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U.S. Envoy to Israel Regains Clearance--for Duration of Crisis

October 11, 2000|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration, concerned that it had hobbled its top diplomat in Israel in the midst of the worst violence there in a decade, restored the security clearance of Ambassador Martin Indyk, the State Department said Tuesday.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reinstated Indyk's right to use classified information "in light of the continuing turmoil in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza [Strip] and for compelling national security reasons," department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Indyk was stripped of his security clearance Sept. 21 after the FBI began investigating allegations that he used an unclassified laptop computer on an airplane flight to prepare classified memos about his meetings with foreign leaders.

At the time, officials said the disciplinary action was unlikely to interfere with U.S. Middle East diplomacy because other officials could take up the slack. But when the current round of Israeli-Palestinian violence flared, the administration determined that it needed Indyk's unfettered skills.

"Ambassador Indyk will be able to perform his duties to the full extent," Boucher said. "He will have access to classified information. His clearance has been reinstated for the duration of the current crisis."

A senior State Department official said later that Indyk had tried to deal with the crisis without using classified information but found it to be impossible.

Indyk's status will be reevaluated once the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories stabilizes, Boucher said.

Indyk, 49, apparently is the first serving U.S. ambassador to be stripped of government security clearance. Veteran diplomats complained that Indyk was being made a scapegoat for the kinds of security lapses that are rather common among envoys who take classified work home from the office.

At the time the action against Indyk was taken, Boucher said there was no indication that classified material had been compromised by the ambassador's failure to follow regulations covering secret documents. Boucher said there was "no indication of espionage in this matter."

Indyk is in his second term as ambassador to Israel. In between stints in Tel Aviv, he served as assistant secretary of State for Middle East policy. In both jobs, he has been a key member of the administration's Arab-Israel peace team.

The State Department has come under heavy criticism since a series of embarrassing security breaches came to light earlier this year. In May, Albright said she was humiliated by the lapses, and she told U.S. diplomats around the world that failure to follow security procedures would be dealt with harshly.

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