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By Sari Horwitz, Mary Beth Sheridan and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
September 23, 2006
Capitol Police officers warned their superiors this summer that the U.S.
Capitol needed tighter security because of construction work, but a door
was left unguarded this week, allowing the worst breach in eight years,
officials said yesterday.
A drug-addled man easily drove a Chevrolet TrailBlazer through a
partially blocked construction entrance to the Capitol grounds,
according to officials and court testimony. The man then outran two
dozen police officers into the building and went from floor to floor
until a civilian employee lifted him up and literally handed him to
police. The officers found a loaded pistol in the intruder's waistband.
New revelations emerged as authorities continued to investigate Monday's
incident. As days go by, the officials have grudgingly admitted further
blunders in one of the biggest embarrassments for the law enforcement
agency in years.
No one was injured in the early morning drama, which ended in the man's
arrest. But legislators are outraged that it could occur, given the $2
billion they have spent on police and equipment at the Capitol since the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We have provided the [Capitol] police everything they've ever asked us
for . . . from equipment to personnel. At times around here, this place
looks like an armed camp," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a member of
the House Appropriations Committee. "For somebody to be able to breach
this kind of security is ridiculous."
The security mistakes were as basic as failing to block a construction
entrance at First Street and Maryland Avenue NE, officials said. Capitol
Police officers who were at that site incorrectly parked their
sport-utility vehicle so it was perpendicular to the street, not
blocking traffic from getting through the opening, according to police
officials and testimony at a hearing for the intruder yesterday in U.S.
That allowed Carlos Greene, 20, of Silver Spring, who has a record of
gun offenses, to drive through the entrance, swiping the passenger's
side of the officers' SUV along the way, the officials said.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Christopher M. McGaffin said in an interview
that he had learned only yesterday afternoon that a group of officers
recently expressed concern about security at the construction site for
the Capitol Visitor Center, on the east side of the building -- and then
only after a query from a Washington Post reporter.
He said that several lieutenants had put together an e-mail memo on Aug.
4 with "very solid, substantive identifications of security concerns
within the Capitol building," particularly in the area where there is
As construction has progressed in recent weeks, authorities have
dismantled wooden fences that had blocked the Capitol steps, leaving the
area more open, according to law enforcement sources.
McGaffin said the lieutenants sent their concerns to the commander of
the Capitol Police Security Services Bureau, which is in charge of
physical security. On Aug. 9, that bureau inspected the identified
areas, the chief said.
"Corrective action" was taken in every area, "with one or two
exceptions," McGaffin said. He said a report detailing the problems and
solutions was provided to Assistant Chief Larry Thompson on Aug.
14 but did not go any higher until yesterday. The report also indicates
that additional foot patrols would be added to help guard the area --
but it was unclear whether they materialized, McGaffin said.
No one was guarding a door at the top of the Capitol steps that the
gunman ran through shortly before 8 a.m. Monday -- an entrance that was
being used mostly by construction personnel. McGaffin said an officer
had been at that post early in the morning but had left to assist on the
Capitol periphery, apparently because of a construction delivery.
Other law enforcement officials, however, said the post had not been
staffed for days, or perhaps weeks.
"Someone made a judgment call that that was a post not needed," said one
source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized
to discuss results of an ongoing internal investigation.
McGaffin said he wasn't sure whether the post was continuously staffed
and added that he assigned his inspector general to get to the bottom of
that and other problems exposed by Monday's incident.
"This is part of the exercise we're going through with this internal
investigation, to just find out: Was that decision made? Was the
decision made to move a post, or move an officer, and if so, what was
the basis of the decision?" he said yesterday evening, adding that he
did not yet have the answers.
It was the worst security breach since July 24, 1998, when a former
mental patient stormed past a magnetometer and killed Capitol Police
officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. The patient, Russell
Eugene Weston Jr., was arrested after he was shot during gunfire with
The Capitol Police has about as many officers as does the city of
Cleveland -- roughly 1,600. Including civilians, the department has
about 2,300 personnel, an increase of about 50 percent in five years.
Its annual budget has roughly tripled during that period, reaching $257
million in 2006. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars have been
spent on facilities and equipment to increase security at the Capitol,
from underground bunkers to a sophisticated hazmat unit.
As the force has grown rapidly, it has dealt with an increasing range of
threats that go far beyond the 200-square-block area in and around the
Capitol. The Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda strike and the subsequent anthrax
attacks put Capitol Police on the front lines of the anti-terror fight.
Terrance W. Gainer, the former Capitol Police chief who resigned last
spring, said the demands have increased so much that "we have not gotten
Still, Monday's incident showed not just potential problems with
staffing levels, but also with oversight of personnel, he said. In June
and July, as fences were dismantled on the East front of the Capitol to
permit construction work, "there should have been a lot of dialogue
about how many people you have out there and who is responsible for
those folks," Gainer said.
Some officers have complained of drift in the department since Gainer
"We have an acting chief, an acting assistant chief. No one is willing
to make a decision," said one officer, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
McGaffin is scheduled to retire this fall. He has blamed the security
breach on human error.
Private security experts said Capitol Police should have been well
prepared for an intruder charging an entrance -- a common tactic that
terrorists and other would-be assailants have used for decades. In 1974,
1981 and 1984, drivers rammed gates on the White House grounds in
unsuccessful efforts to reach the president's residence.
Testimony yesterday by Capitol Police Detective Nettie Watts gave the
most complete account yet of how many officers and checkpoints Greene
was able to evade. After the hearing, Greene was ordered to remain
jailed on a weapons charge stemming from the intrusion.
He was first spotted by a Capitol Police officer about 7:40 a.m. at a
security barricade at First and C streets SE, Watts told the court.
Greene nearly slammed into the barricade but hit the brakes just short
of doing so, nearly hitting a pedestrian, Watts testified.
Greene then backed up and sped east on C Street -- nearly striking the
same pedestrian, she said. The officer at that checkpoint called in a
"Priority 1" alert on Capitol Police radio warning about the fast-moving
driver of a silver SUV.
Less than two minutes later, Greene got past the officer who was
supposed to be guarding the entrance to the construction site, at First
Street and Maryland Avenue NE. She was parked in such way that he easily
could evade her and zoom onto the grounds. A pop-up barrier was not in
use because of the flow of construction vehicles.
On Monday, McGaffin said Greene hit the officer's vehicle, and charging
documents say he "rammed" into it, suggesting that she was blocking the
entrance. But under questioning from Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola,
Watts said Greene merely swiped the passenger side as he flew past.
After hitting a concrete wall around a skylight on the grounds, Greene
bailed out of the SUV and ran up the Capitol steps and through the open
door. Soon, he was within steps of Senate offices.
Greene continued running until he reached a basement office used to
supply citizens with flags that have flown over the Capitol. He grabbed
a female employee by the arm, Watts said, quoting him as saying, "I need
a place to hide."
A man from the same office saw his colleague in distress and scuffled
with Greene, according to Watts's testimony. But then Greene broke free
and entered the flag office.
That's when a third employee emerged from a room inside that office.
Greene dashed toward the man, and the ensuing fight knocked plaques and
a fire extinguisher off the walls.
According to Watts, a flag room employee said Capitol Police arrived
within "minutes." But Capitol Police have said they were there in
seconds. As officers opened the door, the employee inside physically
lifted Greene and handed him to the police.
"So he pushes him, effectively, into the officers' hands?" Facciola
"Yes," Watts said.
Staff writer Spencer H. Hsu contributed to this report.
=C2=A9 2006 The Washington Post Company
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