Attorney general orders internal review of FBI security
WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI will be scrutinized in an internal Justice Department investigation to determine how a former agent allegedly sold U.S. secrets to Russia for 15 years without being detected, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Sunday.
Ashcroft has ordered the department’s inspector general to review FBI security procedures in the wake of espionage charges against former agent Robert Philip Hanssen, a counterintelligence expert. The investigation could lead to a recommendation of discipline ”if there was any wrongdoing by anybody aside from Hanssen in this case,” department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.
A similar inspector general investigation in 1994 led to the reprimand of 11 senior CIA officers in the Aldrich Ames spy case.
This investigation will be conducted simultaneously with a separate review ordered by the department immediately after Hanssen’s arrest last month. William Webster, a former CIA and FBI director, is evaluating the FBI’s internal security procedures and will recommend changes to prevent future espionage cases.
Ashcroft said on ABC’s ”This Week” that the inspector general would be ”following avenues that might not otherwise be determined productive avenues for examination” by Webster.
Ashcroft said Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran and counterintelligence expert, was responsible for ”a grave loss” in national security.
Hanssen, 56, is accused of giving Moscow 6,000 pages of secret U.S. documents since 1985 in exchange for than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. He was arrested Feb. 18 after authorities said he dropped off a package of documents at a Virginia park for his Russian contacts
Congressional leaders had sought the investigation, Tucker said. In 1994, after Ames’ arrest, they also pressed for answers and threatened CIA budget cuts.
The one-time CIA officer spied for the former Soviet Union for more than eight years. He pleaded guilty in 1994 and was sentenced to life in prison, avoiding a trial and the prospect that the CIA would be pressured to disclose sensitive information.
After Ames’ arrest, inspector general investigations were launched in the CIA and FBI. In all, 24 CIA employees were identified by the inspector general as culpable in the Ames case, and 11 were reprimanded.
As part of that review, the FBI was instructed four years ago to enhance training and communications to avoid similar spy problems.
The FBI was criticized at that time for not doing enough to find out how Ames leaked sensitive information to the Soviet Union. After Hanssen’s arrest, FBI spokesman John Collingwood said recommendations made in the inspector general’s 1997 report were implemented and had a direct bearing on the arrest of Hanssen.
Despite the improvements, Hanssen’s spying went undetected for 15 years, officials said.
Ashcroft would not say Sunday if there was an effort to reach a plea agreement with Hanssen, but he said officials wanted to ”maximize our ability to protect the national interests.”
On the Net:
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov/
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