Federal Buildings Flunk Security Test

United States General Accounting Office seal. GAO. AP

Working undercover, congressional investigators gained unauthorized access to four Atlanta federal buildings and easily sneaked briefcases and packages past security checkpoints.

One investigator obtained two different security badges and a guard's after-hours access code, according to a General Accounting Office report obtained Monday by The Associated Press. One pass allowed the investigator to carry a firearm in the buildings.

The report, to be discussed Tuesday at a congressional hearing being held in Atlanta, raises questions about security at federal buildings in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"This is pretty alarming," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on homeland security. "Obviously, it's extremely difficult to get your arms around all the vulnerabilities out there from a threat standpoint, but you would think our federal agencies would be paying more attention to in-house matters than they are."

During February and March, GAO investigators were able to bypass X-ray machines and other security devices, carrying items that could have been explosives, chemical weapons or listening devices, according to Ronald Malfi, acting director for the GAO's Office of Special Investigations.

One agent entered the building without any identification and convinced a General Services Administration employee to issue him a building pass and after-hours access code. The next day, he was able to upgrade that pass to one allowing him to carry weapons.

Both passes were then counterfeited, using commercial software, and other agents were able to enter the buildings with the bogus passes, which included their photographs and fictitious names.

"They were able to move freely and extensively throughout these facilities during both day and evening hours and were not challenged by anyone," Malfi said in testimony prepared for Tuesday's hearing.

The General Services Administration is responsible for security at federal buildings. Wendell Shingler, assistant commissioner for GSA's office of federal protective service, issued a statement but did not discuss the security breaches.

He said he wants to work with Congress and agencies to improve security.

"What's really important, beyond our front-line security force, is that we work daily with the FBI and other intelligence agencies to identify threats, because we know that intelligence is the best defense against terrorism," Shingler said.

The buildings subjected to the security tests were the Richard Russell Building, which houses a U.S. District Court; the Sam Nunn Federal Building, which has local offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Social Security Administration; the Summit Federal Building, which houses the Secret Service local office; and the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building, home to the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Atlanta office.

GAO investigators alerted federal authorities to the problems and corrective action was taken, according to the report.
  • Tricia McDermott

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