The County Board has given the go-ahead to a plan from the U.S. Department of Defense to install equipment around Arlington that could detect explosions and provide forensic data to investigators after an attack.
The board’s members voted unanimously last night to approve a license agreement between the County Board and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to install the equipment on county property.
According to a county staff report, the nature and location of the equipment will be kept secret and exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, a fact that worried ACLU of Virginia’s executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. Speaking before the board, Gastañaga argued that it was “important that the capabilities of the equipment be public.”
“We don’t think think that… those capabilities of this kind of equipment are any real secret,” she said. Additionally, Gastañaga urged the board to ask the Defense Department to agree not to install listening devices or other active monitoring equipment.
County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac replied that the board has some of the same concerns as the ACLU, and added that its members have had an opportunity to examine the plans to assure “that the nature of the equipment is not the kind of thing that can record audio or visual activities.”
“It is dormant equipment that is only activated when an event occurs and it does not record audio or video,” MacIsaac said. “You can have a high level of confidence that the equipment they’re putting out there is not capable of doing the sorts of things that there is concern about.”
Board member John Vihstadt agreed with McIsaac and said that “the county has a high degree of control over exactly what DTRA is doing and what they’re putting out on county property.”
“I think a big distinction here is that we’re not turning over any part of our county’s infrastructure or geography or territory to DTRA, we’re simply entering into a licensing agreement to deploy the kind of sensors that they have described,” added board member Christian Dorsey. “That gives me great comfort that many of the civil liberties issues that Ms. Gastanaga have brought up are not going to be ongoing issues here.”
Furthermore, board chair Libby Garvey said the county could choose to cancel the agreement if it ever became concerned with the new equipment.
Screenshot via County Board video
The Arlington County Board is expected to approve the installation of the detection equipment on county property at its meeting this Saturday.
A county staff report, below, notes that the nature and location of the equipment will be kept secret and exempt from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
[The Defense Threat Reduction Agency] is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense and has requested permission from the County to install explosion detection equipment on County property. The equipment is designed to characterize explosions in urban environments. In the event of an intentional detonation, such as a terrorist attack, the information generated by the equipment will be used in the federal government’s efforts to determine who was responsible for, and how to respond to, the event. The information obtained from the equipment will be used to support law enforcement efforts. DTRA has requested that the License Agreement and supporting documentation, such as the type of equipment and the installation location, be exempted from public disclosure pursuant VA Code Section 2.2-3705.2(4) of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
A 25-year-old man from Burke, Virginia took photos of various landmarks in Arlington and D.C. for inclusion in a video that would encourage “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, according to federal prosecutors.
Haris Qamar has been charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS. He’s due in federal court in Alexandria this afternoon.
According to a press release, below, the Pentagon was among the targets suggested by Qamar, who had been previously tried to join ISIS but was prevented from doing so because his father took his passport.
Haris Qamar, 25, of Burke, was arrested this morning on charges of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Qamar is scheduled to have his initial appearance today in front of Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson at 2 p.m. at the federal courthouse in Alexandria.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on May 26, Qamar and FBI confidential witness (CW) discussed ISIL’s need of photos of possible targets in and around Washington, D.C., for use in a video that ISIL was purportedly making to encourage lone wolf attacks in the Washington, D.C., area. Qamar allegedly offered CW ideas of where to take these photographs, including the Pentagon and numerous landmarks in Arlington and Washington, D.C., which could be targeted for terrorist attacks. On June 3, a conversation was audio and video recorded when CW picked up Qamar in a vehicle and they drove to area landmarks on the list Qamar had developed. Qamar allegedly said “bye bye DC, stupid ass kufar, kill’em all”. Qamar and CW met again on June 10 and drove to a location in Arlington to take additional photos for the ISIL video.
The FBI first learned of Qamar as he operated over 60 variations of the Twitter handle “newerajihadi”, which Qamar used to express his support of ISIL and share videos and photos of extreme violence, including beheadings and mass shootings. For example, after terrorists murdered employees of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January 2015, Qamar tweeted his prayer for another similar attack with even more casualties.
