House Committee to Hear About Security Breaches at Federal Buildings

Undercover investigators have breached security in four federal buildings in the Atlanta area, revealing lapses in federal law enforcement procedures and prompting a field hearing by the House committee that commissioned the investigation.

Congress is pleased with security measures taken in federal buildings in Washington, D.C.,  after Sept. 11. But the House Government Reform Committee, concerned about security in federal buildings across the nation, asked the General Accounting Office, its investigative arm, to measure security in other cities.

Atlanta became a test case for undercover officers who attempted to gain unauthorized access to secure facilities in such a manner that weapons, explosives, chemical/biological agents, listening devices, or other hazardous material could have been smuggled in.

Investigators tested security at Summit Federal Building, the Sam Nunn Federal Building, the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building, and the Richard B. Russell Federal Building.

The hearing, to be chaired by vice-chair Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., will include testimony from Ron Malfi, director of GAO's Office of Special Investigations. Malfi is expected to explain how investigators were able to enter the buildings between February and March 2002 without proper identification — carrying briefcases and packages — and bypass magnetometers and X-ray machines.

After entering the buildings, investigators were able to move "extensively" through the facilities during both daytime and evening hours without challenge by any Federal Protective Services personnel, who serve as law enforcement officers in federal buildings.

Agents carrying weapons and other materials were given the go-ahead by security personnel when they identified themselves as officials on their way to getting proper credentials from administrators in the buildings. Security personnel gave agents passes to enter the building and after-hours codes.

Agents then photocopied the passes with commercially available software and used the duplicates to pass through security. Even though real passes had holograms, agents were able to sufficiently fake a hologram. One investigator previewing the hearing said that a physical examination of the counterfeit passes would have shown they were bogus.

Federal Protective Services has since issued a security bulletin relaying the breaches and ordering better scrutiny of visitors.