The latest wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and school weren’t just delivered from automated “robo-call” services, consultants briefed on the ongoing federal investigation said Thursday.
“In fact, on many of the calls there was engagement between the caller and the institutions,” said Paul Goldenberg, national director for Secure Community Network, a homeland security initiative focused on the Jewish community.
On a conference call, Goldenberg and other members of a civilian task force working with the FBI as liaisons between investigators and the Jewish community said that evidence showed that some of the callers were real people responding to a series of questions that several of the JCC employees who took the calls had been trained to ask in a threat scenario.
Earlier in the week, investigators in some states — including Delaware, Maryland and Virginia — reported that calls placed to JCCs in their communities appeared to be robo-calls.
On Monday, bomb threats were called into 30 JCCs and schools in at least 18 states, adding to a growing list of anti-Semitic incidents across the US in 2017. So far, nobody has been injured.
Authorities confirmed reports of threats on Monday in Alaska, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Alabama, Maryland, Indiana, Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, California, Arizona, Washington, and Nevada. No injuries were reported, and the threats came in the form of a series of phone calls Monday morning and Monday evening.
The San Francisco office of the Anti-Defamation League also received a bomb threat Monday afternoon. It was evacuated, and police shut down a section of busy Market Street to investigate.
The team from SCN said Thursday that it has tallied 122 bomb threats into facilities in at least 36 states since the start of the year.
BuzzFeed News first reported this week that the FBI Cyber Crime division has been probing the possibility that an online “troll” might be behind the latest wave of threats.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security held two calls with Jewish leaders where more than 250 members of the JCC community and other groups participated. More calls between DHS and Jewish leaders are scheduled for this week.
DHS Secretary John Kelly put out a statement calling the threats to the Jewish centers and schools “unacceptable” and said the agency would support law enforcement efforts in all 50 states.
“The right to worship and commune within and across faiths is fundamental to the American experience and our way of life. DHS will continue to support communities across the country to preserve these fundamental freedoms,” Kelly said. “I look forward to working with business, education and faith leaders to learn more about their needs and to share how DHS can support their communities to ensure they are better prepared and aware, and to manage the consequences of incidents if they happen.”
David Posner, director of strategic performance at the JCC Association of North America, commended DHS for "offering concrete help at a time when our JCCs need to hear that the federal government is prioritizing our security."