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Alexandria's Twin Towers — A Potential Target?

Carlyle residents, others impacted by legal activities at Federal Courthouse, media attention

Could Alexandria present the next twin-tower target to potential terrorists?

That's the warning presented to former Gov. Thomas Ridge, now the director of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security, in a letter from Alan N. Rudd, president, Carlyle-Eisenhower Civic Association. The towers to which he refers are the planned Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) headquarters and the existing Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse, side by side in the Carlyle complex.

In his plea of Oct. 11, 2001, Rudd noted, "The PTO ‘signature’ headquarters building will feature a glass tower approximately 240 feet in height, which will be surpassed in height only by the 250-foot-high Courthouse at Carlyle. Although neither of these two towers can rival those of the World Trade Center, there is a powerful symbolism in both."

Rudd points out that the entire Carlyle complex, when the PTO headquarters opens, will house nearly 20,000 people, between employees of PTO and the courthouse, Carlyle Tower residents, nonfederal office workers and retail employees, customers and visitors — all to be compressed within 15 acres.

Rudd further said, "Within one block of these structures, there is planned an underground tunnel to facilitate the rush-hour pedestrian crossing of a six-lane arterial highway (Duke Street) by several thousand subway commuters who work, live or conduct business in Carlyle.

"We are deeply concerned about the construction of an attractive target for terrorist action and its location within an area congested by other buildings and numerous American citizens."

He highlighted his concern by emphasizing, "The PTO represents United States technology, whereas the Courthouse, which adjudicates many high-profile cases, represents the United States judicial system."

SECURITY WORRIES PREDATE 9-11

Rudd went on to remind Ridge, "Long before Sept. 11 — security was a significant issue for the proposed PTO complex.

“Over the past 18 months, both the PTO and GSA [General Services Administration] have repeatedly denied requests by 11 civic associations" to incorporate various retail ventures on the ground floor of the PTO due to security concerns.

“PTO, in expressing their own security concerns well prior to Sept. 11, cited the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City,” according to Rudd. "Based on the events of Sept. 11 ... it is clear that a federal complex combining the PTO and Courthouse represents a high risk," Rudd emphasized.

With the arraignment of Zacarias Moussaoui as a suspected conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks, and the impending arraignment of John Walker Lindh as an alleged member of the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance, the "deep concern" expressed by Rudd has taken on a whole new perspective.

In an interview, Rudd noted that the activities associated with the Moussaoui legal proceeding around Carlyle Towers thus far have been well-managed. "But my concern is with the future, as more high-profile accused terrorists are brought in," he explained.

"I'm concerned with security in the off-hours. What kinds of enhancements are going to be taken to secure residents when there are no trials happening?," he questioned. "With the amount of construction ongoing in the area, it sets up the potential for a terrorist attack."

Other residents, and officers of the civic association, did not seem as concerned with the potential threat of terrorism as with the inconveniences associated with the activities at the Courthouse. Most of their complaints centered on congestion wrought by the media and PTO construction.

MORE ANNOYANCE THAN FEAR

Robert Uttenweiler, one of the newer Carlyle Towers residents, praised the U.S. marshals for "doing a very good job." But, he added, "the electronic media have been an absolute nightmare. They have totally disregarded the residents' rights.

"They have blocked both the streets and driveways, trampled planters, and even attempted to gain access to private balconies for better camera angles. Many don't even seem to realize the prisoners are not kept at the Courthouse but in the jail on Mill Road."

A lot of the congestion can be attributed to the oversized electronic media trucks that position themselves in the most advantageous locations for broadcasting the proceeding. The satellite trucks average 26 feet in length, and the microwave vehicles are about 15 feet long.

Finding places for these vehicles has been the responsibility of Barbara Gordon, City of Alexandria public information officer. "My primary role has been to find space for the electronic media trucks to keep them off the streets," she explained.

"We are taking a team approach involving Transportation and Environmental Services, the police and the City Manager's Office, which is coordinating the overall efforts," she said. "I would encourage any citizens who have concerns to call us directly. We are trying to keep things as normal as possible."

Most Carlyle Towers residents are taking the situation in stride. "It appears the feds and the city are adequately covering the situation," said William Harvey, vice president of the civic association.

"The board of the association has tried to raise the awareness of our residents. We have a contact number for all residents to call to report anything usual or suspicious," he noted. "You have to be more aware when things are happening. The construction is more troublesome than the trials."

This was buttressed by Don Young, another resident. "There are some minor inconveniences, particularly for those who normally use Mill Road as an exercise route. It has been closed for security reasons. The PTO construction is far worse than the trial situation."

He reflected that "in terms of Carlyle Towers being an exposed terrorism target, it may have increased a little. But we all knew the Courthouse was here when we moved in. That doesn't apply to the residents as far as PTO is concerned."

A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW

Morton Cohen, treasurer of the civic association, took a totally philosophical point of view to the impact of the trials. "It has to be done someplace. It's part of our court system. I live on the 20th floor and have a bird's-eye view of history," he mused.

"We could be a target, but there are so many other possibilities in the country that I don't view us as any more or less of one," he said. He was more concerned with "the infrastructure needed to support the crowds of people who may show up observe to the trials." He also agreed, "The PTO is far more trouble than this."

On the plus side was Rami Kim, manager of the Carlyle Deli Market, 2141 Jamison Ave., across from the Courthouse. "Business is doing very well, especially during trial days. The media buys a lot of food," she said.

Alexandria vice mayor William C. Cleveland, another Carlyle Tower resident, has felt little or no impact on his lifestyle. "I'm usually out of there before anything begins at the Courthouse and don't get home until court is well over," he said.

But the concentration of the PTO and the Federal Courthouse, in one compact location, remained the central concern of Rudd in his letter to Ridge. "The current dispersion of the PTO's work force among 18 buildings in Crystal City may be considered less than optimally efficient. However, such dispersion clearly reduces, if not eliminates, the potential for terrorists targeting the entire agency," he stated.

"The heightened need for security against a potential terrorist attack pleads for re-evaluation of the plan to locate the PTO and Courthouse in close proximity. ... We urgently request that ... plans for the PTO be held in abeyance until a full assessment of security risk, not only for the federal government but also for nearby businesses and residents, is conducted," Rudd concluded.

As of Jan. 21, Rudd had not received a reply to his letter from Ridge or U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who received a copy simultaneously.