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Turns out, FBI HQ Is Secure For Classified Intel

Earlier this week we noted news of a Senate report that seemed to suggest that the FBI’s headquarters was not up to spec for handling classified intelligence. We wrote that we contacted the FBI for their comment. When we got in touch with them - along with the Senate office that wrote the report—what we learned surprised us: It was all a misunderstanding. The FBI’s HQ, known as the J. Edgar Hoover Building, is perfectly capable of handling sensitive intelligence.

J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)The Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood was the first to point to the Senate report, which quickly flew around the Web. On his highly-regarded Web site, Secrecy News, Aftergood noted that a Senate Appropriations Committee report last week asked the GAO to investigate the “limitations of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which has not had any major structural improvements since it was opened in 1974.”

Physical security issues with government buildings are common—for example, many are not set far enough back from the street. But what caught Aftergood’s eye was this sentence in the Senate’s report: “The Hoover Building does not meet the Interagency Security Committee’s criteria for a secure Federal facility capable of handling intelligence and other sensitive information.”

He took that to mean—as we did—that the headquarters didn’t meet standards for handling intel. Except when we called the FBI they told us their headquarters had no problems handling intel and any suggestion otherwise was simply a misreading of the Senate’s report. The Senate report was focused on the “physical security of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, not information security or handling of intelligence,” FBI Assistant Director Patrick G. Findlay told us via e-mail.  (Here is his full statement.)

We called the office of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who wrote the original Senate report, and they agreed with the FBI: The report, said spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz, “was regarding the physical security of the J. Edgar Hoover building only.” (Indeed, as the FBI noted, the Interagency Security Committee criteria, which are at the center of that confusion-causing sentence, only deal with physical security.)

As for Aftergood’s perspective on the whole episode, he told us, “If intelligence is being securely handled at the Hoover building, you wouldn’t know that from the Senate report.”  

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