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Posted at 11:47 AM ET, 12/15/2011

Memo exposes gaps in D.C. security

Undercover police officers and recruits have repeatedly sneaked simulated bombs into high-profile District government buildings, including the John A. Wilson Building that houses the office of the mayor and council members, according to a newly released memo.

The memo, first obtained by the Service Workers Employees International Union through the Freedom of Information Act, outlines more than a dozen potential security breaches between July 2010 and June 2011.

In October 2010, recruits took a “simulated cellphone bombs” past security officers manning the X-ray machine at two different entrances of the Wilson Building, the memo states.

 In the same operation, recruits smuggled fake cellphone bombs into a city building on Fourth Street SW and One Judiciary Square, which houses several government agencies, including the Board of Elections and Ethics. A simulated pipe bomb also made it past security at Fourth Street SW.

Earlier this year, undercover agents used a simulated bomb hidden in a book to raise concerns about security at the Unified Communications Center, the city building on Fourth Street SW, and One Judiciary Square.

At the Fourth Street building and Judiciary Square buildings, agents were able to get the book into the building by telling security they were leaving it for someone else. After leaving the book at the screening area, someone from inside the building retrieved it without it being scanned by an X-ray machine, the memo states. 

The test failed at the Unified Communications Center, which houses the city’s 911 and 311 call centers, but only after an officer X-rayed and opened the book “five or six” times. Security appears to be the tightest at police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW. At that location, security officers disrupted all attempted breaches, the memo states.

Although the D.C. Protective Services police take the lead in guarding city buildings, the city uses private security contractors to help screen entrants. Currently, U.S. Security Associates holds an $18 million annual contract to provide security both at city buildings and public schools.

     But local unions have been pressing for years to have Security Associates, which uses non-unionized labor, replaced by a unionized firm.  The contract is currently being rebid, with a Dec. 21 deadline for submissions.

Earlier this year, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) indicated his desire not to renew Security Associates contract, citing concerns from several council members about the agency’s security procedures. But union leaders now believe Gray is prepared to allow the contract to continue, including deciding this summer to extend the contract until the end of the year.

The security breaches were outlined in a memo that Stephen R. Watkins, deputy chief of the Protective Services police department, sent to that Will Giles, deputy director of Contract and Procurement Division, on July 1.

In addition to the breaches involving simulated weapons, the memo outlines several instances where visitors were not asked for identification, as is standard policy for anyone entering a city building. Recruits also successfully drove vehicles into some unauthorized areas, according to the memo.

Louis P. Cannon, chief of the Protective Services Police Department, referred questions about the matter to the Office of General Services.

Kenneth Diggs, a spokesman for the Office of General Services, said the security lapses were discovered as part of routine “training exercises.”

“We don’t want these kinds of breaches to happen, which is why we do training,” Diggs said.  “We continually and constantly train the officers to make sure the companies are doing what they are need to do. …We take these exercises and training very, very seriously.”

A spokesman for Security Associates s was not immediately available to comment. But District law enforcement officials caution it’s routine for agencies to uncover occasional lapses in security plans. The penetration rate of suspected weapons in D.C. government buildings, they say, is no higher than it is on undercover operations to test airline security.

            And concerns about security at District government buildings are not new. Last June, before the recent series of security tests, the D.C. inspector general issued a report stating security personnel was not properly trained.

The report, according to the Washington Examiner, also highlighted instances where undercover offices had successfully smuggled weapons into the Wilson Building.  At the time, another contractor, Hawk One, manned security posts at city buildings.

By  |  11:47 AM ET, 12/15/2011

 
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