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SUV Rams Gate At FBI Office In Atlanta; Bomb Technicians Clear Vehicle After FBI's Atlanta Gate Rammed. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 15:30   ET



EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They came out of the vehicle and tried to walk into the complex. They were stopped by the FBI security people who helped screen visitors to that complex.

And so that's where this ended at this point. Again, from what we know, the person didn't make any statements, any threats. There was no expectation of a heightened threat at this FBI building.

So it was certainly something of a surprise. And so what's going to happen next is, you know, obviously, he's being evaluated not only for any potential injuries, but also for potential mental health issues, because this is so unexplained at this point. As Ryan Young pointed out, you know, there were no weapons found immediately.

And the vehicle has been cleared. There's no bombs. So those are the first and immediate concerns when you have something like this. Those are the first and immediate concerns that the security folks, the FBI, tries to make sure is made clear. And so now the work continues to try to figure out what happened here, what prompted this person to go to this entrance and ram that vehicle into that barrier, the entry to the FBI field office. Just outside of Atlanta -- Boris and Brianna.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Evan, please stand by. We want to bring in Josh Campbell. He's a CNN security correspondent, also a former FBI supervisory special agent. Josh, first, talk to us about the security measures that are in place around these kinds of buildings and obviously the protocol that goes into place when something like this happens. It worked in this case, apparently, as it was designed to.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an effective security system, as you can see from the front of that Buick SUV there smashed into what's called the final denial barrier. There are layered security approaches to these federal buildings. You obviously have the iron gates and then that system that's in place there to prevent what this person allegedly attempted to do, and that is to make entry into that building.

What we've seen over the last couple of years, we've talked about these threats that have manifested against FBI employees. We know that the FBI stood up its own individual cell, a unit just to track threats against FBI personnel. So it's something that they certainly have been taking seriously. We know in October of -- excuse me, August of 2022, there was an individual who attempted to breach the FBI field office there in Ohio. That then led to a standoff. That person was eventually killed.

And so, we know that the FBI security division, which is based at FBI headquarters but has personnel staged across the country, have been focused very heavily on security. We've also seen over the last couple of decades a move to get FBI field offices out of downtown areas and in more to a standalone type facility, and security obviously is paramount there. You want to have what's called standoff, where you're, you know, not on a busy roadway, where you can put these security processes that are in place.

You know, you go back to 1995, the Alpha P federal building bombing in Oklahoma City. That was really a wake-up call for the federal government about how to protect these facilities. And certain field offices to include there at FBI Atlanta, you have security personnel that work around the clock, but you can't also overlook the fact that we're talking about a building that houses federal agents. And so, they obviously would respond very quickly.

We see some of the FBI SWAT vehicles that were pulled up along the scene there to, you know, just to ensure that this person didn't make further entry. We know that that person is obviously now in custody.

And then we move to the investigation to determine who this individual was. It appears from our affiliate coverage, it looks like that Buick has South Carolina plates, so unclear if, you know, this vehicle belonged to the individual, whether this was a rental car. And so there's that investigative process that's now in place to fully identify this person and then try to get to that motive.

Was this some type of, you know, mental health episode? Was this someone who was specifically targeting personnel at that FBI facility? We don't yet know. We're obviously waiting for authorities to provide that type of information, but clearly a very serious incident that has happened here. And it's something, you know, I talk to FBI employees all the time, specifically over the last couple years, really concerned about their own security.

You know, I talked to one agent who talked about, you know, taking further precautions, even driving to work, you know, doing a couple extra laps around the building just to put eyes on, to make sure that there aren't suspicious people that are in around these buildings.

So for people who work at this federal law enforcement agency, it's certainly a very sensitive time. Again, we don't know the motive of what happened right here yet, but just looking at those images, you can just see how this could have been very, very dangerous if there were any personnel that were in around that building, guys.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: There's always questions and we don't know the answers in this particular case, Josh. Is it a mental health episode? Is it ideology of some sort? Is it a combination of the two?

