UPDATE: The Fort Collins Coloradoan’s Jason Pohl reports some additional details today that both shed some light on the story and raise more questions–and either way, don’t make Cory Gardner’s hair-raising speculation via press release any more justifiable:
A woman called Fort Collins Police Services on May 24 to report “two unknown Middle Eastern males” had approached her in a parking lot “inquiring about her husband, who was in the military,” Sgt. Dean Cunningham told the Coloradoan…
Fort Collins police then forwarded the information to the FBI “for informational purposes only,” Cunningham said. On July 2, the department received a bulletin from the FBI that specifically referenced the May incident.
…Denver’s CBS4 first published the report in a Tuesday broadcast, but the station did not address how it acquired the document, how it had been vetted or how seriously law enforcement agencies were treating the alert. [Pols emphasis]
As you can read below, the Denver Division of the FBI, to whom the bulletin is attributed, told the Greeley Tribune they didn’t release any such alert at all–so we’re not exactly sure how to reconcile these two reports. But even if it’s authentic, the alleged FBI alert was over a month old when first reported by CBS4 this week–and the FBI’s statement yesterday that they have found no credible threat to military members or their families in Colorado and Wyoming is unequivocal.
It remains a fact that Sen. Cory Gardner had any number of official channels to turn to to verify the details of the story before issuing a statement, and instead relied on this unconfirmed CBS4 news report. There’s every reason to believe that the FBI would have debunked or at least allayed his concerns if he had asked, as they did for reporters seeking to verify the story yesterday. But he didn’t ask.
Because scaring first and asking questions later is better for Gardner politically.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R).
The story late Tuesday night from CBS4 Denver was alarming to say the least:
An alert has been issued by the FBI to all law enforcement agencies in Colorado and Wyoming involving U.S. military families and concerns about who may be watching them.
The alert says Middle Eastern men are approaching families of U.S. military members at their homes in Colorado and Wyoming. It mentions Greeley, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, as the specific areas.
In one case last May the wife of a military member was approached in front of her home by two Middle Eastern males. The men stated that she was the wife of a U.S. interrogator. When she denied their claims the men laughed. The two men left the area in a dark-colored, four-door sedan with two other Middle Eastern males in the vehicle.
The next morning, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner expressed great concern in a press statement, seemingly validating that this CBS4 news report was accurate:
“I am alarmed by reports out of Denver that military members’ families have been harassed outside their homes and may be under surveillance,” Gardner said. “This news comes less than two weeks after FBI Director James Comey, speaking in Denver, warned of the heightened threat from the Islamic State that Colorado specifically faces. The FBI has now alerted all Colorado law enforcement agencies, and my office is in contact with the appropriate officials. I will continue to closely monitor the situation, and I encourage Coloradans to report suspicious behavior to the FBI.”
In his statement, Sen. Gardner claims that in addition to seeing the news report on CBS4, he was “in contact with the appropriate officials.” But this morning, it looks as though if Gardner actually had been in contact with the FBI, they might have had very different information for him. As the Greeley Tribune now reports:
The Denver office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it has found no credible threats to military personnel or their family members in Colorado or Wyoming, according to a statement released late Thursday afternoon…
The statement was issued in response to reports Wednesday by a variety of Colorado news outlets that military families in Greeley and Cheyenne, Wyo., had been harassed or intimidated by men of Middle Eastern descent. Those reports were based off of an activity alert that was supposedly first released to law enforcement in May and then again on July 2.
The spokesmen for Weld County’s two largest law enforcement agencies said Wednesday they had not received the alert and were unaware of any cases of harassment against military members or their families. [Pols emphasis]
Another Greeley Tribune report from late Wednesday suggests the “FBI alert” in question may have been a fake:
Special Agent Amy Sanders, spokeswoman for the FBI Denver Bureau, said the office did not release any such alert [Pols emphasis] and that it had not confirmed the document’s authenticity as of Wednesday afternoon.
So what happened here? The answer may be pretty straightforward.
Back in April, we took note of social media posts from Rep. Ken Buck declaratively stating that there are training camps operated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State just over the Mexican border from El Paso, Texas. Those reports were proven false as quickly as mainstream media outlets were able to make the relevant phone calls, but Buck’s enthusiastic spreading of these totally unconfirmed reports lent them credibility they did not deserve. As a federal lawmaker who can easily obtain confirmation via official channels to verify or disprove such reports, Buck has a higher obligation to make sure what he says is accurate.
On the campaign trail last year, now-Sen. Cory Gardner repeatedly invoked dubious unconfirmed news reports to play up his “concern” for the fears of voters on a variety of subjects. The best example was Gardner’s shameless co-opting of unfounded fears about the Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa to attack his opponent. Politifact later declared Ebola fearmongering during the 2014 campaign to be the “Lie of the Year,” but at the time Gardner exploited the “Ebola issue” to positive effect in his campaign.
Inciting panic over what turns out to be a baseless–and possibly bogus–news report is an objectionable thing for an AM radio talk show host to do. For a sitting U.S. Senator, it’s really quite unacceptable.
And in Cory Gardner, now we have the makings of a pattern.