Skyfall at the FBI

A poorly chosen Internet address briefly had web surfers wondering whether an FBI press release warning of terror attacks was a hoax.

| Fri Oct. 12, 2001 3:00 AM EDT

The FBI's stark, two-sentence press release telling an already jittery nation to brace for "additional terrorist attacks within the United States ... over the next several days" was anything but funny. Yet it seems as though someone in the Bureau's headquarters was indulging in a little gallows humor when the release went up on the FBI's official website Thursday afternoon. The press release was initially posted under a web address more evocative of Chicken Little than Usama bin Ladin: fbi.gov/presrel/presrel01/skyfall.htm.

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"A lot of people thought it was a hoax," said bureau spokeswoman Angela Bell. "The phones just lit up. They thought the FBI web site had been hacked."

But the press release was genuine, its ill-chosen address the product of insufficient oversight. "The writer just happened to name it that," Bell said. "It got forwarded to the Internet people and they didn't change the name." Although she called the web address "unfortunate," Bell stated no fewer than four times that there was absolutely "no correlation" between the file name and the content of the press release. "It was not an intentional thing, it was not a malicious thing, it just happened."

In response to the alarmed phone calls, the FBI replaced the offending "skyfall" with Thursday's date. How long was the original version online? "Probably two hours," Bell said. "Way too long."

The FBI would not provide the name of the agent responsible for the file name. Asked if any disciplinary action had been taken, Bell laughed and said "the error was caught yesterday and 'handled' yesterday -- for lack of a better word."