ABC's Gibson uncritically reported claim that "we dodged a bullet" by foiling terror plot on Fort Dix
Research ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN
On ABC's World News, while introducing a report on the foiled Fort Dix plot, Charles Gibson uncritically repeated an FBI official's claim that "[t]oday, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets." But neither Gibson nor ABC News' Brian Ross, in his subsequent report, noted that no attack was alleged to be imminent and that Fort Dix officials have reportedly claimed that the base was not, at any point, in immediate danger.
On the May 8 edition of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson introduced a report about the indictment of six men alleged to have plotted an armed attack on the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey, by reporting as fact FBI Philadelphia special agent in charge J.P. Weis' statement that "[t]oday, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets." But neither Gibson nor ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, in his subsequent report, noted that no attack was alleged to be imminent and that Fort Dix officials have reportedly claimed that the base was not, at any point, in immediate danger.
By contrast, on the same night's edition of the CBS Evening News, CBS News Justice correspondent Bob Orr aired Weis' claim but followed it by noting: "Law enforcement sources say no attack was imminent." As well, during the May 8 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, NBC News correspondent Pete Williams reported that, while Justice Department officials claimed the suspects had "moved beyond the talking stage," they also stated that, given the surveillance the men were under, "it's very unlikely they could have pulled off their attack."
On May 8, the New Jersey U.S. attorney's office announced that five foreign-born individuals were charged with "plotting to kill as many soldiers as possible in an armed assault at the Fort Dix Army base, adding that "a sixth defendant is charged with aiding and abetting the illegal possession of firearms." The men were arrested after attempting to purchase weapons from an undercover FBI agent. According to the office's press release, the group had been under investigation since January 31, 2006, "after the FBI received a video recording showing the six individuals charged in the Complaint and four other men firing assault weapons in militia-like style at a Poconos shooting range." The defendants "hoped to use assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades to kill as many soldiers as possible," but an informant "infiltrate[d] the group" and set up a deal to sell "inoperable" AK-47s and M-16s to the group. Two of the defendants were arrested when they allegedly "arrived to purchase" the weapons and the others were arrested shortly thereafter.
The Washington Post also reported that the men's "indictment ... indicates that the group had no rigorous military training and did not appear close to being able to pull off an attack." Also, during the May 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN Justice correspondent Kelli Arena further reported that "officials insist that Fort Dix was never in imminent danger. Outside experts agree. It's a pretty tough target to hit."
From the May 8 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
GIBSON: Good evening. Today, we learned of another terrorist plot that has been foiled. The target was a U.S. military base in New Jersey. The intent was to kill U.S. soldiers. The men planning the attack had all lived in the United States for years. As one FBI agent said, 'Today, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets." Our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, has the details -- Brian.
ROSS: Charlie, the FBI says it all began 17 months ago, when a photo shop clerk became suspicious of a video brought in by one of the suspects, showing the men firing weapons, praising Allah. The clerk called the FBI. An undercover informant was able to infiltrate the group and tracked and recorded the men as they plotted to kill as many U.S. soldiers as possible.
ROSS: The FBI says the plot was well-planned and financed. The men traveled to this range in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for target practice, where today, some people said they remembered them because of their weapons.
From the May 8 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
ORR: The plot to attack U.S. soldiers on American soil ended in darkness at this home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Ringleaders of a home-grown terror cell with big plans and big mouths were arrested as they tried to buy AK-47 and M-16 assault weapons from an FBI agent posing as an arms dealer.
For more than a year, federal agents watched and listened to the six suspects, shown here in the back of SUVs heading to court.
The foreign-born Islamic radicals told informants of their plans to attack Fort Dix and other U.S. military targets in the Philadelphia area.
WEIS: Today, we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.
ORR: Law enforcement sources say no attack was imminent, but the suspects, who appeared in court today, face possible life sentences for plotting to kill as many soldiers as possible.
From the May 8 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
B. WILLIAMS: A lot of government officials from the president on down have hinted over the years that if we ever really knew about all the unsubstantiated national security threats that are out there, we'd never leave our homes in the morning. Of course, most of those threats pass without us ever knowing about them. But this morning, as millions of Americans were leaving home for work, they heard about this story, what the feds say is a busted plot by six young men in their 20s accused of planning to shoot up a U.S. Army post, Fort Dix in New Jersey. The FBI says this was an example of home-grown terrorism, inspired by the Internet and thankfully foiled.
We begin our reporting tonight with NBC's Pete Williams. He's at the Justice Department in Washington. Pete, good evening.
P. WILLIAMS: Brian, officials here say while these men moved in fits and starts and even had trouble keeping secrets, they were nonetheless committed. They had some guns, and, they say, they had moved beyond the talking stage.
Their target, the FBI says, was Fort Dix, New Jersey, the Army post that's been a waystation for more than 95,000 soldiers since 9-11. Federal prosecutors say the six men scouted the base and had a map.
P. WILLIAMS: Tonight, Justice Department officials say these 13 men were under -- these six men, rather, were under such close surveillance for the past 13 months that it's very unlikely they could have pulled off their attack, even if they had gotten the machine guns they wanted and which they thought they were buying last night.