Coast Guard: 9/11 training exercise 'ill-advised' but no policy violation

By Associated Press
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Holding a training exercise near the Pentagon on Sept. 11 of this year was ill-advised, but it did not violate Coast Guard policies, an internal review found.

The Coast Guard review, obtained by the Associated Press, looked into the events and actions that led to false news reports of gunshots on the Potomac River on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The chain of false reports on television and on the Internet raised fears that Washington might be under attack, eight years to the day after a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon and two others slammed into New York's World Trade Center towers.

CNN reported that 10 shots had been fired on a suspicious vessel, based on information it heard on a police radio scanner. Fox News also reported the shots, which were said to be on a section of river near the Pentagon, where President Obama was attending a 9/11 anniversary event.

As a result, FBI agents rushed to the scene, the Coast Guard ordered one of its helicopters to fly over the river to investigate the reports of shots, and the Federal Aviation Administration grounded 17 flights departing from nearby Reagan National Airport.

The Coast Guard unit that conducted the training exercise was not aware that the president would be traveling nearby, Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp, commander of the Coast Guard's Atlantic area, determined in his review of the incident. If the unit had known that, it would have rescheduled the time and date of the exercise, the report said.

Papp found that the commander of the unit, known as Station Washington, "considered the significance of 9/11 before approving response readiness training on that date and determined it was an opportunity to pay respect to those tragically lost." While Papp determined that the unit "followed standard police and practices" during its exercise, he found that "the decision to conduct training on that morning in the selected training area was ill-advised."

Papp added that it was also ill-advised to continue the training after the Coast Guard had received inquiries about possible gunshots. The unit instead completed the final two of its seven training scenarios.

In his review, Papp noted that next year the Coast Guard will be using scrambled communications during its training exercises, which would have prevented the radio interception. He said Coast Guard units will be instructed to provide other law enforcement agencies with copies of its monthly training schedules.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company