The residents — among them the Food and Drug Administration’s chief scientist and his wife, who is an assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and a retired CIA researcher — weren’t pleased. But in Washington, there is bound to be some mystery and frustration when your neighbor happens to be an intelligence agency.
The neighbors are fighting the Army Corps’s design for the “Intelligence Community Campus — Bethesda,” which includes a parking garage that they fear will loom over the Potomac River and national historic parkland and require the felling of many trees.
Penelope Doolittle, 82, a retired longtime CIA researcher of Russian politics who lives behind the property in a neighborhood near the District line, said she was caught off guard by plans that she says were announced at the eleventh hour.
“The whole thing has been very dishonest. They just thought, ‘We’ll put up a garage back here, and nobody will complain.’ That’s the way they’ve behaved. They want to see what they can get away with,” said Doolittle, who worries about views from the planned garage of her home’s front deck, where she eats breakfast and watches birds. “If it’s a highly secure thing, they could have perimeter lights and all kinds of electronic stuff. You could be very paranoid. I don’t sense that we have much recourse.”
The Bethesda battle is like other fights in the Washington suburbs: Various branches of the federal government expand often in the name of national security, and local communities feel powerless to protect the sanctity of their turf.
In Alexandria, local and federal officials fear that traffic flow will be wrecked by the relocation of more than 6,000 defense workers to a Mark Center complex along Interstate 395. The location, according to a recent Pentagon report, was selected based on traffic counts conducted on holidays.
In Anne Arundel County, home to Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, state roads are clogging because of the NSA’s recent, gradual expansion and the addition of three new Defense Department groups. And back in 2005, the National Institutes of Health left its Bethesda neighbors stewing over a new security fence that cut off jogging paths and a convenient walk to the Metro station.
The situation in Bethesda grows out of the relocation of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. From the 1940s until this year, residents off MacArthur Boulevard lived near the government mapping agency, whose analysts interpret spy satellite imagery and build high-tech digital maps. But this year, the agency moved to Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia as part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure plan.