Coast Guard: Media Escalated Potomac Incident

In a press conference Sept. 11, Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral John Currier said he was not apologizing for the routine training mission on the Potomac today, the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He said it was an intercepted communication and media reporting that escalated the incident beyond a routine exercise.

The incident on the Potomac--featuring Coast Guard vessels, guns and a boat (or boats) that appeared not to be heeding their warnings--was initially reported by CNN as a possible Coast Guard "shots fired" incident in proximity to the Pentagon 9/11 memorial ceremonies, which included a speech by the President. (See related blog, "Misfires on 9/11 Anniversary.")

Currier called it an ordinary, low-profile training exercise, though he also said the Coast Guard would be reviewing its protocols for such exercises and possibly talking to the media to find out how to prevent future confusion.

CNN aired audio from Coast Guard radio transmissions warning the boat. Admiral Currier said those had been intercepted, and had it been a real emergency, they would have been encrypted. He also said it was standard procedure to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the transmission that it was a drill, and said he didn't have any reason to believe that had not been the case in this instance.

But he essentially blamed the escalation on news reports, saying they had also prompted the FAA to block some flights out of nearby Reagan National Airport.

He conceded that there had been no notification of state and local officials about the 9/11 drill, but said that was because they happened routinely.

CNN had reported that the Coast Guard press office had not been initially forthcoming with information about the drill, and Currier said the Coast Guard would look into that as well.

He said no shots had actually been fired but did concede the radio transmission might have included the information, as part of the training, that rounds had been discharged. He also confirmed that there had been "verbalization of gun fire." Translation: somebody said "bang, bang" on the radio at the "appropriate" time.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.