Horrifying bomb attack in Nashville appears to target AT&T hub

Horrifying bomb attack in Nashville appears to target AT&T hub
Overhead view of the damage after the explosion. The AT&T hub is on the right: both the reddish building and the light-colored extension. The blast marks appear on 2nd Avenue in front of the AT&T building. Sky News video, YouTube

Having a life, I didn’t get to the Internet early on Christmas Day to check into the particulars of the appalling blast that went off in downtown Nashville the morning of 25 December.  So I am hardly the first to notice that the homely little RV seen in security camera videos, which apparently carried the bomb to the intended location, was parked directly adjacent to a major regional hub facility for AT&T, located in the 100 block of 2nd Avenue North.

The AT&T building took the greatest damage from the enormous blast, and I doubt we will learn at any point that something else was supposedly the target.  At least two eyewitnesses speaking to local media confirmed that the RV sat on the street a few feet from the AT&T building for some time (apparently a minimum of nearly an hour; possibly more) prior to the blast.

However, there appears to be a (possibly minor) discrepancy for which I haven’t yet seen a resolution.  The location from which the RV seemed to be broadcasting an audio warning over a loudspeaker, if we go by the viral image seen across American TV screens on Friday, was not the location where it blew up.  It’s not just that an eyewitness interviewed on a local news station described a different location (video below).  It’s that there’s no bomb blast where the RV was sitting in that viral image.  The bomb blast is visible in post-explosion videos down where the eyewitnesses have said it was just before the explosion.  So the RV apparently moved — not just down the street, but across the street — after the Nashville police provided the image that went viral.

Here is that image.  Notice that the RV is in front of a business with blue and white painted storefront columns.  (It’s not clear if it is in motion here.)

The RV the morning of 25 Dec 2020. Nashville PD via Fox News

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Here’s the video with a female eyewitness describing where she saw the RV around 6 AM: “across the street,” right in front of the AT&T building (the tall building with the reddish exterior, and the light-colored extension from it at one end, form the AT&T transmission hub building).

Here’s a video screen grab showing the blue and white columns of the business (an ice cream parlor), the vantage point of the eyewitness (next to the ice cream parlor, above the Melting Pot Restaurant), and the damage in the street in front of the AT&T building.  It’s clear there’s no bomb blast in front of the ice cream parlor with the blue and white columns.  The bomb blast damage is down the street in front of the AT&T building.  So the RV had to move after the viral image was taken.

Sky 5 News video (Nashville)

These images show where the RV was said to be in relation to the AT&T building, and what the area looked like (before being blown to smithereens) from street level.  First, an orientation map.

The vantage point of the female eyewitness was across the street (to the viewer’s right) from the AT&T hub building, in the building just under the words “Nashville explosion.” Google map; author annotation

View up 2nd Avenue toward the AT&T building.

Google Street View; author annotation

View from across the street of the location described for the RV before it blew up.

The arrow shows the small AT&T sign at what appears to be the main entrance. Google Street View, author annotation

I’m not going to go into a lot of background detail here that you can get from other sites.  I normally prepare a more synoptic introduction, but I just don’t have time for that tonight.  I assume readers are familiar with the basics about the terrific blast; the seeming gunshots that preceded it – at least one witness recounted hearing two series of 5-6 “gunshots” at a time; and the facts that the police were on scene quite early in the event, well before the detonation, and the RV that blew up was reportedly broadcasting a recorded message that warned people within earshot in the buildings to evacuate, for as much as 30-45 minutes before the blast.

I’m estimating that last time lapse, based on the witness accounts.  I haven’t seen anything from a source that had an accurate, start-to-finish timeline of the countdown.  Apparently, at the 15-minute mark, the broadcast began stating how many minutes were left to detonation.  But one witness (video above) who gave that detail said that the blast didn’t occur at the time that countdown would have indicated, but rather some minutes later than that.

These security camera videos show the blast as it happened.

I’ve also seen reports that the “gunshots” may not have been gunshots – witness accounts and recordings of them seem to suggest they were less sharp and more guttural than a gunshot would be – and may have been smaller charges going off prior to the main blast.  On that point, we’ll just have to wait and see what the authorities say as they reconstruct the event.

That’s what I know so far, along with the point that the responders have identified “tissue that may be human remains,” apparently in the AT&T building.

There is mad speculation ongoing, and we’ll try to keep that to a minimum.  But at this point, my bottom line assessment is that this attack isn’t in anyone’s M.O., and probably wasn’t done by any half-way usual suspects.

I say half-way usual precisely because this isn’t an M.O. we’ve seen from “usual suspects.”  We have highly destructive disturbers of civil order who don’t care how much damage they do; i.e., Antifa, BLM, black blocs.  They haven’t been bombers.  At most, we’ve seen them throw Molotov cocktails and deliberately set things on fire.  We haven’t seen them make and deploy very effective high explosive vehicle bombs.

We have radical Islamists, who could conceivably have put such a bomb together.   A subset of them could have been recruited by Iran to mount such an attack on the U.S. in retaliation for the Soleimani killing, as Iranian officials have been threatening to do.

But the target doesn’t make any sense for that scenario.  Iran might be motivated to warn people to evacuate before hitting a U.S. facility with a bomb, given that President Trump warned Iran this very week not to kill any Americans.  But Iran would have no apparent motive to attack the AT&T transmission hub in Nashville.  Neither would Al Qaeda or ISIS.  (And both of the latter would be more likely to simply set a bomb off without issuing warnings anyway.)

