Aviation, law-enforcement and national-security officials are investigating an unauthorized message sent on an air-traffic control channel threatening an attack against the U.S. Capitol today, according to people familiar with the matter.
The threat was transmitted Monday on a radio frequency used by the Federal Aviation Administration facility that handles high-altitude traffic around the New York metropolitan region, one of these people said. It is among the FAA’s busiest air-traffic control centers, located in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
The message likely was able to be transmitted, one person said, because the air-traffic control system is accessible by some portable scanners available to consumers, aviation buffs and pilots.
CBS News, which first reported the threat, played a recording of an apparently computer-generated voice saying: “We are flying a plane into the Capitol Wednesday.” The message indicated the motivation was to avenge the U.S. government’s 2020 assassination of a prominent Iranian military leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Lawmakers were set to gather on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday for a joint session of Congress to ratify the electoral win of President-elect Joe Biden.
Law-enforcement and security agencies were notified quickly after the message was heard, the people said. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t independently verified the audio recording.
A law-enforcement official confirmed the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the message. The bureau declined to comment but said it “takes all threats of violence to public safety seriously.”
Late Tuesday, the FAA issued a statement saying it “works closely with federal law enforcement and national security partners on any reported security threats that may impact aviation safety.”
The message is being investigated as an unauthorized transmission originating from someone who wasn’t supposed to be on the frequency, one person said. At this point, the FAA doesn’t consider the incident a threat to the overall security of its communication systems.
Investigators, among other things, are looking into possible use of a portable scanner able to transmit as well as receive certain government frequencies, including those used for some air-traffic control functions, this person said.
The focus on integrity of air-traffic control messages underscores the FAA’s yearslong effort to switch the way most ground-to-air transmissions are generated from traffic control facilities. The agency has been moving to increasingly use digital data links featuring enhanced antihacking features, rather than the current system’s predominantly publicly accessible voice transmissions between individual pilots and controllers.
This article originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal