The Washington Post

Break-in at offices of government watchdog group

The Project on Government Oversight says it is tightening security in the aftermath of a break-in at its downtown Washington offices that police believe was tied to the group’s mission as a government watchdog.

In an era of high-tech electronic snooping, the late-night break-in at POGO’s fifth-floor offices on Feb. 11 was a throwback:  Someone broke the front-door lock, rifled with papers on employees’ desks, then tried but failed to jimmy open a four-drawer metal file cabinet.

“Maybe this was more of an attempt at intimidation than anything else,” Danielle Brian, the nonprofit group’s executive director, said Sunday.

The intruders left computers, video and audio recorders, televisions and other office equipment in the suite untouched. No other offices in the 11-floor-building at 11th and G streets NW were burglarized, D.C. police told POGO officials.

Police concluded that the break-in, first reported by Newsweek, was related to the kind of business the group conducts, Brian said. The jimmied file cabinet contained blank checks, deposit slips and other routine financial paperwork, but no sensitive information.

Most of that data lives on POGO’s computer servers, which showed no evidence of hacking or unauthorized access, Brian said.

But the group, which has ruffled many feathers with its investigations of wrongdoing in government, is implementing new security measures, both in its physical offices and on its computers. The building near Metro Center has no security cameras in its lobby or on its elevator, sources familiar with the physical layout said.

‘The good news is that because of the work we do, we’ve long taken precautionary measures to protect our information,” Brian said. “Now we’ll be taking additional precautions, both physically and digitally. Our principal concern is protecting the identity of our sources of information.”

POGO, with 25 investigative reporters, editors and other staff,  probes waste, fraud and abuse in government and scrutinizes oversight of federal contractors. The group advocates for transparency and accountability in government and for whistelblower protections. Many of its sources are whistleblowers.

In the past year, the group has documented diplomatic security gaps in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the State Department outpost in Benghazi, Libya. It has tracked down waste in the Pentagon’s  F-35 jet fighter program. It disclosed that the Pentagon inspector general’s office delayed release of a report that concluded that Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary, revealed sensitive details about the raid that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden at an event attended by a producer of the movieZero Dark Thirty.”

Panetta’s name was eventually  omitted from the report.

POGO now publishes a searchable database on the “revolving door” of executives between Wall Street and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates financial institutions.

This is not the first time POGO has dealt with suspicious activity. In the early 1990s, someone broke into its offices and rifled through several boxes of documents, but apparently did not take any, officials with the group said.

Then in the late 1990s, as it was issuing reports showing hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected gas and oil royalties, someone broke in again and set off the burglar alarm. Police arrived to find the front door open, but nothing else amiss.










Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.



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