Another possibility might seem to be a one-off like Timothy McVeigh, with some kind of fringe-nut political beef.  But such a bomber would also have no motive to attack the AT&T hub.

Believe me, I’m well aware of AT&T’s connection with NSA, the big-data dragnet, and FISA (as well as – formerly, at any rate – Patriot Act) surveillance.  But that doesn’t ring credible as a source of fringe-nut motive to blow up an AT&T transmission hub.  That doesn’t get a McVeigh 2.0 in an RV loaded with fertilizer 25 years later, on a street in downtown Nashville, broadcasting evacuation warnings over a loudspeaker while police show up and then don’t seem to do anything directly applicable about the babbling RV (not a knock on the police department; we probably just don’t have the full story yet on what they were doing).

We also must not forget that there are other things located on the street within the bomb-blast radius – although none of the visibly obvious ones is at all likely to have been targeted by this very well-prepared bomb.

They are restaurants, on the ground floors, with loft apartments in the stories above them, and a parking garage on the southwest corner of the block.  There’s a liquor and convenience store, a “$10” sundries store, a Laser Quest which appears to operate on a second floor, and a couple of storefronts that were empty in July 2019 (the last Google Street View capture).  There’s also the possibility that some of the loft accommodations on the higher floors house offices rather than residences.  The bomb was not placed optimally to affect any of these targets, but it did significant damage to the buildings anyway, as none of them was built in the virtually windowless style of the AT&T hub building.

There’s also an entity called American Residential Services that shows on Google Maps as being located in the AT&T hub building.  This business is described online as a plumbing service, which as “secret government skullduggery cover” goes is so absurdly obvious no one would even try it – you’d think.  I’m skeptical that this is any kind of droid we’re looking for.  That said, there’s no apparent reason why a plumbing service would hide inside the AT&T building, with no visible access door from the outside or any business sign to indicate it’s there.  So it’s a puzzling factor in the problem.

Let’s do a quick and dirty parse on this.

First, taking out the AT&T building because it’s a transmission hub doesn’t look like a strong enough motive to go through all this.  Why only one hub, why in Nashville?  That’s just for starters in the “please make some sense” cue-box.

Maybe the hub harbored data?  Some of them do now.  The hub might have harbored some data storage equipment, although I’ve seen nothing that indicates it does.  (More on data storage in a minute, because, yes, there’s a major AT&T data storage site nearby.)  That said, we can’t count that possibility out.

But if the AT&T hub did store data, and isn’t just a gigantic, complex junction box, there are a number of mitigating considerations.  One is that, regardless of what kind of data it was, it’s probably backed up somewhere.  If AT&T is storing data, which no commercial company does as a hobby, there are lawsuits stretching into the next century looming if the data storage fails.  When data is your business, as it is for all telecoms, there’s no such thing as not backing up your stored data redundantly.  Not only does it have to be there; it has to be auditable as matching the condition it entered your facilities in.

So you really wouldn’t buy anything, if you were out to destroy a data trail, merely by hitting one potential storage hub.  I very much doubt there was uniquely stored data at the AT&T hub in the building marked “185 2nd Ave. N” in Nashville, Tennessee.

That said, however: even if there was, knowing it was there would probably be specialty knowledge of a very special kind.  Internet sleuths have been attacking this all day and haven’t come up with anything.  You’re not going to just find out by running a web search that there’s a treasure trove of one-off data you might have some reason to want to destroy, resident at the forbidding AT&T hub building in downtown Nashville.

The best assessment right now is that you’d have to already know it was there.  This brings up the point that there is a big data storage site nearby, in the AT&T headquarters skyscraper known as the “Batman Building.”  AT&T advertises it for cloud-hosting services, and touts its unbreachable security in the redoubt at 333 Commerce Street, not far from where the bomb went off.  It’s indicated on the map above, and the street view is below.

Data lurk within. This view is from Commerce Street at the main entry.  Google Street View.

The RV bomb couldn’t have been meant to affect the big data hub at the AT&T Batman Building.  From where it went off, it simply couldn’t have done so.

There are also other data storage sites (operated by other companies) in the immediate area, as indicated at the Cloud and Co-location listing for AT&T.  But the RV bomb wouldn’t have had the destructive effect on them that it had on the AT&T hub building.  (The closest site was that of SunGard, supposedly at 200 Commerce Street, which was assuredly affected by the blast, about half a block away, but not to the same extent.  The 200 Commerce Street address was occupied by a Sbarro eatery in July 2019, the most recent Google Street View capture.  In its closeup from that month, it doesn’t seem a likely venue for a data storage site.  The big, vulnerable windows alone would put it out of contention, unless the address got a major makeover.  If there is a facility tucked further in under the parking garage, it isn’t evident from any outside access point.)

Hard to see the number, but this was the occupant of the physical address 200 Commerce Street in July 2019. The parking garage facility starts one storey up.  The address next door, to the viewer’s left, is 204 Commerce Street. Google Street View

These various factors give us something to think about as we wait for additional information.  This doesn’t look at all like a terrorist attack.  It looks like an attack on a facility.  If it targeted the AT&T hub building, that raises one set of questions.  If it appeared to target the AT&T hub building, but perhaps was primarily meant to affect the closest data storage site at 200 Commerce Street, or even an office or office suite in a nearby loft, that raises another set of questions.

In either case, I’m not seeing a motive for a foreign or terrorist entity to commit this act.  It looks more like someone – most logically, American – who had a specific target in mind within the radius of that RV bomb in downtown Nashville.  The second coming of Timothy McVeigh – a terrorist profile – doesn’t fit.  Someone who wanted to get rid of something would.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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