Security Theatre

I often use the phrase. Here’s one example to explain why.

Washington City Paper: On Aug. 17, 2004, security officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) started receiving reports of a spree of thefts at agency headquarters in White Flint, Md. About $800 had gone missing in the space of a few hours and it looked like an outside job. Report No. 08-21 described a typical encounter with the unknown suspect.

A little before 2 p.m. the previous day, a woman returned to her office and found a stranger sitting at her desk. According to the report, the uninvited guest was a young African-American woman with straight black hair that hung past her shoulders. She wore black slacks and a white blouse. “I was going to leave you a note,” the stranger said, rising from the chair. She explained that she had a piece of mail for the woman and needed to deliver it in person.

Her supervisor had insisted she get a signature since the parcel was actually addressed to someone else. Oh, and she didn’t have it with her right then. The “whole thing seemed very odd,” the NRC employee later told investigators. Nonetheless, she allowed her visitor to leave without further questions. In a hurry to make a 2 p.m. meeting, she left the office as well.

A few minutes later, the employee’s secretary saw the girl back at her boss’ desk. She wore an NRC badge, turned backward. The young woman explained she needed to leave a note and asked for paper. When the secretary returned with a notepad, the girl had moved closer to a filing cabinet, her back facing the door. She wrote a note and left.

It was an odd interaction for sure, but not quite alarming. But such blasé encounters began to emerge as a pattern as the NRC investigated 11 separate thefts of cash and credit cards. According to incident reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, most of the crimes took place between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 16 in two heavily secured buildings occupied by the commission on Rockville Pike. The complex is not a tourist destination, as armed guards will inform you. Visitors need to have verifiable business in the building and must provide photo ID. Bags get scanned, people get the metal detector. Employees must show a badge with their photo and job title.

Elsewhere around D.C., at other highly secure federal buildings, similar thefts were causing frustration among security officers. There were reports of missing cash and electronics at the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of the Treasury, and the Government Accountability Office. The suspect had a keen sense for the weaknesses of office dwellers, even in government offices where employees should know better.

[…]

Leave a Reply