- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Undercover agents from the General Accounting Office told a Senate subcommittee Thursday they could easily have carried weapons, explosives or listening devices unchallenged into several federal agencies they entered using bogus badges and phony credentials.

Robert Hast, assistant controller general for the GAO's Office of Special Investigations, told senators the undercover agents were never confronted by security officials, and had no trouble penetrating 19 federal agencies and two airports gaining entry to 18 of the 21 sites on the first attempt.

"At no time during the undercover visits were our agents' bogus credentials or badges challenged by anyone," said Mr. Hast, who said the federal agencies were targeted based on their involvement in national security, intelligence and criminal justice.

Rep. Bill McCollum, Florida Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime, which called for the investigation, said the results of the undercover operation show that many of the federal government's most sensitive sites "are completely vulnerable to terrorism on the cheap."

"In a matter of 10 to 15 seconds, they were in," Mr. McCollum said. "I was shocked. With a massive expansion of federal anti-terrorist security measures in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, I would never have thought this could happen."

The targeted sites included the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, Pentagon, State Department, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Mr. Hast told the subcommittee the agents, who identified themselves as police officers, were turned away at three sites in their first attempt. But when they visited the sites a second time, they gained entry to all three facilities.

"In all but three sites, escorts were not required and our agents wandered through the buildings without being stopped," he said. "At the three sites that required escorts, our undercover agents were permitted to keep their declared firearms and carry their unscreened valises."

A draft GAO report of the operation confirmed that the undercover agents successfully entered the private suites of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Attorney General Janet Reno, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala and NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.

The report said the agents used credentials made with widely available computer programs and badges bought over the Internet to pose as plainclothes police.

Under that guise, the agents got close access to the private suites of 15 Cabinet officers or department heads, and took briefcases and bags unescorted into the bathrooms nearest those 15 offices.

At the Justice Department, they drove a rental van into the department's courtyard, where it was left while the agents went into the building unescorted and later entered Miss Reno's office.

Miss Reno said new security measures have been put into place at Justice, but would not elaborate.

"I've been told that I shouldn't tell people how to get in the building," she said Thursday during her weekly press briefing. "Any time you can create a security problem or create a situation where people could gain access unwarrantedly, we should do something about it.

"I think any time you expose vulnerabilities, it's a good thing," she said.

The report said the agents entered the buildings after declaring they were armed. Briefcases they carried were never searched.

At Reagan Airport and Orlando International Airport, the agents obtained boarding passes and firearms permits to carry weapons on flights for which they had purchased tickets. The briefcases they carried were never X-rayed and they were never challenged as they boarded the planes.

At the Pentagon, Navy Adm. Craig Quigley also said Thursday that security changes have been made as "a direct result" of the GAO report; law-enforcement personnel from other federal agencies will no longer be able to enter the Pentagon without an escort, and law enforcement personnel who carry weapons must surrender them upon arrival at the Pentagon.

"They will keep those weapons under lock and key for the duration of the law enforcement agent's visit," he said.

Adm. Quigley also said other security upgrades have been made over the past several months and that more measures would come.

"This is very much an ongoing process. It's never done. It is always something that you take a look at and try your best to improve while at the same time trying to make it a usable office building for people to come and go and actually get business done," he said.

The FBI said that beginning immediately, law-enforcement officers from outside the FBI will have to surrender their weapons before entering unless they have been given permanent building passes.

Also, the FBI said the guard post on the street will verify visitors' picture identification and which FBI employee they are visiting, rather than waiting to do that when they reach an escort desk inside the building.

Miss Reno acknowledged that the GAO agents who penetrated the Justice Department posed as "friends" from Miami and had made it to her office.

She also said the department was reviewing how the agents obtained phony credentials off the Internet. She said she wanted to "understand how they did it."

The report said some of the badges used by the agents were movie props and identified the undercover officers as members of the New York Police Department, the FBI and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

The credentials did not always match the badges, the report said, noting that some of the documents identified the agents as being from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The report said the agents worked in two-member teams and in some cases, only one agent was required to show a badge.

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