused suspicion. It was not known if their true identities matched those on the passports, or why the FBI was not releasing their names or descriptions. Investigators think the men almost certainly have changed cars by now and have fled to Canada or elsewhere.
Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were "furious" that the INS allowed the men to be released without holding them at least until the FBI could be consulted, the official said.
There's no end in sight to the beefed-up security because every week seems to bring the rumor of another threat. Wednesday's report was that federal agents were searching for six men detained in the Midwest and then released, despite the fact they were carrying information about a nuclear-power plant in Florida and an Alaska pipeline.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft dismissed that story in a Wednesday news conference, saying he had no reason to believe it to be true.
"It was noted that I had responded emotionally to this situation, when, as a matter of fact, I hadn't even known about the situation until I read about my response in the newspaper," Ashcroft said.
A: I don't — I cannot comment on any plan by the FBI to open the mail that was destined for the Capitol. And as to the story, to the best of my knowledge, that's a story and nothing more. I don't have any reason to believe it to be true. It was noted that I had responded emotionally to this situation, when, as a matter of fact, I hadn't even known about the situation until I read about my response in the newspaper. (Laughter.) So I would say that if the story were true, I think that they have accurately predicted the kind of response I would have. (Laughter.) And they almost — well, anyhow, you know — but a lot of things are said about me that aren't totally true. You take Imus, for instance, this morning said I had the most hideous
Paul McCabe, spokesman for the FBI Minneapolis field office, said agents had fully investigated the Prairie Island lead.
"It was one of the many that washed out into nothing," he said, adding that he was not aware of any evidence to support the Knight Ridder story.
"Think of it. Do you think that any law enforcement agency in the world would stop six Middle Eastern men — they're carrying maps, photos, box cutters — and then let them go? To think that something like this could ever happen is just ridiculous."
Bazinet, Kenneth R. "Tip Sheet Lays Odds on Terror Attacks." The [New York] Daily News. 31 October 2001 (p. 22). Bellisle, Martha. "FBI Warning Brings Extra Haul Road, Airport Measures." Anchorage Daily News. 31 October 2001 (p. A1). Brewington, Kelly. "Nuclear Neighbors Worry But Stay Put." Orlando Sentinel. 1 November 2001 (p. A1). Peters, Doug. "Story of 6 Men Not Tied to Nuke-Plant Episode." St. Paul Pioneer Press. 1 November 2001. Knight Ridder Newspapers. "Six Sought in Possible Threat to Nuclear Plant." The [Bergen County] Record. 31 October 2001 (p. A1).