|SLUG: 5-47465 Pentagon Secrets||DATE:||NOTE NUMBER:|
TITLE= PENTAGON SECRETS
BYLINE= ALEX BELIDA
INTRO: A new Pentagon study has underscored the challenges that laptop computers and other new technology have created for officials trying to safeguard top secret information. VOA's Alex Belida has this report from the Defense Department.
TEXT: This past July, the Pentagon announced it would conduct what it calls a top-down review of security policies in today's technologically sophisticated environment.
One key area for investigation was identified as the risks associated with laptop computers and electronic devices capable of receiving, storing and transmitting information. As an interim measure, guards at the Pentagon were directed to begin random inspections of laptop computers entering or leaving the Defense Department.
The crackdown stems in part from disclosures involving John Deutch, who served in the Pentagon's second and third highest ranking civilian posts during the mid-1990's and later became Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
A report (released this week) by the Defense Department's Inspector General says Mr. Deutch failed to follow even the most basic security precautions during his tenure at the Pentagon. It says he stored classified information on unsecured computers, including computers in his home that were used by family members to access the Internet.
The report says a computer hacker could have gained on-line access to Mr. Deutch's computer and the information stored on it, including Defense Department secrets.
The report also noted several of the computers Mr. Deutch used during his tenure at the Pentagon were later disposed of under an official program that provided some of the machines to the public, including a school in Pennsylvania.
It is still not clear whether any classified information was compromised or whether Mr. Deutch will face criminal prosecution. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon says the so-called damage assessment question is still under study.
But Mr. Bacon says one recommendation contained in the new Inspector General's report is that hard drives of Defense Department computers be destroyed before disposal.
There is a recommendation in the I-G [eds: Inspector General] report about the way disk drives should be handled for DoD [eds: Defense Department] computers that are disposed of, in other words that leave the department. And these are disk drives - it basically recommends the disk drives that handle both classified and unclassified information be destroyed before the computers are disposed of.
Mr. Bacon says that particular recommendation is under review and he expects a ruling shortly. He says the destruction of hard drives would be an easy policy to carry out. But he says that policy would destroy one of the Pentagon's most successful charitable programs designed to help schools.
It would hurt a program by which we give a lot of old computers to schools. They would get these computers without hard disk drives, which would reduce their usefulness somewhat.
According to a Pentagon spokeswoman, the Defense Department disposed of 97-thousand computers in the 1999. Those computers, with an original purchase value of 181 million dollars, were all given to schools or other non-profit educational organizations. (Signed)