Life As Usual in the Capital

You’d never know we’re “at war.”

WASHINGTON—You’d never know the nation is in the midst of a terror crisis by the looks of the Capital today. The metros are running unperturbed, although a bulletin says workers are emptying the trash more often and closing the toilets. Traffic is as usual downtown. The streets along the K Street corridor, where the well-heeled lobbyists hang out, are abustle with people heading for their power lunches. Amtrak, which basically has no security, is not raising its terror level. It’s seldom that you see a cop on an Amtrak train, save for an occasional quick walk through on one of the costly Acela express trains where the rich and powerful ride.

Yesterday provided a great example of what happens when there is a scare.Washington officials insist we can all get out by subway. But a key subway ground to a halt yesterday. The cops closed down Union Station because of a suspicious package. That meant the Red Line, the metro line which brings commuters and others into and through the downtown parts of the city, was halted at stops before Union Station. People were taken off the train, put in buses, and hauled to, guess where — the closed down station.

Confusion is always present because there are any number of police forces in Washington—the DC metropolitan police, Capital Police, Park Police, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Coast Guard to mention but a few. And then are all the police forces in the outlying suburbs—Prince Georges County Police, Montgomery County.

The airlines have been repeatedly warned to improve security as has the Transport Security Administration, but with little real effect. Former FAA Red Team members, trained to impersonate terrorists to test the reliability of air security, have repeatedly broken through security. Long after 9/11 they have picked locks and gone through ramp gates with ease. It took Steve Elson, a former Red team member, 20 minutes to pick the locks in the Toronto airport. Elson says it’s just as easy as ever to fly a plane into the White House or the capital. It’s literally ‘open sesame’ for anyone wanting to run a terror raid on the capital.

Yet, Bush said this morning, “We live in a dangerous world, but our government will do everything it can to protect our people from those dangers.”

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  • James Ridgeway is a former senior correspondent at Mother Jones and a 2012 Soros Justice Media Fellow. For more of his stories, click here.