- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Foreign intelligence agents working as news reporters retain sweeping unsupervised access to the State Department's central headquarters, despite a security crackdown after several major lapses, department officials and the FBI told Congress Thursday.

"In my opinion, it poses a threat," said Tim Bereznay, section chief of the FBI's National Security Division at a House International Relations hearing.

The department's inspector general, Jacquelyn Williams-Bridgers, said the new policy requiring all visitors to have a security escort at all times "does have a glaring hole in that it allows press members, the media, to have free access to the building."

Undersecretary of State David G. Carpenter, head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said he wants tighter controls on the press.

"If it were within my power, I would not have any press in the building," Mr. Carpenter said.

President Clinton Thursday at first made light of the situation to reporters at the White House.

"I would have thought that you might have docile intelligence officers masquerading as hostile reporters," he said.

He quickly added: "The testimony today was the first that I had heard that assertion, and obviously it has to be looked into."

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright also cracked a joke.

"We obviously don't want spies posing as journalists in this room or wandering around the State Department," she told reporters at a press conference. "If any of you are, please identify yourselves."

She said she takes the security charges seriously and will cooperate with the FBI, but counseled caution, saying she has not seen FBI information on agents working as reporters.

"I think we have to be careful here not to go crazy," she said.

"The State Department's job in life is to have diplomatic relations with other countries," she said, "and for those diplomatic relations to be covered by not only the American press but the foreign press."

Under the department's new security policy, instituted in 1999, accredited reporters are given a pass that allows them into the building unescorted. In theory, they are only permitted access to the first two floors, where the press and briefing rooms are located.

But department officials said there is nothing to prevent the reporters from wandering onto upper floors, where senior officials and classified information are housed. There are guards on patrol, but there are not enough to absolutely ensure that the media remains downstairs.

Foreign governments routinely use reporters to gather intelligence or spread propaganda, Mr. Bereznay said. The FBI is aware of many such agents, including some covering the State Department, but the State Department has never requested FBI help in screening accredited reporters.

There are currently 467 State Department press building passes issued to journalists and technicians. Of those, 56 are held by employees of non-U.S. news and media outlets, according to the department.

Members of the International Relations Committee appeared surprised by the obvious hole in the department's new security system and by the officials' frank discussion of it.

"I think this administration has had a lax view toward national security and security issues from day one," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.

The State Department has been rocked by a series of security problems in recent years, most recently in January when a laptop computer disappeared from a secure office of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. That computer contained highly classified information on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

It has not been located. The matter remains under investigation by the department and the FBI.

Last year, the department found a listening device in a classified briefing room after police found a Russian diplomat outside monitoring the bug. Shortly thereafter, the department was forced to abandon a new computer program used in posts worldwide after it discovered the software had not been subject to careful security checks even though it was written by programmers from the former Soviet Union.

In 1998, an unidentified man walked into the Secretary of State's suite on the seventh floor and stole classified documents in full view of the staff. He and the documents have never been located.

"The fundamental problem, which has brought the department to the point at which it now finds itself, is not the absence of proper policies and procedures, as those are and have been in place," Mr. Carpenter said. "The problem is simple carelessness."

Mr. Carpenter, who took the job in 1998, tried to institute an escort policy in November of that year, but was quickly overruled by Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering. The policy did not become permanent until August of last year, after the discovery of the Russian bug.

An inspector general's report issued in September of last year found serious systemic failures in the department's security, Mrs. Williams-Bridgers said, but most of the recommendations were not put into effect until too late to prevent the loss of the classified laptop.

Mrs. Williams-Bridgers found a host of problems, including lax enforcement of the escort policy, poor accounting for classified documents, and spotty enforcement of the policy of supervising construction and maintenance workers in the sprawling building.

Many security officers did not even know their responsibilities and powers under the department's regulations.

Mrs. Williams-Bridgers recommended that all security operations be transferred to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which has a well-developed security system. That change did not go into effect until after the laptop disappeared from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which deals with much of the department's most sensitive information, traditionally handled its own security and was answerable in part to the CIA. But Mrs. Williams-Bridgers concluded that the bureau was "not well structured or well staffed" to protect classified information.

Former Ambassador Stapleton Roy, the current head of the bureau, did not dispute Mrs. Williams-Bridger's devastating conclusions at Thursday's hearing and made little effort to defend his office.

"Regardless of the circumstances, the loss of the laptop is inexcusable," he said. "It should not have happened."

• David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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