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Report: National Mall security lax on 9/11 anniversary

From Mike Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

According to the report, the trash bag to the right of the tourists was left undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.
According to a report, a trash bag, far right, at the Washington Monument was left undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes on September 11, 2003.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, investigators found "persistent and severe" security deficiencies throughout the National Mall, a report concludes.

Security was supposed to have been at a heightened level in the nation's capital at the time when undercover inspections from the inspector general's office of the Department of the Interior occurred September 10 and 11.

Investigators with the inspector general's office demonstrated a terrorist's ability to place a dirty bomb at the Washington Monument by putting a trash bag at its base that went undetected, according to the report obtained by CNN.

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A dirty bomb is a conventional bomb with radioactive material. It is designed to spread radioactivity over a wide area when detonated.

U.S. Park Police gathered in groups to talk, instead of patrolling the area, and one officer appeared to be asleep in his car, investigators also found. The report included photographs documenting its findings.

David Barna, spokesman for the National Park Service, on Tuesday released a statement in response to the report.

Barna said tighter security measures were put into effect in October 2003. "More effective security measures and a strict monitoring system by USPP [U.S. Park Police] now provide greater security than previously," he said.

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The undercover checks followed an earlier inspector general's report highly critical of security at the Washington Monument, Statue of Liberty and other American icons under the domain of the National Park Service.

"Simply stated, the NPS and the Park Police have yet to adequately identify and address their security weaknesses at the National Mall, or have such complacency about their role that it causes us to question their value and purpose," the report said.

In the report, the inspector general's office said that it conducted undercover surveillance of the National Mall to check on security measures.

The report said there was an unmarked car parked at the entrance to the memorial, but the driver
The report notes an unmarked car parked near the monument's entrance but it says the driver "appeared to be sound asleep."

According to the office's findings, on September 10, U.S. Park Police, park rangers and contract security screeners were seen to "gather and remain in groups as opposed to dispersing individually throughout the park grounds in order to conduct more efficient surveillance and protection."

"There was no sign of any patrolling or posted officers anywhere throughout the hourlong duration of this particular visit," the report said.

On the following day, September 11, an assessment team revisited the mall from 1:15 to 2 p.m., the report said.

"Throughout this time, there was no visible Park Police presence," the report said. "There was, in fact, an unmarked car parked down by the street entrance of the memorial. ... However, the individual behind the wheel appeared to be sound asleep."

A member of the assessment team carried a bag filled with trash past concrete barriers surrounding the Washington Monument and placed it at the monument's base, where it remained undisturbed until the team reclaimed it 15 or 20 minutes later, according to the report.

"There was not a single security or law enforcement official who, in that time, came around to the rear of the monument," the report said. "It was readily apparent that, due to the lack of security in this specific vicinity, the rear of the monument poses as a definite vulnerability."

The report said, "It was particularly disturbing to find these vulnerabilities on a day when security and awareness should have been heightened, given the anniversary of one of America's most horrific and tragic attacks."

CNN's Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.


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