- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Department of Homeland Security is designing a counterterrorism training program for the staff of shopping malls, sports stadiums, amusement parks, office buildings and apartment complexes, amid concerns that terrorists may be planning to strike such targets.

A pilot course — based on a Department of Defense training program — will be held in August, said Homeland Security spokesman David Wray.

He declined to say where the course would be conducted, but said the test subjects for the program would be the staff at a shopping mall.

The plan follows frequent warnings in recent months that al Qaeda and other groups seeking to attack the United States might strike at poorly defended targets rather than the increasingly well-defended military or high-profile civilian targets.

Like the military “force protection” course on which it is based, the Homeland Security pilot program will assign responsibilities to everyone who works in the mall from the general manger through security personnel to individual shop managers and staff.

“Security is everyone’s responsibility,” Mr. Wray said.

The program was developed by the Homeland Security’s soft-target unit and covers the “four Ds”— devaluing the target; deterring would-be terrorists; detecting attacks and preoperational surveillance or other preparations; and defending against attacks.

“Devaluing a target is anything that makes it less attractive to a terrorist,” said Mr. Wray, who, citing security concerns, declined to give further details of the course content.

In Washington, local homeland security officials and experts welcomed the move, saying government needed to extend its efforts to reach out to the private sector.

“It’s impossible to have total security, especially when you have to balance security and keeping people safe with an open society and promoting free commerce,” said George Foresman, homeland security adviser to Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

Philip Anderson, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says such outreach is important. “Tightening up security is expensive. … The private sector needs more guidance from the government on the threats and the latest thinking about how to counter them. Otherwise, how do companies know where to invest?”

Said D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, “When people [in the national capital region] think about terrorism, they tend to think about attacks on symbolic targets.”

But the public needs to be vigilant in other places, too.

“The assumption is sometimes that only such symbolic targets are under threat. The experience in other countries doesn’t bear this out. These terrorists basically want to kill a load of people, get on TV, hurt the economy. They can do that just as well in a mall, especially in this area, where they have the Capitol as the backdrop for the television cameras.

“Around here, almost any target can be symbolic, because of the proximity to our center of government,” she said.

Her words echo the warnings of terror experts who have long cautioned that shopping malls — where crowds provide both cover and potential victims — are natural targets for terrorists seeking to inflict large numbers of casualties. In Israel, suicide bombers have struck repeatedly in such places.

Mall owners take that threat seriously.

“We were one of the first industries to reach out to the [federal] government,” after the September 11 terrorist attacks, said Malachy Kavanagh of the International Council of Shopping Centers, which represents thousands of mall owners and managers.

“We’ve got some pretty basic [antiterror] procedures that we’ve put in place in all our properties, whether they’re in D.C. or Des Moines,” said David Levenberg, in charge of security for General Growth Properties, which owns nearly 200 malls, including two in the Washington area.

He cites as an example the accelerated installation or upgrading of closed-circuit television systems.

But Mr. Levenberg said the company’s security plan has “a lot of flexibility built in … depending on the level of threat, the location of the property and the mix of tenants.”

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