IRS Employees Face Rising Threats

IRS has armed escorts for employees amid fear of copy-cat attacks.

ByABC News
February 23, 2010, 9:33 AM

Feb. 23, 2010— -- A suicidal pilot's attack on an Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas, last week was the worst but hardly the lone example of threats against the tax agency, according to the U.S. government.

The number of threats against the tax-collection agency has increased significantly in recent years, Treasury Department officials said.

There were 1,200 threats and assaults against IRS employees from 2001 to 2008, resulting in 195 convictions, according to officials. J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, said threats that once averaged 170 or so a year are now up to about 900.

Some recent examples: a man in tax trouble hired someone to kill an IRS employee in Tampa, Fla.; an Alabama man tried to use his car as a deadly weapon by driving into an IRS building; and two arsonists in Colorado Springs, Colo., used a sledge hammer to break into and then torch an IRS building.

Some threats are so serious that armed escorts join IRS employees at meetings with potentially dangerous taxpayers.

The agency deployed such protection for IRS employees 23 times from April to September last year under a new initiative, according to Treasury officials. It's not unusual, the IRS said, to dispatch a protection agent once a week for one of its 90,000 employees.

Fathali Moghaddam, a Georgetown University psychology professor, blamed the rise in these kinds of threats on a difficult economic climate that leads to discontent and frustration in people. There's also global insecurity because of the greater interconnectedness of the modern world, he said.

"There are all kinds of threats against us, and citizens have a social contract," Moghaddam said. "They ask, 'Is the government protecting us from economic downturn, from terrorism?' There is a feeling that authorities are not doing enough, that Americans are paying their tax dollars and are looking for government to do something, but they look incompetent."