Monuments vulnerable to terrorism, study finds

Sunday, July 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – A counterterrorism study commissioned by the National Park Service concludes that monuments in Washington, D.C., particularly those on the National Mall, are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and that the federal police force charged with protecting them is understaffed and poorly funded.

The 200-page report cites several examples of how terrorists, domestic and foreign, could easily destroy national monuments and cause mayhem similar to that in the bombings of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center in New York.

The report, obtained by The Washington Post, makes a direct correlation between the vulnerability of the monuments and funding for the U.S. Park Police, a law-enforcement agency of the National Park Service.

Nine national monuments and memorials are said to be vulnerable, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and – of most concern to the authors of the report – the newly refurbished Washington Monument.

"As symbols of America's heritage, they are high-profile landmarks, not well protected, popular, attract many visitors daily and require open and easy accessibility," the report says.

"The high potential for an unacceptable loss of life and property exists, along with the severe degradation of the public image and confidence in the ability of the United States to protect its people and its treasures," the report says.

Park Police officials added, however, that visitors should feel safe.

"We've taken steps to ensure safety measures are in place to take care of any situation that may occur," said Sgt. Rob MacLean.

At the same time, Robert Langston, the chief of the U.S. Park Police, said the threat to the monuments is real. Protection has increased for Washington's government buildings but not its monuments and memorials, resulting in greater vulnerability, he said.

The report, conducted by Booz-Allen & Hamilton of Falls Church, Va., was contracted by the National Park Service for about $400,000. Drafted over six months by about 30 experts, the document includes analysis of the nine monuments and describes hypothetical terrorist attacks and the damage they could cause. It points out weaknesses and recommends specific solutions.

Many of the shortcomings cited concern a lack of manpower, safety procedures, inadequate security perimeters and poor communication equipment.

The U.S. Secret Service and the FBI would not discuss terrorist activities or comment on the readiness of the Park Police or other law-enforcement agencies in Washington. However, two counter-terrorism experts noted that the nation's capital is under the protection of several police agencies and that the U.S. Park Police, while vital, do not act alone. Booz-Allen researchers did not study those other police agencies.

Bob Blitzer, who worked for 12 years in the FBI's counter-terrorism section, says the FBI plays a leading role in preventing and investigating terrorism.

"There may be some specific things the Park Police need to have. But to make a broad statement and say that there's not sufficient resources ... , I don't agree with that," Mr. Blitzer said.

The report, called the "National Park Service: Strategic Counter-terrorism Plan" and labeled "law enforcement sensitive" on every page, identifies serious weaknesses in the Park Police and offers remedies. The authors found that officers are sometimes assigned to cover multiple beats simultaneously, while staff shortages have eliminated coverage in some areas.

The Park Police said they are down 150 officers from their authorized strength of 650. Booz-Allen recommends a force of 820.

"Operational readiness is not what I would like," Chief Langston said of the current deployment.

Among the problems the report cites:

Doors to the memorials often are not locked or not under observation. Many can be opened with a master key.

"Anecdotal evidence indicates that many of the contractors that work for the National Park Service have duplicated these master keys to simplify their work. ... The chances that an unauthorized person, possibly a potential terrorist, could or has already acquired a key are very good."

Communications equipment used by the Park Police is unreliable. The system is so outdated that officers cannot communicate with other law-enforcement agencies.

James Walters, project manager for the Booz-Allen report, and Langston said they were especially concerned about the Washington Monument.

Chief Langston said temporary barriers erected two years ago have improved security at the monument, which is to reopen July 31 after its restoration. But the report concludes that the obelisk still remains vulnerable.