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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Meth's Changing Face; Suspicious Package Found on White House Grounds
Aired March 22, 2006 - 10:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: As we move on to our next hour, a very serious story about something that seduces both rich and poor, young and old. And baby boomers are increasingly falling prey to its addiction. We're talking methamphetamine, and it's fueling an explosion of crime similar to the crack cocaine wars of 20 years ago.
In just a moment, an incredible story from a recovering addict. He is going to tell his own tale.
First, though, the ad campaign to make us all understand. Here now, A.J. Hammer.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Stop looking at me!
A.J. HAMMER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a commercial sure to stop you in your tracks: a teen, high on meth, robbing a laundromat.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: This wasn't suppose today be your life!
HAMMER: Dramatic, but driving the point home that methamphetamine is a growing problem in America, especially among teens. It's known by many names, speed, crystal, crank and Tina. But, whatever you call it, whatever the form, it's highly addictive. And "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" can report, it's to blame for an increase of some 70 percent of robberies and burglaries nationwide.
Made from common household products, like fertilizer and cold medicine, meth is an easy, cheap drug that's taking America by storm -- most at risk, teens in the West, Pacific Northwest, and Midwest rural areas. Eighth-graders in rural areas are 59 percent more likely to use meth than their counterparts in big cities.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I'm going to sleep with him for meth just once.
HAMMER: Montana is one of the states that's been hit the hardest. Of all the people serving jail time for drug-related crimes in Montana, an unbelievable 70 percent are due to meth.
And Montana teens are most susceptible. Forty-four percent of them say they know exactly where to get meth, a scary notion. Even scarier, one out of five Montana teens say they have close friends who use meth.
Government agencies and private organizations are mobilizing across the nation to do something about it.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: My parents think I'm sleeping at your house. Yes, I'm just jumping in the shower.
HAMMER: At the forefront, the Montana Meth Project. They're targeting the most at-risk age group, teens ages 12 to 17. Through print ads and TV commercials, they're spreading the word about the dangers of meth.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Don't do it. Don't do it.
KAGAN: As we said, more baby boomers are falling under the poisonous spell of meth. For them it carries higher rick of heart attack, hypertension and widespread organ damage.
Our next guest suffered another symptom. His 21-year meth addiction left him with a jaw bone ground down to a nub. Clancy Miller is co-founder of Dual Diagnosis Anonymous, and he is my guest this morning from Los Angeles.
Clancy, thank you for be here with us.
CLANCY MILLER, RECOVERING METH ADDICT: Thank you for inviting me.
KAGAN: And sharing your story. How did you start using so many years ago?
MILLER: Well, many years ago they had something called binnies (ph), bingadrine (ph). And a lot of the truck drivers used to use it, and it gave you energy, it kept your appetite down. And I started using binnies to start off with.
KAGAN: Because you were a respectable guy. You were a truck diver, you were a member of the California National Guard. You had a life.
KAGAN: How can you explain to someone who has never used it how addictive and what the high feels like when you use meth?
MILLER: What it feels like is that you have a burst of energy and that you become real focused on certain subjects. They call it tunnel vision. And the reason you become so addicted to it is because you enjoy the high.
KAGAN: So how can you describe what that high -- why does it feel so good? How does it feel so good? MILLER: Well, it feels good because you get out of yourself. You no longer are in reality. You create your own little world.
KAGAN: We've heard a lot about teenagers being involved in this. Does it surprise you to hear about more and more baby booms being drawn into the drug?
MILLER: No it doesn't surprise me at all.
KAGAN: What was the impact on your -- let's first talk about the physical impact. What did it do to your body to use meth for 18 years?
MILLER: What it did to my body was it deteriorated my bones. And I went in to recovery at a VA hospital in Loma Linda and they took an x-ray of my jaw bone and they said, my god, you only got one- thirty-second of one inch of jaw bone left, about that much.
KAGAN: And what's that from? You say from grinding?
MILLER: Yes, like this.
MILLER: Speed is the most -- for me, the most addictive and the most stressful drug there is out there.
KAGAN: So when I'm sitting here looking at your jaw bone, I'm really looking at pieces of your hip bone?
MILLER: Right, if you want to say that.
KAGAN: So they had to go ahead and rebuild that for you?
KAGAN: What was bottom for you? Eighteen years. Why was it year 18 worse than year nine?
MILLER: Well, actually, I have almost 18 years of recovery. I was in addiction for 21 years.
KAGAN: OK. OK, 20 years. So 21 years. Why did it take 21 years for you to finally say enough?
MILLER: Because the drug actually talks to you. It tells you, well, you're too young. You know, you still can party down have a good time. And then middle age you start thinking, well, I've been doing it all of these years, I might as well continue. And then you get a little older and you think, there's no use to change it.
You know, we used to have a saying that old speed freaks never die, we just regroup and go to hell.
KAGAN: Clancy, I have a lot more questions I want to ask you and a lot more about your story. We have breaking news out of the White House.
We'll get back to Clancy Miller and his story in just a minute right now.
But we want to go live to the White House. Kathleen Koch with breaking news -- Kathleen.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing inside the briefing room in the White House where we've been ushered by the security guards on the north lawn. Apparently, a suspicious packaged turned up outside the northwest gate of the White House some time over the last five or 10 minutes. So they have teal sealed off the area where we reporters would normally do our live reports on the north lawn of the White House.
Now, the president is not here. He left about 20 minute ago to head to an appearance in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he's making a speech on the war on terror.
But -- so right now, we're basically not locked in, but we are -- we have been ushered into the briefing room and we're waiting to find out what this package is. We can't really see well from here. I don't have much of a vantage point. But we assume security is working on figuring out what it is.
KAGAN: Other than ushering the reporters into the briefing room, what other part of the drill is taking place that you know of, Kathleen?
KOCH: Well, as I said, Daryn, I can't see much. What they normally would do is come up with some kind of a bomb squad that would be approaching the package and checking it out. But we need to get a camera out on the other side of the fence because we're stuck in here. So we really can't bring you much in the way of visuals. I don't know if we have any kind of shot from any vantage point because they've really put us all in here for our own safety right now.
KAGAN: Well, I'll tell you. I'll describe to you what we're looking at.
We do have a number of live pictures from right outside the White House. I don't think we're actually able to see the package. In fact, we don't even see a lot of activity from outside the White House.
We are looking at the vantage point where you see all the live locations lined up next to each other, Kathleen. And, of course, not surprisingly empty because all of those people would be down in the briefing room with you.
KOCH: Right. So you're not seeing much more than we're seeing. But this kind of thing does happen occasionally in Washington, Daryn. Strange packages do turn up.
