FBI valued career advancement over security, report says

FBI management has fostered a culture in which agents view internal security measures as bureaucratic and security investigation duties as a threat to career advancement, a special commission set up in the wake of the Robert Hanssen spying case said Friday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft created the commission to review the FBI's security programs shortly after authorities arrested FBI agent Robert Hanssen in February 2001 on espionage charges. William Webster, a former director of the CIA and FBI, chaired the commission and will testify on its findings before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

"In the bureau, security is often viewed as an impediment to operations, and security responsibilities are seen as an impediment to career advancement," the Webster Commission's 107-page report on the FBI's security programs said. That attitude, and the agency's "pervasive inattention to security" made it easy for veteran FBI agent and now convicted spy Hanssen to sell secrets to Moscow for two decades, according to the report.

FBI employees rely heavily on information sharing within the agency to conduct criminal investigations and tend to perceive rules restricting access to data as bureaucratic, according to the Webster Commission. Agents consider criminal investigations, a core function of the FBI, as "the surest path to career advancement" and security needs have suffered as a result of this attitude, the report said.

The report suggested that the agency encourage the career development of FBI security professionals to help employees take security responsibilities more seriously. "Security responsibilities are often foisted onto agents as collateral duties, which they eagerly relinquish to return to criminal investigations that promise career advancement," the panel wrote. The FBI Reform Act of 2002 (S. 1974), introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa in February, also proposes creating a career track in security for agency employees.

Despite a culture that has not prized security in the past, FBI employees now seem receptive to reforming the agency in the wake of Hanssen's treachery, according to the report. "They are acutely aware of the damage he has done to the country and to the reputation of the institution they love," the report said.

The Webster Commission called on the FBI to strike a balance between the competing interests of a law enforcement culture that thrives on shared information and an intelligence culture that thrives on secrecy. "The two will never fully co-exist in the bureau unless security programs receive the commitment and respect the FBI gives criminal investigations," the report said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, who made the report available to all agency employees, said the FBI's ultimate goal is to "make security as much a part of our culture as any other daily business that we do." The FBI has already started putting in place some of the report's recommendations, such as expanding the use of polygraph exams for employees and creating a separate security division within the agency. The agency also plans to beef up periodic reinvestigations of employees with access to sensitive data.

The report issued several recommendations for improved security, including restricting employee access to computers and documents with sensitive material; complying with a Clinton-era executive order requiring employees and contractors to complete financial disclosure forms; and periodically auditing security programs.

Hanssen, who met with the Webster Commission as part of his plea agreement, recounted how he was able to install unauthorized software on his office computers, download and copy classified documents, and hack into his colleagues' computers undetected. Hanssen handed over 26 disks and 6,000 pages of classified information to Soviet and Russian intelligence during his 22-year career as a spy.

"Security was lax…[in] that you could bring documents out of FBI headquarters without…ever having a risk of being searched, or looked at, or even concerned about," the report quoted Hanssen as saying.

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