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The bureau going to Prince George’s or Fairfax means the District gets to redevelop a prime spot on Pennsylvania Avenue. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Sammy Six.

It’s official: The District will no longer be home to Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Instead, the bureau’s next headquarters will be suburban, according to a short list of potential sites released Tuesday by the General Services Administration that includes plots in Greenbelt, Landover, and Springfield.

Since the FBI announced plans in 2012 to leave the hulking, brutalist Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, local jurisdictions have scrambled to win the agency’s favor. The FBI is desperate to consolidate more than 11,000 regional employees­­­—currently spread across 20 sites—on a single campus, and the Hoover Building, home to about 5,800 of those workers, is showing its age after 39 years as an eyesore squatting on Washington’s most famous street.

While today’s shortlist cements it, the FBI’s departure to the suburbs was telegraphed by its requirements for a new headquarters: a plot of at least 50 acres big enough to hold a 2.1 million-square-foot building, parking, and other ancillary facilities that’s also within two and a half miles of the Capital Beltway and two miles of a Metro station.

The District’s best offer when the GSA started taking proposals in March 2013 was 40 acres on Poplar Point, an empty swath of Southeast that has frequently been touted as one of the city’s last remaining opportunities for high-value waterfront development. Republic Properties, a large private development firm, floated a tract a few blocks behind Union Station that would have displaced another federal building.

Besides wide-open spaces, the FBI also wants its new headquarters to be a fortress behind a wide security perimeter and without “close proximity to community facilities,” as the federal government’s request for expressions of interest read.

Poplar Point proved too close to densely populated Anacostia, while the site behind Union Station would be neighbored on every side. The FBI’s desire for heavily armed isolation was one of the factors that led Victor Hoskins, DC’s former deputy mayor for planning and economic development, to tell the GSA last November that the District was effectively rendered ineligible to keep the bureau within its borders.

The sites announced today, by contrast, fit the FBI’s wish-list to a T. Greenbelt’s 82-acre plot is mostly occupied right now by parking for the nearby Metro station. The Landover Mall was demolished in 2006, leaving 88 acres of open space; and the Springfield site would replace a GSA warehouse and land owned by Boston Properties.

Prince George’s County has been making the hard sell for Greenbelt, offering $112 million in subsidies to the firm that would eventually develop the site for the FBI, according to the Washington Post. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Representatives Steny Hoyer and Donna Edwards, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker already have a celebratory press conference scheduled for this afternoon.

But DC, home to the FBI for 106 years, shouldn’t feel like a big loser. While the District stands to forfeit $9.2 million in tax revenue in the short term, it will gain much more than that back when the Hoover Building, which takes up 6.7 acres and an entire city block, is knocked down and redeveloped, especially if its replacement is a taxable property. A report issued last year by Natwar Gandhi, then DC’s chief financial officer, suggested a privately owned, mixed-use development could generate $28 million in new annual revenue, along with several hundred new taxpaying residents. As a federal building, the Hoover Building’s only economic contribution to the District is the sales taxes FBI employees pay when they go off-campus.

“We are happy to see the solicitation process is moving along and look forward to the opportunity to redevelop the site along Pennsylvania Avenue,” reads a statement today from Jeff Miller, the current deputy mayor for economic development.

Fiscal projections aside, the FBI leaving suits city and federal planners’ desired future for Pennsylvania Avenue. With the Old Post Office turned over to the Trumps to transform into a super-luxury hotel, the roadway that’s purportedly “America’s Main Street” is about to get a jolt of commercial activity it sorely lacks. When the GSA floats 935 Pennsylvania Avenue on the real-estate market, as it has said it intends, developers will undoubtedly jump all over each other to claim the sexy address while local officials await a potential windfall that will fill city coffers a lot more than law-enforcement sentimentality will.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:15 PM/ET, 07/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The FBI’s requirements for its new headquarters likely mean the bureau will not remain in DC when it moves. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user OZinOH.

The FBI is probably going to go to the suburbs. The likelihood of the feds staying in town when they vacate Pennsylvania Avenue’s garish J. Edgar Hoover Building has all but evaporated with the District’s top economic official effectively pulling the city from contention.

The FBI’s preferred criteria for a new headquarters renders ineligible any sites the District might have proposed, Victor Hoskins, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, wrote in a letter last month to Dan Tangherlini, the head of the General Services Administration, the agency that manages federal real estate. Hoskins’s letter was first obtained by the Washington Post.

In a Request for Expressions of Interest published last month, the GSA wrote that the FBI is looking for a plot of about 50 acres on which to build a 2.1 million square foot headquarters, plus parking. The site also needs to be able to fit the bureau’s security needs without making “significant impacts on the quality of the human and natural environment.”

Those and other requirements appear to disqualify the District’s proposal for putting the FBI on a 40-acre plot at Poplar Point, a tract Southeast DC along the Anacostia River that is currently used by the National Park Service but has been eyed for redevelopment in the future. Even with Poplar Point seemingly out of the mix, the District is unlikely to suggest a different location for where the FBI might land.

Poplar Point is what we have,Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vince Gray, told the Post.

UPDATE: Dan Cruz, a spokesman for the GSA, writes in an email that the agency still wants the District to compete for the FBI relocation.

"The ad states that GSA anticipates approximately 50 acres would be needed to satisfy this project based on assumptions regarding building height, density, and security requirements," Cruz writes. "However, the language regarding the acreage is not a minimum nor a maximum requirement; it is a general ballpark figure. Smaller sites that satisfy all minimum requirements of square footage, security, access to public transit, and access to the Capital Beltway will be considered."

The GSA is taking submissions through December 17, and any landowner—public or private—can express interest.

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Posted at 10:37 AM/ET, 12/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Images show Alexis roaming the halls of Building 197 and the shotgun he used to carry out the attack. By Benjamin Freed
Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis moves through the hallways of Building 197. Photograph courtesy of the FBI.

Aaron Alexis roamed the Washington Navy Yard’s Building 197 for nearly an hour before police took him down, the FBI said today. In a press conference that gave the fullest picture so far of the shooting spree last week that took 13 lives, officials also released surveillance video and photos of Alexis driving onto the base and roaming the hallways with the shotgun he purchased at a Northern Virginia store two days before his rampage.

Close-up photographs of the shotgun, a Remington 870, show that Alexis sawed down and etched it with various phrases, including “End to the torment!” and “Better off this way!” Authorities also provided a detailed timeline of the shootings.

Alexis, who was working there as an information technology contractor, drove onto the base at 7:53 AM in a rented Toyota Prius, the FBI said. He had been staying at a Residence Inn in Southwest DC since Sept. 7, after spending the previous two weeks at other Washington-area hotels. After parking his car, he entered Building 197 carrying a backpack and a clipboard and headed into a fourth-floor restroom at 8:09. Six minutes later, he emerged from the restroom carrying the shotgun, leaving the backpack and clipboard behind.

Alexis killed his first victim at 8:16, prompting a 911 call a minute later. For the next hour, he walked around the building, stopping on the third floor and ground floor before returning to the fourth floor. He went back down to the third floor just before 9 AM. At 9:25, he was finally stopped when MPD Officer Dorian DeSantis shot and killed him.

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Posted at 03:18 PM/ET, 09/25/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The latest from law enforcement on Monday's shooting spree. By Benjamin Freed
DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier gives an update on the investigation into the Navy Yard massacre. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Aaron Alexis, the Navy veteran suspected of carrying yesterday's shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard, entered Building 197 with a valid identification pass while carrying a shotgun he purchased legally at a gun shop in Virginia, the FBI said in the latest update from law enforcement on the massacre that left 13 people dead, including the assailant.


Valerie Parlave, the FBI's assistant director who runs the Washington field office, also said that Alexis, who was employed by an information technology firm working on a Navy intranet, arrived in the DC area around aug. 25, and stayed in a series of hotels. Most recently, he lived out of a Residence Inn about a mile and a half from Navy Yard. Parlave said Alexis, 34, checked into the hotel on Sept. 7.

Alexis, who was an engineer's mate in the Navy between 2007 and 2011, had a security clearance through his employer. He passed a background check to work on military projects, although his personal history shows multiple run-ins with police over the years and that he sought treatment from the Veterans' Administration for mental illness.

"Mr. Alexis had legitimate access to the Navy Yard as a result of his work as a contractor, and he utilized a valid pass to gain entry into the building," Parlave said.