The bomb squads come, and they turn out to be absolutely nothing. But obviously this being the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they're not going to take any chances.
KAGAN: Yes. They don't fool around at this number one location.
President Bush on his way to West Virginia, you were pointing out?
KOCH: Yes, he is. He took off not too long ago in Marine One for Andrews Air Force Base. And he'll be heading to make a speech in Wheeling.
It's an audience of about 2,500 there. Tickets passed out by the local chamber of commerce to folks around town. Also, some 200 passed out by a local newspaper and 200 by the U.S. military.
So it should be a good mix. And it's going to be another one of those sort of free-wheeling question-and-answer sessions, very similar to what he had Monday in Cleveland.
KAGAN: We continue to talk to Kathleen Koch. She's in the briefing room of the White House.
Breaking news at the White House. A suspicious package found outside the northwest gate. So as Kathleen was describing to us, they had taken everybody who would normally be lined up along those live locations there and put them in the briefing room, as explained, for their own safety.
Kathleen, play tour guide for us a second. Explain the northwest part of the White House for so many people who have visited there.
KOCH: Well, the northwest gate is the area when you are visiting the White House. It's where you enter. There's a facility here where you come in and you're screened, obviously.
It's very similar to when you come into your boarding plane to go -- going into an airport to board a plane and you get screened and you get checked for bombs and weapons explosives and things. But obviously any package that were to come in would have to be equally screened.
And again, we don't know where this package or these packages came from. Again, just that they turned up roughly 10 minutes ago, not long -- about 20 minute after the president left.
I can barely see. I'm standing on my tiptoes trying to peer out the windows here. Just some of the White House security milling around somewhere near Lafayette Park, which is across from this -- this small building where you enter the northwest gate entrance. But I still can't see the packages and see what they're doing with them.
KAGAN: Yes, we're looking at some new pictures now of -- as police try to clear the area. Again, not a huge sense of urgency. But people being told to stand back and get away.
And something that looks rather unusual, kind of the area where the reporters are usually standing, looks like a ghost town right now, because, Kathleen, you were saying everyone put down there. How many people would you say are down in the briefing room with you right now?
KOCH: Let's see. If I look around me right now, there are a good, 20, 25 people in here, and cameras are trying to set up and get some sort of a view out these windows.
But unfortunately, there is sort of a berm. We're somewhat lower than the front lawn of the White House, and the berm is completely obstructing our view from here. So I really don't know that we're going to be able to see much.
KAGAN: And it looks like we're looking at pictures that were taken just a short while ago of either a White House -- of a police officer or a security guard kind of shooing reporters off. But not a huge sense of urgency. I certainly have seen things look a lot more intense when we have seen suspicious situations around the White House.
KOCH: You're correct, Daryn. And certainly, you know, when we've had these rare occasions where there has been, say, an aerial intruder, you see a huge sense of urgency. You see Secret Service and a large number of guards that will normally be screaming and telling you, you know, "Run! Run! Go inside!"
That's not the case this time. In fact, a lot of the camera people and reporters were somewhat ignoring the guard as she was telling people to go inside.
KAGAN: Yes, that's what we were looking at pictures of.
KOCH: And that's exactly what happened, because it's lunchtime. A lot of the crews here order lunch. People were joking that perhaps it's someone's lunch. Instead of the delivery service staying with it, they simply dropped it off and then it became a suspicious package.
KAGAN: And we all know about hungry...
KOCH: We'll find out soon.
KAGAN: We all know about hungry news people, Kathleen.
KOCH: That's true.
KAGAN: It would take more than a White House police officer to keep them from them and lunch.
Do we know how the package was discovered?
KOCH: We do not. I was in the CNN booth which is in the basement of the White House, and we noticed a lot of excitement. We have a camera that points to a stakeout position that's very near where we do our live reports. And we saw a lot of milling about and a lot of excitement, and the president had left. I mean, there was no reason for the excitement.
So then we all came dashing upstairs to see what was going on. But again we don't know exactly when these package appeared, just that we were notified, you know, about the top of the hour that something was amiss and we all had to go inside.
KAGAN: And we continue to look at new pictures coming to us here at CNN. Talking to our Kathleen Koch, who is at the White House today.
A suspicious package discovered just outside the northwest gate at the White House, at which time they made the decision to take all of the media that do their live shots from very near that area and tell them to go down into the briefing room. That was -- the briefing was on television as late as yesterday.
This is where we watched the president for over an hour answering reporters' questions, Kathleen.
KOCH: It was. And it was another of those surprise briefings very similar to the one that the president called January 26.
We're getting to now where we expect these on a quiet midweek morning when his schedule is very empty, not much newsworthy going on. We're increasingly becoming suspicious.
And the White House says -- senior administration officials say the president does like these rough and tumble exchanges. And he -- obviously the White House is pushing very hard right now to try to get the message out directly to the people about Iraq.
The president believing that there are good things happening on the ground in Iraq but that Americans simply aren't hearing enough about them. So yesterday was just another of those occasion where he felt, you know, if he held this last-minute press conference -- we only got an hour and a half notice -- that it was kind of a situation where the president could command the national stage and really get people to listen.
KAGAN: The media that usually is covering the White House, the White House pool, has been corralled into the briefing room of the White House after a suspicious package was found in the northwest gate -- outside the northwest gate of the White House.
Another tourism guide for you, or question for you, Kathleen, as you can talk about -- I think people who have had the chance to go into this briefing room are surprised by where it is, how it's kind of underground, and just how small it is for what -- for what it is.
KOCH: Well, it is not very -- very big, Daryn. I mean, when it comes to the seats, the seats are -- they seat six across. Let me count. One, two, three, four, five, six seven, eight.
So we've got 48 seats in here. And obviously when you have all of the cameras packed in here, as they were yesterday when the president was here, there is barely any room -- any room to move around at all. They're turning on the lights in here now, I think.
KAGAN: You've been in the dark this whole time? KOCH: Well, we don't generally turn them on unless the president comes in or Scott McClellan.
KAGAN: Oh, the camera lights. The camera lights.
KOCH: The camera lights, you're right.
KOCH: Yes, if someone's getting ready to do a live report. But some people might be choosing very soon -- and perhaps we will be among them, to do live reports from inside the briefing room since we cannot go out of the White House. Right now I'm preferring to stand on my tiptoes and try see what's going on, though -- though the windows aren't tall enough, and neither am I, to really see up.
KAGAN: Right. And for those who have not had the pleasure of meeting Kathleen in person, one of our best reporters, but not one of our tallest, I think is fair to say.
KOCH: But again, Daryn, even people on ladders I don't think are really seeing much more than I am. I hear there's a truck, that's what I'm told.
KAGAN: There is a truck. Well, what we're able to do...