[15:35:00] But when these things happen, we have those questions because of what you mentioned with Cincinnati and just because of how much the FBI has become politicized, both, you know, in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, in the wake of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation. You had congressional testimony last year from some in the FBI or formerly of the FBI who'd had their security clearances revoked after they had either attended January 6th or had trafficked in conspiracy theories about it.

And all of that, I wonder, from your perspective, has that put the FBI really kind of on the map for a lot of people in a way that it wasn't before?

CAMPBELL: No, most certainly. I mean, particularly when you talk about a lot of the conspiracy theories about the FBI over the last several years. I mean, that is something that obviously is of very concern to personnel. And you know, I'll state at the outset, obviously, that if this ends up being a mental health incident, obviously the vast majority of people who struggle with mental health don't turn out to be violent. So it's important to note that.

But you know, when you have people that are on the receiving end, specifically online, social media, all of this vitriol, all of these conspiracy theories, and you look at that individual back in 2022 in Cincinnati. This is someone who followed the FBI's search at Mar-a- Lago, at the residence.

And that person was essentially arming for some type of, you know, quote, revolution, law enforcement sources had told us at the time. So you can just see how, when you have people that are out there consuming that type of information, and then they might be prone to actually act upon that with violence, that is something that law enforcement and, indeed, federal and state and local security facilities across the country are having to guard against.

It's also worth noting, you know, Evan and I had reported about a DHS bulletin not long ago that came out to the Department of Homeland Security that was warning state, federal, local law enforcement around the country to be on guard for potential political violence.

They listed a number of different reasons why that could be the case, everything from action taking place around legislatures around the country, actions in the courts. You know, they didn't specifically mention former President Donald Trump and his legal woes, but that was essentially signaling that, you know, you have people that because of what's happening there in that court system, that might be, you know, might decide to act with violence. And then a host of other different reasons, and that spans the political spectrum, you know, people who might be prone to act with violence.

And so if you're a law enforcement agency, that is something that you're having to guard against. I'll state again, because I know, you know, people on social media who try to connect dots here, we don't know that this has anything to do with, you know, any type of political incident. We don't know yet that this was a mental health episode. Quite frankly, for FBI personnel on the scene, that's a second factor for them. The first is to obviously render safe that vehicle, which we know has happened, to bring in the bomb technicians to make sure there aren't any type of explosives or weapons. But the investigation itself is going to be very important.

One thing that, you know, I will question, and obviously we have a lot of questions, is as authorities go back and look at the CCTV footage that blankets these FBI facilities, they'll be looking for, was this someone who had come to this location before? Were they trying to surveil, do some type of reconnaissance? It's interesting to me that that first level barrier that you see that iron fencing there, appears to be open. The person didn't crash into that. The person crashed into that final denial barrier, which recedes into the ground.

And so was this someone who was waiting as an employee was entering to then try to, you know, piggyback and come in behind that individual? Or was this a gate that was just left open, which would obviously raise security issues? So a lot of questions that go into, you know, why this person was there, what the person was doing in the moments leading up to that. And then, you know, this day and age, so many people are on social media. So once they fully identify this person, they'll want to try to determine whether -- there was any indication that this was about to happen.

Again, to get to that motive, why the person, you know, decided that they wanted to do this. Final point I'll make is that, you know, the FBI, unlike other facilities, such as the Department of Defense, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, they have to walk a fine line between being a secure facility, but also a facility where members of the public can come in.

You know, when I was an FBI agent, all FBI agents have to sit what's called the duty agent. That happens a number of times a year, depending on the size of the field office. And that is people that come in that want to report some type of crime or, you know, that they've been a victim. And so while there is security, there also has to be some type of welcoming approach.

But that's something that they're always trying to calibrate, how to ensure that bad actors don't make their way in.

SANCHEZ: Important perspective there from Josh Campbell. Josh, please stand by.

If you are just joining us, a suspect has been taken into custody and has now been taken to the hospital for evaluation after ramming a vehicle into the FBI field office in Atlanta. That vehicle has been scanned by a bomb squad. It has been cleared.


Of course, still a lot of questions to answer specifically about the motivation behind this incident.

