Movie-Plot Threats at the U.S. Capitol

This would make a great movie:

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., renewed his call for the installation of an impenetrable, see-through security shield around the viewing gallery overlooking the House floor. Burton points out that, while guns and some bombs would be picked up by metal detectors, a saboteur could get into the Capitol concealing plastic explosives.

The House floor, he pointed out, is the only room where all three branches of government gather to hear the president speak, as President Obama will do when he delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

Burton introduced the legislation in the past, but it’s gone nowhere. He’s hoping the tragic events of Saturday could help it win more serious consideration by the Republican leadership.

“I think the risk is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 6:29 AM76 Comments


Paul Renault January 18, 2011 6:58 AM

If the legislators truly felt vulnerable from [pick one: i) The financial ravages of out-of-control health care and drug costs, Nut-jobs waving guns, ii) Wall St. crooks who make their retirement packages worthless, iii) Banks fraudulently reposessing their homes, iv) DHS agents violating their privates, v) Their phones being illegally tapped, vi) Being thrown in jail for aiding and abetting any of the crimes in this list], just like the people who [didn’t actually] vote them into office have to feel every day…

and if they knew that they wouldn’t be able to brute-force a fix retroactively, then…

maybe they wouldn’t propose these kinds of comic-book schemes and actually get around to helping society.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Mark January 18, 2011 7:09 AM

I include a link to a BBC report on an attack that took place in the British House of Commons in 2004.

A protester in the public gallery succeeded in hitting Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, with a condom filled with coloured powder.

Although the powder in this case was harmless it illustrated that the risk is real.

John January 18, 2011 7:13 AM

This is the closing sequence in Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor”. From Wikipedia:

“However, an embittered Japan Air Lines pilot, avenging the deaths of his son and brother—killed during the Pacific conflict—flies a Boeing 747 directly into the U.S. Capitol building during the proceedings. Nearly the entire United States presidential line of succession is eliminated, including the President, most of Congress, nearly all of the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all nine Supreme Court Justices. Ryan, who had just been confirmed as Vice President moments before, narrowly escapes the attack and is immediately sworn in as President. He begins his term of office in the immediate sequel, Executive Orders.”

Clancy writes great movie plot terrorism.

Clive Robinson January 18, 2011 7:53 AM

@ withheld,

With regard to the OECD report into “cyber security” you beat me to it 8(

I’m still in the process of “flicking through it”.

I think in some respects it’s almost comical in it’s outlook, but then I’m a little conservative in my outlook.

Doug Coulter January 18, 2011 8:13 AM

@Paul Renault — hear hear!

It’s projection — they know what they’ve done (or have allowed to be done) to us and fear the same in return.

I thought the funniest one was the proposal of an automatic gun free zone 1000 ft around any government official. So, if the guy walks by my house, did I break the law? How am I supposed to know, anyway? Does this include citizens authorized to carry in self defense?

These guys have no business running this country, they are much stupider than the average person, not smarter, and real wimps on top of that.
They sure don’t represent me or for that matter, anyone I know, and I know a lot of people.

Mad Rocket Scientist January 18, 2011 8:39 AM

Typical entitled politician trying to create another barrier between the elite & the rabble. Politicians like to construct rules that make them better than us, more special, this one just wants a physical barrier as well.

I give a rip about how safe they feel. Government works for us, they are our servants, ones who just happened to win a popularity contest. If they don’t feel safe, well, maybe they shouldn’t have sought the job.

PJ January 18, 2011 8:49 AM

Rep. Burton says “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

Really? Why? Because something happened that affected a congress person. If Rep. Gifford had not been one of the victims, there would probably be no call for enhanced security at the Capitol.

Reactionary thinking leading to calls for more budget and invisible shields…who’d of thunk it?

David Alexander January 18, 2011 8:53 AM

So now I bring 2 explosive charges – one to cut a hole in the barrier, so that I can throw the second one through it.

There’s no such thing as ‘impenetrable’ where explosives and thermal lances are concerned.

Peter January 18, 2011 8:56 AM

There was an attempt at doing this in the House of Commons in Ottawa on May 18, 1966. The bomber, Paul Joseph Chartier, detonated the bomb prematurely and blew himself up in a washroom.

He did have the bomb (dynamite) in the viewing gallery, but for some reason went to the washroom to light the fuse, probably thinking he would have time to get back to the gallery before it exploded.

RoLynn January 18, 2011 9:10 AM

“The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

yes! now that you let the world know how to do it!

jbmoore January 18, 2011 9:16 AM

Didn’t Tom Clancy have a loaded 747 slam into the building during a State of the Union address (Executive Orders)? One could argue that there is an existing impenetrable transparent shield around Congress now keeping all reason and logic out.

Ulf January 18, 2011 9:17 AM

So it’s now possible to legislate something “impenetrable” into existence? Sounds promising for some other intractable problems…

moo January 18, 2011 9:35 AM

@jbmoore (and others):

Don’t forget 9/11, where one of the four hijacked planes was presumed to be targeted at the Capitol. Maybe the terrorists believed that if the attacks of the first 3 planes were successful, an emergency session of some sort would be taking place when the fourth plane hit. Airspace within 25 miles of Capitol hill was restricted right after 9/11, and is probably still off limits. I expect that today, no plane (civil or commercial) would be able to get anywhere near Capitol hill without fighters being scrambled and if necessary, the plane being shot down.

As for a lone attacker entering with hidden plastic explosive, I wonder how much damage he would be able to do? Its not like an aircraft, where relatively small amounts of explosive might be able to bring down the plane. You’re talking about a big, open room after all. Perhaps the threat is real, but building a giant impenetrable shield around the room seems like an expensive overreaction to what is, after all, just one of countless possible attack vectors.

jjjdavidson January 18, 2011 9:59 AM


Worse, it seems to me that “a giant impenetrable shield” of whatever sort will divide the volume of the House chamber, actually rendering any explosive that does get in more effective–especially in the gallery, which is considerably smaller (from what I’ve seen on TV) than the main chamber.

And if in the end the barrier proves to be less than impenetrable, does Rep. Burton really want to have a 2″ sheet of plexiglass flying across the chamber at him?


david January 18, 2011 10:15 AM

Page: Rep Burton! It is criticism of a type … never … before … encountered!

Rep Burton: Shields up!

mcb January 18, 2011 10:19 AM

“The threat is more now than it has ever been.” – Dan Burton

“What a maroon!” – Bugs Bunny

If Congressman Burton lacks sufficient resolve to go to work unless surrounded by a plexiglass bubble perhaps the good people of Indiana would appreciate the opportunity to elect someone with more fortitude.

Joe January 18, 2011 10:22 AM

Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor” scenario, but, that was with an airplane. The difference is that Joe Biden is not Jack Ryan. <grin>

Alex January 18, 2011 10:25 AM

“I think the risk is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”

Let me correct that for him:
“I think the PARANOIA is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The PARANOIA is more now than it has ever been.”

Brad Wheeler January 18, 2011 10:39 AM

Anyone else think it’s a little ironic that this representative is using an attack halfway across the country as ammunition while petitioning for greater security in the Capitol?

kingsnake January 18, 2011 11:07 AM

@John “Clancy writes great movie plot terrorism.”

Used to. The last decade, at least, he has had hacks and errand boys doing “his writing” for him. Same as James Patterson. They are industries, not writers …

George January 18, 2011 11:34 AM

Two alternatives that seem much more practical:

Require all visitors to the Capitol to undergo a full TSA screening, including shoe removal, full-body strip search scanning, and possibly a gentle respectful pat-down, with the full set of airport restrictions enforced and interpreted in the usual inconsistent fashion for the strong protection unpredictability provides. That would not only prevent a repetition of any past threats to either aviation or Congress, but would convey an important message about the relationship between the government and the people. And the more opportunities there are for conditioning the public to routine strip searches of their persons and property (and to wait patiently in orderly queues for it like good docile sheep), the closer we will get to Victory in the Global War on Terror.

