Thursday, February 01, 2007

TV network ad campaign sparks Boston security scare

TV network ad campaign sparks Boston security scare
By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - A television network's marketing campaign went badly awry on Wednesday, causing a day-long security scare in Boston that closed bridges, shut major roads and put hundreds of police on alert.

Apologizing for Boston's biggest security alert since the September 11 attacks more than five years ago, Turner Broadcasting said it had placed electronic devices at bridges and other spots to promote an animated cartoon.

Police mistook the small, battery-powered electronic billboards as possible improvised bombs.

The discovery of the first one on a bridge led police to stop morning rush-hour traffic on an interstate highway just north of Boston, halt a busy train line, cordon off the area and deploy a bomb squad, which blew it up.

By afternoon, at least nine more of the "suspicious" devices were found. Authorities mobilized emergency crews, federal agents, bomb squads, hundreds of police and the U.S. Coast Guard as traffic froze in parts of the city.

The billboards, encased in dark plastic, consisted of blinking lights wired to an electronic circuit board to project an animated cartoon image in an outdoor promotion for a show on Turner's Cartoon Network called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

"The 'packages' in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner Broadcasting System Inc., a unit of Time Warner Inc., said in statement.

It said the devices, which police said resembled improvised exploding devices, had been in place for two to three weeks in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

"We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," Turner said.


"I am deeply dismayed to learn that many of the devices are a part of a marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, adding that he will consult with the state's attorney general for a response.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he was prepared to sue.

"It is outrageous, in a post 9/11 world, that a company would use this type of marketing scheme," he said. "I am prepared to take any and all legal action against Turner Broadcasting and its affiliates for any and all expenses incurred during the response to today's incidents."

The alarm prompted the Coast Guard to close the Charles River that runs through the city and caused authorities to shut down major bridges along with several roads.

"This has taken a significant toll on our resources," Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told reporters.

The packages were discovered near the New England Medical Center, two bridges and several other locations.

(Additional reporting by Svea Herbst and Scott Malone)