- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday convened a rare all-hands departmental meeting to condemn a series of embarrassing security lapses in recent months and demand that agency employees do better.

"Failures to observe basic procedures put our nation's secrets at risk," said Mrs. Albright, who described herself as "furious" at the string of incidents.

"They damage the credibility and reputation of the department and everyone who works here. They are intolerable and inexcusable," she added.

The remarks were delivered to a packed auditorium of about 1,000 staffers at the State Department's C Street NW headquarters in the District of Columbia, including virtually all of the department's most senior officials. It was also beamed by closed-circuit video to diplomatic posts around the world.

Department officials said the secretary delivered an even more pointed dressing-down to a group of nearly three dozen very senior aides and ambassadors at a private session last week.

But she added yesterday that some security reforms "have been resisted" within the department and warned employees the department's support on Capitol Hill could suffer if the "perception" of a lax security environment is not reversed.

Mrs. Albright said the department's reputation suffered a severe blow when a laptop computer containing sensitive data was discovered missing three months ago. Department security officials say the computer still has not been located.

That followed revelations that a Russian intelligence listening device had been planted in a conference room on the floor where Mrs. Albright's office is located. In yet another incident in 1998, a still-unidentified man was able to walk off with folders containing classified papers from the suite of Mrs. Albright's executive secretary.

"I don't care how skilled you are as a diplomat, how brilliant you may be at meetings, or how creative you are as an administrator," Mrs. Albright said. "If you are not professional about security, you are a failure."

The secretary tempered her harsh message with a pledge to fight for more funding for the department from Capitol Hill.

But a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on background after Mrs. Albright's morning address, acknowledged that a bigger budget would not have prevented an incident like the missing laptop.

Saying he agreed the department needed more funds, the official noted: "I would love to say that money was the cause or the lack of resources was the cause of this laptop being missing, but I can't say that. That was not the case.

"[Existing] policies and procedures were not followed as directed. That's why this laptop is missing," he said.

The missing laptop reportedly contained a large cache of documents relating to arms proliferation, including information on U.S. intelligence sources and methods of gathering information.

Facing criticism from Congress, Mrs. Albright last week announced a series of steps to beef up security at the headquarters building and at posts around the world.

The department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security will now oversee the handling of sensitive data, a job once done by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

And two State Department security officers have been transferred at least temporarily to other posts as the investigation into the missing laptop proceeds.

Mrs. Albright and CIA Director George J. Tenet have been invited to testify today at a closed session of the House Select Intelligence Committee to discuss the State Department's handling of classified data.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, has already announced plans to hold his own hearings on the question, probably later this month.

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