Feds to build secret site in diplomatic building

By Adam Pincus | December 12, 2008 02:02PM

Across the street from the United Nations, in a new Gwathmey Siegel-designed, federally owned office tower under construction on First Avenue and 45th Street, the U.S. State Department plans to build a secure location to send and receive classified information, security experts speculate.

The federal government is seeking small business contractors that have Defense Department security clearance to build out a 4,000-square-foot space inside the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building, at 799 First Avenue. The space would have a higher level of security than the rest of the building, said Renee Miscione, spokesperson for the U.S. General Services Administration, the building’s owner, but she would not confirm the use of the space.

The building will house the American diplomatic mission to the United Nations.

Companies hoping to construct the space need a “secret facility security clearance issued by the Defense Security Service and secret safeguarding capability,” according to an advertisement on a federal business opportunities Web site. Bids for the project, estimated to cost between $1 million and $5 million, are due February 5, the request said.

GSA’s Miscione would not say whether the general contractor for the rest of the building needed a Department of Defense security clearance, but security experts doubted it.

Joseph King, associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former New York Department of Homeland Security chief, said such a space would be used to send and receive secure telecommunications. The walls could be lined with lead, and there would probably be no windows or a dropped ceiling.

“I call it the ‘cone of silence’ or ‘lead room.’ What they do is try and give one location that everything runs in to,” he said.

During construction, he wondered how deep the security vetting would be. “What about the workers? What about the guys putting the sheetrock up? Who enforces that, and would the [General Services Administration] have security at the site?”

The 26-story, 147,000-square-foot building has been topped out, and construction is expected to be completed next year. Because the building is owned by the federal government, it has not drawn much attention, real estate experts said.

Another factor reducing visibility is that the GSA, as a federal agency, does not have to file building permits with the city, Department of Buildings spokesperson Kate Lindquist wrote in an e-mail.

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