Rocky allowed Tancredo to defend terror-attack ad by citing "intelligence reports," omitted FBI's stated doubts about credibility of the threat

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Reporting on Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo's television ad depicting the terrorist bombing of a shopping mall, a November 13 Rocky Mountain News article stated that Tancredo defended his campaign against criticism of "fear-mongering" by citing intelligence reports suggesting an increasing possibility of such attacks and implied that the FBI had raised the same concerns. But the News failed to mention that widespread reporting noted statements from agency officials that the threat was not credible.

A November 13 Rocky Mountain News article about Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R) controversial ad depicting the terrorist bombing of a shopping mall uncritically allowed Tancredo to defend his presidential campaign against criticism of "fear-mongering" by citing "law enforcement and unclassified intelligence reports suggesting" the increased possibility of such attacks and implying that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had raised the same concerns. However, the News did not note that after the FBI recently circulated a tip about possible terrorist attacks on shopping malls in Chicago and Los Angeles, news outlets also widely reported several FBI officials' statements that the threat was not a credible one.

In contrast to the News article by M.E. Sprengelmeyer, a November 13 Los Angeles Times article (registration required) -- portions of which also were published online by the Denver Post -- noted that Tancredo said in a prepared statement, "The safety of Americans and the security of our way of life are on the line," but reported regarding the FBI tip that "counterterrorism officials have downplayed the warning, saying it was based on an uncorroborated report from a foreign intelligence source." Additionally, a November 8 Associated Press article similarly reported that despite receiving "a tip that al-Qaida was planning to attack shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago this holiday season," the FBI was "downplay[ing] the purported threat" and had stated there was no information that the threat was credible.

According to the News article, "Rep. Tom Tancredo is taking the fear factor to an explosive new level in the Republican presidential contest." The article continued:

On Monday he unveiled a new television ad that shows a hooded man slip into a peaceful shopping mall, set down a black backpack -- not far from where children are playing -- and then, boom!

Interspersed with images of a bloody body and the destruction of recent terrorist attacks in London, Spain and Russia, it argues that this could be "the price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our border against those who come to kill."

[...]

At a press conference in Des Moines, Tancredo told local reporters that he wanted to expand the immigration debate beyond the anti-amnesty appeal that other presidential candidates have adopted with their rhetoric, if not "with their hearts."

He cited law enforcement and unclassified intelligence reports suggesting that there was a rising possibility that radical Islamic terrorists might launch a series of smaller-scale attacks within the United States.

"People are here today who are planning and plotting to kill us," Tancredo said in the press conference, which was replayed online at RadioIowa.com. "Are we willing to do something about it -- to go after the people who are here?"

Asked if he was "fear-mongering," Tancredo referred back to the reports, saying: "Is that fear-mongering on the part of the FBI?"

"Yeah, this is a scary commercial. I understand that," Tancredo said. "But it's a scary world in which we live."

The News article, however, failed to include information about the FBI "reports" upon which Tancredo implied he based his ad. But as the AP reported on November 8, "The FBI said Thursday it received a tip that al-Qaida was planning to attack shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago this holiday season, but downplayed the purported threat." The AP continued:

The warning, contained in an FBI memo to local law enforcement agencies that was declassified Thursday, said the terror network "hoped to disrupt the U.S. economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years."

Federal and local officials downplayed the significance of the warning. The memo, known as an intelligence information report, was given to authorities in Chicago and Los Angeles "out of an abundance of caution," FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko said.

"Al-Qaida messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the U.S. or its interests," Kolko said. "However, there is no information to state this is a credible threat."

The AP article also noted that "[i]ntelligence information reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats."

In addition, a report published November 8 on the website of KNTV NBC11 -- the NBC affiliate for San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose -- quoted Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton as saying, "We have very serious doubts about the veracity and source of this information." The report further noted:

Laura Eimiller of the FBI's Los Angeles office played down the threat in a statement released early Thursday afternoon and noted that "unclassified portions" of the FBI document were reported in the media.

"Out of an abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities -- even when the value of the information is unknown," the statement says.

"In the post 9/11 era, sharing information is our top priority. Al Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the U.S. or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities."

Furthermore, according to ABC News, "The unclassified shopping mall threat information was circulated by the FBI on November 7th, based on intelligence received by the FBI in late September." ABC News provided "the full text of one version of that report":

December 2007 Al-Qa'ida Plan to Target US Shopping Malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.

As of August 2007, al-Qa'ida planned to strike US shopping malls in Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California during the 2007 Christmas season. Al-Qa'ida hoped to disrupt the US economy and had been planning the attack for the past two years.

FBI Comment: This information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.

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