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Posted at 03:12 PM/ET, 09/17/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Information is developing quickly about the life and background of the Navy Yard shooter. By Carol Ross Joynt

The dead suspected gunman in the Navy Yard shootings, Aaron Alexis, joins a long and growing list in America of mass shooters, particularly lone males. There have been 15 this year alone, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said in an MSNBC interview. In the 24 hours since the Navy Yard shootings occurred, claiming 13 including Alexis and injuring another eight, information about Alexis has developed quickly. The picture being painted of him by police, forensic profilers, and friends is of a man with possible mental health, anger, and violence issues. 

Here’s what we’ve gleaned so far from a variety of sources, including the FBI, police, and media stories:

• He was 34 years old, stood 6-foot-1, and weighed approximately 190 pounds, according to public records. 

• He moved to DC from Fort Worth in the past month. Authorities said that as of September 7 he lived in a Residence Inn near the Navy Yard.

• He was pursuing an online aeronautical engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

• The Washington Post reported on Tuesday afternoon that while he was in the Navy “Alexis was cited at least eight times for misconduct for offenses as minor as a traffic ticket and showing up late for work but also as serious as insubordination and disorderly conduct,” quoting a Navy official who asked for anonymity. The paper reported, again quoting the anonymous source, that Alexis was arrested in 2008 in DeKalb County, Georgia, and held for two nights in jail. The story includes a link to the citation.

• His prior police record includes a 2004 malicious mischief charge in Seattle for shooting out the tires of another man’s car. He was also arrested in 2010 in Fort Worth for discharging a firearm at the Orion Oak Hill apartments, where he lived. 

• Seattle police, investigating the 2004 handgun incident, talked with Alexis’s father, who said his son had anger problems and post-traumatic stress disorder after being an “active participant” in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

• Alexis served in the Navy Reserves from May 2007 through 2011, according to the Navy. He left the service on his own decision and entered into private contracting work. He was decorated twice by the Defense Department, with a National Defense service medal and a Global War on Terrorism service medal.

• He had converted to Buddhism, enjoyed meditation, and was fascinated with Thailand. He was learning the language and had visited the country. He occasionally worked as a waiter at the Happy Bowl Thai restaurant in a suburb of Fort Worth, speaking Thai with the customers. 

• In a wide range of interviews, friends and acquaintances of Alexis described him as friendly but also reclusive and shy.

• Law enforcement authorities told the Associated Press that Alexis suffered from paranoia and sleep disorder, and that he said he was hearing voices. He was treated by the Veterans Administration, but the Navy did not declare him mentally unfit.

• Friends said Alexis was drawn to playing video games, including some that skew particularly violent, such as Call of Duty. A Fort Worth, Texas, friend and on-and-off roommate, Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, who described Alexis as being like his “big brother,” said Alexis would sometimes play video games “all day and all night.” 

• His family lives in New York, where he also lived before moving to Seattle. Alexis also had relatives in Seattle and Georgia. 

See below for a biography of Alexis released by the Navy's Office of Information. 

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Posted at 05:04 PM/ET, 09/16/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
After 12 years heading the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency, he’ll walk out of the Hoover Building Tuesday for the last time as director. By Garrett M. Graff


The SUVs and helicopters arrived one by one all morning at Camp David, the presidential retreat hidden deep within the Catoctin Mountains on Maryland’s border, assembling on September 15, 2001, the men who would lead the nation into war. There was President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, General Hugh Shelton, CIA Director George Tenet with the agency’s head of counterterrorism, Cofer Black, and Attorney General John Ashcroft with the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller. Sitting at a large conference table in casual clothes—the President wore a parka—they spent the morning and afternoon plotting the nation’s response to the devastating terrorist attacks and by day’s end settled on a course that would lead the country first into Afghanistan and, later, into Iraq.

Twelve years later, they’re all gone from the government—their war on terror over, their memoirs written, their speaking tours mostly wrapped up, their consulting firms up and running. The George W. Bush presidential library opened this spring in Dallas, and the former president has now taken up painting.

They’re all gone, that is, except one.

Robert Mueller’s war on terror has continued.

On the day of Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Mueller, who started as director just a week before 9/11, watched from the seventh-floor windows of the Hoover Building as the new President and the inaugural parade passed below on Pennsylvania Avenue—one of just two senior national security officials, along with Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who carried over from one president to the next. He’s gotten used to the revolving doors around him. In his roughly 4,000 daily terrorism threat briefings—give or take a few hundred—he’s worked with four attorneys general and six CIA directors. Internally, he’s seen five deputy directors and nearly a dozen heads of counterterrorism rotate through.