According to the allegations, during numerous conversations with CW, Qamar expressed his interest and excitement in the extreme violence ISIL is known for. Qamar said he loved the bodies, blood and beheadings, and he recalled watching a video of a Kurdish individual being slaughtered, and liked the cracking sound made when the individual’s spinal cord was torn. On several occasions Qamar allegedly said he could slaughter someone and described how he would do it. Qamar also stated that he admired lone wolf attackers because they love Islam so much that they are willing to die as martyrs for Islam and in the same conversation, Qamar and CW allegedly discussed suicide bombings. CW said that he did not believe in suicide bombings, but Qamar allegedly responded “I believe in it 100 percent.”
On Sept. 11, 2015, terrorists connected with ISIL posted a “kill list” to the internet containing the names and addresses of U.S. military members. A few days later, Qamar allegedly told CW that the residences of several service members who appeared on the “kill list” were near Qamar’s own home, and that Qamar had observed undercover police cars near those residences. According to the affidavit, on Sept. 16, 2015, Qamar tweeted his prayer that Allah “give strength to the mujahideen to slaughter every single US military officer.”
Additionally, the affidavit alleges that on Sept. 25, 2015, Qamar told CW that he tried to join the ISIL in 2014, but that his parents prevented him from going by controlling his passport. Qamar allegedly said that his parents threatened to notify law enforcement authorities and said that he fought with his father and called his father a traitor to Islam. According to the allegations, on Nov. 18, 2015, CW asked Qamar if his father gave him back his passport would he go and join ISIL, and in response, Qamar said if that happened, “I’m done, I leave.”
Qamar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Division, made the announcement after the charges were unsealed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg is prosecuting the case with assistance from the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has released a statement about Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The shooting left 50 dead, including the gunman, who pledged allegiance with ISIS.
In his statement, Beyer said “we must make progress on gun safety” while also remaining “committed to the long term fight against Islamic extremism.”
Our hearts are broken. Forty-nine Americans, in the primes of their lives, murdered in the name of an evil ideology, targeted for their sexual orientation. I don’t want to believe the death toll. As with so many tragedies in our nation’s and the world’s history, we cannot fathom the cruelty and raw evil of man’s inhumanity to man.
But it seems essential that we figure out how to stop these slaughters.
Number one, we must make progress on gun safety. When the Founding Fathers wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights to our Constitution, the right for a “well-regulated militia to keep and bear arms” certainly did not anticipate military grade automatic weapons capable of killing huddled school children and dancing young people by the dozens in seconds. Banning assault weapons must be a meaningful first step.
Number two, we must be committed to the long term fight against Islamic extremism. Yes, we have our own share of psychopathic, sociopathic young men who kill for ideology or joy. But the ISIS and al-Qaeda inspired missions to kill infidels and to proclaim an Islamic caliphate have created an ideological terror center for the most unbalanced people within a massive, historic, peaceful religion. While respecting the millions of Muslims who live, work, and build communities with us, contributing to our American society and culture – still, we must be relentless in detecting, disrupting, and destroying the extremist cells and their acolytes, here and abroad.
Number three, we must recognize that homophobia cannot be contained. Hatred breeds hatred. We are horrified that one man targeted LGBT victims at two a.m. on an Orlando Sunday morning. But we are not blameless, when we tell government contractors it is okay to discriminate against someone because they are gay or lesbian – or tell transgender school children that we will not respect their gender identity.
Our sincere, sustained message of inclusion will create a powerful wall against LGBT hate.
We live in an imperfect world. But let’s do what we can – ban assault weapons, destroy ISIS, and celebrate our LGBT friends and family. Perhaps this is how we best honor the fallen of Orlando.
That’s the message from a statement issued by ACPD today, in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California earlier this week.
The Arlington County Police Department extends our sincere condolences to the San Bernardino, California community. We want to reassure the citizens of Arlington County that our officers remain vigilant in their patrols of our community. Officers receive extensive training in active shooter situations and have the tools necessary to respond should an incident occur. There are currently no active threats to the Washington, D.C. area and our Homeland Security Section continues to monitor these incidents with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners.
Citizens are encouraged to go about their normal business while paying particular attention to their surroundings. You are the first line of defense against terrorism and by providing information to law enforcement, you may help deter possible terrorist activity. Report suspicious activity in Arlington County using the Homeland Security Tip Form or to nationwide intelligence centers using the See Send smartphone application. Together, we can help keep Arlington County safe.
