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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With John W. McCarthy

Aired December 24, 2003 - 08:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: When that threat level was raised to orange, New York, Los Angeles and Washington were all mentioned as potential targets. But so was Rappahannock County, Virginia, population 7,000.
What can a small, relatively rural area do to protect itself?

Joining us from Washington this morning is Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy.

Nice to see you, sir.

Thanks for being with us this morning.

JOHN W. MCCARTHY, RAPPAHANNOCK COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Ms. O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: And I have to ask you, as I'm sure you asked many times to the FBI, who actually notified your sheriff, why Rappahannock County in Virginia?

MCCARTHY: That puzzles us, as well, Ms. O'Brien. The bottom line is Rappahannock, as you've indicated, is a very small county about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., a population of about 7,000, with twice that many cattle, in fact. So, frankly, most of us are a little bit more concerned out of the news of Washington State than we are out of Washington, D.C. at present.

It's got no federal installations of any note. We back up to the Shenandoah National Park, where there is obviously a limited federal presence. But frankly mainly we're talking about deer, bear and trees, not the kind of targets that we normally expect terrorists to go after.

Nevertheless, we do have some local attractions, which do bring dignitaries and officials from all around, mainly the Inn at Little Washington, which is a very well regarded establishment that provides dining and lodging facilities.

Our sheriff's office was very proactive and checked with the inn to make sure what their guest list was going to bring us over the next few days, lot try to identify any potential targets that were targets in and of themselves; officials, as I've indicated, or diplomatic officials and what have you. And there were no people that fell into that category that we felt would be a likely target. So we've...

O'BRIEN: So, forgive me for jumping in there. MCCARTHY: Sure.

O'BRIEN: But I'm curious to know, did the FBI explain in more detail? Or did they say listen, this is credible information? Did they say this is a guess? How confident do you feel about this warning coming to you?

MCCARTHY: Frankly, we do not have any indication from any federal agency that we are a target for anything at all. What we were notified of this past weekend, and our sheriff's office was notified, of some sort of chatter, as was previously indicated by Mr. Ensor, that there is a possibility that one of the words that came up in that chatter was Rappahannock. Now, part of the problem is there is a Rappahannock County. There is also a crossroads called Rappahannock about three hours driving time east of us. There's apparently a U.S. naval vessel called the Rappahannock and, of course, there's the Rappahannock River, which stretches from our end of the state all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay.

So without a context, it's rather difficult to decide what this may have been referring to, if anything at all. It definitely was, according to them, not in the context of we are attacking a target in Rappahannock or whatever the word may have been.

O'BRIEN: So given all of that, how are the folks in Rappahannock County doing, even given that the caveats of it may not be us at all here?

MCCARTHY: Well, it tends to bring things a little close to home. We're close enough to D.C. to have felt a lot of the effects of September 11, 2001. But frankly none of us ever thought there might be any terrorist interests in our jurisdiction and we are still hopeful that is not the case.

We've had a lot of scared people. When the "L.A. Times" broke this story on their Web site yesterday morning, it made its way around the county darned fast. And there was a whole lot of reaction to it. And, unfortunately, without having a real hard thing to sink your teeth into, it's very difficult to respond proactively, other than to say we're watching.

O'BRIEN: John W. McCarthy joining us this morning.

He's the county administrator for Rappahannock County.

Thanks for being with us.

We appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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