Lawmakers urge State to make security a top priority

In response to a rash of highly-publicized security breaches at the State Department over the last two years, the House International Relations Committee Thursday urged the agency to make security at headquarters a top priority.

Earlier this year, a laptop computer containing highly classified information on weapons of mass destruction disappeared from a secure area at the department's Washington headquarters. The laptop and the information are still missing, and the incident is currently being investigated by the FBI and the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

"We do not yet know how the laptop disappeared from the [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] secure area, whether it was removed by an employee authorized to work in the office, whether it was stolen for its material value, or whether it was taken for the information on its hard drive," testified J. Stapleton Roy, assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research.

On the heels of the laptop fiasco, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright transferred authority for protecting highly sensitive information from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, a move the State Department's inspector general praised.

The intelligence and research bureau "was not fulfilling its security requirements," said Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers, State's inspector general.

In 1999, a Russian spy was found outside the main State Department building listening to a bugging device planted in a seventh floor conference room. And in 1998, an unidentified man in a brown tweed coat took highly classified documents from an office in the Secretary's suite. Neither the man nor the documents have been found.

According to the inspector general's testimony, the State Department took greater security precautions-including installing a 24-hour guard post in the Secretary's suite-following the "man in the brown tweed coat" incident.

David G. Carpenter, assistant Secretary of State for diplomatic security and senior adviser to Albright, noted that although the incidents represented egregious breaches in security, the agency has tried to crack down on potential threats by implementing stronger security measures.

"The fundamental problem which has brought the department to the point at which it now finds itself is not an absence of proper policies and procedures, as those are and have been in place. The problem is simple carelessness," Carpenter testified. He cited a new escort policy, stronger computer safeguards, and an increase in guards stationed inside the building as improvements.

The department has also closed D Street outside the building to traffic and has erected cement barriers around the entire building as further safeguards.

In September 1999, the State Department implemented a new policy requiring all visitors-with the exception of U.S. government personnel showing proper photo identification-to be escorted at all times. However, committee members and the inspector general expressed concern over the lax security requirements for foreign and American press personnel.

"While [the Office of Inspector General] supports the new escort policy, a continuing concern is that members of the media (foreign and American) are provided permanent building badges. ... The department's longstanding policy is to allow press personnel with identification cards 24 hours access, including weekends and holidays," said Williams-Bridgers.

Members of the press are not allowed above the second floor of the main building unescorted. Although there are guards posted in restricted areas, both Carpenter and Roy acknowledged that it was possible for reporters to wander around the building.

Timothy D. Bereznay, section chief at the FBI, testified that there are foreign intelligence officers currently posing as press representatives at the State Department.

"If asked, the FBI would be willing to identify to the State Department permanent media badge holders identified as hostile intelligence officers so that their access could be restricted or monitored," Bereznay said.

Both witnesses and committee members praised Albright's commitment to resolving security problems at her agency.

"The Secretary's leadership in raising security awareness has been invaluable. She has personally emphasized security at every opportunity for the purpose of strengthening the culture of security at State," said Carpenter.

Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., summed up the sentiment of his colleagues with respect to the agency's security issues.

"A secure State Department, however, is not just a matter of changing a few policies. It is the daily culture of our diplomats that must change. Every person in the State Department from maintenance personnel to ambassadors to the Secretary of State must reprioritize and make security a top concern," said Gilman.

A 1999 inspector general report, "Protecting Classified Documents at State Department Headquarters," is available online.

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