- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The State Department yesterday defended a 10-day delay in suspending the security clearance of Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, saying it took that long for the decision to be cleared at "the highest levels" including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Spokesman Richard Boucher emphatically denied that the suspension came only because of pressure from members of Congress who had asked for a briefing on the issue after receiving a tip last week.

"The decision to suspend Indyk came 10 days after the recommendation by [State Department] investigators because it was cleared by the secretary [of state] and by lawyers," said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"The secretary approved it."

Mr. Indyk on Thursday became the first American ambassador ever to lose his security clearance, effectively keeping him from his post. The step was taken in a climate of concern over a series of security violations at the State Department including a Russian-planted bug and the disappearance of a laptop computer holding classified data.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the department's security staff recommended that Mr. Indyk's clearance be lifted after an individual accused him of violating newly tightened security guidelines.

The motive for the accusation was not clear, the official said. "It's possible someone had it in for him and took advantage of the very real current concern over security to stick it to him."

Federal law enforcement authorities said the FBI investigation has included a review of possible espionage, but they said none has been established. They also said investigators had yet to determine whether any intelligence information had been compromised.

Part of the ongoing probe, the authorities said, centers on concerns that Mr. Indyk took notes of classified meetings on his laptop computer and prepared responses, leaving possible classified information on unprotected computers.

Investigators want to know whether Mr. Indyk improperly removed classified material to work on at home, they said.

Mr. Indyk has been criticized in Israel because of his perceived closeness to the Labor Party of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Mr. Indyk has also raised hackles in nationalist Jewish circles by calling for shared sovereignty over Jerusalem as part of any peace pact with the Palestinians.

The State Department official said Mr. Indyk ran afoul of new rules that effectively prohibit writing up notes on airplanes or at home, and which will make U.S. diplomats' work difficult, if not impossible.

"There's a disconnect between regulations and the way business is conducted," said the official. "People will have to adjust between common sense and the concern for security.

"If you fired everyone who did what he did, you'd have a lot of vacanies to fill over here," he said.

At a State Department briefing, Mr. Boucher said the department suspended Mr. Indyk's clearance on Thursday, "pending the outcome of an investigation of suspected violations of … security standards."

"Ambassador Indyk has cooperated fully with the Department of State and FBI investigators… . There is no indication of espionage in this matter."

Mr. Boucher refused to say what Mr. Indyk was accused of having done, citing privacy protection rules and the ongoing investigation. But he did say the place where a laptop computer is used could prompt security concerns.

"In most circumstances it's not just the machine you're working on, but it's the location where you are working… . It crimps your style and makes things more difficult," he acknowledged.

The suspension effectively removes Mr. Indyk both from his post at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, where his deputy, Paul Simons, has taken charge, and from his key role in the U.S.-mediated peace talks betwen Israel and the Palestinians.

The talks will resume in Washington this week, Mr. Boucher said, adding that there were other U.S. diplomats able to work with the two sides.

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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