WASHINGTON — President Clinton has signed an order creating a national counterintelligence executive to oversee the government's efforts to protect its most vital national security secrets, administration officials said Friday.
The new executive will have a four-member board composed of the director of the FBI, the deputy secretary of Defense, the deputy director of the CIA and a Justice Department representative.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Clinton took the action to help adapt U.S. counterintelligence efforts to a post-Cold War era "in which danger could come just as easily from a laptop [computer] and not the traditional cloak-and-dagger spies."
"The old system was designed to counter intelligence threats that came from our adversaries in the Cold War," Siewert said. "Now you're in a new era where those threats are not quite as centrally localized and you need a more integrated system."
Siewert said that, although the incoming Bush administration could reverse Clinton's decision, that looks doubtful since it is strongly supported by the CIA, the FBI and other agencies involved in counterintelligence matters. He said national security advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger had briefed his anticipated successor, Condoleezza Rice.
"They can undo it, but this is not a partisan issue," Siewert said.
The organization will reside at CIA headquarters and will replace the CIA's National Counterintelligence Center, according to an administration official who discussed the matter in advance of the White House announcement. The center was created in 1994 after the arrest of Aldrich H. Ames, a longtime CIA officer convicted of spying for the former Soviet Union.
The existing counterintelligence center at the CIA focuses on known, suspected or potential intelligence losses. The new organization will take a broader, more forward-looking approach.
Siewert said it is unlikely Clinton will name the executive before he leaves office Jan. 20.
Before the Ames case, which was one of the worst intelligence disasters in CIA history, the FBI and other government agencies had their own counterintelligence operations, but there was no central, governmentwide office in charge of protecting secrets.