By Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 10:50 PM
Army civilian police Capt. Andrew Poulos Jr. helped bust a counterfeiter last year who produced templates for federal law enforcement credentials and sold them over the Internet.
Then he launched a second investigation, using the fake credentials and fraudulent badges to penetrate security at two federal courthouses, three state buildings and six military installations. The Army gave him a commendation and a cash bonus and published his findings in a terrorism bulletin to other federal agencies.
"Keep up the great work to keep our Armed Forces safe and our posts secure," Denis P. McGowan of the Federal Protective Service, which is responsible for security at federal facilities, wrote in an e-mail.
But now the investigator is being investigated.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for security at federal courthouses, complained to the Army that Poulos's investigation was "inappropriate, impermissible, and not taken lightly," according to e-mails obtained by The Washington Post.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command, which had previously highlighted Poulos's work, then launched a criminal investigation of the captain.
In January, Poulos, 33, was relieved of his command and stripped of his national security clearance. Investigators searched his office, forcing his door open.
"This is all because the captain embarrassed the U.S. Marshals Service with his findings, which show a critical weakness in our national security," said a law enforcement source close to the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared losing his job.
An official with the Marshals Service said he alerted the Army because the police captain's action could have resulted in "deadly" consequences.
"The unauthorized entry of a court facility while carrying a weapon and impersonating law enforcement could be a violation of rules, regulations, policy or law," Michael J. Prout, assistant director for judicial security in the Marshals Service, said in a telephone interview. "For that purpose, once this was disclosed, the Marshals Service advised the U.S. Army of this incident and requested they examine it."
"The Marshals Service is not embarrassed," Prout said. "The Marshals Service is concerned about the security of its facilities."
Sources close to the investigation say Poulos's work was authorized by his superior, John A. Hazel, director of emergency services at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Hazel declined to comment.
Henry Kearney, the public information officer at Fort Monmouth, said: "I can confirm that allegations of inappropriate investigative practices involving an individual in the Fort Monmouth Police Department are currently under investigation by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. But I'm not able to provide any further information."
Documents show that Hazel was aware of his subordinate's security project. Hazel put him in for a cash bonus, citing the investigation, records show. On Nov. 24, after Poulos sent out the findings in his intelligence assessment, Hazel sent him an e-mail asking him if he had noticed any agencies' actions to "tighten things up."
Poulos, who commanded the Army police's investigations division at Fort Monmouth, is a nationally recognized expert in the manufacture and use of fraudulent identity documents.
His troubles began with a great investigative success. A joint investigation by Army police, the Secret Service, postal inspectors and the Social Security Administration led to the arrest of Michael J. Sternquist, 26, of Hoboken, N.J., last year for creating computer templates used to make fake government documents and then selling the templates over the Internet.
Sternquist, who pleaded guilty to fraud, said that between September 2009 and February 2010 he created templates for state driver's licenses and federal law enforcement credentials. The documents were extremely sophisticated, down to the replication features designed to defeat counterfeiting.
"The counterfeit ATF and NYPD credentials were so close to the genuine that some personnel could not readily identify the genuine from the counterfeit when placed next to each other," Poulos wrote in his report.
As the investigation neared its end, Poulos decided to see whether he could use Sternquist's templates to successfully penetrate government buildings, according to his report and other documents obtained by The Post.
Over a six-month period last year, Poulos used the Internet to purchase several fake badges from Britain, Germany and Romania. He also bought FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration special-agent badges through eBay. Using the templates, Poulos printed credentials that matched the badges.
Between January and June 2010, Poulos entered federal courthouses in Newark and Trenton, N.J., and six military facilities - Fort Dix, Fort Monmouth, Fort Hamilton, Picatinny Arsenal, Naval Weapons Station Earle and Naval Air Engineering Lakehurst, according to documents. To enter the courthouses, Poulos posed as an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and an Air Force investigator. No one denied him entry.
Poulos's report, "Security Threat: Fraudulent Law Enforcement Credentials and Badges," was published Nov. 23 and distributed to various military and federal law enforcement organizations, including the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey.
"Although security has increased since 9/11, access to military installations and federal buildings can be obtained by individuals who appear to belong," the report said. "Those that can 'walk the walk' and 'talk the talk' while producing fraudulent credentials. Allowing an armed individual entry into these types of facilities can have a disastrous effect. The ability to conduct a small arms attack; plant explosive devices; release biological or chemical agents; and murder a judge or witness all come into play."
Poulos wrote that "on each occasion, the investigators identified themselves as law enforcement officers; displayed both a fraudulent badge and credentials, and stated that they were armed. In instances where a magnetometer was being utilized they were waved through without being screened after identifying themselves as federal law enforcement."
McGowan, of the Federal Protective Service, praised Poulos, noting that his agency encountered the same security risk in New York and New Jersey.
But Prout, of the Marshals Service, was not happy. On Dec. 20, after he saw the published report, he e-mailed an Army colonel.
"While I appreciate valid observations and findings in a properly conducted and SAFE test situation, I in no way appreciate this rogue activity and would never condone similar behavior within the Marshals Service," he wrote Army Col. Mark S. Inch, the deputy provost marshal general, according to the e-mail obtained by The Post.
An Army official in the Criminal Investigation command wrote Inch that a lawyer in the division was "not so sure we have anything worthy of going into Federal Court." The official said it appeared that Poulos was doing his investigation at the "behest of his supervisor."
Yet the complaint against Poulos made its way up to Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding officer of the Army Installation Management Command, and Lynch ordered a criminal investigation. In mid-December, Poulos was ordered to report to the Fort Dix office of the Criminal Investigation command, where he was told he was under investigation, sources said.
Poulos, who was placed on administrative duty in early January, would not comment. His attorney could not be reached.
Neither Lynch nor Brig. Gen. Colleen L. McGuire, commander of the Army's Criminal Investigation command, returned phone calls seeking comment. Christopher Grey, the command's public information officer, said, "As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or deny the names of individuals who may or may not be under investigation by Army CID, while the investigation is ongoing." He confirmed that an investigation was underway of "inappropriate investigative activity" at Fort Monmouth.
In July, Hazel recommended Poulos for the Commander's Award for Civilian Service for performing his duties in "an outstanding manner," according to an internal memo. Hazel singled out Poulos's work in the Sternquist case.
"Det./Captain Poulos has demonstrated a nonwavering dedication to the law enforcement mission of the Garrison and the United States Army," Hazel wrote.
In December, shortly before he was stripped of his command, Poulos received a $2,500 cash reward for his work from the Army. Hazel, his boss, specifically cited his report, which he said "highlighted the vulnerabilities to U.S. military installations."