Jailed Rice protester surprised by dearth of security at hearing

An Iraq war protester who got within inches of Condoleezza Rice at a hearing last week said she was shocked that tighter security did not prevent her from coming so close to the secretary of state.

If there had been more security at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, protester Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz said, she probably wouldn’t have approached Rice. “I anticipated that she would have been surrounded by SS [Secret Service] or by private security,” she said.

Photos from the hearing show Ali-Fairooz sticking her hands, which had been soaked in fake blood, in the face of a startled Rice. She then screamed that the blood “of millions of Iraqis” was on the hands of the administration.

Ali-Fairooz, a member of Code Pink who has been arrested four times in the last seven months, was charged with disorderly conduct, defacing of government property and assault on a federal officer. She was one of five protesters arrested at the Oct. 24 hearing.

Ali-Fairooz, 51, said she didn’t go to the hearing with the intention of getting so close to the secretary of state. She planned to hold up a picture of Rice and soak her hands in fake blood, but when she saw an opening she decided to take it.

Ali-Fairooz said she spent 30 hours in jail following her arrest. Her court date is set for Dec. 5; she could face up to 10 years in prison. She also faces a “stay away” order that bars her from entering the Capitol grounds.

Despite the incident, Foreign Affairs Committee leadership from both sides of the aisle aren’t calling for tighter security.

“Code Pink and other groups have come to our hearings for a long time and if once in a while someone crosses the line then that’s viewed as an isolated incident,” said Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman. Weil said the incident should not lead to tightened security.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the committee’s ranking Republican, criticized protesters for unruly behavior, but stopped short of calling for additional security measures.

“Visitors should understand the security issues related to high-ranking officials and not get so physically close to them as to threaten their safety,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who also sits on the committee, said there is sufficient security in place, both in hearing rooms and at building entrances where visitors go through metal detectors.

At the same time, he said a hearing is “not the appropriate venue” for a protest.

U.S. Capitol Police declined to comment on any impact the incident may have on security policies. “We don’t discuss our security procedures,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said.

The House sergeant at arms also declined comment, citing a policy not to discuss security procedures. “We constantly review how we can balance the right of public access with the need for Congress to conduct its work,” said Deputy House Sergeant at Arms Kerri Hanley.

Ali-Fairooz said members of the activist group Code Pink routinely walk up to witnesses before hearings. There are no barriers between witnesses who sit at a table facing House members and the visitors seated behind them.

Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSenate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column MORE (R-Texas), a committee member who watched the incident unfold, has a unique perspective. A former judge used to seeing people get upset in a courtroom, he said there is always a balance in conducting hearings: They need to be open and public, yet safe and secure.

Poe also stopped short of calling for beefed-up security in the wake of the incident, although he suggested police should have reacted faster when Ali-Fairooz approached Rice.

“I would hope the Capitol Police would be quicker to react in those situations,” Poe said. “She was very threatening in the way she approached Condoleezza Rice.” At the same time, Poe said he did not feel threatened. “They didn’t get far enough,” he said.

Ali-Fairooz said no one had anything to fear from her, and that security should not be increased in hearings because she never intended to harm Rice.

“I didn’t do anything; it just looks scary. Even though I dislike Condoleezza Rice, I didn’t intend to hurt her. I don’t even like to kill roaches. I’m a grandmother,” she said.