- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Keeping Pennsylvania Avenue closed in front of the White House barely minimizes the risk of a terrorist attack on the "People's House," security experts say.
"The unfortunate thing about Pennsylvania Avenue is that we have significantly altered one of the country's most important symbols to address the most crude terrorist attack in the form of a truck bomb," said Jonathan Turley, who has written extensively about national security issues and once worked for the National Security Agency.
Bruce Hoffman, chief author of a Rand Corp. study last year on reopening the street, agreed, saying that closing Pennsylvania Avenue "only affects one particular category of risk" a truck bomb like the one that ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
"It's impossible to achieve the protection of the president to total protection, so why should we expect to provide that to the building of the White House?" said Mr. Hoffman, Rand's terrorism expert. "There is no way to minimize [risk] completely."
Gary Aldrich, a 26-year veteran of the FBI who worked for five years in the White House, said the Executive Mansion already is well protected and does not need a road closed in front of it to be safer.
"It's enough security. They have the highest technology to see if people are intruding," said Mr. Aldrich, author of "Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House." "They have visual intelligence to catch somebody trying to come across the gate."
The National Capital Planning Commission has convened a task force to look at reopening the street, which has been a point of contention and congestion since it was closed in 1995. The task force will give its recommendations to President Bush by July.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said there needs to be a "realistic assessment" of security threats to the White House as the Bush administration considers reopening the road.
"I like driving in front of the White House, too, but I do think you need to sit down and look seriously at whether or not having the street that close to the White House would enhance the risk to the president of the United States," Mr. Cheney said.
Former President Bill Clinton closed the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW to vehicular traffic after the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 persons.
Mr. Clinton acceded to Secret Service desires for better security by closing the two-block section of road and adding an extra 500-foot buffer to the 330-feet perimeter already in front of the White House. Before the closure, about 30,000 cars passed through the 1,600-foot section of road daily.
Pressure to reopen the street has been building lately since Mr. Bush said during the 2000 campaign that he wanted to look at reopening the street and the Republican Party platform called for its reopening.
Mr. Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said closing the road adds to the "stereotype" terrorists have of a clandestine U.S. government.
"We have these physical barriers that have been put in place by the Clinton administration that only fulfill the image [for] radical militants that our government is a removed and conspiratorial power," Mr. Turley said.
While reopening Pennsylvania Avenue could pose a "marginal" risk to a terrorist attack, Mr. Turley stressed there is no way to reduce the threat level to zero.
"There are plenty of devices that can be used to attack the White House, including [missiles]," Mr. Aldrich said. "The fact is some lunatic tried to fly into the Clinton White House and about darn nearly succeeded."
A pilot committed suicide by crashing his single-engine aircraft into the south wall of the White House on Sept. 12, 1994.
Most security breaches at the White House have occurred by persons who have scaled its 8-foot fences, or have brandished weapons or fired guns near the building.
Most recently, Robert Pickett was charged Feb. 7 with assaulting a federal officer after he brandished a handgun at the south gate of the White House and pointed it at the building before being shot by a Secret Service officer.
There have been no incidents of a bomb-carrying vehicle pulling up alongside Pennsylvania Avenue by the front of the White House.
Jim Mackin, a spokesman with the Secret Service, said his agency has not changed its position and remains steadfast in its desire to keep the road shut.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in national security and defense issues, said the Secret Service looks to the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings in pressing to keep the road closed.
"The ways in which you could imagine killing the president while he's in his residence … is primarily a truck bomb," Mr. O'Hanlon said, noting someone intent on assassinating a president could try to shoot mortars or missiles at the White House or even fly a plane into it.
Mr. O'Hanlon said he supports the current ban because it keeps trucks from rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, but he acknowledges cars probably couldn't carry as much of a threat.
The Secret Service also wants to keep the road closed to protect the more than 1 million tourists who visit the White House each year, said a recently retired member of the Secret Service's Uniformed Division who worked at the White House.
But with Mr. Bush saying he wants to study the issue and calls ringing out for the road's reopening, the Secret Service might not have a choice but to relent, he said.
"I think [the Secret Service will] succumb to it," the retired officer said. "The more they harp that, 'We're not going to open this up,' then it's [opened] up, it just makes them look bad. They see this coming down the road."


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