Pentagon explosives team tackles blinking ornament

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 10:32 PM

A blinking Christmas ornament threw Pentagon security into high alert early Wednesday morning, diverting thousands of Metro passengers from the Defense Department headquarters in the freezing cold.

Metrorail trains were forced to pass through the station without stopping for more than an hour while a Pentagon explosives team investigated the "suspicious package."

About 7:15 a.m., a Metro employee alerted a Pentagon police officer to the object, which was in a bag in a trash can inside the station.

"We didn't know what it was in looking at it originally because it was in a bag, so we determined it to be suspicious and took the appropriate measures," said Chris Layman, a spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

Pentagon officials called in a unit from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Directorate. The team attempted to X-ray the object while it was in the trash can, but the effort failed.

"The trash can is bomb-resistant and was lined with lead, so we had to suit someone up and take it out," Layman said. He explained that a team member put on full-body protective gear that looks similar to the biohazard suit worn in the 1995 movie "Outbreak" but that is far thicker.

After X-raying the package and finding it was safe, the team gave the "all-clear" at 8:44 a.m, Layman said.

The threat turned out to be a battery-powered Christmas ornament with blinking lights, but it caused a major headache for commuters. Thousands of workers from across the region take Metrorail to or from the Pentagon.

Metrorail passengers heading for the Pentagon had to get off at nearby stations and walk or take buses to the rest of the way. Bus passengers arriving at the Pentagon with the intention of taking Metrorail elsewhere had to walk or take buses to other stations.

Mary Fry of Annandale was on the 17L bus from Springfield when another passenger received an alert that the Pentagon station was closed. The passenger told the driver and suggested that the bus divert to Pentagon City. The driver declined, Fry said.

"We arrived at the Pentagon and had to walk to Pentagon City or scramble for shuttles. Why drop people off at a potentially dangerous closed station?" she wrote in an e-mail.

Staff writer Mark Berman contributed to this report.

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