KOCH: Is it the white one over there?
KOCH: OK. It's blocking Pennsylvania Avenue, a white truck. I can see the top of that. But that's -- that's about it.
KAGAN: This is the view from inside the briefing room. If you can get to one of the windows and peek outside, this is what we see, or what you would be able to see from there.
Not a lot of information to be able to tell what kind of truck that is. And again, a certain lack of urgency about what we're watching taking place for all of the effort to get you guys corralled inside the briefing room.
KOCH: Well, obviously, the (INAUDIBLE) that they would be most concerned about here is the president of the United States. He has left. We're told that Vice President Dick Cheney is not in either of the buildings here.
Obviously there are staff, there are member of the media. But those who are most central to the nation's security are not in jeopardy. But obviously they're doing everything they can, Daryn, to figure out what this is and to keep everyone safe.
KAGAN: And I know that they did encourage you to go in this briefing room. But do you know if there was any other movement of any other personnel who might have been on the White House grounds? KOCH: I didn't see any. I came out, again, as we saw all of the excitement over by our stakeout position. And as I was heading in that direction, and trying to see if I could make out these packages myself, we were ushered right back in the briefing room.
So I didn't see any -- you know, any members of the Secret Service, any White House security running across the lawn. Again, no signs, visual signs of any great alarm at these packages.
But as I said, packages like this turn up around Washington in various federal buildings, and thank goodness up until now it's turned out to be a false alarm every time.
KAGAN: But definitely a different mood. And it certainly has always been great seriousness with how things are treated at the White House. But post-9/11 in Washington, D.C., life has been very different, has it not?
KOCH: It has been. And no one wants to take any chances, obviously.
You don't want to be the one person who says, oh, it's nothing, you don't have to worry about it and then it is the worst-case scenario. So everyone wants to exercise -- I think you hear Kelli Arena and others use this term -- an abundance of caution and take every step possible just to make sure it is just someone's lunch, just a gift that was unceremoniously left by someone, you know, at the northwest gate. But you can't assume that's all it is.
KAGAN: But it does seem rather strange that there does seem -- we see the one police car, the one truck. I would expect a bigger response and a more urgent response.
KOCH: Well, I (INAUDIBLE) as well, Daryn. But again, from my vantage point, I can't see much other than this -- what appears to be a white truck with some sort of law enforcement emblem on the side. Is that is what that is? It's hard to make out.
OK. But -- and then the policemen milling around. But I certainly -- I haven't seen any one and...
KAGAN: You know, and I do think I see -- is one of those robots. And again, it's a far-off shot, but it does look like perhaps they're moving something into position where they can send the machine or the robot in that can go ahead and look at an item rather than having to send a person up there.
KOCH: Right, Daryn. And that is the sort of thing that they -- that they will do in a case like this, is come up with one of these robots which are manipulated remotely. And obviously, then, remove the danger of a person going up, picking up a package, risking being harmed if it is a bomb or something else, you know, some kind of biohazard -- you know, all sorts of possibilities there.
KAGAN: Once again, if you're just joining us, we're watching a developing story at the White House. Sometime within last half hour a suspicious package found outside the northwest gate.
One effect of that, they took all of the reports who tend to do their live shots from right near that gate and encouraged them instead to go to the briefing room of the White House. Our Kathleen Koch and our CNN White House crew among those. And we're talking to Kathleen from the briefing room right now.
Kathleen, a sense of frustration or curiosity, would you say, there in the briefing room with your fellow journalists?
KOCH: Well, I think I have fellow journalists who are frustrated who are heading out to the lawn to do some live reports. Luckily, we, CNN, today have a reporter, Elaine Quijano, who is traveling with the president and who will be doing our reports from Wheeling, West Virginia. But not every network sends their reporters. So their reporters will be out there on the lawn right now talking about the president heading to West Virginia, about to land there, about his speech.
And now they're stuck -- excuse me -- in the briefing room here with me. So they're none too pleased. But luckily, CNN, we planned well and we are covered.
KAGAN: Yes, we are. What would you say the mood right there in the briefing room? Are people frustrated that they're not being allowed to leave?
KOCH: I would say there is some slight degree of frustration, Daryn, but it's not -- it's not a great deal of frustration.
Everyone is very calm about this right now. And they're micing me up. And I think we're getting a little (INAUDIBLE) in my IFB yet.
OK. So I'm going to listen through this -- there we go -- so I don't echo too much.
But everyone is curious. There is not a sense of alarm. But obviously people here would like to be able to do their jobs, and they're being prevented from that right now.
KAGAN: And it does look, as we're looking at the live pictures from outside that northwest gate, that they are moving that robot perhaps into position so they can get it closer to that suspicious package. The robot making its way from the vantage point where we are.
And we're looking, I believe, from a camera that's from inside the briefing room pointed out the window at the northwest gate. And as it -- it's making its way over past the bushes and along the sidewalk -- Kathleen.
KOCH: Yes. Well, then you're seeing more than me, again, Daryn.
The camera is our CNN camera which is about, oh, maybe 30 feet away from me in the briefing room. And they perhaps can see over this berm, which I really can't see. But again, hopefully that little robot will move into position relatively quickly, secure that package, take it to a safe location where it will be opened and then we'll all be free.
KAGAN: And have they given you any indication how long you might have to stay there?
KOCH: They haven't. And we're all just going to wait until the all-clear. Again, initially, this is not a lot of concern, a lot of alarm about what was happening. But now that they've ushered us in here, they clearly are not going to let us out until they believe the situation is safe.
KAGAN: Now, I was asking about the mood there in the briefing room, somewhat a level of frustration. But we were also talking about in this post-9/11 world, when you're working at the White House, you understand that you're at something -- at a place that people can consider a target. I would guess that if you're told to do something and go somewhere you don't sit there and argue, you just take their word for it and do what you're told to do?
KOCH: Quite so, Daryn. And I think you generally adjust your response to the level of seriousness with which the command is given to you.
And I think that's why initially there was not a real quick reaction to what the guard was saying. But certainly we have had people who have jumped the fence here at the White House. We have had situations during the Clinton administration where a man with -- I believe it was a rifle -- pulled it out from under his long coat and fired shots through the -- through the gate and onto the front lawn of the White House.
So it is something that you're aware of, that you're standing in a place -- well, basically, it could be potentially ground zero, the middle of the bull's eye. So you are aware when you're going in and out of the White House of the people around you, particularly as you're coming in and as you're leaving.
You know, obviously no one is (INAUDIBLE) behind you. That is not allowed to happen. You close the gate behind yourself and you watch the people out in front of the White House as you come and go.
KAGAN: I know you've worked at the White House on many, many occasions, Kathleen. Have you ever been there when there's been a situation like this?
