According to two senior US intelligence officials, Iran has made threats against Fort McNair, an Army base in the nation’s capital, and the Army’s vice chief of staff.
They reported that communications intercepted by the National Security Agency in January revealed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard discussed launching “USS Cole-style attacks” against the base, referring to a suicide attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000, in which a small boat pulled up alongside the destroyer and detonated, killing 17 sailors.
According to the officials, who were not allowed to publicly discuss national security matters and spoke on the condition of anonymity, the intelligence disclosed attempts to kill Gen. Joseph M. Martin as well as efforts to penetrate and spy on the base. Martin’s official residence is the headquarters, which is one of the country’s oldest.
The Army has been calling for more protections around Fort McNair, which sits alongside Washington’s booming new Waterfront District, because of the risks.
The Army’s proposal to add a buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet (75 meters to 150 meters) from the shore of the Washington Channel, which would restrict access to as much as half of the busy waterway flowing parallel to the Potomac River, has been met with resistance by city officials.
When approached by The Associated Press, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the National Security Agency either did not respond or refused to comment.
Although officials in the District of Columbia have battled increased security along the channel, the Army has only provided hazy details about threats to the base.
Army Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, commander of the Military District of Washington, cited “credible and specific” threats against military leaders who reside on the base during a virtual meeting in January to address the proposed restrictions. He only made one particular security threat: a swimmer who got trapped on the base and was arrested.
The district’s sole representative in Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, was suspicious. “I’m sure that’s unique in the world of swimmers. Did he have any idea where he was? “Perhaps he was just swimming and happened to come to your shore?” she speculated.
The swimmer was “not a perfect example there, but our most recent example” of a security breach, Jones acknowledged.
The Army has increased patrols along the shoreline, posted more restricted area signs, and installed cameras to monitor the Washington Channel, according to him.
City officials and residents were perplexed by the Army’s request for the buffer zone, which they saw as a government overreach into public waterways.
The Fort McNair proposal has been discussed for two years, but recent intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency has prompted Army officials to renew their request for the restrictions.
The intercepted conversation was among members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Unit, and it focused on possible military options to avenge the US killing of former Quds leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020, according to the two intelligence officials.
They reported that Tehran’s military commanders are dissatisfied with the results of their counterattacks thus far, especially the results of the ballistic missile attack on Iraq’s Ain al-Asad airbase in the days following Soleimani’s assassination. The strike did not result in any US service members being killed, but it did result in dozens of concussions.
The Pentagon has not provided Norton with any new details that would justify the restrictions around Fort McNair in the two months after the January meeting, according to the Associated Press.
“I’ve demanded that the Department of Defense revoke the regulation because I haven’t seen any proof of a credible threat that would justify the proposed restriction,” Norton said. “They’ve been trying to get their way, but their proposal is excessively restrictive.”
“I have a security clearance,” she said. And they have yet to present me with any secret evidence” to support their proposal. The Washington Navy Yard and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, both of which have access to district waters, have no restricted areas along their shorelines and have not requested them, according to Norton.
The proposed amendments, outlined in a Federal Register notice, would make it illegal for people and watercraft to “anchor, moor, or loiter” without authorization inside the restricted area.
The notice defines the need for protection around the Marine Helicopter Squadron, which transports US presidents, as well as the general and staff officers’ quarters, which are situated near the water’s edge. The National War College, located on the southern tip of Fort McNair, is where midlevel and senior officers aspiring to be admiral or general study national security strategy.
With modern restaurants, luxury apartments, and concert halls, the Washington Channel is one of the city’s main urban regeneration projects. The waterway originates at the confluence of the city’s two main rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia.
Three marinas and hundreds of boat slips are situated here. According to Patrick Revord, the Wharf Community Association’s director of technology, communications, and community engagement, about 300 people live aboard their boats in the channel.
During the meeting, Revord stated that the channel is also busy with water taxis, which serve 300,000 people annually, river cruises, which serve 400,000 people annually, and about 7,000 kayakers and paddleboarders.
The limits, according to residents and city officials, would make the waterway dangerous by restricting the channel for larger vessels to maneuver alongside smaller motorboats and kayakers.
During the meeting, Guy Shields, a retired Army infantry colonel and member of the Capitol Yacht Club who opposes the waterway restrictions around Fort McNair, claimed that they will not enhance security.
“Those buoys aren’t going to help with defense at all. It would intensify traffic congestion in an already congested city, according to Shields. “And, trust me when I say this, signals do not discourage people with bad intentions.”
It’s uncertain if the city’s opposition to the Army’s security strategy would change as a result of the latest intelligence.