Alternatively, close the Capital entirely to all but members of Congress, their staff and employees, and authorized lobbyists and donors who have paid the appropriate access fees. For visitors who aren’t content to watch C-Span at home, there could be a remote visitor center (secured by the TSA) that provided virtual tours produced by fair and balanced Fox News, and debate-watching on large-screen television. That would not only provide much more security for the Capitol, but it would be even more effective at conveying that all-important message about the relationship between the government and the people.

Tom January 18, 2011 11:34 AM

A protective bubble sounds too outlandish.

Why don’t they consult the experts at the TSA for their security concerns?

Rob January 18, 2011 11:45 AM


I like the first option, except it’s not all visitors, it’s all people, no exceptions. There is after all a mooslim congressman now.

Sam January 18, 2011 11:48 AM

I’ve recently visited the capitol building, and the security is already pretty high. There’s a metal detector screening when you enter the building. Then, before you enter the actual House chambers (balcony), you need to check your cell phones/electronic devices and then go through a second, more thorough screening.

Steven Hoober January 18, 2011 11:50 AM

@George, I liked it until you let the lobbyists in.

Is no one bugged by the grammar? It’s “more now”??? More, /what/ now? I presume, “more badder” knowing the brilliance of the proposal.

RSaunders January 18, 2011 12:18 PM

Sure, “I think the risk is there,” Burton told The Washington Examiner. “The threat is more now than it has ever been.”. So what. The threat used to be 1:5M and now it’s 1:1M. It’s still not worth it to spend money on this.

Let’s face it, the Congress is easily replaceable. We replace some of them every other year. It would be a tragedy to lose some, but more folks get killed in car accidents every year. We’re not putting a “impenetrable, see-through security shield” around every car. Not that loss of life isn’t bad, it’s just not bad enough to spend all that money.

spaceman spiff January 18, 2011 1:11 PM

Burton is much more likely to be injured by slipping on his own BS than anything else.

Gianni S January 18, 2011 2:10 PM

Build a TSA airport screening mechanism at the entrance; xray; shoes off, no liquids, pat down, etc…
after all, they legislated the funds for it…

Davi Ottenheimer January 18, 2011 2:13 PM

I guess he hasn’t considered an attack from inside — initiated by a member of Congress.

Reminds me of when South Carolina’s Congressman Preston Smith Brooks launched a surprise attack on Massachusetts’s Charles Sumner inside the Capitol building.

Brooks beat Sumner with a metal-tipped cane until it broke. When Sumner retreated he was trapped and then beaten bloody and unconscious (it took him three years to recover).

After the attack Brooks received many brand new canes as presents from his state with letters of support.

No one was able to give Sumner assistance or stop Brooks during the attack because South Carolina Congressman Laurence M. Keitt pulled out a pistol and shouted for everyone to stay back.

That was America in 1856, a few years before South Carolina announced it was so annoyed by a lack of support from the North (with their duty to help keep slaves down) that it was to secede from the Union. The Brooks attack was really a foreshadowing of more violence from the South…by 1861 they sent state troops to storm the US Army post in Charleston Harbor.

Perhaps the New York Evening Post put it best after the Sumner attack:

“[The South] cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder.

Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters? … Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?”

Burton claims the threat is more now than ever, yet I suspect he is not all that familiar with this bit of history and how America survived violent discord by ultra-conservative movements in the past.

Richard Steven Hack January 18, 2011 2:21 PM

I wonder if they’re protecting themselves against the “Ocean’s 13” type of attack: you know, buy a Chunnel tunneling machine, burrow under the Capitol, and shake it down with an artificial earthquake.

To quote Basher, “I bet they didn’t expect that sh*t! Tee-hee!”

