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Coast Guard's "Bang, Bang" Caused Uproar

(AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Vice Admiral John P. Currier, the Coast Guard chief of staff, said at a noon press conference that a Coast Guard training exercise in the Potomac River near the Pentagon that sparked rumors and confusion this morning was a "low profile, normal training exercise" in which no shots were fired.

News outlets reported this morning that the Coast Guard had fired 10 rounds at a suspicious boat located near the bridge crossed by the president's motorcade as it went to the Pentagon.

"What we've seen is a reaction to a training exercise that was really just that," Currier said. He said that the furor was sparked because a civilian intercepted unencrypted communications on a discrete Coast Guard channel during a training exercise.

He said the communications – which included the words "bang, bang" – were taken out of context.

"It's quite possible that they said I've expended x number of rounds" on the frequency, Currier said, suggesting that "8 or 10 rounds" may have been mentioned. But he said that the fact that a drill or exercise is underway is normally stated as part of such an operation.

Somebody said "bang, bang on the radio at the appropriate time in the training exercise," he said, adding that "verbalization of gunfire and orders between the boats" is normal practice.

"This being a normal training exercise, preplanned, the coordination was minimal with other federal agencies," he added, stating that such excercises take place on a regular basis.

Currier stressed that there was no criminal activity taking place and said the president was never at risk or in the area during the exercise. He said that during a real operation the Guard would have used encrypted communications, not an open channel.

After the early media reports, departures from nearby Reagan National Airport were temporarily halted as a precaution, the Federal Aviation Administration said. FBI agents rushed to the scene, unaware that a training exercise was underway.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said following the reports that "we're safer" because of such exercises, adding that he does not question law enforcement efforts to keep the city safe.

In a shot at the media outlets that initially reported the incident, he said, "before reporting things, checking would be good."

"It appears as if a lot of this could have been avoided," said Gibbs.

The Coast Guard vowed to review how it conducts its exercises in the wake of the uproar.

Senator George Voinovich released a statement saying he is "extremely concerned about the report of a Coast Guard training exercise being conducted on the Potomac River as September 11 memorial ceremonies were in progress nearby at the Pentagon."

"The anxiety caused by this situation on such a solemn day is extremely disturbing," he said. "I look forward to hearing from [Homeland] Secretary [Janet] Napolitano about the decision-making process leading up to today's events. It sounds very much like the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing."

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