KOCH: Not with a suspicious package. I had been here when there was a fence jumper. And we get those on a somewhat regular basis.
It's not something we report on a great deal. Often, they are people who are mentally deranged. And though charges are sometimes pressed, often, again, their medical condition is taken into account. But it's the kind of thing that happens here from time to time.
KAGAN: And how was that handled on a day that there was a fence jumper? KOCH: You see very fast action. You see guards sprinting across the north lawn of the White House and the person does not get far.
They -- if they make it 10 feet across the front lawn of the White House, they're lucky. They are down and they are put down fast.
KAGAN: Because there's people and security in places that you don't even realize just looking at the White House?
KOCH: I'm sorry, Daryn. There was someone speaking. I didn't hear you.
KAGAN: There are people and security and law enforcement in places you might not even realize that are watching the White House?
KOCH: There are. They are all around. And as you can see now, we have a guard here coming up on the top of the berm very heavily armed, and he's an example of the kind of security that is here on a daily basis.
And so, again, as I said, while you may look around you as you enter and leave the White House and watch the people around you, you still feel safe when you're here.
Now, the guard is approaching the door. We may be getting the all-clear. Hold on and I'll let you know.
KAGAN: If you're just joining us...
KOCH: Are we clear yet? Are we clear?
I think they're asking whose camera it is -- the camera at the stakeout position. But I don't think we're being given the all-clear.
No, they're concerned about if the camera (INAUDIBLE) is rolling or not. That's where dignitaries come out after they meet with the president and lawmakers often take questions from the media. I think they're concerned.
KAGAN: They don't...
KOCH: Not giving away secret methods that they may use to disable or deal with a bomb. Don't want to give the bad guys any undue clues of how you handle this sort of thing.
KAGAN: Right, understandable. And that's the balance we're working toward here. We want to cover the story, but we don't want to give away any security secrets of the White House.
So they're concerned -- is it our CNN camera they're concerned about that's aimed outside the window?
KOCH: No, there's a camera at our -- what I called our stakeout position. The doors that dignitaries enter when they're going in to meet with the president, when they come out -- you often see lawmakers or other officials come out to a cluster of cameras. And that's not exactly where we do our reports, the area that's very empty right now.
But it's probably a hundred feet closer to the White House. And there's one camera, apparently, that's sitting there. But I don't know who it belong to. And I don't though that it's running.
KAGAN: Kathleen Koch in the briefing room of the White House. If you're just joining us, we've been following this story for about the last few minutes.
A suspicious package found just outside the northwest gate of the White House. Part of that meant that the media crew that is usually doing live shots from just on the other side of that gate corralled into the briefing room of the White House.
Our John Roberts, who is in New York City today, covered the Bush White House from 1999.
John, have you seen situations like this?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, the Clinton White House in 1999, the Bush White House beginning on January 20, 2001.
But, yes, this happens all of the time, Daryn. You know, there's no particular reason, I don't think, in this case to believe that it's anything other than just another suspicious package that's been left around.
Any time that I've ever been there and have witnessed them out there investigating situations like this it's always turned out to be somebody who's just left something behind. There's never been an explosive device or any other kind of threat contained within.
But it's just -- it's prudent what the Secret Service does. They evacuate the grounds just in case there were to be some sort of legitimate threat to keep -- get people out of harm's way, and also so that they can conduct their investigation unimpeded.
They have in the past, when I worked ford CBS, asked us turn off our cameras that were pointed at the investigation. I don't know if there's a particular reason for that.
I mean, the process is that they go through to investigate these things are pretty clear. They usually send a member of a bomb squad out there, they then send a robot in, a robot outfitted with what's called a pan disrupter.
It's a device that looks a little bit like a shotgun. It's activated with a shotgun shell and fires a jet of water at the suspicious package, and literally with the force of that jet of water blows it apart. Because it's water that's being used, typically it would, if it was an explosive device, it would disrupt, take it apart without actually exploding it. Whereas if you were to use an explosive type of shell or a projectile, like a bullet or a shotgun shell, it could actually cause the device to go off. Again, not saying that in this particular case it's nothing, but any time that I've ever witnessed any of these, it has turned out to be nothing.
The White House I remember several times was evacuated because planes had incurred into what's called the FRZ zone, or the flight restricted zone around the White House. It's that circular area emanating from the Washington Monument that -- I believe it's 16 miles from the Washington Monument that small planes are not allowed to enter until they filed a flight plan.
And they would evacuate the grounds. And I remember a couple of times rather than evacuating I thought, if there is a plane, in fact, headed for the White House, the only place to report on it from is inside the White House. And I would lock myself in my booth and turn out the lights and pretend that I had evacuated but continued to be on the phone there.
KAGAN: I'm sure your bosses were happy to hear that, but not your wife.
ROBERTS: ... you know, you do what you do to try to cover the story. But as I said, this is pretty much standard operating procedure. You evacuate the grounds. You get anybody who could possibly be in harm's way out of harm's way and you conduct your investigation.
KAGAN: All right, John. We'll get back to you in just a moment.
Our Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is just outside the gate as well and can give us the latest on what's happening there from the phone -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn.
Well, I'm essentially on the outside of the perimeter that the Secret Service has set up. And that perimeter is just on the other side of the old execute -- or I should say the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, as it's now called, which is next to the White House.
So the perimeter is your standard police yellow tape that is going across. And, you know, I can just really add to what John and Kathleen had been reporting about the sense of calm.
This appears to be, you know, everybody sort of going about their business, standard operating procedure. I see I think what you can also see, which is the bomb squad truck.
I got here as the robot that John was describing was going in through the gate, so that's what I see at this time. There are a couple of tourists, maybe a handful of tourists. They're hanging out and trying to figure out what going on. But other than that, there aren't very many people around. A real sense of calm.
KAGAN: Yes. What about the lack of urgency?
BASH: You know, that's going to be an answer that we can give you much more detailed, of course, once we figure out exactly what this is. But, you know, there are even some -- some -- some officers that are just a couple of feet in front of me just standing on the perimeter.
You know, they don't seem to have a sense of urgency. I just asked, "Do you have the sense that perhaps they're gong to let us in soon? Perhaps this is going to end soon?" They just shrugged their shoulders and said, "We don't know."
But they don't seem to look all that alarmed at this point. And even, as I said, I can see the truck with some officers, some agents sort of standing around it, kind of milling about, talking to each other. But it sounds as if -- it looks as if -- again, I'm pretty far away, but it looks as if they're simply waiting to figure out what the robot that was sent in finds.
KAGAN: Once again, if you're just joining us, we're following a developing story from just outside the White House. A suspicious package found just outside the northwest gate of the White House.