I also note they have little defense against a zombie outbreak on the floor of the House – quite a large threat considering the people working there.

Alan Kaminsky January 18, 2011 2:32 PM

Keep in mind that in the House chamber, the Republicans and the Democrats sit literally on opposite sides of the aisle. The Democrats sit on — of course — the left side of the aisle, and the Republicans on the right, as viewed from the speaker’s rostrum. This makes it easier for an assassin to target members of just one party.

I applaud Rep. Burton’s bipartisan stance in seeking to protect members on BOTH sides of the aisle from all the murderers and terrorists bent on obliterating U.S. House members.

trekkie January 18, 2011 2:37 PM

Impenetrable and see-through, huh? I didn’t know that Star Trek’s “Transparent Aluminum” had been invented yet.

Richard Nelson January 18, 2011 2:38 PM

In 2001 (before 9/11) I was in Topeka on business, and my client wanted to look at the State House. We walked right into the legislative chambers. We could sit at their desks, pick up gavels, etc. There were a couple of Capitol Police guys around but they barely gave us a glance.

I gained a lot of respect for Kansans. 🙂 (Putting up with Topeka in the summer might be reason enough!) Even in those pre-9/11 days that was loose security – but was probably based on a realistic assessment of risks and costs – i.e., approaching zero and high.

tommy January 18, 2011 3:20 PM

@ Mark:

“A protester in the public gallery succeeded in hitting Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, with a condom filled with coloured powder.”

And here I thought that condoms carried only white powder.

John January 18, 2011 4:25 PM

Clearly, they should install TSA-style screening for everybody entering the Capitol. Like pilots and crew, our elected Officials should go through the nudie cams, and have their genitals groped to ensure that they aren’t carrying any weapons of mass destruction.

Except for the equivalent of “rampers”. The service guys and gals would be exempted.

Along with any cargo going in or out of the Capitol, like our long-haul freight systems.

Perfectly safe!

Dirk Praet January 18, 2011 4:32 PM

To Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.

Dear Sir,

It has come to our attention that you are very concerned with the security on the House Floor, or lack thereof. We would like to point out the following:

1) Your actions are commendable because security concerns us all. We are actually already spending billions on it. There is however no need, I repeat, no need to become paranoid. If you are suffering from elevated levels of anxiety, there are very effective medicines for this condition. You can also consult an analyst, which we are sure you can afford on your salary.

2) Pending a full recovery, you may wish to purchase full body armour to wear on the Floor and show the nation and the world just how serious you are on this topic. It’s probably even tax-deductible.

3) If not resulting from a mental condition but rather by lack of better ideas of what really preoccupies your constituents, we recommend you talking to them. It works. Constituents are the people that have voted you into office and typically live outside of D.C. You are supposed to look after them, not after yourself.

4) If merely an attempt at humour to make a mockery of the ongoing security theatre and wildly exploding budgets, we sincerely apologise for the previous insinuations. Feel free to consult any of the gentle folks on this blog for even more absurd security proposals that will put you on the international political map in a way your collegues can only dream of. Where I live, we once did the same with ideas for new taxes and duties, some of which were indeed picked up by politicians, so success is guaranteed.

wontfly January 18, 2011 4:40 PM

I think that Congress should install body scanners and each member of Congress should have to be scanned on their way to work. If we have to have nude photos taken off our bodies to fly, then they should have nude photos taken to go to work since it’s so “dangerous.”

nobodyspecial January 18, 2011 5:46 PM

What about other politicians – they could be terrorists too!

Should we have each individual representative in their own individual impenetrable box? It would make them easier to transport and stack.

You could even have one of those little hamster cage water droppers, and air holes – I’m not trying to be cruel to them.

Thomas January 18, 2011 6:03 PM

@Richard Steven Hack
“I also note they have little defense against a zombie outbreak on the floor of the House – quite a large threat considering the people working there.”

I thought Zombies were after brains?

