Federal officials may restrict truck traffic and fence sidewalks on 15th Street NW near the White House and Treasury Department, authorities said yesterday, as heavily armed police began inspecting cars, trucks and buses at more than a dozen checkpoints around the U.S. Capitol.
Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed that additional precautions next to the Treasury Department headquarters have been under discussion since Sunday, when the Bush administration announced a heightened terror threat to financial institutions in Washington, New York City and New Jersey. A decision could come as soon as today.
Traffic approaches a security checkpoint on Constitution Avenue.
(Ben Connors - washingtonpost.com)
_____More on Preparedness_____
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U.S. Capitol Police Focused on Terror (The Washington Post, Aug 4, 2004)
D.C. Emergency Plan (The Washington Post, Aug 4, 2004)
Street Closing Irks D.C. Leaders (The Washington Post, Aug 3, 2004)
Williams Battles Anxiety About Terrorism (The Washington Post, Aug 3, 2004)
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Scores of U.S. Capitol Police officers closed portions of First Street NE and set up roadblocks around Capitol Hill, scrutinizing car compartments, boarding Metro buses and asking some drivers to show identification. Across town at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Foggy Bottom -- the two specific Washington sites identified as terrorist targets in Sunday's announcement -- police activity was comparatively subdued. No-parking signs had been posted, a bomb-sniffing dog stood by and a few cars queued near Pennsylvania Avenue NW with trunks opened for inspection.
The checkpoints slowed traffic, particularly during the morning rush hour, but the blockades seemed to function smoothly, generating more weariness than complaints.
"From a security perspective and a traffic flow, I think it went very well," Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said. "We were well-prepared, and traffic is light in August."
But the curtailed access to major roads around key symbolic and functional centers in Washington marked a dramatic acceleration of the creeping encroachment of security measures in the nation's capital in recent years. District leaders decried the steps yesterday, pronouncing them draconian and an overreaction whose legacy would be felt for years.
"We are fighting to preserve both security and freedom, not one or the other," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said at a noon news conference with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) on Capitol Hill. "We're not going to accept the closing of the city."
Even D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey complained about the actions, rare criticism leveled at his former chief deputy and close friend, Gainer. "I'm not pleased at all with it," Ramsey said. "We weren't part of any kind of planning. They just told us what they were going to do."
Williams and Norton said the restrictions would worsen already bad congestion, harm local businesses and could be avoided by using Jersey barriers to shunt traffic away from federal buildings.
Whatever approach is used, Norton said, federal authorities should not block the Capitol from the American people. "I don't care if it's a red alert," Norton said. "Their job is to think of ways to make us safe and keep us open at the same time."
Added Williams: "When in doubt, preserve freedom."
The Capitol street closure was approved by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate panel that oversees rules for the Capitol, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), according to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William H. Pickle. House leaders went along but were less involved because the First Street closure runs between the Dirksen and Russell Senate office buildings.
Pickle said the decision was a "collective" one, based on intelligence briefings and a number of factors, including al Qaeda's habit of returning to earlier targets, the symbolism of the Capitol, the importance of "vehicle bombs as the weapon of choice" for terrorists and warnings of attacks in connection with the November elections.
There was no specific threat to the Capitol, he said.