Coast Guard Excersize Sparks Confusion in The Nation’s Capital

Mike Schuler
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September 11, 2009


Via The New York Times:

A Coast Guard training exercise in the Potomac River near the Pentagon stirred alarm and confusion on Friday morning around the time and the place that President Obama was observing the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The president’s motorcade had just crossed the Potomac, on its way back to the White House after a ceremony at the Pentagon honoring those who died there, when chatter on a marine radio channel used by the Coast Guard and monitored by the media told of shots being fired on the river.

No shots were actually fired in Friday’s training exercise that appears to have been routine in everything except for the date on which it was conducted. But while the confusion lasted only a few minutes, it was enough to scramble F.B.I. agents and halt departures from Reagan National Airport near the river from 10:08 a.m. until 10:30, Diane Spitaliere, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told The Associated Press.

Much of the confusion seemed to have been stirred by reports on CNN, based on the radio chatter. Anyone listening to the marine frequency heard simulated instructions to fire 10 rounds at suspicious boats in the river. By the time it became clear that there actually were no shots and no suspicious boats, the confusion had taken on a life of its own, however brief.

It was far from clear whether the fault for the confusion lay with the Coast Guard or with CNN. The Coast Guard chief of staff, Vice Adm. John Currier, said at a mid-day news briefing that the exercise was entirely routine and that similar exercises are carried out several times a week.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has criticized CNN – not the Coast Guard – over the panic caused by the agency’s training exercise, saying that the alarm could have been avoided if the network had checked its facts.

The Coast Guard has issued the following statement regarding the incident:

Coast Guard statement on media report of gunfire on the Potomac

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard reported on Friday that reports in the media were based on overheard radio calls made over a training frequency and that no shots were fired during the exercise.

The exercise was planned in advance and was being conducted on a marine radio frequency reserved for Coast Guard training and operations. No recreational boaters were involved in this training excercise.

We are still gathering information of how this training event might have been misconstrued as an actual incident. We will conduct a thorough review of this incident.

Coast Guard boats were operating in the vicinity of 14th Street and Memorial Bridges this morning. Whether or not these were the same boats using the marine radio frequency used for training purposes has not yet been confirmed.

The best way that we in the Coast Guard can remember Sept. 11 and our security obligations to the nation is to be always ready and this requires constant training and exercise.  To ensure the appropriate readiness posture we conduct training scenarios across the nation on a daily basis.

How and when this exercise was conducted will be reviewed.

(Image above via the New York Times)

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