SECURITY AT THE WHITE HOUSE (Senate - June 26, 1996)

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Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, yesterday's Washington Post contained a very interesting op-ed piece written by William T. Coleman, Jr., former Secretary of Transportation in the Ford administration, who is chairman of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. I have known, through the years, this distinguished public servant very, very well. He enjoys the confidence and respect of the broadest possible spectrum here in the Nation's Capital, certainly of this Senator.

Mr. President, he was addressing the serious problem with respect to security at the White House, and I point out that he is a Republican. He goes into considerable detail on the issue recently voted on in the Senate, the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue. I voted against that Sense of the Senate Resolution. I feel that matters relating to security, such as the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, no matter the considerable inconvenience to many citizens and in particular citizens from my State of Virginia, contiguous to the Nation's capital, should best be left to those who are responsible for decisions relating to security.

Quite frankly, in my State, my vote was not popular because of the inconvenience to those utilizing Pennsylvania Avenue for transportation to and from their places of employment and the like. I cast a vote to table that resolution.

Today, in our newspapers and on television, we have seen the absolutely tragic news about the bombing in Saudi Arabia. Mr. President, the first thought in my mind is a great sense of compassion, of course, for the families, for the victims, those who have lost their lives, those who are injured. How many times I and others, including the presiding officer and the distinguished chairman of the Armed Services Committee, have reminded the American public of the risk taken every day by men and women of the Armed Forces. They volunteer to go beyond our shores to provide that framework of security, together with our allies, such that we can enjoy what we are doing here today--freedom of speech and every other type of freedom guaranteed by our Constitution. We honor the great sense of obligation that these men and women have and the generations that have preceded them and worn the uniforms, knowing they take risks of varying levels once they depart the shores of our United States.

I think we should take a lesson from that tragedy as it relates to security and the type of weapon employed by those terrorists; namely, a truck, from outward appearances being a fuel truck. I consulted today with the intelligence staff of the Department of Defense. I think it can be said that a fuel truck was carefully reconfigured and the contents carefully put in by expert individuals. It was not some back-garage type of manufacturing job by persons in that region.

The article by Mr. Coleman is relevant to the tragedy within the last 24 hours in Saudi Arabia. Terrorism against our men and women of the Armed Forces abroad, in my judgment, is directly related to the issue regarding Pennsylvania Avenue and the house of the President of the United States, which is the public property of every citizen in this country. I ask unanimous consent this article be printed in the Record following my remarks.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. EXON. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. WARNER. I am happy to yield to the Senator.

Mr. EXON. I would like to say a few things complimenting my friend from Virginia on the remarks he made.

Mr. WARNER. Take such time as the Senator desires.

Mr. EXON. While the Senator from Virginia and I have not always agreed on all subjects, we have agreed on more than we have disagreed on. I could not help but ask for a moment, if I might, to congratulate the Senator from Virginia for his very thoughtful remarks with regard to the security of the White House. I voted against the resolution when it came up because I thought it was ill-advised.

I believe it is safe to say that what happened, the tragedy that happened to our people serving the United States overseas with the terrorist attack yesterday, if it can happen in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, it can happen even more easily at an open Pennsylvania Avenue, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I thank the Senator for his thoughtful comments and remarks.

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Mr. WARNER. I thank my colleague.

Also, I feel the President of the United States, President Clinton, has addressed thus far this tragedy in Dhahran in an exemplary manner. He has dispatched all known resources in this country to analyze how this could have happened, and I was told by the Department of Defense a short time ago, every possible means of medical care and logistics are en route by air to the scene to help those many, many who are still suffering in the hospital.

Exhibit 1

From the Washington Post, June 25, 1996


Keep the Avenue Closed


When the Secret Service first described to us its proposal to eliminate vehicular traffic from two busy blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, I and the five other persons serving as outside advisers to the Treasury Department's White House Security Review were dead set against it. We were all well aware that the presidency carries with it inevitable risks: Certainly, this president has been far more vulnerable on his two trips to the Middle East than he would ever be in the White House.

Moreover, as longtime Washington area residents and commuters, we were concerned about the effects on the city. We were also mindful of the public's possible reaction to restricting access to the people's house, and with this in mind, we consulted three of the four living former presidents.

But in the final analysis--and unfortunately much of that analysis cannot be made public because it concerns sensitive security matters--it became clear to us: The evidence unequivocally established that the No. 1 threat to the president in the White House, and to all those who work and visit there, would be an explosive-laden truck driven right up to the White House gates. A limousine, a large car, a station wagon, a bus would also have the capacity to carry such dangerous devices. And in fact all of these vehicles have been used to deliver explosives in one place or another in the world.

Surely those clamoring for the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic cannot believe that the risks are imaginary [editorial, May 22; op-ed, June 8]. The increase in fanatical terrorism, foreign and domestic, the availability of powerful explosives and the proliferation of information explaining how to build explosive devices yield a potent mix that can no longer be ignored.

The recommendation we finally made to the Treasury Department was based on the realization that failure to adopt the Secret Service's proposal would undercut the service's responsibility to protect the first family and the government's responsibility to protect the people who visit or work in or near the White House.

Eliminating vehicular traffic from those two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue was not a response to any of the specific events that precipitated the review. That is to say it was not intended simply to prevent another plane crash or an assault by a gunman. Our mandate from the beginning was to review all aspects of White House security. In fact our recommendation and Secretary Robert Rubin's decision were made prior to the tragic incident in Oklahoma City. But that tragedy, as well as the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center, painfully underscored the reality we must face.

Having served as secretary of transportation in the Ford administration, I was especially concerned about the transit implications of this act. So were the other advisers. All six of us racked our brains, our imaginations and our experience to come up with a solution that would keep some vehicular traffic on that segment of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the end, however, we determined that there was no feasible way to do it.

Nevertheless, the White House remains one of the most accessible executive residences and offices in the Western World. While the avenue is closed to motor vehicles, it is more open than ever to pedestrians. (And I do sense a weakness in the critics' argument that barring vehicles limits or thwarts the chances of out-of-town visitors to see the White House. I doubt that many who visit Washington to see the president's home content themselves with merely passing by in a car, tax or bus.)

The security situation changes, and not always for the worse. American schoolchildren, for example, no longer have to go through drills to prepare for nuclear attack. On the other hand, we all now take for granted metal detectors at airports, and are becoming accustomed, reluctantly, to presenting photographic identification before boarding a plane. In the 1980s, access to the Capitol, the home of the people's Congress, was restricted to pedestrians in response to threats of Libyan-sponsored terrorism. Then as now, many Washingtonians grumbled about the traffic disruption, and complained that the deployment of Jersey barriers created a concrete perimeter around the Capitol grounds. We now take that change for granted.

The Jersey barriers currently blocking Pennsylvania Avenue are indeed unsightly. But they are temporary measures, to be employed only until a permanent redesign can be accomplished. The Park Service's proposed design shows that protecting the White House will not require unsightly barricades. The federal government should move quickly to implement a permanent plan.

Although only a handful of individuals will know the specific facts underlying our recommendation, anyone who reads the newspapers or watches television news will recognize that Secretary Rubin made the right decision.