- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

Undercover agents from the General Accounting Office used counterfeit badges and phony credentials to penetrate security at two airports and 19 government offices including the CIA, Justice Department, FBI, State Department and Pentagon.

Agents from the GAO's Office of Special Investigations successfully entered the private suites of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Attorney General Janet Reno, Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala and NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.

According to a GAO draft report, the agents used credentials made with widely available computer programs and badges purchased over the Internet to pose as plainclothes officers in an investigation sought by the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime.

Under that guise, the agents also were allowed 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.

The agents entered the buildings after declaring they were armed. Briefcases they carried were never searched. 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 later entering Miss Reno's office.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National 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.

"This is a shocking report revealing a dangerous vulnerability plaguing thousands of people who work in our buildings," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and House Judiciary Committee chairman. "Complacency of security is a serious threat to the orderly functioning of our government.

"I hope this startling report will focus new attention on enhancing our security of the public buildings housing our governmental agencies," he said.

Rep. Bill McCollum, Florida Republican and subcommittee chairman, who ordered the GAO investigation, said the agents entered the buildings by flashing fake law-enforcement badges and credentials and posing as federal agents or local police officers.

He said a team of 19 GAO agents obtained their bogus credentials by buying badges on various Internet sites and through other sources, and by using off-the-shelf computer graphics programs to generate official-looking identification cards. The cards were then placed in leather cases, and presented to the agencies for entry.

"They are not perfect counterfeits by any means," said Mr. McCollum. "They were not intended to be perfect copies of the real thing. That fact is very disturbing to me. What these agents did a lot of people could do. Certainly, members of a foreign intelligence service or a terrorist organization could do it."

The GAO, in a draft 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 instances, only one of the agents was required to show a badge.

It said the agents were able to enter the buildings "by being waived/waved around or through" metal detectors without being searched or having their briefcase opened.

"In our penetration of the CIA, FBI and State Department, our undercover agents were permitted to keep their declared firearms and carry their unscreened bags, but were required to be accompanied by an escort," the report said.

"However, in the CIA and the FBI, our agents were able to enter a restroom carrying a bag, unescorted. In the State Department, our agents were able to leave their escort and walked within the building without ever being challenged before leaving about 15 minutes later," it said. "In all other sites, escorts were not required and our agents wandered throughout without ever being stopped."

The report was presented during a closed-door meeting of the subcommittee. An open hearing is scheduled for today.

Yesterday afternoon, the FBI announced it had boosted security at its Washington headquarters and at other locations.

The bureau 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.

In addition to the CIA, Justice Department, FBI, State Department, Pentagon, HHS, FAA, NASA, Reagan Airport and Orlando International Airport, the agents targeted the Energy Department, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Library of Congress, National Archives, Agriculture Department and Education Department.

Other targets were the Labor Department, Transportation Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Orlando.

The agents avoided being screened at every site. The only agency that prevented the agents from gaining access to or getting near the Cabinet officer's suite was the CIA.

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