Bomb prompts new look at Hill security

The United States Senate opened on time Tuesday. But while members launched into a debate over spending for weaponry, the background clinking of broken glass reminded them the day was not routine.

A workman was shoveling debris left in a cloakroom by a bomb that had exploded just off the floor of the Senate the night before. The explosion injured no one, but it damaged rooms, a hallway, and historic paintings. It also dramatically underlined already growing concerns about security on Capitol Hill.

The Capitol attracts thousands of visitors every day. Last year 1.3 million took organized tours through the building, and thousands more wandered around it on their own.

Although Capitol Hill is patrolled by its own police force of 1,200 and the Capitol is dotted with security video cameras and metal detectors, guaranteeing security has been close to impossible.

Even before the explosion, congressional leaders had begun moving to improve security following a breach last month. A man with a plastic-covered bomb strapped to his body evaded detection and entered a House public gallery where guards became suspicious and arrested him before harm was done.

The leaders of both houses said Tuesday that they had already been discussing new steps to improve security. Among plans being considered are designated entrances for members, staff, press, and the public. Virtually all doors to the Capitol have been open to the public. Another measure being discussed is putting metal detectors at all entrances. Currently, the dectectors are in place only in front of doors to the congressional galleries.

Some of the measures were enacted on the morning after the bombing, as the public was restricted to one outside entrance to the Capitol. Guards have routinely checked handbags and briefcases for years, but they did so with greater thoroughness on Tuesday.

Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, declaring that the Congress ''will not be disturbed or intimidated'' by threats of violence, called for consideration of even more security measures.

''It was fortunate indeed that the Senate was not in session as had been announced,'' said Mr. Baker of the explosion that went off at 11 p.m. Monday. It destroyed the Republican cloak room, where GOP members gather during floor action.

House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas said he was ''not worried'' about his own safety but was ''concerned'' about the security of the Capitol.

He also said that he was concerned that security might interfere with public use of the building. ''I think that a free society such as ours owes a degree of access to the public buildings,'' Mr. Wright told reporters.

As of this writing, congressional leaders and security spokesmen had little information about who installed the bomb near a Senate windowsill Monday night. A telephoned message to the Capitol and to the Washington Post shortly before the explosion gave credit to the ''Armed Resistance Unit,'' and protested US military activities in Grenada, Nicaragua, and Lebanon. The same group took credit for a bombing at a military installation in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, according to a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.