In 2011, he became the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover himself—and undoubtedly the most influential since. Later that year, his mandatory ten-year term poised to force him from office, Mueller was considered so vital to national security that Congress at President Obama’s request passed unprecedented special legislation allowing him to extend his term an additional two years. In almost any meeting now, he’s the senior and most experienced voice. “He’s the grownup around the table,” says one senior Justice Department official. “He’s like EF Hutton—when he talks, people listen. He can redirect a whole conversation, because he’s been doing this the longest. Everyone respects him.”

But today, after nearly 4,400 days, Bob Mueller’s war on terror is set to end.

At midnight tonight, he’ll hand over the reins of the nation’s premier domestic law-enforcement agency to newly confirmed FBI director Jim Comey, his longtime friend and onetime companion in the trenches of the war on terror.

Mueller has remade the Bureau from top to bottom, transforming its intelligence capabilities, focusing it on counterterrorism and cybercrime, and growing it internationally in ways Hoover never could have imagined. With little public note, the FBI under Mueller has become the first truly global police force, transforming the domestic agency created to combat interstate crime into one focused increasingly on transnational crime, especially in the arenas of cybercrime and counterterrorism. Whereas Hoover in his lifetime never crossed either the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, Mueller has become a global diplomat. A world map in the deputy director’s office shows more than 60 locations abroad where FBI agents are now posted, and Bureau leaders talk of its reach “from Indianapolis to Islamabad.” As Mueller says, “The FBI has never faced a more complex threat environment than it does today, whether one considers terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, or traditional crimes.”

Indeed, Mueller’s final year has been especially difficult—perhaps his most challenging since the year after 9/11. In March, he personally fell victim to the rising tide of online identity theft when the details of his life—along with those of celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, and Donald Trump—were leaked by a Russian hacker website. It was as disruptive to him as it was to anyone else, with Mueller spending evenings and weekends reassembling the mundane details of modern life, changing credit cards and bank accounts, and so forth.

The following month, the Boston Marathon bombing—the first successful terrorist attack on US civilians since 9/11 itself—tested the agency, first with the initial attack, then with the subsequent citywide lockdown and manhunt, then finally with the public questions surrounding whether better investigation in previous years might have stopped the attackers earlier. In the weeks after the bombing, too, in a confusing incident that still remains murky publicly, an FBI agent in Florida shot and killed a Chechen immigrant being interrogated about his connection to the Tsarnaevs.

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Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 09/03/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
President Obama's choice to lead the FBI has crossed swords with Vice President Cheney, Martha Stewart, and the Gambino crime family—and become close friends with outgoing FBI director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder By Garrett M. Graff

The reported nomination of Jim Comey to be the next director of the FBI is a strong statement by President Obama about his desire to bring the war on terror into constitutional boundaries—but Comey has made some enemies along the way in Vice President Cheney, Martha Stewart, and the Gambino crime family.

Here’s what you need to know about Jim Comey, all six-foot eight-inches of him:

1) Crime—especially gun crime—for him is a personal crusade. When he was a child, a man broke into his house in New Jersey and held him, his brother, and three neighbors hostage at gunpoint. The culprit was never caught. As a federal prosecutor in Richmond, Comey started "Project Exile,” which federalized local gun cases and delivered harsh sentences to those convicted of weapons charges. Comey’s prime backer in that project? The then-deputy attorney general, Eric Holder. Comey was so proud of his Richmond work that a gun confiscated in Project Exile hung in his office as general counsel at Lockheed Martin after leaving the Bush administration.

2) Public service is important to Jim Comey. Ever since graduating from the College of William & Mary, he’s worked at almost all levels of the Justice Department—and even gave up a job at a top tier law firm in the 1990s to work as a federal prosecutor for the Justice Department. He was deputy attorney general during a critical period after 9/11, helping to calm and to organize the vast federal machinery that had spun to life after the terror attacks. 