We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back to break down the very latest on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


KEILAR: Let's bring in former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. Ed, tell us what you are questioning here as we see this news that an SUV has rammed the gate.


And we see it here in these pictures at the FBI field office in Atlanta.

Ed, can you hear me?


KEILAR: All right, Ed, what are you thinking and what are you questioning here as you see these pictures and you hear this news of this ramming at the FBI field office?

DAVIS: Well, it's very troubling to see this happen. There's a lot of time spent in planning against something like this. So the great news is that that wedge barrier was able to pop up in time to catch the car. And that is a very effective means of stopping vehicles coming in. That could stop a dump truck.

So whoever hit that is certainly feeling it right now. And thankfully, this all ended well. You know, no one was killed at this point. But the truth of the matter is the FBI and all of the federal agencies spend an enormous amount of time making sure that their facilities are secure. And one of the big issues is somebody getting a vehicle-borne explosive device into a facility like that.

So that pop-up barrier stopped the car. And whoever was trying to get in there was able to be apprehended by the agents who were on site, along with most likely the local police who most likely responded to this. So it ended because -- it ended in a good way because there was a lot of planning put into having those systems in place.

I have two FBI supervisors that work with me day in and day out. And we're constantly worried about the tenor of politics and just general mentalities in the country that things like this can happen. So we're going to watch this closely. Hopefully, this is a one-off. But you need to be prepared for anything these days.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we are looking at live pictures -- we should let our viewers know -- of the scene there in Atlanta. It appears a tow truck has arrived. And folks on the ground have signaled for it to begin moving to start the process of getting that vehicle out of there. No doubt it will be very closely looked at by investigators wherever it is headed.

Let's bring in senior law enforcement analyst for CNN, Charles Ramsey. Sir, thanks so much for being with us. I'm wondering what questions you have as this investigation now gets underway. And we have a suspect that tried to enter this FBI Atlanta office, apparently unarmed and apparently in a vehicle that contained no weapons. And according to the bomb squad, nothing suspicious.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, the main question is why? I mean, why would you do that? I mean, if there are no explosives, you didn't have any firearms or anything like that. So what did you plan on doing? Is this a person mentally ill or something else? I don't know. But thank God they have the layers of security they need around that facility, as well as other federal facilities, to make sure something like this really can be intercepted.

That pop-up barrier, wedge barrier, I heard Ed refer to it as, that is incredibly effective. But you have to be alert to make sure that you have all these things in place, that you have layers of security, because you never know. I'm sure they've already notified all the field offices around the country, put everybody on alert.

Not that this is part of anything larger. You do that out of an abundance of caution, just to make sure that no one else has a particular problem.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly.

And Josh Campbell back with us now. What would you expect from your experience to be going on behind the scenes at this point in time?

CAMPBELL: Yes, so the FBI has 56 field offices across the country, many more satellite offices as well. And as both the chiefs were just saying there, although this incident now appears to be relegated just to FBI Atlanta, this is something certainly that other offices around the country will be focusing on.

I'm sure an urgent alert has already gone out internally around the FBI, notifying those field offices of what is occurring. You know, the FBI has its own division. You know, we often think about the FBI doing investigations and intelligence collection and analysis, but there's an entire FBI division, the security division, which is focused on protecting the organization's own people.

That's obviously, you know, physical security, a number of different other areas of security that they focus on in order to protect employees. But when you look at facilities and buildings, you know, we know the old adage, right, that the bad guys only have to be right once. That certainly applies here when you're talking about security around the facility.


So as we saw after that August 2022 incident in Cincinnati, we here at CNN had reported the FBI was conducting an analysis around its buildings across the country just to ensure that proper procedures were in place, that they had the proper types of equipment in place just in case that something like this were to happen. And we can imagine that's now happening behind the scenes, again, just to ensure that we don't see something like this occur again.

SANCHEZ: And again, we are watching live images here of the outside of the FBI field office in Atlanta where a rust-colored mid-sized SUV apparently rammed the entry gate shortly afternoon. You're watching it live as that vehicle is now being towed after investigators combed through it. The suspect who apparently rammed that vehicle is now in custody. They've been taken to a hospital for a medical evaluation.