President Bush is not at the White House. He's on his way to Wheeling, West Virginia, to give another town hall meeting and question-and-answer session later today in about a little bit less than an hour.
All the reporters who do their live shots very close to that -- very close to that gate have been corralled into the briefing room in the basement of the White House.
To understand a little bit more about the routine we're watching take place here, let's bring in Pat D'Amuro. He is a CNN security analyst.
Pat, what do you make out of what you're seeing?
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the fact that we're not seeing a bunch of people screwing around is not concerning. These are protocols that are well established that are put into place, but are used every day when there is a suspicious package. The bomb squad will be the first people in to determine if it is an explosive device. The term we're looking for here is going to be proper for a I.D. And what they mean by that is that it's been identified as not an explosive device. So those are the words that we eventually want to hear.
As I said, the fact that you're -- there doesn't seem to be a lot of hype on this, this is routine. It's routine in New York. It's routine in a lot of our major cities, Washington and so on. These people are trained. They know what to do. They know what protocols are. And they're going through the steps right now.
KAGAN: Pat, we got to see the robot as it made its way towards that package. How do those robots work?
D'AMURO: Well, they have a video capability. You heard earlier that they do have the capability of shooting a stream of water to try to disrupt it if it is believed to be a possible explosive material. The investigators, the bomb squad, will also be concerned whether or not this could potentially be a biological or chemical device.
KAGAN: Right, which a whole other kind of concern.
D'AMURO: Right. So they'll look at pictures coming back from the robot, and then try to make their decision as to how to handle the package, first from the initial pictures that they get back.
KAGAN: What kind of timeframe are we looking at for that?
D'AMURO: They're going to take as much time as they need to make sure they handle this thing properly. This could be some time frame. We see the robot moving in right now. It's going to attack a while for them to possibly determine that.
KAGAN: So you're saying this robot has the ability not to just perhaps see if it's explosive, but to send pictures as well?
D'AMURO: Yes. It should have the video capability. There are a lot of different types of robots to use, but the majority of them nowadays are pretty standard. They have different requirements that all of the bomb squads participate in setting -- these requirements are set nationally and put out to all the different bomb squad for them to take a look at what equipment they should have. They'll have video capability. Some of them have other device on that, to do a field test possibly if it is a different type of chemical or biological device. Not all of the robots have that. Those field tests, as we know, are also very inaccurate. So the first thing they're going to look at are the pictures.
KAGAN: The field tests are inaccurate?
D'AMURO: Well, well a lot of field tests -- there's no accurate field test for biological devices. We've seen from some of the different events that we've had that we viewed on CNN before. There are devices to try to detect biological, chemical devices. Nothing accurate with respect to biological devices.
So technology still has a long way to go with respect to protecting us from different terrorists types of events.
KAGAN: Pat D'Amuro, a CNN security analyst. Pat, Thank you for your expertise on that.
I want to go ahead and bring John Roberts back. John, we've been saying that this is the northwest gate of the White House. What can you tell us about this area? is this the gate where reporters go through when you go work?
ROBERTS: That's the gate where reporters go through when they go to work, White House correspondents. That would be where people who have appointments in West Wing go through as well. It's about 200 or 300 yards east of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. That whole area has been closed off since the -- to traffic at least, since the Oklahoma City Bombing back in 1995. It was recently, over last couple of years, renovated, refortified, again, so the only vehicles that ever go down that road are vehicles that are intended to get there. But from time to time, because there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, people will leave behind a lunch bag, a knapsack. Don't forget, there are a lot of school groups that go through there as well, perhaps a student was forgetful and left something behind, or you know, it could be somebody who has nefarious intent wanted to place a device in that area.
At this point, there's just not enough information to be able to tell. But if you have Secret Service uniformed division people, like you're seeing right there, as well look like an officer either from the ERT or perhaps the bomb squad there with the helmet on, that close to an area where there is a suspicious package, it's likely that the threat level has been determined, while it is elevated, certainly not to be extreme; otherwise that area might be cleared out even of the law enforcement person personnel.
Certainly, though, as I said, that area gets a tremendous amount of pedestrian traffic, particularly on a nice day, as you get toward the end of march in Washington with the Cherry Blossom Festival coming up. Many more school groups are traversing that area. So it's quite possible that you would have somebody who might have left something behind, or it's quite possible that somebody may have, as I said, had some nefarious intent and used the opportunity to walk down the -- that part of Pennsylvania Avenue there and drop something off.
But that robot's on its way to check out the suspicious package. Some robots are sophisticated enough that they actually have X-ray capability and can look into see if there are any signatures of an explosive device that you'd be looking for timer -- timer, battery, wires, blasting cap. Either that or this one just has the video capability. But I would say the chances are very high that they'll use that disrupter to take the package apart and render it harmless, and then go in and investigate a little more closely with human eyes.
KAGAN: All right, John Roberts is in New York City today. He covered the White House from 1999 until we got him. Now he's with us in New York City.
Our John King, our former chief White House correspondent, also has put in many days at the White House.
John, what do you make out of the situation that we're watching right now from the northwest gate?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we went through dozens of these, some of them on television, some of them just in private conversations. We didn't take them to television. As John, and Dana and Kathleen have noted, this looks pretty routine. There are sniffers, detectors all over the grounds now. After 9/11, they substantially upgraded the facilities and the technology available to them on the White House grounds. And there are specific protocols in place, as your security analyst was noting. And if anything had been sniffed or detected by any of the technology or by any of the dogs, you would not see these people this close. You would see this gentleman, the bomb squad gentleman there, but the other people would have been evacuated to a much more broad perimeter, including the uniformed Secret Service officers.
One of the changes since on 9/11 -- remember on 9/11, the White House press corps and the staff were evacuated in a hurry, rushed out of the building. People were running, and crying and holding on to their shoes. They changed the protocols, because they realized that that was a mistake, sending all of the people running out into the streets in a situation like this, an uncertain situation like this. So now, as you noted, the people were put back inside the briefing room. That is one of the changes.
What tends to happen, the little robot that we saw goes over and analyzes the package, then they analyze the data from that, and then a few minutes later, in most cases -- and that's what we'll watch for -- one or two gentlemen from the bomb squad will make a manual inspection if the robot tells them it believes it is safe to do so. It believes this is not an explosive device, then they will manually inspect it, and then usually a few minutes after that, you get the all-clear. Obviously, there's still a sense of uncertainty. In this case, you can see the robot there, I believe, moving -- that's just outside the northwest gate -- moving slowly back toward one of the bomb squad trucks, it looks like there. Hard to see with the bushes.