Prosecutor: Black Asked for Help Killing Wife — At a bond hearing Monday, prosecutors said that David Black asked a friend to help kill his wife in a classic case of domestic violence. Black was denied bond and will remain in jail, charged with killing his estranged wife Bonnie Black in their home near Pentagon City. The trial is set for Feb. 29. [WUSA 9]
One of the Worst Traffic Bottlenecks — Arlington has one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the country, according to the American Highway Users Alliance. I-395 between Washington Blvd and the GW Parkway ranked No. 26 on the list, wasting 1.1 million hours and 322,600 gallons of fuel annually. [WTOP]
TSA HQ Move May Be Delayed — The Transportation Security Administration’s headquarters may be staying in Pentagon City past 2017 after all. A judge has halted the TSA’s move to Alexandria in response to a protest of the lease bidding process by a losing bidder. [Government Executive]
Arlington GOP May Ditch Office — In order to save money, the Arlington County Republican Committee is considering giving up the $1,100 per month office it rents in the Dominion Arms apartment building. [InsideNova]
See Something, Type Something — Arlington County’s website has a “Homeland Security Tip Form,” for reporting “suspicious activity that may be related to terrorism” in Arlington. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
The exercise will simulate the door-to-door delivery of medication in the event of bioterrorism or a natural pandemic. On Thursday, April 25, some 50 volunteers will deliver small bags to the doorknobs of residents at the Gates of Ballston and River Place West apartment complexes, and in the Aurora Highlands and Ballston/Virginia Square neighborhoods.
“The bag will contain emergency preparedness information and other contents designed to simulate the weight and bulk of the actual medication that may be delivered in an emergency,” said Kurt Larrick, communications manager for the Arlington County Department of Human Services.
He continued: “The purpose of the exercise is to enhance the County’s ability to respond in an emergency by understanding how long it might take to reach all doorknobs in Arlington, should the need arise to give out antibiotic medicine and provide important information in a public health emergency where timely delivery to the population is essential.”
Larrick was asked: could the door-to-door delivery of medication also help in the theoretical scenario of a zombie apocalypse?
“We take an ‘all hazards’ approach to our emergency preparedness and response, so I am confident in our ability to respond quickly and effectively to any scenario, including zombies,” Larrick told ARLnow.com.
Before the distribution exercise on Thursday, about 25 volunteers will gather at the Arlington Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) on Tuesday to help assemble the materials that will be used in the exercise.
In the event of a real medical emergency, the county will have the option of delivering medication door-to-door, or setting up a number of “PODs” — or Points of Dispensing — in the community. While delivering door-to-door to Arlington’s 100,000 households sounds daunting, the county has access to more than 300 Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and 3,500 county staffers to do the job.
Advisory Lifted for Local Waterways — A warning from Arlington County to stay out of Arlington Branch, Lower Long Branch and Four Mile Run has been lifted. The advisory was issued on April 9 after a sewage release near Columbia Pike. “The precaution was issued to allow time for the effect of the release to be diminished by natural flushing of the streams,” the county said. [Arlington County]
Husband of Track Coach Caught Boston Chaos on Camera — John Walls, the husband of Bishop O’Connell cross country and track coach Cindy Walls, captured the chaos of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings on video. Walls was waiting for Cindy and his daughter Katie to cross the finish line when one of the bombs exploded across the street from where he was seated. He was shaken but uninjured. [WJLA]
Burned-Down House Cited for Code Violations — The Hall’s Hill house that was destroyed by fire yesterday has been cited several times in the past for building code violations. Officials are now investigating whether property owner Paul Chretien was in violation of the code by allowing more than four unrelated people to live in the house. [Washington Post]
Police Seek Theft Suspect — The Arlington County Police Department is asking for the public’s help in locating a 21-year-old man who stole an iPhone. “Police believe that the suspect has also been involved in several other crimes,” according to a press release. [Arlington County]
Pentagon Shooter Sentenced — Yonathan Melaku, the ex-Marine who pleaded guilty last year to firing bullets at the Pentagon, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. Melaku had planned a terror campaign that included spray painting Arabic statements on gravestones and leaving explosives in Arlington National Cemetery, according to prosecutors. [Washington Post]
Bad Reviews for Rosslyn Safeway — While getting high marks for friendly cashiers, the Safeway supermarket in Rosslyn has earned a dismal 1.5 out of 5 stars in 53 reviews on Yelp. Customers have called the store “disgusting,” “gross,” “cavernous” and the “worst grocery store ever.” [Ode Street Tribune]
Gala Celebration for Wakefield High — The Wakefield Alumni Foundation will be hosting a celebration in May to celebrate the high school’s 60th anniversary. A new Wakefield High School building is expected to open this summer, and the present 1950s-era building will eventually be torn down. [Sun Gazette]
Wakefield Routs Yorktown — The Wakefield Warriors boys basketball team defeated the Yorktown Patriots by the lopsided score of 74-41 on Jan. 11. Wakefield improved to a record of 10-4 overall, while Yorktown fell to 5-8. [Sun Gazette]
Photo by Katie Pyzyk
Major Redevelopment Proposed for Rosslyn — A developer has proposed tearing down four office buildings and two residential towers between N. Kent Street and Arlington Ridge Road in Rosslyn, and replacing them with four new buildings, including 2.5 million square feet of offices, residences, hotel rooms and retail space. If all goes well, the project might even attract a Ritz Carlton hotel and a Harris Teeter grocery store. [Washington Business Journal]
Nuclear Attack Would Be Survivable for Arlington — Most of Arlington would survive a terrorist nuclear bomb attack on downtown D.C., according to a federal report released earlier this month. The biggest danger to Arlington wouldn’t be the initial blast, but would be the nuclear fallout afterward. One scenario suggests the Columbia Pike corridor would be vulnerable to fallout given a specific set of wind conditions. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington ‘Peeps Show’ Contestants — Arlingtonians are a crafty bunch. A number of semifinalists of the annual Washington Post “Peeps Show” diorama contest are listed as Arlington residents. Among them are the creators of “Faster Than the Peep of Light?,” “GOPeep Primary Debate,” “A Peeps Eye View into an Apeepment on M St.,” and “Marine Corps Marathon: The Peep-les Marathon.”
(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents are conducting a terrorism investigation at a house in Douglas Park.
The FBI, NCIS and Arlington County Police are on the scene on the 1600 block of S. Randolph Street. Earlier, agents could be seen talking to two men outside the home, where the FBI says it was executing a search warrant.
The FBI now seems to be focusing their search on a shed behind the house. Agents wearing latex gloves and face masks have removed dozens of shoe boxes from the shed and piled them in the backyard. Agents have also put up a blue tarp to help shield their investigation from the dozen or so TV, radio and newspaper reporters camped at the corner of S. Randolph Street and 16th Street.
ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck confirms this is an “offshoot” related to today’s arrest of a Moroccan man by the FBI. The man, identified as 29-year-old Amine El Khalifi, planned on conducting a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to federal prosecutors. El Khalifi was living in Alexandria but was in the country illegally, prosecutors say.
(See the full U.S. Department of Justice press release, after the jump.)
The home raided by federal agents today has been owned by the same man and woman since 1997, according to Arlington County property records.
A longtime family friend who only identified himself as “Fred” was visiting and said he doesn’t know why the FBI would be interested in the couple. He said they have grown children as well as grandchildren, and live a quiet life at home.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “They’re good people.”
Though it doesn’t specify the address of the house in question, a federal court affidavit mentions a “residence in Arlington, Va.” as a place where El Khalifi allegedly discussed terrorism activity. From the Justice Department press release:
According to the criminal complaint affidavit, in January 2011, a confidential human source reported to the FBI that El Khalifi met with other individuals at a residence in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 11, 2011. During this meeting, one individual produced what appeared to be an AK-47, two revolvers and ammunition. El Khalifi allegedly expressed agreement with a statement by this individual that the “war on terrorism” was a “war on Muslims” and said that the group needed to be ready for war.
Board Members Argue for New Taxing Powers — Arlington County Board members aren’t too pleased with the Republican-controlled state legislature’s reluctance to grant new taxing power to localities. County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman called Virginia Republicans “extremists” who want to “wreck government” by not giving localities enough ways to raise revenue. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Accepts Homeland Security Grants — Arlington will accept nearly $1.35 million in federal homeland security grants, after receiving County Board approval last night. The grants will be used to purchase license plate reading equipment and mobile surveillance trailers, for use by law enforcement agencies throughout the National Capital Region. [Arlington County]
Va. Square Building Sells for $62 Million — The office building at 3601 Wilson Boulevard, known as One Virginia Square, has changed hands. The building was purchased by an investment firm for $61.8 million. The previous owner acquired the building for $42.2 million in 2004. [Washington Business Journal]
New Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery — Arlington National Cemetery is constructing a new columbarium to hold the cremated remains of more than 20,000 deceased military members. Construction on the building is expected to begin in January and wrap up in mid-2013. [Associated Press]
Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA
County Adding Historical Preservation Tools — In an effort to preserve historic buildings in Arlington, the county is considering some new policies to its “toolbox.” Among the possible new strategies: purchasing properties threatened with demolition, using a “transfer of development rights” to convince developers to preserve historic properties and further surveying residential property in the county to find and catalog more historic properties. [Sun Gazette]
Man With Terror Links Owned Arlington Condo — Esam Ghazzawi, a Saudi Arabian national whose Florida mansion was regularly visited by the 9/11 hijackers, also owned property in Arlington. In the mid-1990s, Ghazzawi owned the Penthouse condo in Rosslyn’s The Atrium building. [Washington Post]
Old ACFD Truck Lives on in S.C. — A retired ACFD fire truck that was among the first to respond to the Pentagon on 9/11 is still fighting fires in South Carolina. Quint 109 was retired from Arlington’s Station 9 in 2005, and was sold to the Anderson County, S.C. Fire Department. Although Anderson County repainted the truck, fire officials were careful to leave its “Operation Noble Eagle” sticker — indicating it was at the Pentagon on 9/11 — in tact. [Independent Mail]
With the “specific, credible” but unconfirmed threat of a terror attack looming this weekend, Arlington County authorities are asking residents to remain vigilant.
Already, there has been a noticeable uptick in calls to Arlington police for reports of suspicious persons, suspicious cars and objects, and suspicious activity. Using the motto “see something, say something,” police are asking citizens to keep it up.
Arlington County issued the following alert this evening:
This weekend will mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001. Residents of Arlington County may be aware of warnings issued by federal, state, and local agencies regarding potential attacks that may occur during this time. Police Chief M. Douglas Scott would like to assure residents that the Arlington County Police Department has plans in place to address needs as they occur. The police department would like to remind our residents of ways that they can assist in preventing future acts of terrorism.
The Arlington County Police Department joins our federal and local partners in the “See Something Say Something” campaign. The campaign is a simple and effective program developed to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime, and other threats and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper transportation and law enforcement authorities. Remember that the suspicious activity does not need to be criminal in nature to report it to the Arlington County Police.
The 7 Signs of Terrorism awareness are listed below:
1. Surveillance: Recording or monitoring activities. May include drawing diagrams, note taking, use of cameras, binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices, or possessing floor plans or blueprints of key facilities.
2. Elicitation: Attempts to obtain operation, security, and personnel-related information regarding a key facility. May be made by mail, fax, e-mail, telephone, or in person.
3. Tests of Security: Attempts to measure reaction times to security breaches or to penetrate physical security barriers or procedures in order to assess strengths and weaknesses.
4. Acquiring Supplies: Attempts to improperly acquire items that could be used in a terrorist act. May include the acquisition of explosives, weapons, harmful chemicals, flight manuals, law enforcement or military equipment, uniforms, identification badges, or the equipment to manufacture false identification.
5. Suspicious Persons: Someone who does not appear to belong in a workplace, neighborhood or business establishment due to his/her behavior, including unusual questions or statements he/she make.
6. Dry Runs/Trial Runs: Behavior that appears to be preparation for a terrorist act without actually committing the act. Activity could include mapping out routes and determining the timing of traffic lights and flow.
7. Deploying Assets: Placing people, equipment, and supplies into position to commit the act. This is the last opportunity to alert authorities before the terrorist act occurs.
Arlington County residents are encouraged to contact the police if they observe suspicious situations by calling 9-1-1 or the non-emergency line at 703-558-2222.
Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott has issued a statement about the threat of a terror attack during this weekend’s 9/11 anniversary.
We adjusted our staffing levels earlier this week in anticipation of the 9/11 anniversary, so you may see additional officers around Arlington County. Our police officers are aware of the recent information regarding a “credible” threat, and the department is in close contact with federal law enforcement for updates. The Arlington County Police Department is committed to the safety of our community and encourages the public to report any activity that they find suspicious to our emergency operators.