Old 01-28-2007, 11:10 PM
Asimovian Asimovian is offline
The Zeroeth Mod
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Maryland
Posts: 11,179
Capitol Building security

I had (what I considered to be) an odd experience last summer when visiting Washington, D.C. My wife and I took a guided tour of the Capitol, and as we were leaving the building at the end of the tour, we passed a hallway that was only partially roped off. I was curious, but my wife wasn't feeling terribly adventurous, so we just left.

The next day, however, I found myself back at the Capitol (alone this time, because my wife was sick) because I wanted to witness the House and Senate in session. After watching a bit of the House proceedings, I decided to move on to the other side to head towards the Senate. In the process of making my way through the building, I found myself back at the same hallway I'd seen the previous day near the Rotunda. As with the previous day, there was a rope extending only halfway across the entrance to the hallway, and there were pictures with inscriptions below them that seemed like they were meant to be read. So I figured I'd just go for it, knowing that I'd be stopped immediately if I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. After all, this is the Capitol, right?

So I start wandering down the hallway, following twists and turns here and there. I pass a couple of people with official-looking badges on, but they either ignore me or smile. I figure I'm fine, then, although I haven't seen a member of the public in quite some time. Eventually, I find myself wandering down a very busy hallway with lots of folks in it. This hallway turns out to be the Congressional basement. There's a barbershop, restaurant...a number of places that are apparently specifically for members of Congress and their staff.

When I reach the end of the hallway, I find myself at a subway station. Now I *know* I'm somewhere I don't belong because our tourguide from the previous day mentioned that the subway had been closed to the public some years before. At the subway entrance, I get stopped by a Capitol police officer, but instead of asking me what I'm doing there, he explains to me which subway I should take depending on which Senator's office I'm trying to get to. So I board this sort of electric handcart trolley and head through the tunnel to the other side.

When I do come out on the Senate side of the building, there's a security station where people trying to enter the subway tunnel are being stopped and having their IDs checked. There's also a sign that states very clearly that members of the public are not allowed to be there without an authorized escort. I'm bewildered, but I go on about my business without incident.

Now, I realize that this isn't an extreme security breach in that I had to go through a metal detector and have my bag searched when I first entered the Capitol. It isn't as if someone could wander the way I did with a gun and really cause a problem. However, it still seems like a problem in that someone with mischevious (or worse) intent could get away with more than they ought to be able to, especially given the supposed high level of security there since 9/11.

I don't know that I have a specific question here -- I'm really just looking for other opinions on what I went through. Have any of you experienced anything similar? Does this strike anyone else as being problematic or at least lax on the part of Capitol security?
Old 01-29-2007, 12:02 AM
Neptunian Slug Neptunian Slug is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 1,146
Yeah I guess the Capitol Police seem to have let their guard down. The rules about the Capitol are a bit odd. You can get into any of the office buildings without an escort. You can probably do just as much damage there (if your intent was to hurt or kill members of Congress as you could in the Capitol.

In both cases, since you were walking around the secured area, most folks probably assumed you had some right to be there. For all they know you could have been a congressman's brother-in-law over for a visit. Did you look glaringly like a tourist? The Capitol Police at the subway probably figured that you got in so you must be able to get out.

I would probably not make a habit of skipping off that tour. You only need to get busted once to have a lousy trip.

I am more surprised about the low level of security in some of the state capitols. I try to visit them whenever I travel (yeah I am a geek that way) and many have no security to even enter the buildings. In Utah there didn't even appear to be anyone official wandering the building when I visited.
Old 01-29-2007, 12:47 AM
madmonk28 madmonk28 is offline
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 10,671
A friend of mine wandered into the parliament of Venezuela while it was in session and sat down at a desk on the floor of the parliament while legislators were debating and voting. I think you can get pretty far by just looking like you are supposed to be somewhere.


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