Secret Service impersonator arrested for HHS security breach
Updated 4:10 p.m. ET
By Ed O'Keefe and Del Quentin Wilber
A man pretending to be a U.S. Secret Service agent slipped past security on Saturday at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington and was not stopped until he got to the sixth-floor suite of offices for Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, authorities said.
Frederick James Nickerson, 46, apparently left the building after being confronted by employees and was arrested Tuesday on charges of impersonating a Secret Service agent. He is being held pending a detention hearing next week in the District's federal court. No one was hurt in the incident, authorities said.
The Federal Protective Service wrote in court papers that Nickerson flashed what appeared to be a Secret Service badge to security guards, said he was employed by the agency and needed to see Sebelius. Nickerson also motioned to the side of his body as if to suggest he was carrying a gun on his waistband, according to court papers. Nickerson is not an employee of HHS or the Secret Service.
A witness later observed Nickerson sitting in the dark lobby outside of Sebelius's suite making phone calls on his cellphone. The witness recognized his face from photographs circulated within the building as someone banned from the facility and then recognized his voice from phone calls made by him late last year to HHS where he made "irrational demands to see the secretary and other 'people in charge,'" court papers said.
The building was mostly empty for the New Year's holiday, HHS spokeswoman Jenny Backus said. The department hires its own private security firm to provide protection and the firm's guards do not have arresting powers, Backus said. Guards working during the Saturday incident are no longer assigned to HHS protection.
"This was a troubling incident," said Backus. "HHS takes this breach very seriously and has taken immediate corrective actions since this weekend, both internally and with the private security contractor who provides guards at the front desk. These steps include but are not limited to reinforcing the training of all officers on use of the federal bar list and on procedures that must be followed when non-government employees seek access to the building."
HHS contacted FPS to assist in Nickerson's eventual arrest, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“The Federal Protective Service is working closely with HHS and relevant law enforcement agencies in the investigation concerning this individual," said DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler. "Since this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
A 2009 Government Accountability Office report that revealed serious security lapses at ten major federal buildings guarded by FPS. Proposed FPS reforms promised last summer by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the Senate Homeland Security Committee have stalled amid other homeland security and terrorism concerns.
| January 7, 2010; 11:48 AM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues
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