- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

The Justice Department did not prosecute the former head of its intelligence division despite his admission to investigators that he disclosed classified information, The Washington Times has learned.

Richard Scruggs, a friend of Attorney General Janet Reno's, who brought him to Washington, provided secret information to two reporters about an electronic eavesdropping FBI operation against the Japanese group Aum Shin Rikyo in 1995, according to Justice Department officials familiar with the case.

Justice Department officials disclosed some aspects of the investigation into unauthorized disclosure on condition of anonymity. It is the first time information has been disclosed from the secret court set up under the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The Justice Department's downplaying of the Scruggs findings is similar to the CIA's limited response to former director John Deutch, who was caught mishandling classified documents but not prosecuted.

In both cases, government officials have charged that security infractions were covered up to protect senior personnel.

Mr. Scruggs, currently the chief of the public corruption section for the U.S. Attorney's Office in southern Florida, said in an interview with The Times that he "indirectly confirmed" the classified information presented to him by the two reporters.

He denied being the original source for information on the FBI surveillance of Aum Shin Rikyo obtained by reporters Jim McGee and Brian Duffy and disclosed in their book "Main Justice."

The investigation was launched following publication of a book on the Justice Department and an excerpt that appeared in the Sunday magazine of The Washington Post on June 23, 1996.

Myron Marlin, Miss Reno's spokesman, said in an interview: "Because of the Privacy Act we are not in a position to acknowledge the [Office of Professional Responsibility] investigation, but in such investigations, when the department determines the appropriate disciplinary action, it does not consider the relations someone has with the attorney general."

Mr. Duffy declined to comment on the matter and said he was unaware of the probe of Mr. Scruggs. Mr. McGee could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Scruggs worked with Miss Reno when she was a prosecutor in Florida and was offered a job on her Justice Department staff in the early 1990s. He was placed in charge of writing the 350-page "after action report" on the Justice Department's handling of the Branch Davidian standoff. The report was submitted in October 1993, six months after the incident.

The Waco matter is currently being investigated again by a special team of investigators headed by former Sen. John C. Danforth. That probe was called after new information surfaced last year questioning the role of FBI agents at the site during a 51-day siege.

Some officials suggested Mr. Scruggs was not punished for disclosing intelligence because of his friendship with Miss Reno and because he helped protect her from criticism after the Waco affair.

Mr. Scruggs also was singled out for criticism in a recent internal Justice Department report on the department's mishandling of the case of fired Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is suspected of passing nuclear weapons secrets to China. The report by Justice official Randy Bellows criticized Mr. Scruggs for his role in setting the department's intelligence policy, including the decision not to seek a court order allowing the FBI to place Mr. Lee under surveillance early in the espionage investigation.

One former U.S. government official said Mr. Scruggs' treatment showed the department covered up security infractions by senior officials, but aggressively pursued similar misconduct for lower-ranking officials. Numerous FBI investigations have been ordered by the Justice Department into other leaks of classified information.

"Here you have an attorney general that is so concerned about unauthorized disclosures and made decisions on such prominent people as John Deutch, but allowed a close aide to go undisciplined in an unauthorized disclosure he admitted to and the guy still retains his clearance," the former official said.

CIA Director George Tenet, who is in charge of protecting all secrets, was never notified of the leak investigation, the officials said. The committees of Congress with oversight responsibility for the intelligence community also were not informed.

The reporters' book revealed that the FBI and Justice Department were at odds over how quickly to install electronic eavesdropping devices in the offices of Aum Shin Rikyo in New York shortly after the group's poison gas attack in a Tokyo subway.

The surveillance and break-in at the group's New York offices required approval by the secret court set up under the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize searches and eavesdropping in counterspy and counter-terrorism cases.

According to the book, Mr. Scruggs delayed approval for the electronic bugging because of a lack of evidence. The holdup angered James Kallstrom, director of the FBI's New York office.

Mr. Scruggs said the only security infraction was that he "corrected" information for the reporters.

"They were writing a book and erroneous information was provided to them and I corrected the record," Mr. Scruggs said in a telephone interview. He said he immediately notified the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates internal wrongdoing, of the infraction. "I turned myself in," he said.

Mr. Scruggs said he received a letter of reprimand as a result of the investigation. However, his security clearance was not revoked or suspended and he said he still retains a "top secret" security clearance.

Mr. Scruggs said he was assigned to "shadow" the two reporters during their work on the book and that the department's cooperation was approved by Miss Reno.

Mr. Scruggs also said the probe was not "a leak investigation."

However, other officials familiar with the case said it was. One official close to the investigation said Mr. Scruggs was the original source for the intelligence material contained in the book and admitted it during the subsequent investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

"He said that he had done it and that he was sorry," this official said.

Justice officials said Miss Reno recused herself from the investigation of Mr. Scruggs because of their past association and to avoid influencing the probe.

Steve Colgate, an assistant attorney general in charge of administration, was asked to oversee the leak investigation. In an interview, Mr. Colgate said he could not comment on the investigation or its outcome because of the Privacy Act.

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