Stopping Hazes and Threats

Q: I It seems like there are new reports of anthrax or terrorist threats every day, but some turn out to be hoaxes or false alarms. It is terrible that people would call in a fake report at a time like this. If the person is caught, will anything be done?

A: Anyone who participates in a terrorism-related hoax or who uses threats of terrorist attacks in any way will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Office of the Attorney General is part of the FBI’s anti-terrorism task force, and we will work closely with local district attorneys, the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to make sure people who break the law by perpetrating hoaxes are brought to justice. My Prosecutor Assistance division stands ready to help any local district attorney prosecute and convict those charged with perpetrating a criminal hoax or threat.

Anything that contributes to public unrest or adds to the burden faced by emergency and law enforcement personnel is wrong. For example, it is against the law to:

• Yell “Fire” in a movie theater
• Jokingly threaten a hijacking at an airport
• Call in a phony bomb threat
• Engage in a hoax or threat that infringes on public safety.

The problem right now is very real. Two months ago, finding a powdery white substance in an envelope would not have raised suspicions. That, unfortunately, is not the case today. As a result of the public’s heightened awareness and fear, law enforcement agencies have seen a dramatic increase in the number of reports they must investigate. The majority of them are false alarms, but some are intentional pranks or hoaxes. These hoaxes will not be tolerated.

In a typical year, the FBI investigates about 250 chemical, biological or other threats of mass destruction. In the past three weeks alone, the FBI has handled more than 3,300 investigations across the country. The resources of law enforcement agencies are being taxed, and hoaxes just contribute to the problem. Any threat involving anthrax or any other weapon of mass destruction will not be tolerated. And the full weight of law enforcement will be used to investigate and prosecute the individuals who make these threats. The penalties are stiff; a person can face a maximum of life in prison under federal law.

Anyone who has any information about the plotting or perpetration of an anthrax threat or any terroristic act should report it immediately to federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies. Similarly, if you know of someone who is responsible for committing a hoax, report it at once.

And if anyone thinks it would be funny to play this kind of trick, think again. A person could end up in prison because of a poor sense of humor.