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Studios Tighten Security Following FBI Terror Alert

21 Sep, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

Terrorists leveled threats Thursday against Hollywood's major film studios, prompting each to seriously reconsider existing security measures that suddenly seemed far too mild for the current political climate. Some studios partially evacuated their facilities late in the afternoon.

Internal memos, usually in the form of an e-mail issued by high-ranking studio executives, buzzed throughout Hollywood on Thursday, warning of threats of mass destruction, presumably from Islamic terrorists.

Some memos outlined strict new security steps that would be taken, but most sought simply to reassure employees of their safety, a strategy that sometimes backfired.

"It's so stupid," one studio employee said. "That e-mail is scaring people half to death."

A Fox staffer echoed the sentiment, saying, "After everything else that's gone on, people are really freaked out."

Insiders said studio heads first learned of the threat from MPAA president Jack Valenti, who was briefed by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who specifically mentioned a threat of a suicide bomber.

An FBI statement released late Thursday, though, was more vague about the exact nature of the threat. The threat's purpose, though, was specifically laid out by the FBI: If the U.S. attacks Afghanistan, a studio will be bombed.

"Today the FBI provided a threat advisory to the major movie studios in Los Angeles," FBI spokesman Matt McLaughlin said. "The uncorroborated threat states that a film studio in California could be the target of a terrorist bombing attack in retaliation for any possible bombing attacks by the United States against Afghanistan. In an abundance of caution, the FBI has provided this threat advisory. The FBI is working closely with the studios regarding this matter."

Insiders said that those making the threat will target a major film studio because American values and culture -- anathema to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists -- are distributed throughout the world via Hollywood movies.

Although individual employees at Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Studios said they were evacuated for parts of the day, no studio confirmed that, though some said they were allowing nervous employees to go home.

"Nobody has felt the need to go home," an MGM insider said. "The mood around here is not panic. Maybe it's because we don't have a huge backlot or a theme park attached to us, so we're not a big target."

20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. were immediately laying out new security procedures.

Fox said it would be "severely restricting access to the lot" and warned employees that they would "be subject to long delays entering the facility." It also said barricades and an armed guard presence would be increased, incoming packages will be X-rayed, only the main entrance of each building would be accessible, and all illegally parked vehicles would be towed.

Warner Bros. posted guards at its children's center, increased its day and night patrols and closed gates 5 and 6. It will search vehicles, parcels, coolers and lunch boxes and install metal detectors. It also said it would X-ray deliveries. The studio also canceled VIP tours and screenings.

"The entire country is learning to live in an era of uncertainty, but again, I want to assure you that we will be doing everything in our power to make your work environment as safe as possible," News Corp. president and c.o.o. Peter Chernin wrote to employees, while also asking that they "be vigilant in reporting any suspicious activity."

Chernin was said to have met with his division heads at about 1 p.m. to discuss the situation, and the e-mail warning was sent to all employees shortly thereafter. Sources said Fox had already begun tightening security on the Century City lot -- some of the rear entrances to the studio were blocked off last week.

Universal issued a short, unsigned memo referring employees to an internal hotline. "The FBI has informed us that it has received an uncorroborated report threatening Hollywood film studios with terrorist activity," the memo said in part.

Warner Bros. chairman and c.e.o. Barry Meyer wrote: "The FBI has informed us that in view of recent events, there are increased threats of bomb attacks. Of utmost concern to us is information that a film studio in California is a target."

"Today, we, along with other studios, received information from the FBI that a Hollywood studio could become a target for terrorist activity," wrote Walt Disney Co. president and c.o.o. Bob Iger, who asked employees to call security if they "notice anything suspicious."

DreamWorks employees said they also were made aware of the threat.

20th Century Fox TV informed all of its producers, working on and off the lot, of the threat and the heightened security measures. Sources said that many studios were preparing to forgo live audiences for the tapings of sitcoms.

Although the threat was aimed at the studios, sources said CBS and other networks were briefed by the FBI on Thursday. And, in fact, the networks had already beefed up security at their facilities in the wake of last week's devastating suicide attacks.

The bomb threat against Hollywood raised questions about security at tonight's live event that will be broadcast as a two-hour special on dozens of broadcast and cable networks as a fund-raiser for victims of last week's attacks. The hastily planned event, which has drawn such A-list stars as Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise, will originate from undisclosed sites in Los Angeles and New York.

Security also is a huge concern at this year's Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, which was pushed back from Sept. 16 to Oct. 7 in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences officials have said that they are consulting with the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Aviation Administration to tighten security at the event on the ground and in the air.

ATAS officials are weighing whether to omit a red carpet procession at this year's ceremony -- for reasons of both security and propriety in the wake of the mounting death toll from last week's attacks. It's understood that regardless of whether there is a red carpet, it is unlikely that bleachers will be erected along the entryway to the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for the traditional fan cheering section.

Another Emmy-night tradition that has been sacrificed to the terrorist threat are the postshow parties. Warner Bros. Television, 20th Century Fox TV, Alliance Atlantis, HBO and Paramount Network TV have canceled their gatherings.

Security concerns also plague the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has asked the new Kodak Theatre to beef up security or risk losing the 74th Annual Academy Awards show, scheduled there March 24.

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