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Security of Classified Data at Justice, FBI Faulted : Secrets: Congressional investigators could not trace movement of the documents, and many violations were not punished, the GAO says.

September 17, 1993|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Document security within the Justice Department and FBI is so lax that congressional investigators were unable to track classified papers moving between the two agencies, a report by the General Accounting Office said.

The study, a copy of which was provided to The Times, also found that the FBI failed to take disciplinary action for many of the 4,400 violations that its own security patrols uncovered at FBI headquarters over a three-year period.

The GAO report, done for the House Government Operations subcommittee on information, justice, transportation and agriculture, noted that safeguarding classified and sensitive information is an absolute necessity in law enforcement.

"With the increasing strength and boldness of drug trafficking cartels, organized crime families and terrorist groups, it is vital that the (Justice) Department adequately protect its operations to ensure that it does not itself compromise its law enforcement activities," said Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres), the subcommittee chairman.

Condit, in letters to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, said the security shortcomings "must be corrected."

He wrote that, although procedures have been established to control and track classified documents, "compliance with the procedures is in some cases so inadequate that GAO was unable to track documents to ensure that they had reached their intended recipients . . . . A classified document could be lost, stolen or simply vanish into thin air, leaving the department unable to identify and hold accountable those responsible for the lapse."

John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman, acknowledged the security problems and said the department's inspector general also is looking into the violations.

Russell said document security is particularly vital for "protection of informants and third-party intelligence units" that deal with Justice and the FBI, such as the Central Intelligence Agency.

Charles Mandigo, an FBI spokesman, emphasized that the bureau's headquarters is a secure facility that requires anyone with less than a top-secret clearance to be escorted while in the building. All personnel, including cleaning crews, have such clearances, he said. The FBI will respond to Condit's letter next week.

The GAO report said 68% of the 4,400 security violations reported at FBI headquarters from 1990 through 1992 involved classified materials being left unsecured in offices. The remaining violations, also uncovered by FBI security patrols between the hours of 6 p.m. and 5 a.m., involved files and other sensitive documents left unsecured; cabinets, safes and offices left unlocked; keys to offices and cabinets left out, and secure telephones, badges and credentials left unsecured within the building.

The GAO report said: "Lack of disciplinary actions, or inconsistent actions, could give FBI employees the impression that the security of classified and sensitive information is not a high priority."

In response to earlier concerns over its ability to maintain adequate document security, the Justice Department in 1991 set up a security compliance review group. But with its staff of six the unit will not be able to review the department's 1,300 locations "in a reasonable time frame," the report said.

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