By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The official in charge of protecting the Pentagon is in Boston today to brief law enforcement officials on the lessons from the recent shooting outside the military headquarters and outline the growing challenges security agencies face in protecting national landmarks and public buildings.
Steven E. Calvery, director of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, is a featured speaker before the National Asian Peace Officers' Association, which is holding its annual training conference in Boston this week.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Calvery said he believes the experience the 1,300-strong police force has gained since a hijacked airliner was flown into the building on 9/11 could benefit law enforcement agencies across the country. Many of them, he said, are grappling with similar security threats, including from terrorists, lone attackers, or insiders like the soldier who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas last November.
"A lot of police departments are focusing more on homeland security issues," Calvery, a 22-year veteran of the Secret Service, said last week in his Pentagon office. "We are right in the middle of major highways, one of the busiest airports in the country, and we have been the victim of a terrorist attack."
He said the force is instituting a variety of new security measures in the wake of the deadly shooting outside one of the entrances of the Pentagon on the evening of March 4, when John Patrick Bedell opened fire with a .9 millimeter automatic pistol on Pentagon police. Two officers were seriously injured before Bedell was shot to death.
The Pentagon now has plans to extend the security perimeter around the building, requiring the tens of thousands of workers and visitors each day to be screened before they enter the premises.
Another new step will include more frequent training of officers, he said, noting that the officers involved in the March 4 incident received active shooter training just days before. At the same time, the Pentagon also plans to build a new $5 million Visitor Screening Facility next year.
Meanwhile, he said the agency is also focusing more energy on the possible threat from disturbed individuals, which have not been commonly thought of as serious threats.
The Pentagon often turns away people claiming to have a meeting with the secretary of defense, he said. "Because of what we represent and where we're located, like the White House and Capitol, people are coming here all the time who are mentally unstable, want to see the secretary, have all kinds of issues. And we deal with that," he said.
The vast majority are harmless, he said, and is it is extremely difficult to pick out someone like Bedell, who surveillance cameras showed had stood outside the Pentagon for nearly an hour before he opened fire at the officers guarding the entrance.
"We caught him at the metro transit center where the buses arrive," Calvery recalled. "If his intent was simply to shoot military personnel he had many opportunities. His intent was to get in the building."
"March 4 was a good lesson for us," Calvery added. "There are going to be people like Bedell, who was never on anybody's radar, who never made a threat, who had never shown a direct interest in the Pentagon. For some reason gets in his car in California and drives to Washington, DC, for the sole intent of attacking the Pentagon. That caused us to re-evaluate some of the things we do."
Another growing challenge for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency is minimizing the potential for someone who works in the Pentagon to act out violently.
The force has recently conducted random searches of employees entering the building and was surprised how many weapons were found. Only designated members of the military or civilian personnel can be armed inside the Pentagon.
"We arrested one employee for trying to bring a hand gun into the building," he said. Officers have also seized "scores of knives," pepper spray, stun guns, batons, and "any kind of weapon that you can think of."
Another step will likely have to be greater security inside the building, he said. "Once you are in the building you can pretty much go everywhere you want. Most facilities are not like that. I'd like to change that."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.