- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

U.S. Capitol Police, in consultation with congressional leaders, decided to beef up security around the Capitol, even though it was not mentioned as a terror target this weekend, because it is thought that any threat against the District warrants extra protection on Capitol Hill.

“[A]ny threat against any portion of D.C., we take as a possible threat against us, and we react accordingly,” said Michael Lauer, assistant public-information officer for the Capitol Police.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited “unusually specific” intelligence on Sunday when raising the terror level for financial institutions considered targets in New York, New Jersey and Washington. The D.C. targets are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

U.S. Capitol Police are inspecting every vehicle passing near the Capitol at checkpoints on Constitution, Independence, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania avenues, and at First and Second streets. They’ve also closed First Street NE, between Constitution Avenue and D Street.

The Capitol Police Board — which consists of the Capitol Police, the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, and the architect of the Capitol — recommended the increased Capitol Hill security on Sunday, after Mr. Ridge’s announcement.

Mr. Lauer said increased Capitol Hill security has been under discussion anyway, so this weekend’s increased terror level wasn’t the only motivating factor, although it definitely contributed.

He said the extra tight security on the Hill reduces the possibility of vehicle bombs around the Capitol.

“This was the best option that we felt would prevent harm to any congressional members or its facilities,” he said.

“House leadership and Senate leadership, Capitol Police, which includes the sergeant-at-arms … consulted one another and came to the conclusion of what you see on the streets today,” said Pete Jeffries, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Mr. Jeffries said the decision process included Mr. Hastert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

But a spokeswoman for Mrs. Pelosi’s office said, “We were informed by the sergeant-at-arms of the decision” on Monday afternoon.

“It wasn’t as if we were asked if this is something [we] think is appropriate,” said Jennifer Crider.

Still, Miss Crider didn’t criticize the extra security, saying, “It’s what the Capitol Police and the sergeant-at-arms feel is necessary. They are responsible for security.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, consulted with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat — as well as the chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the panel’s top Democrat — before agreeing to the recommendations.

Mr. Jeffries said the move is justified because new security measures always “throw the bad guys off their game,” and “anything that disrupts the normal flow and ultimately keeps us safe is a positive step.”

“The Capitol Police made a recommendation about the best way to protect the lives of the people who live and work on Capitol Hill, and we wanted to do what they thought was best,” said Sara Feinbergh, spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle.

Capitol Hill staffers didn’t seem to mind the inconvenience of the increased security.

“The short answer is, there are crazy people who want to kill us, so security is good,” said a House Democratic aide.

The aide said it’s always “highly unpopular to close down streets in D.C. because it inconveniences people,” but “I’m never opposed to increased security.”

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