- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The FBI, U.S. Secret Service and two dozen other federal agencies lease office space within foreign-owned buildings, a government watchdog reported Monday, raising concerns given the potential it provides for adversaries to conduct espionage against valuable American targets.

Twenty-six separate agencies rent a total of 3.3 million square feet from foreign owners at a combined annual cost of roughly $97 million, according to the results of a study published this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Of those agencies the GAO found that 22 lease high-security space from companies based in non-NATO countries, including China, Israel, South Korea and Japan.

Among the spaces identified in the report are Drug Enforcement Agency offices in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Shreveport, Louisiana, owned by a Chinese investment firm, as well as Department of Homeland Security facility in Manhattan maintained by Germany’s Deutsche Bank, among others.

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The foreign-owned office spaces in some instances include facilities used by the U.S. government to conduct classified operations and to store law enforcement evidence and other sensitive data, according to the report.

“Federal officials who assess foreign investments in the United States and some tenant agencies occupying high-security leased space told GAO that leasing space in foreign-owned buildings could present security risks such as espionage and unauthorized cyber and physical access,” the reports’ authors wrote. “For example, a DHS foreign investment official said that potential threat actors could coerce owners into collecting intelligence about the personnel and activities of the facilities when maintaining the property.”

As indicated by the report, however, the actual scope of those risks is currently unknown: GAO said it was unable to find ownership information pertaining to roughly one-third of the 1,406 high-security leases authorized by the General Services Administration (GSA) because the details weren’t readily accessible. Additionally, nine of the 14 tenant agencies contacted by GAO were unaware their offices occupy foreign-owned space, GAO found.

“[W]hen tenant agencies lack information about the beneficial owners of their high-security facilities, they may not correctly evaluate the security risks and, consequently, not take the most appropriate steps to secure their buildings, leaving the facilities vulnerable, for example, to cyber intrusions,” according to the report.

“It’s an eye opener,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told CNN with regards to GAO’s findings.

“Certainly our security professionals should know who owns the piping in the buildings that they occupy,” said Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican. “I hope this is a wake-up call.”

The GSA isn’t currently required to collect beneficial ownership information concerning office spaces rented by the government, the GAO report noted, but that could soon change. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence agreed with the GAO’s recommendation that GSA begin keeping track of ownership and sharing that information with the respective tenants, the report said.

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