Terror plot on the Turnpike? Well, not exactly
Share with others:
State police took two suspicious men into custody on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Harrisburg yesterday and interrogated them for taking unauthorized photos of toll road facilities over a three-day period.
"We are treating this as a possible terrorist activity," turnpike Chief Executive Officer Joe Brimmeier said initially, but it turned out that the two men were carrying out a work assignment for a company looking into buying or leasing the toll road.
The turnpike had been on a heightened security alert since Sunday, when two men were spotted taking photos of turnpike maintenance sheds in Somerset and Bedford counties. They entered through private gates and said they had possession of keys to at least one of the sheds, Mr. Brimmeier said.
Men also were spotted taking photos Monday at the Mahoning Valley interchange on the Northeast Extension, but they were gone by the time police arrived.
State police said the two men detained and questioned were from Spain and carried Spanish passports and U.S. work visas. They claimed they had permission to enter turnpike property and take the photos, a matter that turnpike officials were to investigate further today.
Police confiscated their cameras and laptop computers.
The men told police they work for Cintra, a Spain-based global investment company that has teamed to invest in toll road leases in the United States. The firm has expressed interest in a long-term lease or purchase of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in response to requests by Gov. Ed Rendell for "letters of interest."
Mr. Brimmeier said no one either sought or received permission to enter turnpike property or to take photos of places that the toll facility regards as security sensitive, including five tunnels and numerous service plazas where large amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel are stored for retail sale to turnpike customers.
The men were picked up by state police around 3:30 p.m. yesterday while taking pictures of the Yellow Breeches Creek bridge west of Harrisburg.
A radio operator on his way home after finishing his shift at 3 p.m. at the turnpike's administration building in Highspire spotted the two men acting suspiciously at the bridge and contacted state police.
"If we find they have keys to maintenance facilities and they were obtained illegally, we have a big problem," Mr. Brimmeier said. "Otherwise, things may work out for them. But I'm glad we have their cameras and laptops. God only knows who could get their hands on this type of information and what they could do with it."
First Published September 26, 2007 12:00 am