John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: We want to welcome back Mark Goldstein, director of Physical Infrastructure Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office who led this investigation. Also joining us is security specialist J.R. Roberts, he’s a security strategist at J.R. Roberts Security Strategies. J.R. and Mark, welcome to the program.
Mark Goldstein: Good morning.
J.R. Roberts: Thanks for having me.
John Hockenberry: First of all Mark, let’s continue our discussion. Describe the methodology of this study and what you were able to do. I said at the top you were 10 for 10 in smuggling bomb-making materials. What kinds of things were you able to get into buildings?
Mark Goldstein: Well, I’m not allowed to say exactly what we used because that information is classified, because we did bring in real bomb-making materials. Often tests that are done on buildings are done with fake materials, fake bombs, but that wasn’t the case here. It was real, live materials, and it was just done at a concentration level that the bombs wouldn’t have gone off for safety reasons. But the materials were real, we did bring them through security in all 10 buildings we tried to enter, and we took the materials into bathrooms and assembled the bombs and then walked freely around the offices of executive branch agencies as well as some field offices of U.S. legislature as well.
John Hockenberry: Now, these were level 4 facilities, Homeland Security, Department of State, I believe Social Security Administration may have been a part of this as well.
Mark Goldstein: These were all level 4 facilities and the agencies of the Department of Homeland Security, Justice, State, Treasury, Health and Human Services, and other organizations all had offices in the buildings we visited.
John Hockenberry: I don’t want to do a combat flashback here for America, but I remember one of the worst parts of the Murrow Building story in Oklahoma City in the 90s was the fact that there was a federal daycare center in the facility. Were there daycare centers and child care centers in some of these federal facilities as well?
Mark Goldstein: I don’t want to describe the facilities too specifically, but there was certainly plenty of opportunity for the public, in a variety of forms, to come in and out, because we chose buildings that had a great deal of public access.
John Hockenberry: You can hear in the tone there Mark Goldstein being very responsible in hedging the way that he talks about the facts of this report. J.R. Roberts, in general, when people hear conversations like this in the media, are giving information to people? Are we encouraging them to carry out attacks by offering disclosure of this vulnerability?
J.R. Roberts: No, I don’t think so. I think Mr. Goldstein was very careful in the way in which this process was conducted. I think he’s right to withhold certain pieces of information. I guess the thing that surprises me the most out of this report is we are surprised by the report. I think some of the challenges that exist are endemic of the system. You’ve got the FPS [which] has a budget of over a billion dollars.
John Hockenberry: That’s the Federal Protective Service that actually is responsible for security at all these buildings?
J.R. Roberts: Yes sir. And as was pointed out, they have over 13,000 private contract security officers working. That’s reflective of 67 companies. One sample that Mr. Goldstein came up with that I thought was terrific was in looking just at one of those contractors, one of those private security contractors, looking at 354 guards, 75 percent of them had expired certifications or no record of training. I think this cuts to the heart of it. This is endemic to the private security industry. An industry that, by the way, has a greater turnover rate than the fast food industry.
John Hockenberry: Wow. Let me put that to Mark Goldstein. J.R. Roberts, who we were just talking with there, is a security strategist in Savannah, Georgia. Mark Goldstein, J.R. Roberts suggests that many, if not most security personnel for federal buildings are subcontractors, they’re not even under the umbrella of the federal employee net?
Mark Goldstein: Well, the Federal Protective Service has a contract security guard force of 13,000 contract guards protecting about 2,300 of the buildings of the 9,000 buildings in the government portfolio. The problem is that because the Federal Protective Service is so stretched in the responsibilities that it has, what we found is their ability to oversee and manage this task force is not as good as it needs to be. And as a result, FPS had no assurance that guards were trained correctly and had certifications before they stood post at a federal facility. They had no complete assurance that once they were on post that they were doing their job according to the responsibilities they had. Then, of course, the part we’ve already talked about, there was no assurance that the buildings themselves were secure because we were able to penetrate every single building that we wanted to with bomb-making materials.
John Hockenberry: J.R. Roberts, one of the things we discovered in the Murrow Building attack in Oklahoma City is here an utterly unimportant, in terms of national profile, federal building that no one had heard of before this had happened is suddenly made immortal by this horrible brutality. Even though these are level four facilities and there may not be gold bricks in them, or Cabinet secretaries to be taken hostage, although in this case there probably were, almost any federal facility, whatever security designation, could be made this kind of terrorist symbol, why is level four not level five, J.R Roberts?
J.R. Roberts: There’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be. In other words, I think Mr. Goldstein pointed out another flaw in the system and that is the FPS, again the Federal Protective Services administration, is stretched beyond belief. I also think it’s a little disingenuous. You opened the show with a quote from Senator Lieberman, and I think it’s a little disingenuous for Senator Lieberman to be running around, wringing his hands, saying he’s shocked, shocked to discover that some of these people are inadequately trained. Because part of the problem is the very agencies that are responsible or have the ability—or Congress that has the ability to really mandate national levels of training and put teeth behind the ability to enforce those levels of training—are frankly conflicted by lobbying interests. Senator Leiberman receive $53,500 last year from a single contract security firm. And I’m sure he’s not alone. I consider that to be a serious conflict of interest when we’re trying to supervise these companies, many of whom, by the way, that are currently providing contract security services and are allowed to bid for these services, many of whom who have been cited by state agencies repreatedly for the very kinds of violations Mr. Goldstein confirmed, a failure to hire adequately, a failure to train. I’ve got numerous cases all over the country where I’m dealing with private security firms that hired known felons and then a tragedy occurred.
John Hockenberry: J.R. Roberts, before we go I want to bring it back to Mark Goldstein, who is actually the director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office, and I guess will be somewhat involved in the fix here. Is this another design question where we become kind of top heavy in security in the United States? Where we’ve got lots of great satellites and lots of planners and maybe all kinds of electronic equipment, but not enough boots on the ground even in our own country, even in our own federal buildings, Mark Goldstein?
Mark Goldstein: I think there’s no substitute for an effectively-trained and certified and supervised workforce that has the best ability, maybe more than technology can, to affect security in federal buildings. One of the reasons why examples like we brought up in our report occurred is because the guards were not fully trained, they were not at their post doing their work all the time. They were not looking at the X-ray machines as materials went through in some cases. And so there is no substitute for an effectively trained workforce that’s supervised. I think our opinion is the biggest issue is making sure that the management and supervision of this program can be improved. Sure, there are resource issues and issues of maybe people having too much to do in some instances. But at the end of the day, a better managed workforce would help.
John Hockenberry: Let’s leave people with a resource issue before we go. You talked about the cost of training, and Congress will have to deal with that. In your experiment in trying to smuggle bombs, how much did the materials cost to get these bombs through?
Mark Goldstein: These were made with relatively ordinary materials that could be purchased for $150.