- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

The FBI yesterday issued a report that hospitals in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and the District could be targeted for terrorism during the holiday season.

D.C. hospital officials expressed concern over the report, which FBI officials had issued to the Justice Department's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

FBI officials said the information in the report could not be substantiated and was not meant to be made public.

"We are not trying to downplay the possibility of danger, but we are trying to downplay this particular threat," said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson.

Mr. Bresson said the bureau receives hundreds of calls and reports on potential terrorist activity every day from domestic and foreign sources.

"Many of those reports cannot be substantiated, and this one has not been," Mr. Bresson said.

White House and homeland security officials told CNN that the Bush administration was displeased that the FBI would put the public through undue stress with a report that had such "low credibility."

Mr. Bresson said that was not the FBI's intent, adding "we don't know how it was leaked to the public."

"But there are so many people involved with these reports that it could have come from any of a hundred sources," Mr. Bresson added.

Local hospital officials said the threat was not of great concern and did not prompt them to enact any special security measures.

"We cannot speculate on uncorroborated information from overseas sources," said Leroy Tillman, spokesman for the Washington Hospital Center.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Mr. Tillman said the hospital is always an "extremely secure" environment and would have no reason to believe it is in any more danger than any other potential target throughout the United States.

"It is a business-as-usual operation here and, of course, our security is vigilant, as is our standard practice," Mr. Tillman said.

The George Washington University Hospital also released a reaction statement to the FBI warning.

"While this latest threat is unsubstantiated, it nonetheless underscores the importance of what has in fact been a long-standing priority for us, which is readiness and preparedness," the statement read.

Joan Lewis, spokeswoman for the D.C. Hospital Association, said the report gave no specific dates or types of attack. She said all of the association's members have been on a "heightened alert" status since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"I think this is one of those things where everyone saw what was out there and said, 'We're ready and trained to handle this,'" Mrs. Lewis said.

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