Security heightened, buildings closed in wake of attacks

Security heightened, buildings closed in wake of attacks

Federal agencies nationwide increased security today in the wake of a concerted attack on New York and Washington this morning that crippled cities, financial centers, communications, airports and highways, and prompted federal agencies in Washington to shut down.

Two hijacked commercial airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, toppling both towers. Another plane crashed near the Pentagon. The number of casualties at the sites of the crashes was not known. The Pentagon's workday population is 24,000; the World Trade Center's was 50,000.

Pentagon officials said evacuation of the building was handled in a calm and organized fashion.

'When the guy said it was time to evacuate, we already knew about the World Trade Center, and so we secured classified documents and got out of the building," Navy commander Dawn Maskell told The Washington Post. "Our first concerns were safety and equipment. We were out in three minutes."

"We heard what sounded like a missile, then we heard a loud boom," said Tom Seibert, a network engineer at the Pentagon. "We just hit the dirt. We dived instinctively. We were sitting there and watching this thing in New York,
and I said, 'you know, the next best target would be us. And five minutes later, boom.' '

Around midday Tuesday, the General Services Administration issued a statement permitting the orderly closing of all of the 8,300 office buildings that GSA owns or leases nationwide. The governors of Maryland and Virginia each declared a state of emergency.

"It's kind of giving people the option to close a building if they feel it's necessary," Viki Reath, a public affairs spokeswoman at GSA headquarters in Washington, said.

"While we have not received any specific threats to any of our buildings, we believe it prudent to allow for the orderly closing of all GSA-controlled facilities," GSA's media advisory stated. Several agencies had already closed or declared states of emergency.

Along with closing buildings, agencies should also consider disconnecting their systems from the Internet, a computer security analyst said.

'Increasing cybersecurity is a must with actions like this,' said John Pescatore, a National Security Agency analyst with Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn. 'Pulling the plug from the Internet would be prudent,''especially if agencies do not have cyberattack response measures in place, he said.

Outside of Washington, agency employees were reporting to work, but under heightened security. Los Alamos National Laboratory, for instance, was increasing security and closing the public J. Robert Oppenheimer Study Center.

An eyewitness of the Pentagon attack from his Arlington, Va., office saw fire and smoke exploding from the west side windows along with debris.

Lothar Harris, deputy director for policy automation in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said he called his boss, all webmasters and information specialists in the basement on the building's east side.

'I called the opposite side of the Pentagon,' he said. 'I said, 'You guys get out of there. The Pentagon has been bombed.' '

'I saw this huge ball of flame rise up from the area by the heliport in a matter of minutes'smoke, debris like aluminum foil, insulation raining down,' Harris said. 'I can smell an acrid odor.'

Harris said such attacks are almost impossible to prevent. 'The United States, because of our democratic society, is wide open to these kinds of attacks,' he said. 'We have no defenses against this sort of terrorist activity. We don't have a police state.'

An FBI spokesman said the agency has dispatched investigating teams to various sites.

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