Your Influence Counts ... Use It! The SPOTLIGHT by Liberty Lobby

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Nation's Capital a Fortified Camp

  • Washington is an occupied city that is pre-occupied with security.
By James P. Tucker Jr.

In less than a year, Washington has become a city under siege, with national guard troops deployed and ugly "security" fences defacing what was once one of the most beautiful capitals of the world.

Before "9-11" became part of the nation's vocabulary, Washington was different. High school senior classes came, along with the fabled cherry blossoms, each spring. In the summer, young families were showing children the historic sites. Tourists were everywhere, walking freely inside the Capitol.

They have disappeared, replaced by the face of terror. Far fewer schools and families take their children on an "educational trip" to Washington. In a sense, the terrorists have won and Washington has surrendered.

It's a "when I was a boy" story to tell about a Washington where you freely entered any government building at any door and talked to the guard only if you needed directions.

While there had been some mild tightening of security over the years, it was minor. Since Puerto Rican gunmen shot up the House of Representatives, visitors had to put their briefcases on a screening table and walked through a metal detector. And, as president, panicky Bill Clinton had the block of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House closed to traffic.

Immediately after 9-11, huge barricades sprung up around federal buildings. National Guardsmen and police were everywhere. Forty-two blocks surrounding the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court and Library of Congress were shut down to truck traffic. Why?

Congress created a task force of experts to assess the threat. The panel reported that it is not a question of "if" but "when" the Capitol and office buildings would be bombed.

Initially, there were huge, ugly electronic signs placed in the middle of Pennsylvania, Independence and Constitution avenues warning "no trucks beyond ..." but these have been replaced with less conspicuous signs.

But woe unto the individual trucker, not a "regular," who was unaware of the new rules. The instant he crossed the line, police cars surrounded him. For hours, they would unload his truck, examining every item.

Many of them are private businessmen, working the first two weeks of the month to make the heavy payments on their trucks, then working to feed their families. Time is money to them -- they are not paid by the hour but by the job.

Streets between the office buildings are sealed off and only drivers who can show cards identifying themselves as congressmen or staffers are allowed to pass.

All windows in the buildings have been covered with a transparent substance that reduces flying glass caused by explosions. Flying shards are a major "casualty-producer" in explosions.

Huge concrete barrels are now on the grounds around the buildings, filled with flowers. But these are more than beauty marks. Only a tank could smash through the barrels and get close enough to bomb a building.

Inside the Capitol and office buildings, faces are grim and furtive. Everybody inside, except for members of Congress -- including staffers and reporters with credentials dangling around their necks -- have gone through security. House members have lapel pins identifying them but police are required to recognize a senator.

Members of the House and Senate and their retainers scurry through tunnels honeycombing the Hill like Nibelungs.

With all these precautions, a stranger or tourist is eyed with suspicion. If you sit to rest or contemplate for a moment, a guard will question you. Go to the sub-basement of the Rayburn House Office Building to take the subway car to the Capitol, you go through security again -- as if you could possibly have entered without being checked before.

But there is a perk: you can enjoy a taxpayer-subsidized lunch or breakfast in the Rayburn cafeteria or grab something at a snack bar.

Uptown, the grimness persists. Parents can no longer drive past the White House and point out where the president lives to their children. You have to walk a gauntlet of security.

But be careful with your camera. At some federal buildings, such as the Justice Department, police will leap at you for taking a picture -- you may be photographing a target for a bombing. They will question you and may take your film.

There are long-range plans to make the occupation beautiful. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to replace barricades with walls built from the same type of stone as the building it protects. The walls will be prettier, offer even stronger protection -- and cost a lot.

Meanwhile Congress will continue to supply as much of your tax money as it takes to perpetuate America's self-destructive policy of internationalism, terrorism and perpetual war.