But this is a routine -- unfortunately, a routine scene that happens a lot. We don't always show it on television. We are sometimes actually discouraged because they think people will come and drop a backpack there just to get attention if you will. But We will watch this play out. In most cases, we would be about five or 10 minutes from an all-clear. It takes about an hour.
KAGAN: I want to talk to you about that balance in just a moment.
Meanwhile, our White House correspondent Dana Bash is at the scene around the perimeter where this has been set up. Once again, a suspicious package found just outside the northwest gate of the White House. President Bush is not there at this hour. He's on his way to West Virginia.
Vice President Dick Cheney not there either.
Dana, what's the latest you know from your position?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, it's hard to read exactly what we are seeing actually means. But I just saw one -- I'm not sure if you all saw it, because I don't have the vantage point that you have in terms of live cameras, but the -- one of the, it looks like, the members of bomb squad walked through the northwest gate. Again, the gate that we all go through every day to get to work, and walked with a big case, didn't see exactly how far he got in, but then came back out and went back out to the truck. That, I've been standing here for about 15 or 20 minutes. That's the first time i've actually seen one of the officers, at least one of the people who are involved in this go in since the robot has gone through the gate. So that was a little bit of movement. But that was maybe three minutes ago, and haven't seen anything since then.
But, Daryn, I can tell you that, again the sense around here, it pretty much, there aren't very many people out and around the perimeter. I mean, I sort of stopped here because I was trying to get into the White House, trying to get into work, and obviously was unable to do that. There are more cameras coming here to where I am, which is at corner of 17th and Pennsylvania, on, again, the other side of the old executive office building. That's where they have set up the perimeter. But there is still a real sense of calm, a real sense that perhaps at this point this is routine, and that we're just kind of waiting to see what happens.
I talked to one of the officers standing near the perimeter who said sort of again shrugged his shoulders, once again said look, this could be 20 minutes, this could be two hour hours. We're just waiting to figure out what exactly is up with the suspicious package, and that's what you're seeing at this point -- Daryn,.
KAGAN: So this package found on the sidewalk, I guess, just outside the northwest gate.
John King, so the secret service would be in charge?
KING: The Secret Service would be in charge of this. They might bring some park police in, because Lafayette Park across the street is under the National Park Service. There are park police out there. D.C. Police, of course, will respond as well, because of any fire apparatus, any ambulance. They will have -- nearby the White House, where Dana is standing, they have brought other vehicles just in case. They have obviously respond with fire apparatus, with ambulance and other EMT. They come on standby. This is standard operating protocol procedure.
But the lead agency is the secret service. They, of course, get assistance. There's -- the secret service has its own bomb squad, but they also tend to bring in people, as well from -- here in Washington, D.C., the heart of the nation's capitol, they have any number of both federal and District of Columbia agencies available to them at just a moment's notice.
KAGAN: So, for your many years at the White House, John, not a typical day at office, but probably more days like this than you could count?
KING: More days like this than I could count, that's just right. And outside of the White House, people come through, as John Roberts was noting. I think Dana noted the tours come through. People often try to climb up the wall. The gates and the bushes, as you see, these fences, if you're trying to take a nice picture of the White House and you can't get in to the White House because you can only go in an organized tour -- it's very difficult to get in.
Some people step up on those walls and try to take a picture. And often, they put their backpack down or you have people turn around to get the White House behind them and they line up and somebody goes and takes the picture from the street and then they move on, walk toward the Treasury or walk over toward the other way toward Pennsylvania Avenue to head out of the area. And it is routine for somebody to leave something behind. Every now and then you'll see them scurry back and get it. You forget something, you remember right away, or it sits there.
And after it's not claimed for five or ten minutes, it's the job of the Secret Service to say, suspicious package. And then they are under strict protocols, even they are 99.9 percent sure some school kid just left it or some parent put it down to take a picture, they have protocols they have to follow.
KAGAN: John King is talking to us from the CNN D.C. Bureau.
Our Kathleen Koch found herself in the middle of this story within the last hour, as this suspicious package was found outside the northwest gate, very close to where Kathleen would be standing doing a live shot. But all the reporters and media people were corralled into the media room, the briefing room of the White House. And that's where we find Kathleen now.
KOCH: Daryn, from our vantage point right now here, I'm -- it's very interesting to look across Pennsylvania Avenue, across into Lafayette Park, and look at H Street, which runs parallel to Pennsylvania Avenue. And we see traffic moving down H Street. We a pedestrian sauntering by. So they clearly they have not -- they don't believe that this package, or whatever it might be, is such a threat that they're stopping traffic on the road surrounding the White House. Apparently, it really just stopped pedestrian traffic.
We've seen park service patrol cars going through Lafayette Park, driving on the sidewalks where pedestrians would normally walk and keeping them clear. But again, we're still not seeing a huge amount of urgency. Obviously they're dealing with this. But even when we see some of the secret service officers walking along in Lafayette Park, in keeping pedestrians out, they're walking very casually, and again, attacking the situation seriously. But we're not seeing any undue alarm now.
KAGAN: Kathleen Koch is in the briefing room of the White House.
Also talking with our CNN security analyst Pat D'Amuro, who is on the phone with us.
Pat, if you could talk about the procedure we're watching unfold here on live television.
D'AMURO: Well, again, we're hearing reports that they're allowing pedestrians to pass fairly close by. You know, I'm not sure exactly how close those pedestrians are. The normal protocol would be to set up a perimeter and make sure that nobody would enter the perimeter of where this particular package is. Maybe there is some idea that this is not an explosive device. We obviously haven't heard that yet. As we know, the bomb squad is on scene. They would send in the robot to obtain pictures to look for, as John Roberts said and John King commented, that they would be looking for batteries, wires, any type of device that would identify this as an explosive device.
Again, the term that we're hoping to hear, that you would hope to hear in this situation, is a proper I.D. That would mean that it has been identified as a non-explosive type device.
The protocols are well-established by the bomb squad. They're going to keep the people out of the area that they need to, and they would not even allow regular law enforcement or other personnel to enter into an area where they think there might be a danger. Once they sign off on that package, then it's a different story. Then investigators will go in and see if what they can determine, if it was something that may have been left maybe with a powdery substance or something like that. Investigators would want to follow up and try to determine where the package came from.
We don't know all of that right now, obviously, but we should find out in the very near future.
KAGAN: John King, back to you. And a point you made earlier, talking about the balance you tried to strike in covering a story but not wanting to compromise White House security.
KING: Well, Daryn, I want to bring you another point, too. Our Mike Arliss has been in touch with the Secret Service, our producer Mike Arliss from our America bureau. And the Secret Service is telling Mike they have an individual in custody who is a person known to them, and that is a term the secret service and other law enforcement agencies use. This person has a history, according to the Secret Service, of leaving packages that are non-explosive in nature, but throwing things over the gate.
