- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, stung by the arrest of one of his own agents as a Russian spy, has ordered sweeping changes in the bureau's internal security measures, including expanded use of polygraph tests for FBI employees.

In a strongly worded five-page memo, Mr. Freeh directed that "periodic" polygraph examinations be administered to all agents and support personnel who have access to the "FBI's most sensitive information" with the first round of tests beginning within 60 days.

First up, the memo said, will be senior executive personnel, employees leaving and returning from overseas postings, and those agents and other personnel whose assignments "expose them to extremely sensitive information, sources or investigative techniques."

Mr. Freeh, under pressure from Congress and elsewhere to begin polygraph tests of his agents, said he had asked former FBI Director William H. Webster to conduct an independent review of the bureau's internal security measures.

But the memo, issued last week, says that improving internal security is "too important to wait" for Mr. Webster's pending recommendations.

"I ask every employee to give this mandate their serious attention," he said. "Together, we will strike the proper balance between security, operations and employee privacy necessary to safeguard our nation's most critical information."

Noting resistance from within the bureau to widespread polygraph examinations, Mr. Freeh said the tests would focus on counterintelligence issues and would be administered by the bureau's National Security Division.

The confidential memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, comes in the wake of the arrest last month of Agent Robert Hanssen on espionage charges. The 27-year veteran is accused of working with the Russians for more than 15 years, exchanging secret U.S. intelligence secrets for cash and diamonds.

Mr. Freeh, in announcing the arrest, said that while the full extent of the damage done was unknown, he believed it was "exceptionally grave." An affidavit by FBI Agent Stefan A. Pluta said Mr. Hanssen "compromised numerous human resources of the United States intelligence community."

Mr. Hanssen's arrest exposed weaknesses in the FBI's internal security, including document-handling procedures and a policy of not requiring regular polygraph tests for its agents. Mr. Hanssen, like most veteran agents, never underwent routine polygraph examinations that might have detected his activities sooner.

The Freeh memo, ordering what the director described as "immediate changes in the FBI security program," also starts a review process of those who electronically access the bureau's most sensitive case files the Automated Case Support (ACS) files.

To that end, Mr. Freeh ordered that special-agents-in-charge of the FBI's field offices immediately identify their "most sensitive" foreign counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Each of those cases, starting today, will be audited to learn if anyone gained unauthorized access or improperly sought to enter the files.

Mr. Freeh also noted that "because accountability must begin at the top," the FBI's senior executive managers would personally be responsible for security concerns at headquarters and the field offices including assistant directors and special-agents-in-charge, all of whom are expected to work with their individual security officers "who can provide informed guidance of security-related matters."

Additionally, he said, within the next 90 days the FBI would convene a bureauwide training conference for its security officers "to ensure they are fully prepared to carry out their assignments."

Mr. Freeh also said that in order to practice "sound risk management," the FBI would devote more resources to the reinvestigation of those employees now assigned to positions with sensitive access.

"We must recognize the FBI remains an attractive target for those groups who desire to harm the interests of the United States or engage in criminal activity," he said. "Without a strong commitment to security and an effective security program, all other FBI initiatives are placed in jeopardy."

Mr. Freeh also said that while new security measures should have a "substantial impact on lowering the probability that sensitive information will be compromised," they were "merely preliminary to the numerous and substantial improvements expected to follow."

Mr. Webster, also a former director of the CIA, has said his review will not make any recommendations on security measures, including the use of polygraphs, until after his blue-ribbon commission completes its work.

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