GAO report exposes federal buildings at risk
- By Nelson Ludlow
- Dec 01, 2009
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