- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The U.S. Capitol Police conceded yesterday that onerous security measures around the Capitol were imposed by fears of threats to congressmen, not new intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks.

“The Capitol has always been a target since 9/11,” said Sgt. Contricia Sellers-Ford, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.

The Capitol Police’s statement comes amid questions about the timing of street closures and vehicle checks around the congressional buildings. Similar measures have been implemented at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since Aug. 1, because of recent intelligence about terrorists’ targeting those institutions.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer had sought to impose harsh restrictions since the September 11 terrorist attacks as recently as this spring, when he supported plans to build a fence around the Capitol and congressional buildings to deter would-be terrorists.

However, Chief Gainer had to wait for support from two congressional committees and three other congressional law-enforcement officials before he could tighten security around the Capitol, said a congressional source familiar with the topic.

Meanwhile, the Army yesterday began deploying Avenger anti-aircraft missiles near the Capitol. One battery of missiles and associated troops were seen deploying Monday afternoon at the northern end of Bolling Air Force Base.

The missiles — vehicle-mounted versions of the Stinger missile — can shoot down hijacked airliners. Their location in Southwest will provide anti-aircraft protection from attack for the Capitol and other federal buildings.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the missile deployment.

The last time Avengers were deployed in Washington was during Memorial Day weekend, based on terrorist threats related to the opening of the National World War II Memorial on the Mall.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Wilson “Bill” Livingood urged increased caution in a memo last week to members of Congress, Time magazine reported Monday.

The memo suggested that legislators remove lapels from their suits and license plates from their cars that identify them as members of Congress, said Sgt. Sellers-Ford, who has seen the memo.

But Sgt. Sellers-Ford emphasized that congressional law-enforcement officials have made several similar suggestions since September 11.

“We have always encouraged members to be prudent, especially now, not to draw attention to themselves. That we’ve always encouraged them to do,” she said.

A spokesman for Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday said the senator was briefed on an updated threat to the Capitol last week.

FBI officials contacted the senator in Delaware via a secure line to alert him of a threat to Congress. But Mr. Biden “was not impressed” with the sources of the information, some of whom have provided false intelligence in the past, he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

A White House official on the program also seemed to suggest that there was new information about a threat to the Capitol. Frances Townsend, President Bush’s homeland-security adviser, said “continuing streams of intelligence” included some threats against the Capitol and members of Congress.

But a White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity yesterday said Mrs. Townsend’s statements actually agree with those made by the Capitol Police. The stream of intelligence she referred to on “Face the Nation” was separate from the one that identified financial institutions as targets of extensive surveillance, he said.

“There’s a not specific, credible, direct threat against Congress as an institution, or its members,” the spokesman said, quoting a statement by Chief Gainer from a report in The Washington Post yesterday. “Fran Townsend would absolutely agree with that comment.”

“Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer had asked Mrs. Townsend whether intelligence was behind Capitol Police’s decision to heighten security around the Hill, but a source familiar with the decision said yesterday they were able to tighten security because of new support, not new information.

House and Senate committees have oversight of the Capitol Police’s budget and must approve any increases in security, the source said.

With their approval, the Capitol Police Board collaborates to decide how to move forward. That board includes Chief Gainer, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the chief architect of the Capitol.

Support from the board and Congress came Aug. 1 after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the threat level from yellow to orange at five financial institutions, including the World Bank and IMF.

Since then, Capitol Police have shut down part of First Street NE on the Senate side of the Capitol and implemented 14 security checkpoints in the area.

Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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