Terrorism at the Malls: Ashcroft Briefs Retailers Amid Security Concerns

A day after laying out details of a plot to bomb an Ohio mall, Attorney General John Ashcroft addressed the NRF’s board on store security.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft

Photo By WWD Staff

A day after revealing a failed terrorist plot to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, Attorney General John Ashcroft addressed chief executives from several major retailers at the National Retail Federation’s Washington headquarters late Tuesday afternoon. And while the NRF’s annual board meeting — and Ashcroft’s appearance — had been planned for a while, the meeting couldn’t have been more timely.

Although the NRF barred journalists from its offices to talk to Ashcroft, after the meeting several industry leaders said the Ohio threat was discussed, as was the Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts and the Patriot Act, passed just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which greatly expanded law enforcement’s reach.

Allen Questrom, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney, said Ashcroft’s message to retailers was “that security is number one on the agenda. Terrorism is our new war. It’s the Third World War for America and I think that’s everybody’s focus.”

As for the safety of malls, Questrom said nothing can be 100 percent secure. “You have to attack the [terrorist] cells to try and find them. They didn’t find the [Columbus suspect] in a mall, they found him in the process of thinking and designing a way to attack a mall.

“At Penney’s, we’ve put a lot of attention on having employees be aware in our stores of suspicious packages, people who look suspicious.”

When asked if the federal government is doing enough to protect malls, retailers and the general public from terrorism, Paul Charron, chairman and ceo of Liz Claiborne, Inc., said: “As long as there aren’t any successful attacks we have to believe they are doing enough. But as soon as there’s one attack, we’ll all say they haven’t done enough.”

Charron added, “It seemed to me he’s [Ashcroft] pretty damned serious about doing everything he can.”

Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations for the NRF, noted that since 9/11 retailers and shopping centers are limiting access to rooftops, enforcing parking regulations and increasing the use of cameras and off-site digital remote monitoring, which allows security to observe multiple locations from a centralized location. Malls, retailers and law enforcement agencies at the local, regional and national level are trying to communicate more effectively and share information, he added
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