(cheap shot, I know, but someone had to take it)

Bob Roberts January 18, 2011 6:07 PM

The barrier is probably a good idea. If someone manages to sneak in a chemical or biological agent it would help prevent collateral damage to the general population.

billy January 18, 2011 6:29 PM

Regarding the zombie threat on Capitol Hill, I think it’s overblown. Remember, zombies feed on brains….

Dirk Praet January 18, 2011 7:07 PM

@ Ulf

So it’s now possible to legislate something “impenetrable” into existence? Sounds promising for some other intractable problems…

Lawgivers can be very creative sometimes. China even saw fit to ban reincarnation without government permission in an attempt to control appointment of the next Dalai Lama in Tibet. Rep. Burton’s proposal however is at best at par with some old English law making it illegal to flag down a taxi if you have the plague or with the urban myth that in France you cannot call a pig Napoleon.

WAM January 18, 2011 8:02 PM

Isn’t this what the shadow government under Mount Weather is for? Come on. I’m not paying for both an accidental damage warranty AND a spill-proof case for this phone. One or the other.

Chris from DC January 18, 2011 8:58 PM

Finally legislation to codify the symbolic barrier between the public and the effete government.

Truth be told, I just wanted to say ‘effete’ in a post.

Great Idea January 18, 2011 9:31 PM

@ Bob Just what I was thinking, but also applied to explosives. The protective dome should concentrate the blast when some staff member decides to clean house.

Clive Robinson January 18, 2011 9:32 PM

@ Dirk Praet,

“… the urban myth that in France you cannot call a pig Napoleon”

Of course you can’t, pigs are sensitive creatures and naming them after such a person would constitute mental cruelty under EU legislation 😉

Also across the channel in “Grand Britania” calling a “pig” Napoleon will almost certainly get you arrested 😉

P.S. for those not familiar with the ways of Western Europe, “the frogs” (what the English once called the French) and “le beuf” (what the French once called the English) have been accusing each other of many crimes for many centuries (for instance we both blaimed venereal disease on each other). This sometimes inensly bitter rivalry plays out in History and is clearly seen in the American Revolution and Britains conquest of India etc.

One such current ongoing (for the past 20years or so) difference of opinion, is over certain European Union (EU) legislation such as CAP (Common Agricultural Policy).

Also in “Grand Britania” or more correctly England, a slang term for a Police Officer is “pig”, and calling some one “Napoleon” is an insult the equivalent of which is calling them a “jobs worth” or “petty bureaucrat” overly fond of enforcing idiotic rules.

So whilst it might be an urban myth in France, it is not in England…

JM January 18, 2011 11:24 PM

Terrible idea,
another symbol of the “seperateness” between the unwashed masses and the nobles in the Manor house. It’s not like their approval rating is in the toilet and the pitchforkers are itching to storm the Bastille.
oh wait… 🙂

I guess some of us are more equal than the rest of us.

Tyler Thompson January 19, 2011 3:44 AM

“In 2001 (before 9/11) I was in Topeka on business, and my client wanted to look at the State House. We walked right into the legislative chambers. We could sit at their desks, pick up gavels, etc. There were a couple of Capitol Police guys around but they barely gave us a glance.”
@Richard Nelson

I’m sitting in a hotel in Topeka getting ready to head to the Capitol in a few hours on state business. I am pleased to inform you that visible security in our Capitol has not changed much since those pre-9/11 times.

Presently, you walk through a single metal detector manned by a single Capitol Police officer. Once you get past that checkpoint, you are free to roam the building at will, including the floor of the House and Senate chambers. Last month when we were there, we walked into the Governor-elect’s office and just happened to meet him as he was walking in.

That being said, I believe incident response/awareness/intelligence efforts have been significantly altered/improved since 9/11. This is how it should be, in my opinion – invisible but effective at addressing the threat.