We're going to step aside for a moment, take a few minutes to regroup, and when we come back, we'll bring you the very latest from Georgia. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: All right, we're following this breaking news out of Atlanta, where an SUV that rammed into the security gate at the FBI field office there has just been towed away from the scene after it was stopped from going in. Here it is. This is from earlier.

It was stopped from going into the facility by a barrier gate that had popped up in front of it. It did seem to make it through this other gate, which would be the one that opens and closes as cars go through that checkpoint.

Let's bring in Charles Ramsey to talk a little bit about the investigation and where this is going to go from here. There will be many questions, Charles, and we don't have answers to them. We know, as we understand it, that the suspect was unarmed. We don't know a motive at this point in time.

RAMSEY: Well, that's something they'll try to get to. There's no question about that.

You look at the damage on that car, it's very possible he's receiving some medical care right now as well. But investigators will be debriefing him as soon as they possibly can to find out why. I mean, what was the motive behind doing something like this? Was it an accident? Did he lose control of the car? Was it intentional? I mean, these are the kinds of questions that they're going to have to be asking in order to determine exactly what took place and why it took place.

The other thing I want to mention, because I think this is a good example of it, when these federal agencies like the FBI and others have their budget before Congress, it's important that there be funding for security. I mean, they need serious security measures around these buildings, and it doesn't happen for free. And so that's an important thing that, you know, you won't hear the active federal agency necessarily about their budget.

But having run a police department and knowing that equipment is sometimes something that gets shortchanged a bit, it's going to be very important. Because, you know, the world has changed and these kinds of attacks, unfortunately, can become more and more common.

SANCHEZ: Commissioner Ramsey, police stand by. We want to go live to a press briefing that's happening outside that field office in Atlanta by officials. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Precautions prevented him from getting in.

REPORTER: So the gates closer tried ramming it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't confirm that. No, I'm not sure.

REPORTER: Is it random?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, sir. Yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't. I can't say that at this point. We haven't done our investigation yet.

REPORTER: You don't know at the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at this time. No.

REPORTER: No evidence thus far this is not a terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't answer that at this point. No.

REPORTER: Do you all have training in this type of situation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do. We actually trained for this type of situation. We recently did have training to prevent this that we that we have done before. Yes.

REPORTER: Has this happened before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not, not something like this. Not to my knowledge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not that I can -- I can say at this time. I don't know.

REPORTER: Did the policy procedure (INAUDIBLE) facility (INAUDIBLE) is being permanent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Any type of situation like this, we always go and we do like a hot wash and we go sit down. We talk about the situation. Absolutely.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say that at this point. Still an ongoing investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you so much. Thank you.

KEILAR: All right. Unfortunately, we couldn't hear a number of the questions there, but we were able to hear some.

That was a special agent in charge out of the FBI field office there in Atlanta following this SUV ramming the entry barrier there, trying to get into the facility. But he was saying that they have trained recently even for this. And clearly that's training that kicked in. We saw this was an effective stoppage of this person trying to get in.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and not many specifics from that special agent in charge about the suspect or about the incident that we've yet to determine.

Let's bring in former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. And, Ed, quickly, we know that, as we've alluded to before, this suspect is now at a hospital for a medical evaluation. Just seeing the front damage to that car, it's likely that they potentially needed some kind of medical assistance. But also with that comes a mental health evaluation, right? Walk us through what goes into that.

DAVIS: Well, he certainly is hurt. I can guarantee you that. The only reason that guy's alive is because of the airbag.

Those as I said, those, those barricades will stop a Mack truck. So he he's injured in the hospital. They're going to look at everything about him right now.


They're going to look at his home. They're going to look at his cell phone. They're going to look at his online presence. They're going to try to determine whether there was a mental health issue here or whether there's something else going on.

That part of the process will be secondary to the physical assessment at the emergency room. The doctors need to stabilize him and make sure that he survives this incident. But after that's over very quickly, there will be evaluations.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Commissioner Davis, thank you so much for the perspective. We're going to go ahead and toss it to "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper with the latest on this breaking news from Atlanta.