U.S. Capitol Police reinstated 14 traffic checkpoints yesterday and announced that police posts will be deployed intermittently around Capitol Hill for the foreseeable future to deter potential terrorists.
Capitol officials said there was no new intelligence driving the changes. The checkpoints first appeared in August and were disbanded just six days ago as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lowered the terrorist threat level around financial centers in Washington, New York and New Jersey. At the time, officials warned that they could return suddenly.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is unhappy that Capitol Police reinstated the checkpoints without consulting D.C. officials.
The move drew a new round of protests from Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who said federal police ignored the views of District leaders and failed again to consult with city agencies before making the decision.
"I hope that a new form of military-type checkpoint security around the Capitol is not creeping permanently into place," Norton said, calling for a House Administration Committee hearing into "primitive" police tactics. She decried "security measures that bear no relationship to alerts, intelligence or calculations of risk and that appear to have little effectiveness as a deterrent to attacks on the Capitol complex."
The changes indicate that security will continue to tighten in the region and that congressional and administrative efforts to coordinate actions among federal, District, Maryland and Virginia officials remain incomplete.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer had said last week that the checkpoints were part of a broader law enforcement strategy and that he would resurrect them at random to adjust to threats and throw would-be terrorists off balance. The quick return took commuters by surprise yesterday and created traffic bottlenecks.
Capitol Police could change the location and number of checkpoints in the future and without any public notice, Gainer said. He acknowledged that motorists will encounter different traffic patterns on different days.
"Counter-terrorism requires some cloak and dagger," he said. "We aim to discombobulate our adversaries. I think we do that by being vigilant but unpredictable."
Police union officials have complained that officers are worn out from working 12-hour shifts and being called to duty on days off. Rotating deployments will reduce "wear and tear on the officers" and labor costs, Gainer said.
Told of Norton's criticism, Gainer said, "One out of 435 yelling isn't that bad," referring to the membership of the House. "I know she's upset."
Williams is "very disappointed," his spokeswoman said, adding that D.C. officials were notified of Gainer's decision Monday evening without consultation.
Although the mayor "understands the need for security, he feels very strongly that there's a need to keep our city open" for residents, workers and visitors, spokeswoman Sharon Gang said. "There wasn't any sort of collaboration. It was just a decision made unilaterally by the Capitol Police."
The checkpoints first appeared Aug. 4, just after the Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorist threat level for the headquarters of five financial institutions in Washington, New York and New Jersey. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William H. Pickle, who sits on a three-member congressional panel overseeing Gainer's agency, said that neither the original decision to set up the checkpoints nor the one to take them down last week was related to the threat levels. Instead, he said, Capitol officials were reviewing their intelligence and security plans.
Capitol security officials said that they had been considering checkpoints this summer and that the heightened alert created more urgency.
Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he was pleased to see checkpoints reduced from round-the-clock to a "sporadic" basis. He added that he will continue to work with Norton to set up a task force on which representatives from the District, Congress and U.S. security agencies would work together on security and urban planning.
The resumption of the checkpoints was unrelated to Monday's events outside the White House, where an FBI informant set himself on fire and a man jumped the fence hours later, officials said.
Mohamed Alanssi, 52, was upgraded to serious condition at Washington Hospital Center's burn center. Yasuharu Kuga, 31, appeared in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of unlawful entry. A judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before a follow-up court hearing today.
Kuga, who has a Japanese passport, said through an interpreter that he has been in the United States on a tourist visa since Oct. 28. He said he had been staying at a hotel until a couple of days ago, when he ran out of money.
Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.