High-tech U.S. security center to open
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A new, highly secretive facility to monitor terrorist threats and coordinate responses will become operational in the next few weeks, connecting for the first time nearly all federal agencies with state and city authorities using state-of-the-art technology.
Set in the 38-acre Nebraska Avenue naval complex off Ward Circle, the Homeland Security Coordination Center will be home to more than 100 workers, who will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"By the time we get done — this is still a work in progress — we'll be able to connect with just about every conceivable public institution in the country," said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who led reporters on a tour of the new facility yesterday.
Mr. Ridge, appointed to the post in October and a daily adviser to President Bush, said he is not frustrated by Congress' repeated demands that he testify about his activities.
"I'm not authorized to be frustrated. I'm authorized to be patient, persistent — and I am both," Mr. Ridge said.
Yesterday's tour of the empty facility was an attempt by the Bush administration to exhibit the unclassified work Mr. Ridge has been coordinating. But the director was unapologetic when asked who should have oversight of his office.
"I believe the president should have a homeland security adviser that's accountable and answerable to the president, and then accessible to the Congress," Mr. Ridge said.
The new center is split into several groups, housed in a three-story, red brick building in the Navy complex at the intersection of Cryptologic Court and Intelligence Way.
The Threat Monitoring Center — a expansive room with a bank of televisions, numerous workstations with computers and nine clocks — will be manned by representatives of more than a dozen federal agencies, among them the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the departments of Energy, Transportation and State and the National Security Agency.
Although the offices and cubicles are now vacant, a sign on a door reveals the top-secret nature of the work to be conducted there: "No Classified Discussion Outside of Door."
Just four miles or so from the White House, which has a Situation Room where the president and senior administration officials can go to discuss national crises, the new coordination center will act as a clearinghouse for information.
"We needed to be within a strategic distance of the White House, but not too far away," said Carl Buchholz, executive secretary for the Homeland Security Council. "We're doing a lot of things that the Situation Room has not done to date, especially with state and local government."
The occupants of the Situation Room could evacuate the White House if necessary and regroup at the Nebraska Avenue complex, he said. Officials would not say whether the complex has bomb-proof bunkers, but the facility — surrounded only by a chain-link fence topped by a few strands of barbed wire — can be locked down.
The Coordination Center, another facet of the building that goes into action when an incident is deemed worthy of attention by the Homeland Security Center, has not been activated to date, but it has monitored some events, including one in California.
When a mile-long freight train collided head-on with a double-deck Metrolink commuter train last month, killing two persons and injuring more than 260, the Coordination Center began monitoring the nation, looking for other train wrecks that might signal a terrorist attack. None occurred.
Officials said the new center also would likely get involved in major incidents, but left those undefined. One senior intelligence officer said: "We'll know them when we see them."
But the $14 million center can only work, officials said, if states and municipalities have emergency operation centers of their own with comparable equipment. Mr. Bush has asked Congress to approve $56 million to equip such centers, a request Ridge spokesman Gordon Johndroe said "needs to be passed now."