WASHINGTON – Federal officials said Friday there is no terrorist connection to a computer disk found in Iraq that contained information about schools in six states.
The disk was made by an unidentified Iraqi man who was doing research and had no connections to Al Qaeda (search) or the Iraqi insurgents battling U.S. forces, according to the FBI. The man did have links to the Baath Party (search) that ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein (search), but that's true of many former government officials and community leaders.
Some material on the disk appeared to be randomly downloaded from a publicly accessible Education Department Web site and included such things as manuals on workplace safety, crisis management studies, student codes of conduct and building security diagrams. It also contained an Education Department report on school crisis planning that was published in May 2003.
"It's not about schools, it's about policy," said FBI Agent William Evanina, spokesman for the FBI field office in Newark, N.J. "There's no terrorism threat to these schools."
The school districts are in California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and Oregon. The FBI contacted local officials in the communities last month and told them about the disk and what it contained.
Although there was no indication of a terror threat, the FBI decided to contact local officials out of an abundance of caution.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the FBI told officials there that there was "no direct information" that schools in his state are "under any kind of threat." He said that school building floor plans and other sensitive materials about schools are not available via the Internet in Florida.
"We have talked to the superintendents to make sure that what they have been doing they continue to do — to make safety first and foremost for the kids of our state," Bush said.
In addition to Fort Myers, Fla., the other districts included on the disk are San Diego, and La Puente, Calif., in the Los Angeles area; Birch Run, Mich.; Salem, Ore.; Jones County, Ga.; Franklinville and Rumson, both in N.J.
Wayne Wright, superintendent of the Birch Run Area Schools, said he was contacted two weeks ago by FBI agents. "They said they get thousands of pieces of information coming out of Iraq every day, and this was just one of the pieces," Wright said.
The San Diego school system sought to reassure parents through a letter sent to homes Friday.
"It is very important that you know there is no specific threat to our schools and students here in San Diego," the letter said.
Though the FBI contacts with local officials occurred shortly after the attack by Chechen rebels on a school in Russia that killed more than 330 people, officials say the two events are not connected.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department this week also sent to state and local officials a lengthy analysis of the Russian attacks with a long list of school security recommendations.