The military has deployed anti-aircraft missiles within range of the Capitol as part of security enhancements for tomorrow’s presidential inauguration.
The missile deployment comes even though the FBI and Homeland Security Department concluded in a recent threat assessment that there is no credible information showing that terrorists have targeted inaugural events.
Army Avenger missile systems, a Humvee-mounted version of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile, were deployed in the weekend at several locations in the Washington area, including the northern tip of Bolling Air Force Base in Southeast.
“It is a NORAD deployment,” said Army Maj. Maria Quon, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint U.S.-Canadian defense system developed during the Cold War.
Maj. Quon said that in addition to the Avengers, military and security agencies have deployed F-16, F-15 and support aircraft and radar and communications systems.
The combat jets are flying round-the-clock patrols to deal with any aircraft threats to tomorrow’s ceremonies. Additionally, the Air Force is flying E-3 airborne warning and control aircraft that are conducting surveillance missions and would help guide interceptor jets to targets.
The Avengers and other weapons are part of an “interagency multilayered air defense of the national capital region,” Maj. Quon said. She declined to comment on the locations of the weapons and equipment.
However, past deployments included Fort Lesley J. McNair in Southwest and the grounds of the Pentagon.
The Stinger missiles could be used against any aircraft that attempts to attack or strays into restricted airspace over the Washington area.
A seven-page Jan. 11 threat assessment concluded that “at this time, there is no credible information indicating that domestic or international terrorist groups are targeting the inauguration.”
“However, the inauguration may be an attractive target if al Qaeda has made a strategic decision to show that it has the ability to disrupt the American democratic process,” the report said. “Moreover, given the heavy media attention and the political nature of the inauguration, an opportunity arises for terrorist groups to capitalize on the publicity an act of terrorism would generate.”
The report said Washington remains “at or near the top” of al Qaeda’s list of targets.
“In the national capitol region (NCR), there is a loose network of individuals who are, at the very least, sympathetic to Sunni extremism,” the report said.
“While the Sunni extremist presence in the NCR appears largely limited to training, fund-raising and facilitation of overseas activities, this presence could give the Sunni extremist movement a potential operational capability in the region.”
The report said recent threat reporting warned that al Qaeda studied the use of limousines as car bombs.
“Limousines have a large storage capacity and might be able to gain access to otherwise restricted areas,” the report said.
The report said using aircraft in attacks is “part of al Qaeda’s strategy.”
“Al Qaeda operatives have also explored conducting an attack against U.S. interests using helicopters,” the report said, noting that helicopters could be an alternative to airplane attacks because of their maneuverability and nonthreatening appearance in urban areas.
The missile deployment was part of security enhancements put in place for what the Homeland Security Department has designated a “special security event.”
The U.S. Secret Service is in charge of security for the inauguration.