Monday, March 06, 2006
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer -- Monday, 1 hour, 8 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The agency entrusted with protecting the U.S. homeland is having difficulty safeguarding its own headquarters, say private security guards at the complex.Former security guard Derrick Daniels, right, is seen outside the Department of Homeland Security in Washington. Last fall, when an envelope with suspicious powder was opened at Homeland Security Department headquarters, security guards said they watched in amazement as superiors carried it right by the office of agency chief Michael Chertoff, took it outside and then moved it around outside Chertoff's window. The scare, caused by white powder that proved to be harmless, 'stands as one glaring example' of the agency's security problems, said Daniels, one of the first two guards to respond to the incident. (AP Photo/Bill Gorman, AP Television)
"I had never previously been given training ... describing how to respond to a possible chemical attack," Daniels told The Associated Press. "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 Homeland's headquarters in a residential area of Washington. The company has been criticized previously for its work at nuclear facilities and transporting nuclear weapons.
Daniels left Wackenhut and now works security for another company at another federal building. He is among 14 current and former Wackenhut employees -- mostly guards -- who were interviewed by The Associated Press or submitted written statements to Congress that were obtained by AP.
The guards have taken their concerns to Congress, describing inadequate training, failed security tests and slow or confused reactions to bomb and biological threats.
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.
Two senators who fielded complaints from several Wackenhut employees are asking Homeland's internal watchdog, the inspector general, to investigate.
"If the allegations brought forward by the whistleblowers are correct, they represent both a security threat and a waste of taxpayer dollars," Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote. "It would be ironic, to say the least, if DHS were unable to secure its own headquarters."Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
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