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Ex-CIA Director May Face Misdemeanor for Breach

September 14, 2000|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — While former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee has pleaded guilty to a felony for unlawfully downloading national defense data, former CIA Director John M. Deutch is still under investigation by the Justice Department for a similar infraction.

There are indications, however, that Deutch--if he is accused at all--will face no more than a misdemeanor charge.

The Deutch case is notable because Atty. Gen. Janet Reno initially declined any prosecution last year for his conduct in storing thousands of pages of highly classified information on unsecured personal computers at his home.

Ten months later, under pressure from Congress and a highly critical CIA inspector general's report, she ordered the FBI to launch a criminal investigation. Critics said that it seemed unfair to prosecute Lee and not the man who headed the CIA after serving as the Pentagon's No. 2 official.

Deutch, who resigned from the intelligence agency in December 1996, was found to have kept large volumes of secret material on home computers used to connect to the Internet, suggesting the possibility that a hacker could have obtained the classified data. There was no evidence of such a breach, however.

While Justice Department officials have declined comment, outside legal analysts said that there were no indications Deutch had sought to harm national interests--one of the original accusations against Lee when the scientist was charged in a 59-count indictment.

In August 1999, four months after Reno first declined to prosecute Deutch, CIA Director George J. Tenet stripped him of his security clearances. Tenet acted after receiving the findings of his own inspector general, who concluded that Tenet and other agency officials had mishandled an in-house inquiry into the potential compromise of secret data by Deutch.

President Clinton's foreign intelligence advisory board also weighed in with a highly critical report on the CIA's response. Tenet later acknowledged that he shared responsibility for the shortcomings in his agency's investigation of Deutch's conduct.

Tenet went before a closed session Wednesday of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has met several times on the Deutch case. Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters afterward that the committee would issue a report in the near future.

Deutch has admitted violating agency security rules by writing and storing thousands of pages of data on ordinary home computers while he was CIA director from May 1995 through December 1996. His supporters note, however, that he was working at home with materials he was entitled to see. Lee, on the other hand, was accused of storing information not necessary for his work at Los Alamos.

"At no time did I intend to violate security rules, and fortunately there is no evidence of compromise," Deutch said in a statement last February.

Among the sensitive files found on Deutch's computers and hard drives as he was leaving the agency were reports on covert operations, top-secret code words and communication intelligence, memos to the White House and the classified budget for the National Reconnaissance Program, which builds and operates the nation's spy satellites.

On Capitol Hill, Republican sources who have investigated Deutch's case said that Paul E. Coffey, a former Justice Department official whom Reno brought out of retirement to review the matter, is leaning toward recommending a misdemeanor charge against the former CIA director.

Under federal law, gross negligence in handling classified information is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Taking classified information home without authorization is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

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