THE INVESTIGATION OF CIA DIRECTOR JOHN DEUTCH
As the case against Wen Ho Lee unraveled, so too did the probe of former CIA director John Deutch. In 1996 the CIA discovered that Deutch, had accessed classified agency documents through his home computer. CIA Director George Tenet stripped Deutch of his top secret clearance, but ultimately the Justice Department decided neither to prosecute Deutch and allowed him to maintain his security clearance. Never charged with a crime, Deutch still continued to be used as a consultant in the defense industry.
Three years later, in 1999, Lee was suspected of illegally using his home computer to access classified nuclear weapon programs and data, but his fate was different than Deutch's. Federal investigators first suggested that Lee was a skilled spy who either passed or planned to pass classified material on to Taiwan or China. However, they changed their tune in July, publicly stating for the first time that Lee allegedly copied sensitive material because he was trying to boost his job prospects with research institutes in Europe and Asia.
In the two-page court filing, Norman Bay, United States attorney for the District of New Mexico, wrote that Lee "was interested in seeking employment abroad" at the time he began downloading thermonuclear weapon designs and other highly classified files onto an unsecured computer system and portable tapes at the weapon lab. Bay added, "In 1993, at or about the time of the first offenses charged, the defendant addressed letters seeking employment in Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, and Taiwan." Bay reiterated previous government assertions that Lee made trips to the Far East in 1986 and 1988 and met with representatives of China's Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics which was involved in the design and computational simulation of nuclear weapons.
The CIA has strict regulations that prohibit all but a few top officials, including its director, from working at home with classified material. In cases where they do work at home, officials must use special CIA computers that are equipped with security devices. Users are prohibited from logging on to the Internet when they use those machines.
The CIA security staff was the first group to launch an investigation into Deutch's handling of classified materials. Some security officials became convinced that senior agency officials were trying to protect Deutch from a thorough inquiry. The security staff wrote a report on its investigation in 1997 without ever questioning Deutch.
The CIA's inspector general notified the Justice Department of the Deutch matter in 1998. When the matter was turned over to the DOJ, Attorney General Reno declined to order an investigation by the FBI. Instead, in late 1999 she decided that Deutch would not be prosecuted for the security lapses. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times (September 19, 2000) reported that the Pentagon was alerted much earlier -- in the summer of 1998 -- that Deutch had downloaded defense secrets to unsecured personal computers. The DOD was urged to assess the damage. But documents showed that it waited until February 2000 to begin investigating.
The Pentagon documents, obtained by Associated Press, showed that in 1998 Secretary of Defense Cohen was at least informed by his inspector general that the CIA had evidence that Deutch downloaded defense secrets to personal computers. Cohen finally ordered a review in February when he said information was received by the Pentagon for the first time. In the July 1998 memo to Cohen and his top deputy, acting inspector general Donald Mancuso wrote, "The CIA believes it may be necessary for (the Department of Defense) to conduct an assessment of any possible security compromises identified in their investigation." The memo said that the CIA was "investigating allegations that Mr. Deutch created and maintained highly classified and compartmentalized documents and journals on a number of computers, including personal computers at his homes in Maryland and Massachusetts."
The delay in notifying the Justice Department about the case allowed a one year time limit on appointing an independent counsel to run out. The independent counsel act was still in effect at the time. The inspector general's report recommended that a special CIA accountability review panel be created to examine whether Tenet and other top officials properly handled the agency's internal investigation. That accountability review panel issued a classified report in early 2000, and presented it to General John Gordon, the agency's deputy director, for use in determining disciplinary action. But officials said he was not pleased with the report.
After the inspector general issued his classified report on Deutch's actions, Tenet suspended Deutch's CIA security clearances. At the same time, Deutch issued a statement apologizing for his actions in handling the classified documents.
When the matter was turned over to the DOJ, Attorney General Reno declined to order an investigation by the FBI. Instead, in late 1999 she decided that Deutch would not be prosecuted for the security lapses. However, in February Reno ordered an internal review of the case, lasting three months.
Several months later, in February 2000, the Senate Armed Services Committee convened to hear testimony involving the Justice Department's investigation of Deutch and Lee. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, a senior member of the committee, charged that the Clinton administration had not treated Deutch and Lee. Equally. Tenet said that he had "no excuse" for the CIA's failure to notify the Justice Department in December 1996 that Deutch had kept "enormously sensitive material" on unsecure computers in his home.
Tenet testified that both "made similar mistakes in the fact that they had information that was very important to this country on unsecured computers" in their homes. Allard said that Deutch was merely deprived of his security clearance while Lee, who was never charged with espionage, was subjected to a lengthy investigation and was finally indicted.
Tenet attempted to show that the two cases were different. The CIA director said that Lee allegedly transferred nuclear codes from his computer at Los Alamos to one at home, while Deutch merely wrote classified material on his home computer which was unsecured. On the other hand, Tenet maintained that Lee intended "to do harm to the United States ... (while) in the other instance, a similar legal judgment was not made. I don't think the cases are similar."
Members on the Senate committee spoke of reports that an internal CIA investigation found that Deutch's home computer had been used to send and receive e-mail. The report showed that the computer's hard drive had an e-mail message sent to Deutch from a Russian scientist, although there apparently was no evidence that Deutch responded to the message. The report also showed that someone in the Deutch household used the computer to log on to Internet sites and that pornographic materials had been downloaded. However, Tenet declined to comment on the reports that Deutch's computer had been used to view pornographic sites. Tenet did testify that Deutch's computer contained "enormously sensitive material ... at the highest levels of classification."
In early 2000, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board convened. A special White House intelligence panel, began its review of how the CIA handled the Deutch matter at the request of CIA Deputy General Gordon who was dissatisfied with previous efforts to review the matter. In May the board concluded in a classified report that CIA officials failed to follow through adequately on the evidence against Deutch. The committee concurred with an investigation that was carried out by the CIA's inspector general. He, too, concluded that senior CIA officials failed to investigate aggressively Deutch when the computer lapses were discovered. Both reports were particularly critical of former CIA of the investigation as it was carried out by former executive director Nora Slatkin, and former general counsel Michael O'Neil.
Other officials, who were cited in the report, included the CIA's former inspector general, Frederick Hitz, and Richard Calder, the deputy director for administration. Hitz began the inspector general's investigation of the Deutch matter, but it was completed in late 1999 by his successor, L. Britt Snider. The presidential board also criticized the CIA's current director, George Tenet, for allowing Slatkin to take charge of the Deutch investigation. Slatkin and O'Neil, as well as others criticized in the new report denied that they took any actions to impede the investigation.
In May, Reno announced that the FBI would launch a probe to determine whether Deutch had mishandled classified material. According to the New York Times (May 6, 2000), Reno said that the new inquiry to determine whether her initial decision not to prosecute him was in error and whether he should now face criminal charges. For the criminal investigation, the Justice Department assigned a prosecutor to work directly with FBI agent, focusing on whether Deutch should face criminal charges. Deputy Director John Gordon announced that six current and former high-ranking CIA officials were disciplined for failing to properly handle an internal investigation into Deutch's home computer security violations. According to the Washington Post (May 26, 2000), they included former executive director Nora Slatkin, former general counsel Michael O'Neil, and former inspector general Frederick Hitz. Even though the sanctions did not include loss of pay or promotional opportunities, they could influence future assignments. Gordon refused to consider disciplinary action against Tenet in his senior role of failing to properly pursue the Deutch investigation.
The Washington Post (September 16, 2000) quoted an internal Defense Department memo as saying. "This situation was exacerbated because Dr. Deutch, while serving as the (deputy secretary of defense), declined departmental requests that he allow security systems to be installed in his residence. We find his conduct in this regard particularly egregious in light of existing DOD policy directives addressing the safeguarding of classified information."
The evidence obtained by the Post clearly established that Deutch failed to follow even the most basic security precautions. Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa confirmed that the probe had been widened and asked the Justice Department to look into it. "This is now a pattern," Grassley was said in the Post. "Evidently, Mr. Deutch is a congenital downloader of classified information."
The Los Angeles Times (October 3, 2000) reported that Pentagon investigators feared that department lawyers were unnecessarily delaying a CIA probe of Deutch and even discussed whether to have the Justice Department intercede. According to internal memos, the CIA bickered about the investigation in 1998 when Senate committees were investigating why it took the Pentagon nearly two years to begin an investigation of Deutch. The Defense Department began the review this February; the CIA urged it in June 1998.
A Defense Department lawyer wrote of trying to keep the CIA from "running amok" inside the Pentagon. Defense investigators, who pressed for cooperation with the CIA probe, were advised to avoid "active involvement" in the case and felt they were being pushed aside, according to the memos obtained by the Associated Press. Defense Criminal Investigative Service agent Mark Spaulding wrote in August 1998, "My belief is that our bosses do not want DCIS to participate in the CIA investigation."
The CIA also urged the Pentagon in mid-1998 to begin its own damage assessment of the military secrets that might have been mishandled. The recommendation wasn't followed for almost two years. According to memos, Spaulding lobbied for strong cooperation with the CIA and became frustrated when weeks passed before information the agency requested was turned over. A CIA official wrote on July 28, 1998, that Spaulding advised his bosses "of his displeasure with the lack of timeliness in responding" to the CIA and "the possible impact it may have on an ongoing investigation."
One of Spaulding's memos revealed that he and CIA investigators were so frustrated by the delays at one point that they even discussed getting the Justice Department to intervene. Spaulding wrote, "It was evident to me" that the CIA investigator "felt that his investigation was being obstructed. We even discussed whether, if I were in his shoes, I would ask the Justice Department to intercede with DOD on CIA's behalf." The memos also said that senior Pentagon officials, including the assistant lawyer in the general counsel's office, may have been reluctant to open their doors to the CIA.
A CIA spokesman acknowledged in an interview that there were some initial delays at the Pentagon, but that in the end the investigation was not impeded. CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said, "CIA investigators expressed concern about the hurdles in getting information from the Department of Defense over a period of several weeks in 1998 but eventually received all the information they needed. CIA officials did not view this as obstruction. The hurdles resulted in temporary delays."
A July 23, 1998, e-mail stated the Pentagon general counsel's office was "upset that the CIA is running amok in the Pentagon" and urged that Spaulding avoid "active involvement in the case." Spaulding said in the Los Angeles Times that he did not believe the Pentagon lawyers wanted to withhold information but were "trying to protect the department's interests and slowed down movement of information" in doing so.
The problems were not resolved until an August 13, 1998 meeting when the Defense Department decided to delegate to its general counsel's office all decisions on CIA requests. One Defense Department official said anonymously that some Pentagon criminal investigators wanted to open their own probe of Deutch because "mishandling of classified material is a criminal matter."
While the storage cards he used at the CIA were recovered, Pentagon investigators could not locate the computer disks on which Deutch stored a journal containing classified information. The DOD conducted a damage assessment to determine whether his action jeopardized national security. Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley said in the New York Times (October 10, 2000), "There's no way to tell what their ultimate disposition might have been without talking to Dr. Deutch, and he has declined requests for our investigators to talk with him on this or other topics."