Iran Threatens U.S. Army Base and Top General

(AP) -
A District of Columbia Fire Boat checks buoys in the waterway next to Fort McNair, seen in background in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Iran has made threats against Fort McNair, an Army base in the nation’s capital, and against the Army’s vice chief of staff, two senior U.S. intelligence officials said.

They said communications intercepted by the National Security Agency in January showed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard discussed mounting “USS Cole-style attacks” against the base, referring to the October 2000 suicide attack in which a small boat pulled up alongside the Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden and exploded, killing 17 sailors.

The intelligence also revealed threats to kill Gen. Joseph M. Martin and plans to infiltrate and surveil the base, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss national security matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The base, one of the oldest in the country, is Martin’s official residence.

The threats are one reason the Army has been pushing for more security around Fort McNair, which sits alongside Washington’s bustling newly developed Waterfront District.

City leaders have been fighting the Army’s plan to add a buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet (75 meters to 150 meters) from the shore of the Washington Channel, which would limit access to as much as half the width of the busy waterway running parallel to the Potomac River.

The Pentagon, National Security Council and NSA either did not reply or declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

As District of Columbia officials have fought the enhanced security along the channel, the Army has offered only vague information about threats to the base.

Discussions about the Fort McNair proposal began two years ago, but the recent intelligence gathered by the NSA has prompted Army officials to renew their request for the restrictions.

The intercepted chatter was among members of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and centered on potential military options to avenge the U.S. killing of the former Quds leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad in January 2020, the two intelligence officials said.

They said Tehran’s military commanders are unsatisfied with their counterattacks so far, specifically the results of the ballistic missile attack on Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq in the days after Soleimani’s killing. No U.S. service members were killed in that strike but dozens suffered concussions.

The proposed changes, outlined in a Federal Register notice, would prohibit both people and watercraft from “anchoring, mooring or loitering” within the restricted area without permission.

The notice specifies the need for security around the Marine Helicopter Squadron, which transports American presidents, and the general and staff officers’ quarters located at the water’s edge. The southern tip of Fort McNair is home to the National War College, where midlevel and senior officers gunning for admiral or general study national security strategy.

The Washington Channel is the site of one of the city’s major urban renewal efforts, with new restaurants, luxury housing and concert venues. The waterway flows from the point where the city’s two major rivers, the Potomac and Anacostia, meet.

It’s home to three marinas and hundreds of boat slips. About 300 people live aboard their boats in the channel, according to Patrick Revord, who is the director of technology, marketing and community engagement for the Wharf Community Association.

The channel also bustles with water taxis, which serve 300,000 people each year, river cruises that host 400,000 people a year and about 7,000 kayakers and paddleboarders annually, Revord said during the meeting.