- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

To celebrate President Bush’s inauguration next Thursday, the nation’s capital has turned itself into an armed camp. Outside of Baghdad’s Green Zone, downtown Washington will be the most heavily fortified city in the world.

For Inauguration Day festivities, security officials are closing off 100 square blocks to all traffic, and in another 100 square blocks traffic will be restricted to those who live there. This is in a city where a carelessly placed traffic cone can cause instant gridlock.

The Department of Homeland Security admits there is no specific threat to the inauguration. Indeed, the “chatter” had been subdued of late, but why take chances?

Private planes will be barred from a 3,000-square-mile area around the capital, and the no-fly zone will be enforced by an armada of fighter jets, Customs planes and helicopters.

It’s not only airspace. Armed Coast Guard patrols will enforce a no-boat zone on the Potomac River.

The president’s friends and other supporters will be welcomed to the capital by 6,000 law-enforcement agents and 7,000 troops. Among them, adding a Fallujah-kind of feel to the fun, will be combat troops from the 3rd Infantry Division with M-4 assault rifles and night-vision goggles. There will be a Marine Corps chemical and biological rapid-reaction force and also — and surely this will be of some comfort — an engineering unit specializing in rescuing people from collapsed buildings.

Those with tickets for the swearing-in and the parade will get to relive the airport experience that brought them here. There will be 22 security checkpoints around the perimeter. The list of no-nos includes backpacks, thermoses, aerosol sprays, glass bottles, coolers, bags larger than 8 by 6 by 4 inches, strollers and — better hope it doesn’t rain — umbrellas. You won’t have to remove your shoes — not yet, at least. To the anguish of Christian groups, the authorities have also banned crosses.

The parade will come from the U.S. Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue, where all the lampposts and mailboxes have been removed and manhole covers welded shut. Sniper teams will be on rooftops, an “army” of Secret Service agents inside the buildings and plainclothesmen circulating on the sidewalks.

A cautionary word: The police are on the lookout for people who avoid eye contact, show unusual curiosity or loiter, so don’t do any of those things.

If you like animals, there will be police on horseback and 25 bomb-sniffing dogs.

Mobile and fixed sensors will sniff the air for poison gas, radiation, germs and explosives. Special jammers are supposed to foil any attempt to set off a bomb remotely.

From a luxurious new command post 25 safe miles out in the Virginia suburbs, the people in charge of all this security will monitor on large plasma screens feeds from fixed and chopper-born surveillance cameras. So watch your behavior. Big Brother really is watching.

Is all this security really necessary? Probably not. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge couldn’t even begin to estimate how many millions it will cost. Not to diminish their dedication, but the security people have all this cool new equipment and they’re loving the opportunity to show it off.

The inauguration is sort of a Smithsonian Institution Folklife Festival of Security, complete with live demonstrations. Somewhere in there our president is being sworn in, but we’ll try not to let it detract from the security.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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