03.01.17

SCHUMER: JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTERS UNDER THREAT SHOULD HAVE ABILITY TO TRACE & IDENTIFY TERRIFYING CALLS THAT FRIGHTEN RESIDENTS & COST POLICE DEPTS WHO RESPOND; SENATOR DEMANDS FEDS GIVE UPSTATE NY JCC’S A SPECIAL WAIVER TO HELP TRACE THREATENING PHONE CALLS

Just This Week, Upstate New York JCC’s Were Evacuated Because of Phony Bomb Threats; As of This Year, There Have Been A Total of 69 Anonymous ‘Swatting’ Incidents Targeting Jewish Centers; Incidents Instill Fear & Cost Locals Money 

Schumer Cites Past ‘Swatting’ Threat at Middletown School District When FCC Granted a Special Waiver to Access Anonymous Caller’s Information; Urges FCC to Allow LI JCC & Others To Trace Call Information So Threats Can Be Investigated & Reigned In

Schumer: If Locals Can Trace These Threats, They Can Stop Them, Too

On the heels of a Jewish Community Center bomb threat across Upstate New York, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant a special waiver to all Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), and other entities, that have been targeted as part of the recent wave of bomb threats. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been at least 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states.  Earlier this week, over the course of just one day, bomb threats were simultaneously made to JCCs in 11 states across the country, including at JCCs in Upstate New York. Schumer, today, said these centers need valuable intel to help stop the threats and thwart these phony calls that have a real economic and psychic impact.

“Perpetrators terrorizing Jewish communities across the country—and here in New York—should not be allowed to hide in the shadows,” said Senator U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “We cannot give these fear-mongering criminals protection when they are instilling hate and panic. That’s why I am urging the FCC to grant a critical waiver, which will allow targeted JCCs to work with local law enforcement to access the critical caller ID information that would finally allow us to identify and locate these perpetrators. All communities and entities target by intimidation and fear deserve access to all of the tools needed to ensure these criminals are brought to justice.”

In his letter, Schumer pointed to a ‘swatting’ threat directed at the Middletown School District last year. Following the threat, former FCC Chairman Wheeler worked with the Senator’s office to pass a special waiver allowing the District to access caller information of the individuals placing the threats. Given the recent uptick in swatting incidents, Schumer is urging the FCC to allow targeted JCCs to trace call information, just as the FCC did for the Middletown School District, in order to allow the calls to be properly investigated.

Schumer added, “Our local JCC’s provide so many services to the community at-large—from daycare, to education to sports. And no community should be the focus of threats designed to create a climate of fear. I stand united with the members of the Jewish community from Westchester to Buffalo and in every community across New York, against fear, intolerance and intimidation.”

Schumer explained that “swatting” is an incident in which a false report is made in an effort to solicit a police response where emergency teams, including SWAT units, are dispatched to an unsuspecting resident’s home. These kinds of episodes often result in the deployment of bomb squads, crisis negotiators, multiple SWAT units, and additional police units, among others because the perpetrators allege circumstances such as bomb making and hostage situations. Schumer explained that, because these accusations are often so serious and have the potential to be highly dangerous for responders and those involved, multiple emergency teams and units can be dispatched. These responses can also call elicit the evacuation or temporary closing of schools and businesses. Because police have a duty and obligation to respond to these threats, they take them very seriously.

Schumer said many of the “swatting” calls are placed via Skype or other internet-based phone systems that more easily enables the caller to use available apps or websites to disguise their phone number or actually make it seem like the call is coming from a house they are targeting- a practice dubbed caller ID “spoofing.” Currently, it is illegal to spoof calls placed via traditional phone lines, but there is no such prohibition on calls placed via internet phone services. 

On February 27th, a series of bomb threats were directed at Jewish Community Centers across the country, including almost every corner of New York State. Other threats were made at JCCs in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida. According to reports, this is the fifth wave of bomb threats so far this year.

Last year, Middletown School District experienced at least 13 instances of swatting calls. Following these incidents, Schumer successfully urged the FCC to swiftly review and approve a critical waiver to allow the District to access the vital caller identification information needed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Schumer said, similarly, the targeted JCCs across the country should be granted the same waiver.

A copy of Schumer’s letter is below:

Dear Chairman Pai,

I write to express my serious concerns surrounding the recent bomb threats made against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in New York and across the country. These senseless, hateful attacks are unacceptable and should be investigated thoroughly and expediently. I urge you to do everything in your power to track these perpetrators down and prevent future attacks.

As you may know, on Monday, February 27, 2017, bomb threats were simultaneously made to JCCs in 11 states across the nation. According to the JCC Association of North America, which is based in New York, the threats were called into schools and JCCs in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In my home state of New York, JCCs in Long Island, Staten Island, and Westchester were evacuated following the anonymous threats, leading local police to exhaust precious resources to vacate premises and investigate the threat, none of which led to a substantive claim.

This is not the first incident of its kind. In fact, since the beginning of 2017, there have 69 incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states, in addition to one Canadian providence. Monday’s incident makes this the fifth wave of threats in the past two months. The damage from these threats is far-reaching, often disrupting our classrooms and requiring the deployment of bomb squads and other SWAT equipment. As you can imagine, these attacks have traumatized the Jewish community and struck fear in homes across the country.  It is worth noting that many JCCs across the country serve as nursery schools for their broader community, meaning that those terrorized by these threats are often preschoolers, their families, and the adults who care for them. We must do everything possible to ensure our religious communities feel safe from attacks against their schools, their homes, and their burial grounds. 

The FCC has played a valuable role on this issue before. Last year, the Middletown School District of Middletown, NY, was similarly plagued by phone calls with terror threats, also known as “swatting.” The school district was unable to track the perpetrators, who hid behind blocked numbers. In response, former FCC Chairman Wheeler worked with us to pass a special waiver to allow the District to access the caller information of the individuals placing the threats. The access enabled critical school personnel and law enforcement officials to coordinate with one another in their attempts to quickly respond to swatting calls made to the School District. 

Given the recent uptick in these swatting incidents, I believe the current circumstances requires that your agency pursues similar extensive investigatory measures. In doing so, I urge you to coordinate your federal resources with local law enforcement across the nation to ensure they have the resources needed to thwart these attacks. In that vein, I respectfully inquire that you provide me and my staff with more information about the steps your agency will take to fulfill this request. Specifically, I ask:

1.       What actions has your agency taken to date in response to these bomb threats?

2.       Will you consider allowing JCCs to trace this call information, as the FCC did for the Middletown school district, in order to allow these calls to be properly investigated?

3.       What resources can your agency provide to local law enforcement to ensure they are equipped to thwart these attacks?

 I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you on ways to prevent these threats in the future.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer 

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