Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, December 16, 2018

Guards report security lapses at Homeland Security headquarters

Former guards cite lack of training, unguarded gates and outsourcing

Security officers entrusted with guarding the Department of Homeland Security's headquarters on Nebraska Avenue across from campus have raised questions of safety at the base.

Any attack that could happen at the base has a likely chance of affecting students due to proximity of the base to the school, former guards said at a press conference on Monday.

Gates to the DHS complex were sometimes left unguarded and security personnel were not trained to deal with anthrax or bomb threats, according to the guards.

Bryan Adams, who worked as a security guard at DHS, said he had no idea how to respond when a suspicious bag was found on the complex. The bag, which officials later learned contained gym clothes, was left in place for an hour while security scrambled to find an official who knew how to handle the situation.

"The security guards themselves - the lieutenants, the captains - would have been dead, because they were all standing around waiting for the next-highest official to come out," Adams said. "That's poor safety management right there."

Derrick Daniels, another former guard, said he witnessed other security guards shake an envelope laced with suspicious powder outside a part of the building where DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has his office.

After the September 11 attacks, the Army began to outsource its security on U.S. bases, so soldiers previously patrolling the bases could go overseas.

A no-bid contract went to two small Alaska native firms, who subcontracted some work with a major security firm, Wackenhut Services Inc, according to an Aug. 12, 2004, article in the Los Angeles Times.

Wackenhut is responsible for patrolling the Nebraska Avenue complex.

Recently, Adams and other employees have come forward and said how their training was inadequate, and that their lack of training could lead to a serious attack on their former base. Former guard Marixa Farrar said that Wackenhut is attempting to cover their lack of training.

The former guards realized that a security breach could be a problem

"Without safety, you're pretty much screwed. ... Anyone can get hurt - myself, you," Adams said. "They said anyone can easily access the base. You want to go to spy on the homeland security department; it's so easy."

AU students also realize the threat is very present, said Travis McArthur, a junior in the School of International Service and a member of the AU Community Action and Social Justice Coalition.

"As an AU student living here, I realize this city could be a target of a major terror attack. I wonder will there be another London," McArthur said. "I need a feeling of safety where I live, [and] now I just found out that I don't even have safety there."

Samya Behary, a freshman in the School of Communication and the freshman class vice president, said upon learning of this report that "that's a pretty scary thing and somebody should take control, because it's of immediate concern to us."

Congress is beginning to take an interest in the former guards' allegations. Democratic Senators Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Ron Wyden (Or.) wrote to the Homeland Security's agency inspector general that "if the allegations brought forward by the whistleblowers are correct, they're both a security threat and a waste of taxpayer dollars," according the Associated Press.

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