- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

U.S. Capitol Police have begun inspecting every vehicle passing near the Capitol, partly in response to a heightened terror alert likely to remain in effect until after the Nov. 2 general election.

Traffic on Capitol Hill is expected to snarl as officers conduct around-the-clock searches of vehicles nearing the Capitol at checkpoints on Constitution, Independence, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania avenues, and at First and Second streets.

Capitol Police also have closed heavily traveled First Street NE between Constitution Avenue and D Street.

In Northwest, Metropolitan Police have closed H Street between 18th and 20th streets adjacent to the headquarters of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), two financial institutions thought to be targeted by terrorists.

D.C. police officers yesterday searched every truck on 19th Street NW near the buildings and monitored the area with closed-circuit television cameras.

Metro Transit police also increased security yesterday, deploying SWAT-style special response units armed with MP-5 submachine guns and explosive ordnance protection officers with bomb-sniffing dogs at subway stations.

“They are going station to station, train to train and railcar to railcar,” said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the transit agency, which also closed all public restrooms at D.C. stations.

The District’s increased security mirrored those implemented at financial institutions in New York City and Newark, N.J., after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced Sunday that “unusually specific” intelligence indicated that al Qaeda terrorists were planning attacks on the facilities.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow yesterday said the U.S. financial system continues to operate normally and can withstand any terrorist attack because of safety mechanisms that protect against disruptions.

The targeted facilities include the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Inc., Newark’s Prudential Financial Inc., and the District’s World Bank and IMF.

Yesterday’s closure of H Street NW did not cause significant delays in the District, but traffic tie-ups are expected today as Capitol police staff the checkpoints on every street surrounding the Capitol.

At a press conference announcing the security measures, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer advised motorists to avoid the Capitol or use public transportation. He said those who must drive through the area can expect delays, though each car should spend only about five seconds stopped at the checkpoint.

Chief Gainer said the vehicle checks likely would continue until after the Nov. 2 elections and possibly until after the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.

At the checkpoints, every vehicle must come to a complete stop and undergo a quick visual inspection by officers. Suspicious vehicles will be directed to pull to the side of the road for a more thorough search.

Chief Gainer said heavily armed officers stationed nearby will be prepared to fire on vehicles that do not heed instructions at the checkpoints.

“Everybody who arrives on this Hill will go through some screening process,” he said. “Nobody gets a pass because of your rank or position in life.”

Capitol police will spend as much as $750,000 a week for about 300 officers working 12-hour shifts to staff the checkpoints day and night. Chief Gainer said plans to expand the Capitol’s security perimeter are not new, but the decision to implement them yesterday was prompted by the heightened terror alert.

D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday declined to say how much the alert was costing the city, saying, “We are worried about safety [and] security, not expenses.”

Mr. Ridge on Sunday increased the terrorist threat level from Code Yellow to Code Orange, indicating “high” alert status, at the financial institutions identified in the intelligence report. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. police raised the District’s alert level to Code Orange Sunday.

While the World Bank and IMF were the only institutions in the District named in Mr. Ridge’s announcement, authorities intensified security at several other financial facilities, including the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Mint.

“We do have a lot of targets of opportunity, and when you harden one, you can create opportunities in others,” Chief Ramsey told the Associated Press, adding that security measures were being coordinated between his department and other law-enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, Maryland and Virginia put state and local law-enforcement agencies on alert, though the extra security was not as intensive as that in the District.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said police would take aggressive and random action to thwart terrorist plans. “We will remain vigilant and responsive for the duration of this current threat situation,” he said.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, said information contained in the terror alert was vital to the state’s emergency preparedness planning, but the public should not panic.

“While there were no specific sites identified in Virginia, it is prudent that we reinforce the need for awareness among local and state officials, as well as our citizens,” he said.

In the District, Metropolitan Police officers stopped trucks on 19th Street between G and H streets, where the road passed between the World Bank and IMF properties. Truck drivers had to show officers their driver’s licenses and registration and open the backs of their trucks for inspection.

“It is the least we can do,” said Officer Neil Morgon, who was searching trucks with his partner. “We are not afraid.”

Armed security guards also redoubled checks at the entrances and garages of the World Bank, located in the 1800 block of H Street NW, and the IMF, located in the 700 block of 19th Street NW.

Otherwise, business proceeded as usual inside and outside the targeted institutions. Workers filed in and out of the buildings, and window washers squeegeed the glass high above the parade of tourists and businessmen on the sidewalk.

“You can’t just freeze because someone crazy out there is trying to attack you,” said Teresa, a teller at the credit union inside the World Bank building who did not give her last name. “If somebody wants to harm you, they are going to do it one way or another.”

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