a federal building

Homeland Insecurity

GAO report exposes federal buildings at risk

A recently issued report from the Government Accountability Office presented some alarming findings regarding security features in federal facilities. Undercover investigators were able to sneak hidden liquid explosives and detonators past security guards and checkpoints in high-risk or security Level IV federal buildings occupied by the Homeland Security, Justice and State departments.

Congressional agency agents, who succeeded in each of 10 attempts undertaken between April and May, were not only able to gain unauthorized entry into the high-risk facilities, but once inside, they were then able to assemble bombs and walk freely around each building. While the locations of the breached buildings were not disclosed, they included offices of an unnamed U.S. senator and a member of the House of Representatives.

The GAO report highlights "substantial security vulnerabilities" in the Federal Protective Service, a component of DHS, whose guards protect some 9,000 federal facilities, including courthouses and national political conventions. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, (I-Conn.), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he found the report findings "shocking" and "unacceptable."

The GAO report focused on the 15,000 armed guards who work for private security companies hired and overseen by FPS. These guards are required to receive 128 hours of training, including eight hours operating X-ray machines and metal detectors. The GAO found, however, that hundreds of the guards had not had X-ray or metal detection training since 2004, and 62 percent of 663 guards had at least one expired certification requirement. Upon learning of the report findings, FPS Director Gary Schenkel immediately ordered the agency's top regional officials to increase personnel oversight and improve guard training within 60 days.

The question dramatized by the report, however, is why do the millions of people who visit and work in federal buildings remain so vulnerable to potential terrorist attack every day? These potentially catastrophic security failings are especially troubling given that proven preventative technology already exists and is in use today. These technologies include relatively inexpensive wireless identity systems that can deter terrorists and criminals from gaining access to our nation's federal secure facilities.

Who is getting into our nation's federal buildings, military bases, battleships and port facilities? Every day security checkpoint staff have to make split-second decisions regarding the identity of persons seeking access to their facilities. With just moments to visually examine ID cards, how is it possible for guards to determine whether a given card is valid for entry, whether the holder has been officially barred, whether the card was reported lost or stolen, and whether the holder has outstanding wants or warrants?

The Defense ID System is an advanced ID card access control product that instantly reads, analyzes and verifies encoded data in magnetic stripes and barcodes on government-issue IDs from 60 jurisdictions in the United States and Canada to determine if the content and format are valid. Currently protecting more than 70 federal installations, including high-visibility military facilities such as Andrews Air Force Base (home to Air Force One), Defense ID has stopped more than 60,000 individuals from gaining access to secure areas. The Defense ID System has scanned millions of IDs and been responsible for the identification of more than 10,000 criminals, with zero false positives.

Defense ID is a rugged, mobile, handheld device typically used by entry control point staff who scan the machine-readable code on military ID cards and driver's licenses to compare the data to more than 100 criminal lists, including the FBI Most Wanted Fugitives, America's Most Wanted and Interpol. After a terrorist plot was discovered and thwarted at Fort Dix, N.J., the U.S. military chose Defense ID to aid the security personnel in protecting the base.

Defense ID also can be used for large public events. During a recent air show in Maryland, more than 50,000 IDs were scanned and 71 stops were made.

The need for robust ID security technology such as Defense ID is greater than ever. As of April 15, the Transportation Worker Identity Credential became a mandatory form of identification for nearly 1.5 million workers wishing to gain access to each of the more than 175 seaports in the United States. A Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard initiative, TWIC cards promise to provide tamper- resistant biometric identification cards to port facility workers.

While the intentions of this identification system are worthy, enormous challenges still exist in the implementation of this ambitious program. The cards come with embedded information—including microchip, biometrics bar and magnetic stripe—but there is currently no universal electronic reader in place. A variation on the Defense ID System, the IM2700 Mobile TWIC Reader, is being pilot tested in realworld security environments in three major North American seaports.

As underscored by both the GAO report and loopholes that exist in the recent implementation of the TWIC program, too many of our nation's ports, buildings and federal secure facilities remain vulnerable. Fortunately, technology exists today that stands at the ready to help shore up our nation's security.

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