Jitters blend with patience, bit of defiance

Threat Of Terrorism


August 03, 2004|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Soon after arriving in the capital, Rob Klish heard the news about the city's Code Orange terror alert. Though his family trip took six months to plan, the upstate New Yorker thought about turning back.

"If we'd known, maybe we'd have changed our plans," said Klish, 35, a computer services worker from Morrisville, N.Y.: He might have taken his wife and two kids farther west to avoid the heightened terror warning. Instead, he is preparing for even more adventures in color-coded anxiety with the trip's next stop.

"We're headed to New York City," he said ruefully. "We're getting the two-for-one special."

The August tourist season arrived with a vengeance yesterday, as security bristled around federal buildings and other potential terrorist targets, particularly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - the two international financial institutions identified over the weekend by the Bush administration as vulnerable to attacks, along with other sites in New York City and Newark, N.J.

In the epicenter of the city's terror threat, Metro Transit Police patrolled subway entrances with MP5 submachine guns and videotaped commuters in the name of heightened security.

Around the IMF and World Bank, authorities stopped trucks, SUVs and limousines, sometimes using bomb-sniffing dogs to further their searches. In the midst of the city's most targeted terror threat yet, workers brandished ID badges, listened for sirens and looked for anything suspicious - even though they admitted not quite knowing what that meant.

This year, summer in the capital has a split personality, the doldrums one minute, jitters the next. This is the month when people in the hard-driving capital are supposed to operate in a kind of fugue state - when work, life and the breeze never move that quickly. Workers go on vacation and tourists fill the well-traveled monument routes. The subways are quieter, the lunch places emptier, the offices darker than usual.

`Kind of scary'

But yesterday, instead of seeming like a holiday, the city's semi-vacancy felt a little eerie.

"It's just kind of scary," said Brent Hamle, an information technology contractor who makes daily delivery runs from the World Bank. In the morning, he asked his supervisor whether he could avoid the World Bank. The boss said no, so Hamle hustled, trying to enter and exit the glass and metal building in a quicker-than-usual five minutes.

"I've still got to deal with this the rest of the week," said Hamle, who added that he would be looking for another job soon because this one was making him too stressed out.

Still, not everyone was a wreck. Many World Bank and IMF workers said they felt safer than usual because authorities were on high alert and police were boldly evident. They admitted the steady march of terror warnings was making them feel a bit numb to the latest one.

"It's the same as always," said Marco Fabiani, 34, an audio-visual technician who staffed an anti-terror meeting for hundreds of workers at the World Bank yesterday. "People are making jokes about it."

Taking it in stride

Others, if not joking, were taking the day's anxieties in stride. Christopher Morrison knew that because he was driving a truck into the District for a delivery at the World Bank, he'd have to leave extra early from his company's headquarters in Waldorf, Md. So the deliveryman woke up before dawn and didn't put up a fuss when a police car pulled up behind him with its lights flashing. He showed the officer his delivery paperwork and opened the back of the van. Inside were 160 picture frames, scrutinized with more apparent intensity by a German TV crew doing a piece about the terror alert than by the police officer, who seemed satisfied and waved the driver on.

"When the alert is up, I get stopped every time," said Morrison, preparing to head off in a truck whose "How's My Driving?" decal seemed to speak to a time of simpler questions. "It's just what we have to do to keep safe."

Merchants in the area, which sits between the White House and George Washington University, tried to adapt to the newly tense atmosphere. Inside Victoria's Day Spa, which caters to IMF and World Bank workers, the TV wasn't showing the usual serene videos of people on a beach.

"It's Channel 7," said Leslie Mayo, the shop's owner, as President Bush spoke about the threat. After a minute, Mayo shut off the set, exasperated. "We're in the business of making people feel relaxed," she said. "This is all scare tactics. I still haven't forgiven them for the plastic and the duct tape."

Some longtime Washingtonians say they don't feel nervous, knowing what a poor target Washington would be during the dead of summer. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, whose office overlooks the IMF, said he thought about staying home but decided against it because the city would feel safe.

"You'd have to be a perfect moron to attack Washington in August," he said. "There's virtually nobody on the street."

Red on home front

But not all Washingtonians report such cool over a Code Orange.

Hardball executive producer Tammy Haddad had to go downtown yesterday for the MSNBC show's live special on terrorism, shot near the World Bank and IMF. But she wasn't the only one: Her husband, an analyst at the World Bank, was headed into what authorities consider the danger zone, too.

"I told him, `You should not go to work today,'" said Haddad, a veteran TV producer. If something happened downtown while both she and her husband were there, she argued, it would be hours before they could get back to their two small children in their Northwest Washington home. Her husband disagreed. That's when Haddad stopped seeing orange and saw red.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "We had a huge fight about it."

As it turns out, her husband did go to work - though only to grab some papers and return to the kids.

"I don't know whether that means I won or lost the fight," she said. "But I can report he is home safely."

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