A Homeland Security Department official's arrest on felony charges of sexually preying on a detective posing as a 14-year-old girl is the latest in a series of security breaches at the department.
The massive department, which is charged with protecting the nation's security, has grappled in recent months with a mishandled anthrax scare at its headquarters and questions about the vulnerability of its intelligence-sharing system.

Now comes the arrest of Homeland Security's fourth-ranking spokesman, Brian J. Doyle, who allegedly provided the pseudo-victim with his government-issued office phone and cell phone numbers, showed off his department ID and may have used his official computer in chatting her up.

His case raises doubts about the agency's ability to ensure the security credentials of its own staff.

Doyle, who lives in suburban Silver Spring, Md., was being held without bail at a nearby detention center as Florida seeks to extradite him.

Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke said Wednesday the department was "cooperating fully" with the criminal investigation in Polk County, Fla., adding that Doyle's security clearance, employee badge and facility access permissions have been suspended.

Doyle is accused of 23 felony charges related to sexually graphic conversations with what he thought was a teenage girl who turned out to be an undercover detective in Polk County. The charges, lodged Tuesday night by the Polk County, Fla., Sheriff's Department, included 16 counts of sending pornographic movie clips to a minor.

"We take these allegations very seriously," Knocke said.

His arrest "raises serious concerns about the department's hiring policies and, more important, its security clearance practices," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y.

Vowing to investigate Homeland Security's hiring procedures, King said Doyle may have used a government-issued computer to "provide potentially sensitive information over the Internet to a complete stranger."

"What if the person on the other end had been a member of al-Qaida or a similar terrorist organization and used this information to blackmail Mr. Doyle?" King said.

The department's inspector general also is investigating the allegations.

Doyle's arrest capped a number of other security breaches at Homeland Security, still in its fledgling stages after being created in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Other security problems include:

--Inadequately-trained guards at Homeland Security's headquarters in Washington. The guards last month complained about rampant confusion in handling bomb and biological threats against the sprawling complex.

The guards, employed by private security firm Wackenhut, also described an incident at the department headquarters last fall in which an envelope with suspicious powder was opened and carried past Secretary Michael Chertoff's office. The envelope was taken outside and shaken near Chertoff's window without first evacuating people nearby.

The white powder proved to be harmless, but it raised questions about whether Wackenhut was properly trained to handle unknown or suspicious substances that could be anthrax. Wackenhut is still guarding the Homeland Security headquarters, although their contract is about to expire, a department spokesman said.

--Vulnerable information-sharing systems that could allow sensitive and classified intelligence to be accessed without authorization.

The department has long struggled to build secure networks for information-sharing, but its inspector general has warned repeatedly that the systems are vulnerable to break-ins. A December 2005 report by Inspector General Richard L. Skinner, for example, warned that Homeland Security needed to "provide adequate security for ... the information systems that support intelligence operations and assets."

Department officials agree with the security gaps and are trying to fix them, the report said.

Clark Kent Ervin, the department's former inspector general, said such lax protections cast doubt on Homeland Security's ability to carry out its mission.

"How competent is the department, how focused could it be on protecting the country, and protecting the country's information?" said Ervin, now at the Aspen Institute.

Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, did not have an immediate response.