Emily Miller, the chief investigative reporter for Washington, D.C.'s Fox 5 (WTTG), sparked unnecessary concerns about danger in the Washington, D.C. area on November 18 when she publicized an internal police document about the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) seeking information on four men who appear to be Middle Eastern engaged in “suspicious activity” on D.C.'s rapid transit system.
But according to the Metro Transit Police, the “routine” document was not intended to be released to the public, and by the time Miller tweeted it to her 50,000 followers, the alert had already been resolved. MTPD says Miller did not contact the department before releasing the information.
Miller tweeted out a “BOLO” (Be On The Lookout) notice on Twitter the night of November 18 about four people sought for questioning since Sunday:
This is scary: Be On The Lookout alert for these men on DC metro at Pentagon. Note it was a warm on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/hkgTuhBgKx
-- Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) November 19, 2015
Miller's tweet quickly gained attention, garnering more than one thousand retweets and articles on Glenn Beck's news site, The Blaze, conspiracy website InfoWars, the website of conservative blogger Jim Hoft, and the Daily Mail. Several Twitter users responded to the image by raising fears about an Islamist terror attack in D.C. and making derogatory comments about Syrian refugees.
After her initial tweet, Miller responded to someone asking where the alert came from by saying the document is “an internal metro #BOLO that I got from a source who thinks it should be public.”
But by the time she had distributed the internal BOLO, the four individuals had been reached by police, interviewed, and found not to be a danger to anyone, a spokesman for the Metro Transit Police told Media Matters.
“What was not reported out when it went out on the Internet last night was that those individuals had met with law enforcement yesterday, they were fully cooperative and the Bolo had been cancelled,” said Dan Stessel, chief spokesman for Washington's Metro Transit Police. “They were identified by Metro Transit Police, they met with Metro Transit Police and our federal partners, again full cooperation with police just running that information to ground as we do every day and the Bolo again was cancelled.”
Stressel added that the notice “was never intended to be released publicly. There are times when we do, whenever it is warranted we will not hesitate to do so. But in this case there was a report that these individuals may have acted suspiciously while in the area of the Pentagon and police checked it out.”
Responding to Miller's tweet last night, MTPD tweeted that it could not confirm the authenticity of the document, because it “does not comment on non-public material.” Following widespread attention given to Miller's tweet, MTPD followed up the morning of November 19 by explaining, “The 4 men in internal MTPD bolo were ID'd & contacted by us yest evening. All checked out, fully cooperative, no nexus to criminal activity.” (Miller promoted the MTPD statement with a tweet.)
“We'll leave it to others to opine on the appropriateness of the release of this internal material,” Stessel said. “What I can say is these individuals had done nothing criminal, there were no warrants issued, were not wanted, and the material was not intended for public release. We were not contacted prior to the information being posted to the Internet.”
Asked what he would have told Miller if she had reached out for comment or to confirm the information, Stessel said, “We would have likely declined comment, but we would have taken the opportunity to advise the reporter that it was routine, the kind of material that is shared internally with law enforcement every day and that doesn't necessarily mean there is anything of concern for the public and caution any reporter that the individuals here are not suspected of any criminal activity.”
He stressed that many internal alerts are issued to police on areas of concern, many of which turn out to be nothing and that is why they are not given public airing.
“That's routine,” he said. “It's the kind of Bolo that is shared within law enforcement every day. It was not shared publicly because it was not a crime, no warrant and no overt reason for public concern.”