Communications intercepted by National Security Agency showed Revolutionary Guard discussed targeting Fort McNair base to avenge killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, intelligence officials tell Associated Press.

In this March 19, 2021 photo a District of Columbia Fire Boat checks buoys in the waterway next to Fort McNair, seen in background in Washington.
In this March 19, 2021 photo a District of Columbia Fire Boat checks buoys in the waterway next to Fort McNair, seen in background in Washington. (AP)

Iran has made threats against Fort McNair, a military base in the US capital, and against the Army's vice chief of staff, two senior US intelligence officials have told Associated Press. 

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 General Joseph M Martin and plans to infiltrate and surveil the base, according to the officials, who were not authorised 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.

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Army seeks more security around base

The threats are one reason the US 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 military's plan to add a buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet 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 US Army has offered only vague information about threats to the base.

At a virtual meeting in January to discuss the proposed restrictions, Army Major General Omar Jones, commander of the Military District of Washington, cited "credible and specific" threats against military leaders who live on the base. 

The only specific security threat he offered was about a swimmer who ended up on the base and was arrested.

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Tehran unsatisfied with counterattacks?

The intercepted chatter was among members of the elite Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and centred on potential military options to avenge the US killing of the former Quds leader, General Qasem 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 US service members were killed in that strike but dozens suffered concussions.

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Citizens oppose curbs near base

The southern tip of Fort McNair is home to the National War College, where mid-level 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 paddle-boarders annually, Revord said during the meeting.

Residents and city officials say the restrictions would create unsafe conditions by narrowing the channel for larger vessels traversing the waterway alongside smaller motorboats and kayakers.

Guy Shields, a retired Army infantry colonel and member of the Capitol Yacht Club who opposes the restrictions around Fort McNair, said during the meeting that waterway restrictions wouldn’t boost security.

"Those buoys aren't going to do anything to enhance security. It will increase congestion in an already congested area," Shields said. "And I'll say, signs do not stop people with bad intentions."

It's unclear whether the new intelligence will change the city's opposition to the Army's security plan.

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Source: AP