Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 7 News List

TV ad campaign sparks security scare in Boston

'SUSPICIOUS'Turner Broadcasting faces legal action after the discovery of a variety of electronic advertising devices planted at bridges and other spots caused major disruptions


Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant Martin Foley displays a blinking electronic device at Boston police headquarters on Wednesday. Officials said the device was one of those that had been planted at various spots in the city.


A television network's marketing campaign went badly awry on Wednesday, causing a day-long security scare in Boston that closed bridges, shut major roads and put hundreds of police on alert.

Apologizing for Boston's biggest security alert since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Turner Broadcasting said it had placed electronic devices at bridges and other spots to promote an animated cartoon.

Police mistook the small, battery-powered electronic billboards as possible improvised bombs.

The discovery of the first one on a bridge led police to stop morning rush-hour traffic on an interstate highway just north of Boston, halt a busy train line, cordon off the area and deploy a bomb squad, which blew it up.

By afternoon, at least nine more of the "suspicious" devices were found. Authorities mobilized emergency crews, federal agents, bomb squads, hundreds of police and the US Coast Guard as traffic froze in parts of the city.

Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.

The billboards, encased in dark plastic, consisted of blinking lights wired to an electronic circuit board to project an animated cartoon image in an outdoor promotion for a show on Turner's Cartoon Network called Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Most of the devices depict a character making an obscene gesture.

"The `packages' in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner Broadcasting System Inc, a unit of Time Warner Inc, said in statement.

It said the devices, which police said resembled improvised exploding devices, had been in place for two to three weeks in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

"We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," the company said. As soon as the company realized the problem, it said, law enforcement officials were told of their locations in all 10 cities.

There were no reports from police on Wednesday of residents in the other nine cities spotting similar devices.

At least 14 of the devices were found, and at least 24 more are still around the city, officials said.

Peter Berdovsky, 27, of Arlington, and Sean Stevens, 28, of Charlestown, were each charged on Wednesday night with one count of placing a hoax device and one count of disorderly conduct, state Attorney-General Martha Coakley said.

The two men worked together to place the devices, Coakley said in a news release announcing Stevens' arrest.

Authorities are investigating whether Turner and any other companies should be criminally charged, Coakley said.

Berdovsky and Stevens were scheduled to be arraigned yesterday in Charlestown District Court, Coakley said.

Turner did not notify officials of the publicity campaign until around 5pm, nearly four hours after the first calls came in about the devices, she and others said.

The marketing firm that put them up, Interference Inc, has been ordered to remove them immediately, Turner chairman Phil Kent said.

"We apologize to the citizens of Boston that part of a marketing campaign was mistaken for a public danger," Kent said.

"I am deeply dismayed to learn that many of the devices are a part of a marketing campaign by Turner Broadcasting," said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, adding that he will consult with the state's attorney general for a response.

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