- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2009

The Coast Coast said Friday it will conduct a review on how a routine training exercise on the Potomac River turned into a terrorist-attack scare on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“We will conduct a top-to-bottom review,” Vice Adm. John P. Currier said at a press conference outside a Coast Guard station in Washington, D.C. “We will back through our procedures and see what happened here today.”

The incident unfolded at about 10 a.m. when at least one news-gathering organizations reported a Coast Guard vessel fired 10 shots at a boat. It also occurred at about the time President Obama was nearby crossing the Potomac by bridge to return from a 9-11 memorial event at the Pentagon, in Northern Virginia.

Adm. Currier said Guardsmen typically use a communications radio to say “shot fired,” instead of firing shots, and somebody likely overheard the chatter on a scanner, then called the news media or other authorities. However, he said he would have to listen to tapes or see a transcript to learn exactly how the events unfolded.

The admiral also said such communications are always precluded by a Guardsman saying “this is a drill.”

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He said the simulated interdictions take place about four times a week, that such agencies as the Secret Service were not notified because of the routine nature of the exercise and that he would not apologies for what happened.

However, Adm. Currier said the review could change how the Coast Guard notifies other law-enforcement agencies and the news media before such exercises.

The admiral said four 25-foot-long boats with mounted guns on their bows were used in the exercise, which was sanctioned by higher-level Coast Guard officials.

The FAA temporarily stopped departures at nearby Reagan National Airport until the incident was confirmed as an exercise. The FBI also had agents respond to the incident.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said Secretary Janet Napolitano has asked Admiral Thad W. Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, to look into the situation.

“She asked him for a full account of what happened,” Ms. Kuban said.

The White House said the president had not been notified about the exercise but did not see any reason to object to it. The presidential motorcade returned on the Memorial Bridge but the exercise went unnoticed.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the only reason the exercise would have caused alarm was because of “erroneous reporting” by CNN, which he said broadcast word of shots fired on the river based only on scanner traffic. He said the reporting was not verified by public safety officials, but it should have been.

“My only caution would be, before we report things, checking would be good,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Pressed on whether the decision to conduct the exercise was ill timed, given it was occurring on the anniversary of the deadliest terror attacks on American soil, Mr. Gibbs stood his ground. “I tend not to question law enforcement in trying to keep the nation’s capital safe.”

Mr. Gibbs also rejected any comparison to the photo op flight of Air Force One over lower Manhattan that alarmed hundreds of New Yorkers. This event, he said, would have gone unnoticed entirely but for the television report.

The exercise was “a coast guard decision. I don’t think the commander in chief or his spokesman are going to micro manage it,” he said.

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