Senators raise alarm: Top federal agencies in foreign-owned buildings

Government officials working in buildings owned by foreigners are vulnerable to cyber attacks, a new report revealed, causing senators on Friday to warn those agencies to take extra security precautions.

Unbeknownst to most, the General Services Administration (GSA) has been leasing space in buildings that are owned by foreign entities in China and other countries, according to an article in the Washington Examiner on Friday.

Government officials, including FBI and other agencies that require higher security, have since been warned that the buildings pose risks to national security and privacy.

Some of the agencies housed in such buildings include the FBI; Drug Enforcement Agency field offices; and a Social Security Administration office in Seattle, Washington. “Even the U.S. Secret Service rents space from companies based in Germany and China,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Since most officials were not informed of the buildings’ ownership, they have not taken additional security precautions. In fact, nine of the 14 agencies contacted by the GAO had no idea.

“Yet, in some cases the space is used for classified operations and to store sensitive data,” according to a letter written by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., on Thursday to acting GSA administrator Timothy Horne. “Given the highly sensitive information that is often stored at high-security leased sites, we are concerned with the lack of policies and procedures concerning the ownership of these sites.”

The GAO report made particular reference to buildings owned by Chinese entities, stating, “Foreign ownership of government-leased space can pose security risks particularly regarding cybersecurity, because companies in China are likely to have ties to the Chinese government.”

It also warned that Chinese government hackers are indeed targeting private and federal U.S. entities. “China is the leading suspect in the cyber intrusion into the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) systems affecting background investigation files for 21.5 million individuals which OPM reported in July 2015,” the GAO said.

The GSA further stated that buildings formally leased from foreign-based companies may not even represent the real owners of the buildings. “GSA lacks complete information regarding foreign-owned leased space including beneficial owner information (which GAO defined as the person who ultimately owns and controls a company),” they said.

Lawmakers demanded that the GSA change its leasing procedures and “notify tenants that their leased space is foreign owned,” but they still need more information.

“The real property database did not include information on all of the buildings in which GSA leases high-security space,” according to the GAO report. “Therefore, the results of our analysis are likely understated and GSA may be leasing more high-security space than what we identified in the 25 leases.”

H/T: Washington Examiner

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