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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

General Faulted on Lapse in Security

Inquiry says Franks erred in letting his wife sit in on briefings but finds no harm done.

March 11, 2003|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's inspector general found that Gen. Tommy Franks mistakenly allowed his wife to sit in on classified briefings, but concluded no harm was done to national security and dismissed two other allegations, Defense officials said Monday.

The probe by the Department of Defense inspector general's office found that the chief of the U.S. Central Command, who would lead a war against Iraq, "inadvertently allowed classified information, at a level for which Mrs. Franks was not cleared, to be discussed in her presence," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Keck said. The report concluded that the disclosure did not affect U.S. security, Keck said.

The investigation declared "unsubstantiated" allegations that a female officer was assigned to run personal errands for Cathy Franks and a military bodyguard was assigned to protect her, in violation of military regulations. Pentagon officials declined to comment on those allegations.

Franks agreed to "redouble his efforts to safeguard such information" in a meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Keck said. Rumsfeld on Monday reiterated the support for Franks that he first voiced when the allegations were made public in early February.

"As I indicated, Gen. Franks is an outstanding leader and soldier," Rumsfeld said in a statement. "I continue to have full confidence in him and I regard this matter as concluded."

Investigations of senior military officers are not unusual and vary widely in their import. Pentagon regulations require that even anonymous allegations be investigated, and such probes regularly take many months, even when no disciplinary action results. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that Franks had informed him of the investigation some time ago.

As chief of U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa, Fla., Franks, 57, is responsible for all U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Named to his post in 2000, he commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He is overseeing the buildup of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf in preparation for a possible war with Iraq.

The disclosure of the investigation, first reported in the Washington Post, incensed Rumsfeld, Defense sources said. A senior Defense official called the timing "at best curious and at worst malicious," and privately dismissed the allegations against Franks as "one of the more ugly episodes that I've seen."

One Defense official who has sat in on briefings with Franks said Cathy Franks has sometimes been in attendance, but has been asked to leave when classified material comes up. The official did not explain why she would have been present at such briefings.

In one instance, a Defense official said, Franks "was on a military transport aircraft, and in these there are certain areas where they sit the VIPs so they are comfortable and not out where the cargo is. He was working in this little passenger compartment, and he was briefed there, and his wife was there. So what did they want him to do? Send his wife out to the cargo area where it was loud and dirty and she'd have to wear earplugs and there was no place to sit? Or just let her stay where she was comfortable? It's not like she was following what was being said anyway."

Times staff writer Esther Schrader contributed to this report.

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