Government's Own Warnings to Law Enforcement Often Cite Media Reports Trump Says Don't Exist

FBI bulletins repeatedly cited press accounts of incidents on White House list.

February 7, 2017, 3:39 PM

— -- President Trump claims the media have failed to cover terror attacks against the West, but the U.S. government's own private warnings to federal, state and local law enforcement across the country have largely pulled from press coverage of such terror attacks.

"Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland," but "it's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported," Trump warned yesterday. Later, the White House released a list of 78 terrorist attacks from the past two years it said have been underreported.

The most recent incident cited by the White House is the December 2016 attack in Berlin, Germany, where an ISIS-inspired radical drove a truck into a crowded market, killing 12 and injuring dozens more. Two days after the incident, the Department of Homeland Security issued a note to counterterrorism officials nationwide, urging them to watch for similar attacks on mass gatherings and open-access venues.

"This Intelligence Note is based on open source media reporting and public statements by German national security officials," the government message said, citing nine articles from U.S. and European newspapers.

The same warning mentioned a front-page New York Times report on the November attack at Ohio State University, when an ISIS-inspired student drove through a crowd of pedestrians and then launched a knife attack.

The White House included the Columbus, Ohio, incident on its list of underreported attacks, and Trump stated on Monday that U.S. media organizations haven't been willing to cover such attacks against the West.

"You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice [France]. All over Europe it's happening," he said. "And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it."

But a week after the 2015 assault across Paris that killed 129 concertgoers, sports enthusiasts and others, the FBI and DHS issued a bulletin to U.S. law enforcement, noting that its analysis of tactics and techniques used in the attack "relies on a variety of open source and media reporting."

The White House's list of underreported attacks similarly includes several other incidents that were covered by the press and then cited in federal terrorism warnings.

In an October 2014 bulletin warning of an ISIS-inspired attack on law enforcement and government officials, the FBI and DHS cited "press reports" about an 18-year-old killed by Australian police after he attacked them.

A month later, another bulletin cited "media reports" about a Canadian’s assault on parliament in Ottawa, where one guard was killed.

And in a bulletin issued in August last year, the FBI and DHS said their analysis of an ISIS-inspired attack at a California college months earlier was based on "U.S. media reports."

U.S. authorities "very often leverage media accounts so they can provide relevant information regarding terrorism and threats to the broadest audience possible," said John Cohen, a former top DHS official who was also acting head of the Intelligence and Analysis office. "They don’t want to be in a situation where they are putting information collected through classified channels into unclassified [documents]."

Most bulletins issued by the FBI and DHS are never publicized, as they are intended "for official use only." However, some do get leaked to the press.

Cohen, an ABC News contributor, said any suggestion that the press isn't sufficiently covering terrorism attacks "is just fundamentally ridiculous."

In fact, some cases – such as the deadly assault in San Bernardino, California, in 2015 and the mass murder inside an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last year – received such widespread media attention that Homeland Security officials felt it was redundant to tell federal, state and local law enforcement partners about the attacks in the days afterward, sources told ABC News.

Both incidents are included on the White House list of underreported attacks.

At the White House briefing with reporters today, the first question posed to press secretary Sean Spicer concerned the list of 78 incidents.

Spicer said the administration compiled the list because "we wanted to be very clear that there are a lot of examples between 2014 and 2016 that have occurred, and many of them haven’t gotten the attention that they have deserved."

"It’s becoming too often that we’re seeing these attacks not get the spectacular attention that they deserve," Spicer added, "and I think it undermines the understanding of the threat that we face around the country."

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