Investigations

Security questions at U.S. Military Academy

Monday, November 11, 2013
Questions about security at West Point

The Eyewitness News investigators have uncovered a startling security risk at a high-profile military site that's leading to calls for a solution.

The site in question: West Point, home to the United States Military Academy. The national landmark is about 50 miles north of New York City.

After 9-11, anyone visiting West Point, needed an escort. But in recent years, the campus lifted those restrictions.

Then in September, there was the Navy Yard massacre in Washington. That's when we decided to check security at the revered military academy.

We expected tight security on the afternoon we visited the elite academy.

Thousands of West Point Cadets paraded in full dress uniform to welcome their guest of honor, the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Yet on this day filled with VIPs, a valid driver's license was all that was needed to gain access.

The lone guard never checked inside the car, never asked to open the trunk where we had stored a huge suitcase.

The most basic security measurers seemingly absent as military brass, a former cabinet member, and cadets gathered in one place.

Disturbed by this, we decided to go back a few days later to again to test security.

At one entrance, we had to open the trunk and the huge suitcase we had placed inside.

But at the academy's other entrance, just a cursory check:

Guard: "Okay take the driver's license out of your wallet"

Response: "Sure".

Guard: "And lower that window for me."

The guard looked in the back seat and then asked us a question.

Guard: "Gentlemen, no weapons or firearms?"

Response: "No."

He never checked the suitcase in our trunk. Once on campus, we had complete access, able to drive anywhere, leaving the car unattended for 45 minutes.

And able to walk into any building. Right into the dining hall packed with cadets eating lunch. Walked around despite being the only one not in uniform.

I walked unchallenged into buildings where cadets attended classes . But most unsettling, being able to walk right into a dormitory, no ID, no security, no questions.

"It's a flaw, a potentiallyl fatal flaw", said security expert Spencer Coursen.

We showed our investigation to Coursen, a former U-S Army Ranger and State Department Special Deputy in counter-surveillance:

"The fact that there is not even the most simple of safeguards in place, I find alarming. I really do," said Coursen.

For a comparison, we travelled to Annapolis Maryland, home to the Naval Academy, where a Marine guard told us, "Without military ID, you have to park out in town and walk on. You can't drive on."

The Naval Academy would not allow us to drive onto the campus. The only way in was to walk. A marine checked all the contents in our bags.

At another entrance, we had to pass through a metal detector. Even regular college campuses have more security than West Point. At Columbia University, our undercover photographer could not gain access to the library, yet at West Point we walked all around the library and everywhere else.

"It's a bad loophole," said New York Senator Charles Schumer.

After seeing our investigation, Senator Schumer says this national treasure needs to be better protected.

"The fact you can bring a car on campus without it being thoroughly checked because someone seems to have a legitimate driver's license, that's pretty serious, no question about it," said Schumer.

('And that needs to be fixed?') "You bet," he replied.

In a statement, West Point says that continuous monitoring by active duty military police and government security guards dictate the procedures and requirements for visitors on any given day.

The head of Public Affairs for the Academy says "access is controlled by current threat levels, adding that safety of those who live and work at West Point is of utmost importance. "

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