Security Concerns at FBI Headquarters

Senate report says both FBI staff and operations are at risk.

July 8, 2008— -- Despite being one of the nation's core intelligence agencies assigned to protect the country from terror attacks and intelligence breaches, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has not done an adequate job of securing itself, according to a new Senate report. The report, part of the 2009 appropriations bill, says that FBI Headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington DC, lacks adequate security features as well as criteria for handling the massive loads of classified and sensitive material.

"The building also lacks adequate setback and other security features," says the report, "which puts FBI operations and personnel at unacceptable risk."

The remarks, just a couple of paragraphs within the Senate Appropriations Committee's new report on the 2009 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill, were first reported on by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News blog which focuses on government secrecy and intelligence policy.

"It is astonishing that FBI headquarters cannot properly handle classified intelligence documents," said Aftergood, who is the Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

"Providing facilities for classified information is a high priority for the bureau," said Aftergood. "They can't do their job under these circumstances.""

The Senate Appropriations Committee apparently agrees with Aftergood saying that the limitations of the Hoover building, 'which has not had any major structural improvements since it was opened in 1974, could affect the FBI's ability to fulfill its mission."

The committee has directed the Government Accountability Office to do a full review of the Hoover building. An FBI spokesperson said that while the bureau is aware of the bill, they cannot provide comment until it is signed into law.

This is not the first time the bureau has faced criticism for failing to protect classified information. Following the arrest of senior FBI agent Robert Hanssen in 2001, the bureau ordered an independent review of the FBI's security programs. The Hanssen scandal is considered by many to be the worst intelligence breach in US history. Hanssen, a career agent, was able to hand over huge quantities of classified documents and computer diskettes to the Soviets and then the Russians over a period of more than 20 years.

After his arrest, Hanssen himself told his interrogators of how easy it was to smuggle information out of FBI headquarters.

"Security was lax," Hanssen is quoted as saying in the independent FBI review. "You could bring documents out of FBI Headquarters without . . . ever having a risk of being searched, or looked at, or even concerned about," Hanssen recounted.

The report, which was written by a panel headed by Judge William Webster and released in March 2002 concluded that the bureau had to turn its attention to security within in order to remedy the many problems.

"Those deficiencies flow from a pervasive inattention to security," said the Webster report back in 2002, "which has been at best a low priority."

The report also concluded that security procedures are often seen as "an impediment to operations". Now, the committee says that lapses in security may be an impediment preventing the bureau from accomplishing its mission of securing the country.

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