Regarding this bill, most Senators and Representatives in DC are very sensitive to the fact that the US Capitol Complex is a public building and they treat it as such. They pride themselves on allowing citizens to access it (especially if you request tours by their office staff) and view sessions from the gallery. Obviously, the Capitol Police in DC have a much more visible presence, which I think addresses the increased threat the US Capitol has vs. the threat against a State Capitol.

I have always been pleased with the level of security in the US Capitol building. Officers have always been friendly and have worked to promote a positive and professional image. I respect them for that.

Getting tours of the Pentagon is another story. Again, I think the security scales upward to address the threat to that building vs. the others. You have to have something close to 3-months clearance, a background check, etc… and you are still greeted by Pentagon Police with assault rifles, in addition to other layers of security. It really catches your attention the first time you experience it.

fbm January 19, 2011 5:30 AM

Well, they’ve succeeded in taking away increases in civil servants’ salaries for the next 2 years so they’ll just “take from the rich” to give to Congressional security.

I got an idea – let’s overreact to everything that happens just because of an isolated incident. We’ll never learn…

BF Skinner January 19, 2011 8:02 AM

@fbm “let’s overreact to everything that happens just because of an isolated incident”

Based on the assumption this IS an isolated incident and not a dot connected with right-wing violence perpetrated in the States.

dpawtows January 19, 2011 10:55 AM

I’m thinking this is a response to an incident from last week where a heckler yelled at the House during the reading of the Constitution. They don’t like it when the rabble yells at them; this wall would be soundproof.

humph January 19, 2011 4:45 PM

“Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., renewed his call for the installation of an impenetrable, see-through security shield around the viewing gallery overlooking the House floor.”

Great, just what we need. Another huge money pit, with little spending oversight, providing dubious results. Where’s Haliburton when we need them!?

If they want to keep politicians safe, stop having political rallies in the Safeway parking lot. (Oh, wait… I just realized an ironic twist here….)

fbm January 19, 2011 11:10 PM

@BF Skinner

Right – but isn’t that a bit paranoid? We don’t need to flush money just because we can speculate that this is part of a larger movement of some type, do we?

Jarda January 20, 2011 5:22 AM

An useless expense. Should a terrorist succeed this plot and kill the government and the president, no real damage would be done. There’s a long line of people who would love to take their chairs and the corporations, who are the real rulers would be out of harm’s way during such attack. People would just take few days to get used to the new faces on TV and remember what the name of the new president is. Nothing really would change.

BF Skinner January 20, 2011 6:26 AM

@fbm – don’t need to flush money

In the US we have this myth about political violence.
We don’t do it.
It’s always a lone nut with a gun, or a bomb, or a knife. It’s speculation certainly and I’m not suggesting here a formal organization like the militias.

But a hypothesis should be testable and resources should be provided to assess the risk.

Now since the risk is controlled at the capital (with screenings and wandings) how would burton protect congressmen and women outside the dome?

Two ideas, lame, have been proposed.
One is arming the pols. the other a 1000 foot exclusion zone. No guns near pol’s. It’s got practical problems others have noted here and is really ineffective in the face of a Barrett M107 for the law abiding assassin.

I’d suggest extending Burton’s idea and just make all the pols into Bubble Boys.

BF Skinner January 20, 2011 6:30 AM

Every movie plot should have camera’s.

I heard it announced today

“D.C. expanding public surveillance camera net”

“…planning to add thousands of security cameras from private businesses around the nation’s capital and the Metro system to the thousands of electronic eyes that authorities are already monitoring 24/7.”

So if private businesses camera’s are used by the police does that mean the camera’s owners are now acting as agents of the police?

fbm January 20, 2011 1:47 PM


You’re right. I think those guys need to stop being paranoid. We just don’t do crazed political violence as well as some other countries, I guess.

The pols just think they’re that important. 😉

Wayne Conrad January 30, 2011 12:36 AM

Congressmen and children suffer equally from a guilty conscience: There’s a bogeyman in every shadow, when you have been naughty.

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