And there are a number of people who do that. I mentioned earlier that you often have families who leave backpacks or tourists who leave backpacks. There also are a number of people who on almost daily basis come to the White House to make a political statement, or to request a meeting with the president because of something going on in their lives. And they come to the gate and they try to get in, or they throw leaflets or a backpack containing some sort of a message over the gate.
So our indication at this moment is perhaps that that is what we have here. Obviously, they are still checking on the package. They have not given the all-clear. But the information our great producer Mike Arliss is getting from the Secret Service is that they have an individual known to them, and known for doing this in the past, and throwing things that are not dangerous over the gate in custody. So we're trying to get more information on that. And that is a routine thing.
And you asked me about the balance. One of the reasons we are careful -- and this has changed a lot since 9/11. We have to report these things post-9/11, we have to pay attention to these things post- 9/11. But one of the reasons we try to strike a balance, and sometimes do not say as much as we know is that -- to not encourage people who want to make a political statement to come down and throw things over the White House gate just to get attention.
KAGAN: As we have been following this story of the suspicious package found outside the northwest gate of the White House, we have pointed out a number of times that President Bush is not there. We're looking at live picture of Air Force One arriving in Wheeling, West Virginia. That's where the president, in about 35 minutes, is scheduled to hold another town hall meeting, talking about the war on terrorism. The third time in three days that he'll put himself into a situation where he gives a speech and answers questions.
Our Dana Bash is in Washington, D.C. She's just outside the perimeter that's been set up to deal with this situation. And she has some new information for us -- Dana.
BASH: Hey, Daryn. I wanted to clarify what this perimeter is. Because I heard some discussion about pedestrians and where they were. Just to sort of paint a picture of how wide it is. As I mentioned, I'm on the corn of 17th and Pennsylvania. So that is the old executive office building. The whole -- all of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House now, of course, for sometime, for more than ten years, is closed to street traffic, to cars, but is open to pedestrian traffic.
That whole area now, through the entire White House plaza, if you will, all from 17th Street to 15th Street, is closed to pedestrian traffic. Usually on any given day, as all of us were talking about, you know, pedestrians, tourists, walk through here, stop, take pictures. That all is completely closed off. So all -- the only pedestrian traffic that you -- that we have now are people just basically outside that perimeter from 17th Street to 15th Street. And then Lafayette Park, which is across from the White House, across Pennsylvania Avenue, is also closed off.
KAGAN: Dana, let me just jump in here really quickly, because I think John King has a statement from the Secret Service and that could advance the story. John, what do you have?
KING: Daryn, it's just -- this is forwarded to me by Mike Arliss again. It just clarifies a bit what we were talking about just a moment ago. And this is from the Secret Service Public Information Office. It says, "The United States Secret Service is investigating a small item" -- not a package, they're calling it a small item -- thrown over the fence by a man who is known to the Secret Service. The subject, a male, is now in Secret Service custody. He has been known to thrown non-dangerous items over the fence in the past.
And, again, this is not unusual. It often doesn't get reported. But there are people who, whether they're trying to make a political statement, whether -- again, you run into people. When you leave the White House, if you work there, you will run into people when they leave the gate. They recognize you because you work in television. Some of them have custody, international custody battles, and they ask for your help. Some are of them are trying to make political statements of some sort. They either are in favor of something the president's doing and they want to ask your advice on how to meet with him, or they vehemently oppose something the president is doing and they have leaflets or the like.
But the Secret Service is now saying it has a man in custody, who is known to them, and known in the past as someone who has thrown non- dangerous items over the fence. And they are calling this a small item. They say it was thrown over the fence by this suspect. They obviously have not given the all-clear because they're still investigating the specific item in this case. But they say this gentleman, again, in their custody has a history of throwing non- dangerous items over the fence.
KAGAN: So known to the Secret Service, not known to us. So we don't have any more information about the individual than what you just read?
KING: We do not as yet. I'm sure we will get it. The Secret Service will let us know once he is processed and whether there are any charges and the like. When you go into the White House, you have a hard pass if you're a regular member of the media or -- and staff member have their own passes. Your picture pops up on a computer, just like it does -- it's a routine security thing, although it's pretty high intense security at the White House, of course.
They also have a file, and sometimes you have pictures posted on the walls in their little booth, the Secret Service booth. Other times they have a file, and if they seem someone outside who they think is quote, unquote, "someone known them," known to come to the White House and to engage in either dangerous or some unacceptable security behavior, they can punch up pictures on the computer and look at computer screen, then look out the gate and say, that's that guy who has done this in the past, and then an officer tends to go out and either shoo him away, or if somebody on a list to take into custody, they do that. It doesn't happen every day, but it happens more than you think.
KAGAN: To get a better idea of what happens every day, I want to welcome in Joe Russo, a former secret agent, Secret Service agent and retired as a special agent in charge from the protective division, now working for -- in the private sector in protection, on the line with us right now.
JOE RUSSO, FMR. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: How are you?
KAGAN: I'm doing OK. I'm glad to have you to be able to talk about what we're watching unfold.
RUSSO: Sure. Thanks for having me.
KAGAN: So we know of a suspicious package thrown over the northwest gate by a person that is of interest and is known to the secret service. I don't know how much you've been able to watch of the coverage?
RUSSO: I've been listening. Obviously, I've heard it downgraded now to a small item. And I think as is being reported, you know, it's not an uncommon incident there. That gate is infamous for visitors coming to, it's a public area. Many, many people over the years have come there with a certain agenda. It's not unusual. It's a fence line in a pedestrian area where people can certainly throw items over the fence. Although it's being reported today, it happens more than most people would think.
KAGAN: And so we're told it was thrown by a man that's known to the secret service. The Secret Service keeps a list of people that they know hang around the White House?
RUSSO: You have what we'd say, quote/unquote, a group of regulars that do approach that gate and try to engage the officer in conversation and have a certain agenda, and you know, they're free to give their name and they're not hiding anything. So yes, they keep certain log and a certain list of people who are recurring there, so they have that information just in case something like this would happen.
KAGAN: It doesn't seem like there's a lot of urgency. Of course the reporters and other people, media people, taken into the briefing roll, perhaps other people taken to parts of the White House. But it doesn't seem like there's a great urgency, things moving rather slowly.
RUSSO: Yes, because, again, it's not an unusual occurrence. Again, it was not a suspicious package as it was reported originally. It was probably a small item thrown over the fence. Sometimes unattended packages out there that immediately someone might qualify as suspicious, but maybe somebody left a backpack or something there by accident.
