Friday, April 21, 2006

DHS forcing secrecy pledges to cover up its' security flaws

Recommended at My Left Wing

Boy do I feel good that we have a Department of Homeland Security. If the color code threat levels being manipulated (as per Tom Ridge) or its officials being arrested in a child sex sting aren't enough for you, we now have this bit of news:

The Department of Homeland (In)Security has issued gag orders and made its employees sign non-disclosure releases to cover up its own security lapses (hat tip to TPM).

Unfuckingbelievable. Instead of fixing security lapses, or even better, training its employees up front to ensure that lapses don't occur, the Department in charge of "keeping Murka safer" covers up the lapses, and forces its own to sign secrecy pledges under threat of dismissal or other adverse action.

This all started last month, when a former DHS guard working at its headquarters went on NBC Nightly News to discuss the lapses in dealing with bioterror and inadequate training. According to the March 2006 story:

In a residential area of Washington, D.C., the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security is fenced, gated and patrolled by armed guards.

The guards are employed by Wackenhut Services, a British company that provides security for many sensitive American sites, including many of the nation's nuclear power plants.

But the Homeland Security headquarters is anything but secure, according to more than a dozen former and current Wackenhut employees who signed statements citing everything from unmanned guard stations to inadequate training.

Derrick Daniels is former guard. He says he was never trained on dealing with biohazards, suspicious packages, evacuating a building or any kind of chemical or biological weapon of mass destruction.

Just great. The people that are supposed to be guarding our country from bioterror, and who knows what else can't even guard their own headquarters. And when the guards who were put in a dangerous position without being properly trained came forward to discuss these serious matters, what happens? The very next day, they are forced to sign this "non-disclosure agreement".

According to Congressional Quarterly, the guards were threatened with being fired (um, this certainly seems to go against the whistleblower rules) if they did not comply:

Security guards at the Department of Homeland Security were forced last month to sign agreements not to disclose information the agency deems sensitive -- an attempt, according to several current guards, to silence them after recent high-profile revelations of security breaches at DHS.

The guards, employed by Wackenhut Services Inc., were told to sign pledges, called "non-disclosure agreements," on March 10, the day after former guard Derrick Daniels appeared on NBC Nightly News alleging security lapses at the agency's Nebraska Ave. complex headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The timing raises questions about whether DHS and Wackenhut misused the agreements and ignored whistleblower protections in an effort to prevent the guards from disclosing additional information about security lapses at DHS headquarters.

According to one guard, Wackenhut supervisors threatened to fire employees who did not sign the non-disclosure agreements. Wackenhut recently lost out on bidding for a new security contract at DHS to Virginia-based Paragon Systems LLC. Nevertheless, Wackenhut guards will continue to provide security at DHS headquarters for the next few months, according to a department spokesman.

Seriously, this is just total bullshit. Derrick Daniels discussed with NBC News how they were woefully unprepared to handle the anthrax scare that recently happened at DHS headquarters, and how, if it was anthrax, could likely have been exposed to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. On top of that, nobody knew how to handle the scare and the building wasn't even evacuated for over an hour.

Daniels says the most frightening example was last fall, when a piece of mail containing white powder set off an anthrax scare. No one, he says, seemed to know what to do. It was more than an hour before the building was evacuated. At one point, he says, the envelope -- later determined to be harmless -- was carried within 20 feet of the office of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"Where the secretary of Homeland Security is housed, we should have the best training, the best equipment," says Daniels.

Um, do you think? The friggin Homeland Security Secretary can't even protect himself. And the way to stop this from happening again probably would be better served by training the people that are supposed to be protecting We the People. Not by forcing them to sign a gag order under threat of being demoted, fired or for all we know with this crew, being sent to Gitmo for some lessons on how to protect your bumbling and dangerously incompetent superiors.

As for the cover-up, well what would you expect but more incompetence there. DHS can't even lie well as their story goes against basic and obvious, easily identifiable facts:

He (DHS spokesman Russ Knocke) said DHS requested that Wackenhut have employees sign non-disclosure agreements on March 1, 2006. He contends that the security guards were not under DHS's purview until that time.

That's roughly one year after DHS officially took over control of the Nebraska Ave. complex from the U.S. Navy, which had signed a contract with Wackenhut to provide security in 2002. DHS had been using the Navy contract until they signed a bridge contract March 1.

"We took control of the Wackenhut contract [on March 1, 2006], which then allowed the department to implement the requirements," Knocke said.

That timeline, however, does not mesh with Wackenhut's description of events. According to the company, DHS has had control of the security contract for more than a year.

"When DHS took over the contract April 1, 2005, we had a year remaining on that contract," Bud Blount, a Wackenhut spokesman said. "While [the General Services Administration] entered into the contract, DHS assumed responsibility for it."

Heckuva job you are doing, Chertoff.

What's worse is that, despite the coercion to sign the non-disclosure agreement, the guards STILL aren't getting the training that they need to perform their duties. Not only that, but as I stated above, Wackenhut and DHS could be in some hot water for violating the whistleblower rules.

Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Ron Wyden (OR) had previously called for an investigation into the actions of Wackenhut with respect to this matter. And now, the Service Employees International Union and the Governmental Accountability Project have jumped into the fray:

According to SEIU spokeswoman Gina Bowers, the guards' allegations about the non-disclosure agreements could amount to a violation of the law.


"If they were coerced into signing these official government documents, and Wackenhut gave them to DHS, then Wackenhut was submitting false documents to the federal government," Bowers said, explaining that employees had signed on to the document despite having not been fully briefed on sensitive but unclassified information.

Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group unrelated to the Government Accountability Office, also suggested the accusations put Wackenhut, as well as DHS, on shaky legal ground.

Neither Wackenhut nor DHS acted properly in requiring completion of the non-disclosure agreements, he said.

"A cornerstone of whistleblower law is that termination shortly after public dissent is viewed as retaliatory, per se, and it's the most common way to prove a reprisal case under corporate free speech laws, and the same principle applies to gagging after a public breakdown," Devine said. "The clear link is that the contractor doesn't want the public to know any more about what it can't defend in its performance. That's almost kindergarten law by analogy."

Wouldn't it be the height of irony if the Department of Homeland Security had charges brought against it for covering up and muzzling its employees, under threat of termination for discussing severe security lapses for failure to properly train its own employees to protect its own headquarters?

No comments: