- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

FBI agents questioned yesterday why Rep. Gary A. Condit, who has acknowledged having an affair with a Washington intern who has been missing since early May, continues to receive highly classified intelligence data as a member of a key House committee.

The agents, in letters to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, asked whether the California Democrat had become a national security risk.

"The national security is indeed paramount when we consider necessary measures to protect our intelligence secrets," the agents said in the letters. "A careful balance must be engineered. However it is only logical to insist that those with the broadest access to the most sensitive information be subjected to the greatest scrutiny."

Mr. Condit has been a member of the House intelligence committee since 1999 and, as a result, has had access to highly classified intelligence data on national security while his personal conduct has been challenged.

National security officials have begun to question whether Mr. Condit has become a blackmail target of international spies and others because of his access to national secrets. Several have suggested that his access to the information be cut off until questions about his relationship with the former intern, Chandra Levy, and her whereabouts are resolved.

Members of Congress chosen by party leaders for the House and Senate intelligence committees are exempt from the usual polygraphs and intrusive questions wielded by executive branch investigators.

The letters were forwarded to Congress by members of the FBI Agents Association, which has been critical of efforts to force widespread polygraph screening of FBI employees. Many rank-and-file agents believe that widespread polygraph testing carries a substantial risk of what they have described as "irreparable harm" to innocent employees.

Calls for increased polygraph testing came from members of Congress and elsewhere after the arrest of FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen as a Russian spy. The FBI has since ordered the tests for agents and bureau executives who have access to confidential intelligence information.

The agents, in the letters, said Senate and House intelligence committee members and their staffs have "substantially greater access to extremely sensitive, classified intelligence information which contrasts strikingly with all but the access of the top echelon of FBI executives."

"Most FBI special agents have little or no routine access to classified information," the agents noted. "Many have greatly restricted, compartmentalized exposure to specific intelligence programs or operations. All have undergone thorough security background investigations, up-dated at 5-year intervals."

The agents said the security background checks for FBI agents contrast with Senate and House procedures and suggested that the intelligence committee members and their staffs be required to undergo thorough background investigations and periodic polygraphs as a condition of service.

"What are the possible objections to such procedures given the tremendous amount and sensitivity of the information to which you and your staff have access?" the agents asked.

Mr. Condit, 53, who has told police that he had an affair with the missing 24-year-old former intern, was named to the intelligence committee by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

When asked over the weekend on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether Mr. Condit should step down from the intelligence panel, Mr. Gephardt said: "I don't think we ought to rush to judgment on this case. There have been a lot of facts come out, and then some had to be retracted. We have a legal process in the country and in the House when people are accused of wrongdoing. The first thing you presume is that they're innocent until proven guilty. And then you let the process work to find out what happened and what didn't happen."

Miss Levy, a former intern at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, has not been seen since April 30, when she canceled her membership at a gym near her Washington apartment. She spent several hours in her apartment the next day, using her computer to look at Web sites about news, travel and a congressional committee on which Mr. Condit served.

Mr. Condit, has denied through spokesmen that he knows anything about Miss Levy's disappearance, and the D.C. Metropolitan Police have steadfastly said he is not a suspect in their ongoing investigation.

The seven-term Democrat has not yet spoken publicly about Miss Levy's disappearance, but announced yesterday that he will give his first interview since the former intern vanished.

The interview with ABC News correspondent Connie Chung will be taped for air Thursday night, said Condit aide Michael Dayton. Mrs. Chung will talk to the congressman from his district in Modesto, Calif.

Mrs. Chung won a furious behind-the-scenes competition for the interview, considered the biggest "get" in television news since her ABC colleague Barbara Walters interviewed Monica Lewinsky.

Mr. Condit's political consultant, Richie Ross, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Mr. Condit has been planning his strategy, even while hunkered down in his California home, with a barrier of campers and pickup trucks parked outside to shield against television cameras. He also is expected to send a letter to his constituents outlining his plans.

•This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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