So again, it's a common thing that happens there. It's really nothing to be alarmed of. Obviously, you know the fence line is a certain distance from the White House. It certainly is of concern, but it's monitored 24 hours a day by people and by cameras. So obviously they must have immediately -- were able to apprehend the person.
KAGAN: We have two live pictures we're watching at the same time. We have the White House in Washington D.C., but also live pictures, I think we, can go to Wheeling, West Virginia, President Bush, Air Force One just touching down there moments ago. There's President Bush right now. He's going to be speaking in about 20 minutes, doing a townhall meeting, talking about the war on terrorism.
Joe, are things handled differently, even if it's something that seems more low key, an item of interest? Things handed differently if the president is on the premises or not?
RUSSO: It all depends. Of course it all depends on all of the factors involved. You know, it depends on where the president is. But certainly they have certain protocol inside that we certainly can't divulge. But for the most part it's business as usual in there, unless elevated to another level.
KAGAN: How frustrated or -- I'll stick with frustrated -- does the Secret Service get when they have something like this happen? You want to get the income out, but you don't want secrets revealed?
RUSSO: You know, I don't think it's frustrating, again, because it happens a lot, and they have a certain protocol, and they're very adept at dealing with this type of incident. And I don't think it's frustrating at all for anyone inside there.
KAGAN: No, but I just mean these live pictures shown on television. We were talking with John King earlier about the balance we try to strike in the media. We want to report a story, but we don't want to give away any security secrets.
RUSSO: Right. But again, what you're seeing on the video -- I'm not watching it now -- but you're seeing what the public sees every day. So I don't think they're really worried about any secrets of -- any national secrets being divulged there as far as security goes.
KAGAN: When did you leave the Secret Service, Joe?
RUSSO: I retired approximately two year ago from President Clinton's division. I was the agent in change of former President and Senator Clinton's division up in Westchester County, New York.
KAGAN: So you certainly have seen a number of years after 2001, after 9/11. How did things change after that?
RUSSO: Well, they've changed drastically for not only the government, but certainly here in the private sector. For the past two years now, I've been running an executive protection program, TNN (ph) Protection, and you know, we're here based on Wall Street, in the Wall Street area of New York City, and we're directly affected by that. And it's been of great concern for not only the public, but certainly the private sector.
KAGAN: Live pictures from Wheeling, West Virginia on the smaller part of the screen. That's President Bush as he arrives there in Wheeling, holding a town hall meeting in about 20 minutes talking about the war on terrorism.
And as we watch this story, we also have another story developing on the West Coast, where there is another suspicious package.
Fredricka Whitfield has the latest -- Fred.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Daryn. This suspicious package in the BART transit system in northern California is causing big problems, because no trains are flowing in the west Oakland area as a result of what is being described as a suspicious package. And according to the BART spokesperson, someone there had said there was a bomb on the train and that, of course, sparked alarms. And now this suspicious package is being thoroughly investigated on this BART system in the west Oakland area there in California -- Daryn. KAGAN: And this would be on the later part of rush hour for the Bay Area, coming up on 9:00. Fredricka, thank you.
We're talking to Joe Russo, former Secret Service agent, retired as special agent in charge under President Clinton, talking to us about what we're watching unfold here.
Of you're just joining us, a suspicious package thrown over the fence, the northwest area of the White House.
And, Joe, you were explaining to us this is just routine, this is what you just have to do even if it's something that doesn't seem of high -- of course high importance, but not high concern? Joe, do we still have you with us.
RUSSO: Yes, I'm still here.
Yes, again, it's not an unusual occurrence. It sounds, again, like it was more of a small item than a suspicious package. I'm picking up here regarding the train in transit. Again, it's a heightened alert system, and people notice things a lot more these days then they did before. It could just be an unattended package. It really shouldn't qualify as suspicious, you know. A suspicious package in our world is something that somebody has reason to believe there's something suspicious contained in it. You know, an unattended package is how it really should start, and escalate from there.
You know, we have explosive detection program here at our company. We have 27 bomb dogs that operate here in New York City. So we're very experienced on that side of the equation.
KAGAN: Do we have Pat D'Amuro with us? OK, we don't have Pat. I want to bring -- actually, let me, Joe, let keep you here with me. We're looking at live pictures from the White House, the robot. They're getting ready as they can move that in. How do they make use of that you know of?
RUSSO: Utilizing the robot, you say?
KAGAN: Yes, looks like they're getting it ready; they're wiring it up.
RUSSO: Sure. Most metropolitan bomb squads, the big police departments, have a robot. They send it in. It takes the place of the old human bomb squad personnel to go in and actually check the package. It has the capability of rolling up and inspecting the package through video, audio, and giving them all indicators that they possibly need.
KAGAN: Because back in the day we'd watch the bomb squad member go get fully padded with helmet and the gloves, but still it's a person you're sending in instead of a robot.
RUSSO: Right. Obviously it's a safety issue. I mean, anytime you can take the place with technology of sending a person toward a suspicious package that may contain explosives is certainly a benefit. KAGAN: We have two Johns with us, as we're watching this. We have John Roberts in New York City, who covered the White House since 1999, and our John King, watching it with us from Washington D.C.
John, we haven't -- John Roberts, we haven't heard from you in a while. Your take on what you're watching as it unfolds here at White House today?
ROBERTS: Judging, Daryn, by everybody's posture, it looks like they're beginning to stand down this operation. Looks like they're wrapping up the robot and moving it back to the vehicle that transports it around. It would seem as though the alert level is probably ratcheting down at this point. More people moving around. I wouldn't be surprised if in the next few minutes they clear the scene and allow people to go about their business again and reopen Pennsylvania avenue to pedestrian traffic.
And the fact that this could have been a person who is known to have done this before, and it's a small item, not a package would lead them to believe that the threat level would be lower than it might be if they were just coming across an unattended package.
Interesting, though, in this world that unattended packages instantly become suspicious for some reason or another. But it looks to me like this whole thing is beginning to wind down.
KAGAN: It's the world that we live in.
While we do wait to get the all-clear, we're going to stay with our coverage. Usually this is a time where we hand it over to CNN International and "YOUR WORLD TODAY," but we will continue our coverage here. I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
Our Dana Bash is there at the White House.
And you have a good look at the robot, Dana?
BASH: Hi, Daryn. I do. I looks like it's making its way back to the truck there.
But I just want to add to what John Roberts was alluding to, which is that the sense that things are just standing down here. Some of the officers who are right here at the perimeter where I am are definitely sort of giving the wink and the nod that perhaps is going to be resolved very soon. I'm getting a sense that this is pretty much over.
There was already a sense of calm. And perhaps this is something routine, but that is even more the case at this point. I really get the sense that they are going to likely going to let us through, and things will go on business as usual in the near future.
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