Terrorists looking for an opportunity to study how law enforcement agencies conduct a regional counterterrorism exercise received a gift Wednesday night. It came in the form of an embargoed news release.
I came across the news release, a partial image of which appears above, via PR Newswire Wednesday at 8:37 p.m. Central. Issued by the Transportation Security Administration, it was marked as “embargoed.”
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, an embargoed news release is one the issuer provides to journalists with the understanding that they will not print anything about it until the embargo date and time has passed. In this case, 5:30 a.m. Thursday. More on this at the end of this post.
Accessible by any individual/journalist with an account like mine, the news release offered the following key information:
During the morning and evening commutes on Thursday, May 27, Amtrak Police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel and law enforcement officers from federal, state, local, rail and transit police agencies are being deployed at passenger rail and transit stations throughout the Northeast as part of an exercise of counterterrorism and incident response capabilities.
The multi-force, multi-agency security surge from New Hampshire to Virginia is not in response to any particular threat or incident. Rather, today’s deployment is part of Operation RAIL SAFE (Regional Alliance Including Local, State and Federal Efforts), a coordinated effort involving activities such as heightened station patrols, increased security presence onboard trains, explosives detection canine sweeps, and random passenger bag inspections at unannounced locations. RAIL SAFE is part of a routine effort by partners in the Northeast rail and transit corridor to flexibly exercise resources and coordination.
After reading the news release, I wondered what might happen if a would-be terrorist had had, at some point in the past, the insight to sign up for an account at PR Newswire so he could access embargoed news releases like the one issued by TSA.
Because the news release was published at 6 p.m Thursday, he could have found himself with 12 hours advance notice of the exercise. With those hours, he could have easily notified his cohorts in cities across the Northeast and/or mobilized them to study and report back on how law enforcement agencies in each city carried out their respective roles in the counterterrorism and incident response exercise.
To those who might think this former Air Force public affairs officer is overreacting or painting an implausible portrait of how such a news release could be used in this age of terrorism, I close with a suspicion based on nothing more than common sense: Terrorists don’t honor TSA-issued embargoes on news releases. They exploit them.
Note to TSA public affairs: Next time, wait until after the exercise to report on such an exercise. And when you report on it, be vague about the details. If you need help, contact me.