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Prosecution unlikely for ex-CIA chief who surfed Web with top secrets on computer

Although Deutch has not been prosecuted, Tenet stripped him of his security clearances last August, nearly three years after Deutch left the job he held from 1995-1996  

February 3, 2000
Web posted at: 6:51 p.m. EST (2351 GMT)

In this story:

Deutch vs. Lee: A double standard?

'Reckless by someone who knows better'

Charges against Lee


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department is not likely to reopen an investigation of former CIA Director John Deutch for mishandling classified information, a senior official said Thursday.

At her regular weekly news briefing, Attorney General Janet Reno refused to say what her agency might do, but the senior official told CNN that prosecutors already had all the information contained in a newly released CIA Inspector General's report.

"We looked into this and decided to refer it to the CIA Inspector General," said the Justice Department official, who asked not to be identified.

Deutch used a home computer -- which stored some of the nation's most sensitive national security secrets -- to access the Internet and to receive and send e-mail, the CIA report concluded. His actions raised fears that secrets stored on the unsecured machine could have been accessed and stolen.

Informed officials told CNN that Deutch once received an unsolicited e-mail from a former Russian scientist on the computer, which was crammed with top-secret materials. The sources say Deutch did not respond but that the contact alarmed CIA computer security officials.


Deutch vs. Lee: A double standard?

The Justice Department official rejected the suggestion that the failure to prosecute Deutch, while prosecuting nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee for allegedly mishandling classified information, in any way constituted a double standard.

The official, a lawyer, noted distinctions in the cases, including Lee's alleged downloading of other employees' work product and his surreptitious pattern of transferring the data to avoid security measures.

CIA Director George Tenet also insists that Deutch's serious lapse in security was not comparable to the allegations against former Los Alamos scientist Lee.

Tenet, who stripped Deutch of his security clearances last August over the dispute, found himself defending the CIA's handling of the case for a second day on Capitol Hill.

During Thursday's session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, asked why Deutch was being treated differently from Lee since "both of them made similar mistakes in the fact that they both had information that was very important to this country on unsecured computers."

Tenet disputed any parallel between the two cases.

"In one instance, there is an intent to do harm to the United States. That's a legal judgment that's been made. In the other instance, a similar legal judgment was not made," Tenet told the committee. "I don't think the cases are similar."

'Reckless by someone who knows better'

Tenet is under fire because the CIA failed to notify congressional oversight committees and the Department of Justice for almost a year after the Deutch security breach was discovered.

"It's very disturbing to me and I think it was to other people in the intelligence community, why Dr. Deutch did as he did," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said after a closed-door meeting with Tenet.

"I'm not sure, but it's unusual, it's strange, it should not have happened," Shelby added. Nevada Democrat Richard Bryan, the committee's vice chairman, called it "reckless by someone who knows better."

Both senators said the CIA was wrong for not acting sooner on the matter. The Justice Department investigated but decided against prosecution.

Reno declined to comment Thursday on the need for a major review of how government agencies handle sensitive information through personal computers.

"(FBI) Director (Louis) Freeh and others have been focused on this effort, how do we identify risk and how can we come together to take pro-active steps to limit those risks, and that would certainly be an effort that should be undertaken," Reno said.

Charges against Lee

Lee has not been charged by the government with espionage. Instead, he was indicted on 59 counts related to the alleged mishandling U.S. nuclear secrets, including transferring top-secret files from a secured computer to one that was not secure.

Lee has denied any role in alleged attempts by China to steal U.S. nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos weapons laboratory. He is being held without bond and could face life in prison if convicted.

National Security Correspond David Ensor, Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Governments ready to fight cyber-crime in new millennium
January 2, 2000
Most leaks come from executive branch, CIA director says
July 22, 1999
Senate spotlights nuclear security lapses
May 12, 1999
Energy Department plans major overhaul of nuclear lab security
May 10, 1999
Senate committee outlines responsibility for China technology transfers
May 7, 1999
Reno orders review of Los Alamos probe
May 6, 1999

Central Intelligence Agency

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