Pentagon To Beef Up Security
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Call it a sign of the times. The Pentagon plans to build a bunker where every unclassified package _ from paper towels to computer equipment _ will go through a security check before entering the Defense Department headquarters.
Defense officials cite the risk of terrorism as the chief reason for ever-stricter security in general, and for building the $60 million package screening center in particular.
The building is a scheduled part of a decade-long, $1.2 billion Pentagon renovation and has nothing to do with the current air campaign in Yugoslavia, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said.
``A major part of the renovation is to enhance the security posture of the building,″ Flood said.
Like just about everything at the Pentagon, the new building has an acronym. It’s RDF, for Remote Delivery Facility. The idea is to screen ordinary packages with metal detectors, X-ray machines or bomb-sniffing dogs in a separate building several hundred yards from the Pentagon itself.
Classified or other sensitive material typically arrives by special courier or inside someone’s briefcase, and will not be screened at the new center, Flood said.
Likewise, mail already is screened by the Post Office, and sometimes by Pentagon experts, and will not pass through the new delivery center.
The State Department and a few other government agencies have similar delivery centers, and the Pentagon is already using a warehouse some blocks away for much the same purpose.
The new center will be much more high-tech, and will centralize delivery of about 1,200 truckloads of material bound for the Pentagon each week.
Trucks will drive into bays in the low-slung, V-shaped building, where the loads will be inspected for explosives or anything else a terrorist or smuggler might try to sneak in. From there, trucks will head to traditional delivery bays.
Construction begins next week on the 250,000-square-foot building, which will occupy what is now a coveted parking lot. The new center is scheduled to open in the summer of 2000.
No terrorist has yet tried to breach the Pentagon’s current delivery bays, nor has smuggling been a problem, Flood said. But awareness of the vulnerability of public buildings, especially to car bombs, increased dramatically after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing two years later.
After Oklahoma City, federal buildings were increasingly ringed by concrete flower planters that double as automobile barriers, and Pennsylvania Avenue closed down in front of the White House.
Despite new barriers and increased restrictions on visitors in recent years, Flood said the Pentagon is trying to remain as open as possible. Public tours still pass through the hallways, and those with legitimate business can usually get inside without too many hassles.
``We’re going to remain as open as we can for as long as we can,″ Flood said.