White House reviews air-to-ground security

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said yesterday that the Clinton administration is responding to Saturday's shooting at the White House by reviewing "every aspect of how the White House complex could be attacked -- from the air or from the ground," and acknowledged that public access might have to be further restricted.

At a news briefing, Mr. Bentsen said recommendations will be made by early next year for upgrading security, such as possibly closing off the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that runs in front of the mansion or stationing more guards on the sidewalk.

Mr. Bentsen's remarks came as a federal magistrate ordered Francisco Martin Duran, who is charged with raking the White House with bullets Saturday, to undergo psychiatric testing to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial.

Magistrate Deborah Robinson issued her ruling at the request of federal prosecutors, who said the contents of handwritten notes found in Mr. Duran's pickup truck suggested the precautionary move was needed to ensure a fair trial. Mr. Duran fired 20 to 30 rounds from a semi-automatic assault rifle Saturday afternoon while standing on a Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk in front of the White House.

Administration officials acknowledged that a review of security procedures, which began after the Sept. 12 crash of a light plane on the White House South Lawn, now centers on a sensitive question that long has been avoided: whether the president's house should, after two centuries, be put out of reach of the public -- at the cost of dimming its status as a leading symbol of the nation's democracy and detracting from a prime experience of visitors to the nation's capital.

"The review will examine whatever means might be available, including state-of-the-art technology, to better protect the White House and our national leaders," Mr. Bentsen said.

PTC Asked how security needs could be balanced with the public's desire for access to the national landmark, Mr. Bentsen said, "Well, obviously you can't have a totally open White House. "You have to achieve a balance insofar as making it as accessible as you can to the American people and in turn giving the protection that's necessary for this nation's leaders and their families."

He announced that he was appointing an outside advisory committee to assist in the review. The panel will include William H. Webster, former director of the FBI and CIA; David Jones, retired Air Force general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Judith Rodin, a psychologist and president of the University of Pennsylvania.

At his court hearing, Mr. Duran, a husky man dressed in a black polo shirt and black jeans, was asked only for his name as he stood in the heavily guarded courtroom. He made no statement and will officially enter a plea later this week.

U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. told reporters that "the competency screening for Mr. Duran is not an indication we believe he is incompetent, and it's not a question of insanity. We just want doctors to examine him and determine if he can understand the nature of the proceedings against him and if he can help his counsel in his defense at trial."

Under U.S. law, if Mr. Duran were judged to be incapable of understanding the proceedings or aiding his attorney, he could not be tried unless he underwent psychiatric treatment, which might require his commitment to a mental institution. If his mental state improved, he could then be tried.

Federal sources said that at least one of two notes suggested Mr. Duran, 26, thought he might be killed by Secret Service agents and that he left instructions on how his affairs should be handled in event of his death.

The government expanded its charges against the ex-Army convict to include assault on a Secret Service officer and use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

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