DHS allegedly having problems guarding its own HQ
The Department of Homeland Security is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, private security guards at the complex tell The Associated Press.
The guards have taken their concerns to Congress, describing inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats.
For instance, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened last fall at Homeland Security Department headquarters, guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it by the office of Secretary Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then shook it outside Chertoff’s window without evacuating people nearby, The AP reports.
“I had never previously been given training describing how to respond to a possible chemical attack,” says Derrick Daniels, one of the first guard to respond to the incident. “I wouldn’t feel safe nowhere on this compound as an officer.”
Daniels was employed until last fall by Wackenhut Services Inc., the private security firm that guards DHS headquarters in a residential area of Washington.
Homeland Security officials say they have little control over Wackenhut’s training of guards but plan to improve that with a new contract. The company defends its performance, saying the suspicious powder incident was overblown because the mail had already been irradiated.
A litany of problems were listed by guards, whose pay ranges from $15.60 to $23 an hour based on their position and level of security clearance. Among their examples of lax security:
- They have no training in responding to attacks with weapons of mass destruction;
- Chemical-sniffing dogs have been replaced with ineffective equipment that falsely indicates the presence of explosives.
- Vehicle entrances to Homeland Security’s complex are lightly guarded;
- Guards with radios have trouble hearing each other, or have no radios, no batons and no pepper spray, leaving them with few options beyond lethal force with their handguns.
Wackenhut President Dave Foley has disputed the allegations, saying officers have a minimum of one year’s security experience, proper security clearances and training in vehicle screening, identification of personnel, handling of suspicious items and emergency response.