NEWS

Pentagon Assures Tenants That Mark Center Is Safe and Sound

By Matthew Harwood

ALEXANDRIA, Va -- In a letter issued last week obtained by Security Management, the Pentagon's top security official has assured tenants of the newly opened Mark Center that the building is safe after media reports questioned its ability to withstand a terrorist bombing.

"We want to convey to every member of the DoD team at the Mark Center Complex that this facility is one of the safest and most structurally-advanced office buildings in the National Capital Region," says the letter signed by Steven Calvery, director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, and William E. Brazis, director of the Washington Headquarters Services.

The recently opened Mark Center sits approximately 3 miles south of the Pentagon and was built to house the Pentagon's Washington Headquarters Services and other Department of Defense (DoD) agencies as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, which seeks to move DoD personnel out of leased space to secure sites that meet the department's high antiterrorism security standards, according to the City of Alexandria's public information page on the project.

A recent article in Time magazine questioned whether locating the new complex in a highly dense area with Interstate-395 running along the south side of its campus was the right move. Citing an internal Pentagon blast study obtained by the magazine, the story describes the damage from different blast payloads taken from previous terrorist attacks domestically and overseas.

"The studies explore the hypothetical impact of truck bombs ranging from 1,000 lb. to 20,000 lb. parked at various easily accessible Mark Center locations. Officials chose the bomb sizes to match the explosive punch of bombs used in various high-profile terrorist attacks, including Oklahoma City, Beirut in 1993, Khobar Towers in 1996, and Nairobi in 1998, among others," writes Time's Mark Benjamin. "Several of the studies show the Mark Center would essentially be wiped out."

These concerns, however, have been longstanding. In April, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioning the logic of placing the building next to I-395. "Military explosive experts have told POGO that an eighteen-wheeler full of ammonium nitrate or other military grade explosive could easily be detonated in close proximity to the proposed new building, killing hundreds to thousands of DoD and contractor support employees."

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