- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

The U.S. Coast Guard has increased security at area ports and will board vessels in response to the heightened terror alert, service officials said yesterday.

Chief Petty Officer Alex Malaguti said the Potomac and Anacostia rivers are ideal for smuggling weapons and explosives into the city for terrorist attacks on financial institutions, the White House, the Capitol or any other national landmark.

The District, New York and New Jersey have been on heightened alert since Sunday, when Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge increased the terror alert from Code Yellow to Code Orange for specific sites, following information that terrorists had plans to attack financial institutions.

To prepare for potential attacks, the Washington station’s 28 guardsmen have been staging mock and sometimes unconventional scenarios, including pitting boats against each other, Chief Malaguti said.

“What have [terrorists] used in the past?” he asked. “Speedboats for the [USS] Cole. Who knows what they would do here? You have to be creative.”

Yesterday morning on the Potomac, with unseasonably cool weather and sunny skies, Chief Malaguti maneuvered his boat past the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, under the Arlington Memorial Bridge and near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

“This is the most-covered six miles of river anywhere in the United States,” he said.

Mr. Ridge’s announcement Sunday also forced the guardsmen to work overtime, a situation that Chief Malaguti said will continue indefinitely.

“When we’re pulsed up, things like family vacations, birthdays, holidays are all put on hold,” he said. “It’s just another day we have to work.”

Chief Malaguti said the Coast Guard could lock down the region almost immediately and “completely saturate” the area within 24 hours.

The service has stopped 550 vessels since Oct. 1, 2003, but has encountered no threatening vessels, Chief Malaguti said.

At least one boater yesterday complained about the increased number of searches and the fact that the Coast Guard needs no warrant to search a vessel.

“They’re getting on board too often,” said Allan Glascock of Arlington as he moored his 36-foot Dugout Too at Washington Harbour. “There has got to be some way to check them.”

While tying his boat to the dock before lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants, Mr. Glascock said he has seen a significant increase in Coast Guard activity in the last few years.

He also said the service should develop a better system for tracking vessels.

Petty Officer John Edwards said yesterday that the September 11 attacks jolted the Coast Guard into working more closely with other defense agencies, and that most boaters understand the increased need for searches.

Boaters “should keep their eyes and ears open, because we cannot be everywhere,” he said.

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