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Posted at 09:23 PM/ET, 05/29/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A previously unreported plan by Republic Properties would allow the FBI to remain in downtown DC rather than relocating to the suburbs, answering the dreams of many FBI officials. By Garrett M. Graff
An architect's rendering shows what a proposed new FBI headquarters might look like on land now used as a parking lot by the Government Printing Office. Image courtesy of Arthur Cotton Moore.

Amid the 35 proposals to relocate the FBI’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue—the area’s biggest economic development gem in years—is a surprising plan that might just keep the Bureau in downtown Washington, constructing a new building close to Union Station and answering the dreams of many senior FBI leaders.

The Union Station proposal—not previously reported—is backed by Republic Properties and renowned DC architect Arthur Cotton Moore and would provide the FBI with the full required 2.1 million square feet (2,107,242 to be exact) of new space. Republic Properties proposes to build on an empty lot—bordered by North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, and New Jersey Avenue—currently used as parking for the Government Printing Office, which occupies the eastern portion of the block. The neighboring GPO building, which handles the printing of the Congressional Record and passports, among other projects, is underused and in need of renovation itself. Republic Properties is proposing renovations to the GPO facility, the addition of underground parking, and the construction of a new FBI headquarters.

While much of the attention around the headquarters move has focused on the suburbs—suggested sites include Springfield, Virginia, and Greenbelt, Maryland—many senior FBI officials have longed for a viable solution that would keep the Bureau’s 11,000 headquarters staff in downtown DC. The Hoover Building, built nearly 40 years ago and aging badly, has forced the FBI to split its headquarters staff across more than 20 annexes in Washington. Yet FBI officials are wary of moving to the suburbs, which would complicate relations with Congress, the White House, and especially the Department of Justice—currently just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the existing Hoover Building. FBI officials also hope to reopen its public tour, closed since 9/11, in a new headquarters, allowing the building to once again be a major stopping point for tourists.

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Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 04/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
An open letter to the author of “No Easy Day,” who may soon face legal action for allegedly violating nondisclosure agreements in writing his book. By Shane Harris

Dear Mark Owen (a.k.a. Matt Bissonnette),

On Tuesday, I wrote a review of your new book, No Easy Day, about your role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. There are few easy days ahead of you. The government apparently is considering whether to take legal action against you for allegedly violating the terms of two nondisclosure agreements you signed while still in uniform that the Pentagon says remain in force today. And this administration, as you may already know, is not too fond of employees who talk about sensitive national security operations without asking permission.

The Pentagon says there are secrets in your book. It seems officials are preparing to move against you, possibly with an eye to indicting you. (They’ve already determined they can’t stop the sale of your book.) I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve written about leak investigations, the government prosecutors who run them, and the pledges government employees often sign to keep quiet about their work. We journalists also have to be cautious these days about whom we talk to and what secrets we publish. So here are some tips learned in the field that you might keep in mind as you mount your defense.

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Posted at 01:27 PM/ET, 09/06/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
A 2001 report about the CIA Counterterrorism Center highlighted the two agencies’ contentious working relationship, an issue that still plagues them today. By Garrett M. Graff

The French say it like “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This week unfortunately has brought a fresh reminder—two, in fact—that the FBI and the CIA continue to struggle to get along, more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks exposed a glaring—and deadly—lack of communication between the two cornerstones of the US national security apparatus.

A Washington Post story this week reports that the office of director of national intelligence, a post created after the September 11 attacks, has handed the FBI an “expanded role in coordinating the domestic intelligence-gathering activities of the CIA.”

Coincidentally, the National Security Archive at George Washington University released a trove of decade-old CIA documents dealing with the hunt for Osama bin Laden. While much of the media’s attention today has focused on the Counterterrorism Center’s budget woes before 9/11, one of the most striking documents is the CIA’s inspection report of its Counterterrorism Center from the summer of 2001 (PDF). Conducted while, unbeknownst to the agency, Mohamed Atta and the 9/11 hijackers were finalizing their plans to attack Washington and New York, the CIA inspector general’s routine investigation discussed the overall effectiveness of CTC. After generally giving the center good marks—despite its budget and staffing shortfalls—deep into the report, the IG raises the agency’s working relationship with the FBI, listed on an earlier page as one of its key relationships. “CTC described cooperative relations with the FBI,” the report said. “The growth in joint activities and cross assignments suggests that the relationship is now more institutionalized and less personality dependent.”

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Posted at 01:10 PM/ET, 06/21/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()