Statement of Bill McCollum, Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime

Hearing on Security Breaches at Secure Federal Agencies

May 25, 2000


Good afternoon. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Crime will come to order.

Today’s hearing provides a timely opportunity for Congress to examine just how secure our secure agencies and buildings really are. We’ll also have a chance to look into how easily available bogus police badges are, and how they can be put to dangerous use to penetrate secure federal agencies.

For some time, I’ve been concerned with the fact that stolen and counterfeit police badges are readily available on the Internet and from other commercial sources, and that they can be used by criminals, terrorists, and foreign intelligence agents for illegal purposes, including penetrating our nation’s most secure government buildings, airports and other facilities. Legislation addressing this concern is currently pending before this Subcommittee. With this concern in mind, seven weeks ago I requested that the General Accounting Office investigate the potential security risk to secure Federal facilities posed by the use of such badges.


During the investigation that ensued, undercover OSI Special Agents targeted 19 secure Federal buildings and two major airports posing as plain-clothed law enforcement officers. In every case, these agents were able to enter agency buildings while claiming to be armed and carrying briefcases, which were never searched and were big enough to be packed with large quantities of explosives, chemical or biological agents. The agencies penetrated included the CIA, the Pentagon, the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Department of Energy. The agents were simply waived around the metal detectors. In many cases, they had the run of the buildings once they were inside, including the offices of department secretaries. The agents drove a rental van into the courtyard of the Main Justice without the van being inspected or searched. The van was parked in the courtyard, and the agents left it while they went inside the building. On a single day, they succeeded in penetrating eight secure buildings. The havoc that could have been wreaked by actual terrorists doing the same is chilling to consider.

For the two airports whose security was compromised, agents obtained boarding passes and firearm permits to carry weapons onboard the flights for which they had purchased tickets. Like the Federal buildings they entered, they carried briefcases that were never x-rayed. They walked right up to the door that led down the gangway to the airplane. Nothing stood between them and the aircraft. They had fooled everyone.

The agents’ method was simple. They entered these buildings by flashing fake law enforcement badges and credentials and passing themselves off as Federal agents or local police officers. They assembled their bogus credentials by buying badges on the Internet and other sources and by using off-the-shelf computer graphics programs to generate official looking I.D. cards. They then placed the badges and credentials in small leather cases and went to work. To the untrained eye, these fake badges and credentials look like the real thing. They are not perfect counterfeits by any means. They were not intended to be perfect copies of the real thing. That fact is very disturbing. What these agents did a lot of people could do too. Certainly members of a foreign intelligence service or a terrorist organization could do it.

I must say, I find the easy availability of these badges to be disconcerting. In fact, if you were to get on line right now and go to E-bay’s web site, you would find more than 600 police badges available for sale. There are dozens of other web sites where badges can be purchased.

Earlier this week, I held a closed-door briefing for the agencies whose security had been compromised in order to make known the details of how their building and airport security had been penetrated. At that briefing, preliminary recommendations were presented on how to immediately close these gaping security holes, and I am pleased to report that steps have already been taken to begin to address the problem. As we will hear from our witnesses in just a moment, many of the recommendations are neither complicated nor expensive. They’re really just common sense.


What concerns me most about this investigation is that the undercover investigators were 19 for 19 with the agencies they targeted and two for two with the airports targeted. These findings point to a system-wide breakdown that is unaaceptable. This week, we are having major counter-terrorism exercises in Washington, D.C. involving a wide range of sophisticated simulated terrorist attacks. That is all well and good, but these efforts to detect and prevent terrorist attacks cannot overlook the obvious. Our secure buildings must have minimal security safeguards in place. Roaming around the halls of secure buildings, unescorted, and into Cabinet Members offices with unchecked briefcases doesn’t cut it. The bottom line is that we have learned that far too many of our secure facilities where top secret and sensitive information is kept have an open door policy. As of this week, that is beginning to change.

I do want to state at the outset that the testimony presented today will be limited in certain important respects, so as to avoid providing a road map for criminals and terrorists to access these secure government buildings. But let me also say, I am confident that the results of this undercover investigation being made available to the effected agencies and the public is the fastest, most effective way to improve security.