Capitol security tight for State of Union
By Kate Snow
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The biggest changes will come after dark. That's when law enforcement officials will descend on the U.S. Capitol -- a human presence adding to the concrete roadblocks, segments of sewer pipe and metal fencing that already encircle the building.
President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night before both chambers of Congress will be accompanied by extraordinary security measures.
"This year you are probably going to have more security precautions than we have in years past just given the current situation," said Lt. Dan Nichols, spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police. "September 11th has raised our concern for security of the State of the Union address."
A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service agreed. "It changed the way all of us do business," said Jim Mackin. "Air security, of course, has become more important. We're at war ... and under general threats."
While Mackin wouldn't elaborate on plans for air security over the Capitol, Air Force fighter jets based at Air Combat Command in Langley, Virginia, have been roaming the skies over Washington ever since September 11. Tuesday night is expected to be no exception.
Street closed, agents patrolling
At ground level, all 1,200 sworn Capitol Police Officers will be on duty, according to Nichols. Many of them are working "doubles" or 16-hour shifts.
National Guard troops who have been posted at certain intersections for weeks will stay where they are, away from the area immediately surrounding the Capitol, in order to avoid a "heavy military presence," Nichols said.
Secret Service agents will roam the grounds along with U.S. Park Police, FBI agents, diplomatic security from the State Department, the Supreme Court police, and other details assigned to state governors or other dignitaries. The Washington Metropolitan Police will play a role as well.
The Marine Corp's Chemical Biological Incident Response Force has also been put on standby.
At about 5:30 p.m. EST, the House wing of the U.S. Capitol will be closed to anyone without special access. At 6 p.m., the plaza on the east side of the Capitol will be closed to tourists, joggers and any other unauthorized person. At 8 p.m., streets around the U.S. Capitol will be shut down, including sections of the main thoroughfares, Independence and Constitution avenues.
Much of what will protect the president, members of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court justices is not talked about publicly.
"What makes it heavier security is what you don't see and what I can't discuss," said Nichols. "The people of the nation need to be assured that we are going to do everything we can to protect everyone in the room."
One goal of speech security is never to be predictable, Nichols said.
"What we don't want is anyone who may want to cause harm... to look at what we've done in years past and apply them against us this year. So we change things, we keep people off balance. It's up to us not be predictable in our response."
With all three branches of government in one chamber, there is one long-time concession to the morbid possibility of an attack. Every year, one cabinet secretary is asked not to attend the address. This year is no exception. It is not known which secretary will be asked to stay behind.
When President Bush gave a joint address to Congress on September 20, one member of the congressional leadership was also asked to stay out of the chamber. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, sat out on that session. He said he will be at tonight's State of the Union address.
"I've never missed one yet," Armey said.
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