The following is an excerpt from my latest article in The Hill.
When I first came to Washington in 1995 as a CBS News correspondent, the U.S. Capitol building was truly “The People’s House.” Anybody could walk in and browse around, walk the historic marble floors, look at the historic statues. No metal detectors. No police or security guards removing perfume from your purse in case it’s a plot to build an explosive device from liquid.
The same sort of access was available to the public and press at most federal buildings at the time.
Even the White House, more secure than the other buildings back then, was less like a command bunker. Anybody could drive right along the public street adjacent to the back of the White House and take a look.
Of course everything, understandably, changed with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most any building occupied by the federal government became a fortress. Concrete barriers were erected all over the city to make it harder for a car bomber to drive into a building. Police are routinely stationed on streets, at places they were rarely seen before. Metal detectors, police and security guards, sweeps with mirrors under your car as you enter a parking garage, all became the norm.
A complete web of rules and restrictions was adopted, dictating who could enter what building and when. It involved various combinations of: Call ahead. Get a clearance. Submit your Social Security number. Show your driver’s license. Have an escort.
And that street by the White House was closed to ordinary vehicle traffic. It’s been treated to an expanding array of fencing, guard shacks and Secret Service presence.
Shortly after 9/11, many of us wondered if the changes to our nation’s capital would be permanent — and hoped it would not have to be. Since then, security measures have expanded further. And with each new restriction, there’s opportunity for abuse. Federal officials sometimes use supposed security concerns as an excuse to control access and information; the public becomes further distanced from the elected and hired officials who are supposed to work for them.
Years ago, when I was breaking news about the Obama administration’s “Fast and Furious” scandal, it was nearly impossible for me to get access to then-Attorney General Eric Holder to ask any questions. One day, the Department of Justice (DOJ) hastily announced a briefing about Fast and Furious to be held at its offices. CBS sent me out the door to attend.
As I rushed out the door, Holder’s right-hand press aide, Tracy Schmaler, called to tell me I would not be admitted. Only the friendly beat reporters regularly assigned to DOJ would be allowed in through security. (Continued...)
Read the full article by clicking the link below: