October 18, 2005

Baltimore tunnel scare ends, nerves rattled

By Bryan Sears

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A security scare closed two major
Baltimore highway tunnels for about two hours on Tuesday, in
the latest incident to unnerve the U.S. public and force
officials to defend their actions as necessary precaution.

The closure of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and the Fort
McHenry Tunnel, disrupting traffic on a major East Coast
thoroughfare, was based on information from an "ongoing
investigation" by the FBI and state and local authorities,
Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary McLhinney

Searches of the tunnels and various vehicles turned up
nothing suspicious, McLhinney said in announcing the resumption
of traffic along the heavily traveled north-south Interstate 95

"When we get information ... we're going to err on the side
of caution, an abundance of caution," he said. He also said he
could not comment on the nature of the investigation.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security said in a joint
statement that they had recently shared information with
federal, state and local law enforcement officials about "a
potential threat of undetermined credibility to an unspecified
tunnel in the Baltimore area."

"While the information was somewhat specific, to date, the
intelligence community has not found evidence that corroborates
the information," the statement said, but added the
investigation was ongoing.

"Therefore, we support whatever protective measures taken
out of an abundance of caution that state and local law
enforcement authorities deem appropriate," the federal
authorities said.

The Baltimore scare occurred a little more than a week
after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was criticized for
placing the city's subways on high alert, even though the FBI
and the Department of Homeland Security had said they doubted
the security threat's credibility.

The New York alert was called off October 10 after
detainees in Iraq thought to be plotting to bomb the transit
system indicated the threat lacked credibility.

Bloomberg defended his decision, saying every threat has to
be taken seriously.

In Maryland, a spokesman for the governor defended the
decision to close the tunnels.

"After consulting with federal law enforcement officials,
the decision was made to close the Harbor Tunnel and sections
of the Fort McHenry Tunnel. This decision was made out of an
abundance of caution for the citizens of Maryland," said a
statement issued by a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Robert

The two Baltimore tunnels carry some 67 million vehicles a
year traveling between Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

The tunnels were closed at 11:20 a.m. and about two hours
later, McLhinney said the search was called off.

During the search, the Harbor Tunnel was completely closed,
while one lane of the Fort McHenry Tunnel was closed in each
direction, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said.

Nerves have also been rattled in Washington by a series of
small aircraft which strayed into restricted airspace around
the city, setting off security scares that resulted in the
evacuation of some government buildings.

Earlier this month, the Washington Monument was evacuated
due to a telephone bomb threat. Authorities then briefly closed
it less than a week later for unspecified reasons.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst)