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Quick and Dirty

Insecurity Issue

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/12/2005

On Dec. 28, two Baltimore-based peace activists climbed to the roof of the Pentagon’s southeast entrance and hung a banner reading bring our troops home now over the door. The activists, Gary Ashbeck and Steve Kelly, expected to be arrested for breaching security but, surprisingly, were not, despite telling security officers what they had done.

“Gary told them, ‘Hey, that’s my banner.’ They said, ‘Get back in line,’” says Kelly, who, after taping the banner to the roof, was arrested for praying at the Pentagon with 16 other protesters.

The incident happened at about 7 a.m., when 70 peace activists associated with Jonah House, a group of Catholic Workers dedicated to serving the poor and calling attention to the horrors of war and nuclear weapons, arrived for their annual Pentagon vigil.

While some activists sang and some left the designated protest zone to get arrested while praying, Ashbeck and Kelly scaled the entranceway by climbing up a fire escape, Kelly says. The pair expected to be stopped before they got to the entranceway, and then expected to be arrested while on the roof, Kelly says. But members of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, which is in charge of security at the Department of Defense headquarters, did not appear.

“They maybe had their eyes on something else, I’m not sure,” Kelly says. “Of course, the real issue is what the banner was saying, which is ‘Bring our troops home now.’”

The pair waited a few minutes on the 25-foot-high roof, expecting to be spotted by security. Then they taped the four-foot-by-three-foot banner to the building and climbed down, again expecting to be met by security officers at the base of the building, Kelly says.

Kelly and others at the demonstration say the security force did not notice the banner for several minutes after the men returned to the main protest, and then took 15 minutes to remove it. “Pentagon security were very upset that we were able to get up there,” says Susan Crane, a member of Jonah House who was arrested that day. “We were in a holding area and they talked to us about it.”

Calls to the Pentagon Force Protection Agency were directed to the press office. Cheryl Irwin, a Pentagon spokeswoman, acknowledges the arrests and the banner. She says the banner was hung not on the Pentagon itself, but on an adjacent Metro station, which is also under the security watch of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency, created in 2002 to reorganize and beef up Pentagon security, announced in early ’03 its adoption of an Air Force program called “Eagle Eyes,” which teaches Pentagon employees to observe and report suspicious activities.

“I’m sure if the Pentagon police had seen them they would have asked them to stop,” Irwin says. “But I think it was the purpose of this group to try to embarrass the Pentagon police.”

Asked if the group did, in fact, embarrass the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, Irwin replies, “No.”

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