Former CIA director's security clearance pulled

Copyright © 1999 Nando Media
Copyright © 1999 Associated Press


WASHINGTON (August 20, 1999 6:43 p.m. EDT - The Central Intelligence Agency said Friday it has cut off former CIA Director John Deutch's access to classified information in response to violating agency rules by keeping secret files on an unsecured computer at his home.

Suspending the security clearances of a former CIA director is highly unusual. Agency spokesman William Harlow said he knew of no precedent.

The decision was made by CIA Director George Tenet, Deutch's immediate successor, who acted after reviewing a CIA inspector general's July 13 report on the former director's improper handling of classified materials.

"Director Tenet regrets that it was necessary for him to take this action, particularly in light of Dr. Deutch's distinguished record of public service," the CIA public affairs office said in a written statement.

The CIA normally does not announce suspension of security clearances but did this time because of prior news coverage about the Deutch case, officials said.

John Pike, an intelligence expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said he believes Tenet acted because of the public uproar over allegations that Wen Ho Lee, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, gave China secrets about America's nuclear arsenal. The Lee investigation has unleashed an avalanche of charges about government inattention to lapses in protection of classified materials.

"There was no way they could conceivably explain letting Deutch off the hook" in light of the Lee case, Pike said, even though the Deutch mistakes at the time were regarded by most people as "the sort of normal violation that is against the rules but is frequently practiced" and not punished.

Deutch is an unpaid consultant to the CIA; the suspension of his security clearances makes it unlikely that relationship will continue, Terrence O'Donnell, his personal attorney, said in an interview. O'Donnell said the CIA gave no assurance when the suspension might be reconsidered.

Deutch, a former deputy defense secretary who spent 38 years in public service, was CIA director from May 1995 to December 1996. When he was leaving his CIA post, agency technicians went to his home for routine checks to ensure that secrets were properly protected. They found 31 classified documents on a CIA-issued computer not configured for classified work.

In April 1999 the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Deutch but recommended that the CIA review Deutch's continued suitability to hold high-level security clearances. Justice concluded Deutch's security lapses were reckless rather than criminal.

In its statement Friday, the CIA said Tenet decided to suspend Deutch's clearances indefinitely in light of the "nature of the security violations involved" and Deutch's responsibility as a senior intelligence official to set the highest standards in the protection of classified information.

Deutch issued a written statement through the CIA in which he acknowledged he erred by using an unsecured computer to write classified documents and memoranda at his home, but he stressed that investigators found no information was compromised as a result of his lapses.

"I respect the decision of the director to suspend my CIA clearances," Deutch wrote. "As for the future, I intend to do everything in my power to reassure my colleagues at the agency of my commitment to comply with the rules that safeguard classified information."

Just last month Deutch concluded a stint as chairman of a bipartisan commission that assessed the government's preparedness to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a role in which he relied on CIA security clearances.

Copyright © 1999 Nando Media