Tightening security is no small challenge

Wednesday, October 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ For a fellow who doesn't normally deal with foreign diplomats, David Carpenter boasts considerable clout around the State Department these days. He is the department's chief adviser on diplomatic security, usually a post that doesn't attract much attention.

Following a series of security lapses, including the disappearance last winter of a laptop computer with highly classified information, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has established what amounts to a ``zero tolerance'' policy on security issues. And it's Carpenter's job to tighten things up.

Albright is motivated partly by the indignation expressed by many in the U.S. Congress over security shortcomings at the department. The latest example occurred on Monday when the Senate voted to make it a felony for government officials to release any classified information, not just material involving nuclear weapons or defense secrets.

The bill also would require the State Department to certify that its employees comply with regulations covering the handling of classified information.

Albright has been eager to please lawmakers, mindful that they vote on the State Department's budget. She wants more money and is angered that the Congress doesn't see things her way.

Carpenter was recruited by Albright two years ago after 26 years with the Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting the president. He was sworn in as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security four days after the bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. All told, 224 persons were killed.

Albright wants to promote Carpenter to the newly created post of undersecretary of state for diplomatic security. As such, he would be propelled into the department elite, outranking all but a handful of officials.

Providing security for a two-square-block building surrounded by heavily traveled streets is no small task. Carpenter says his job is tougher than his counterpart's at the CIA in suburban Virginia, where visitors are screened almost a half mile away from the main entrance. At the State Department, visitors aren't screened until after they pass through the front door. Carpenter may change that.

Carpenter, a native of Denver and a graduate of Oklahoma State University, has closed off public access to one adjacent street and may recommend shutting down others to all but official traffic.

Early on in his tenure, Carpenter was seized with providing additional protection to overseas installations _ a concern brought about by the East Africa bombings.

Lately, the focus has been on finding ways to protect the State Department itself. Albright admitted she was ``humiliated'' by the disappearance of the laptop, an incident that occurred only months after the discovery of an eavesdropping device in a seventh floor conference room. A Russian agent alleged to have been involved was ordered out of the country.

Since then, mandatory security briefings have been held for more than 8,000 department employees. ``Loss of classified information results in measurable harm to our nation _ up to Exceptional Grave Damage,'' the employees are told.

Security is an issue that just won't go away. Relatively minor security infractions delayed Senate confirmation of seven ambassadorial nominees.

Late last month, Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, was stripped of his security clearance because he allegedly mishandled classified work-related material.

Not surprisingly, Carpenter has alienated people in his quest for a more secure building. At one point, he told a congressional hearing, ``If it was within my power, I would not have any press in the building.'' Some reporters were offended and he later retracted the remark.

A far bigger outcry occurred in August when Carpenter decreed that retired diplomats be escorted when they visit their old haunts. Some retirees, describing the policy as ``insane'' and ``insulting,'' are demanding that it be dropped.

Carpenter says there can't be exceptions.

``To be effective,'' he says, ``our access control policy must be comprehensive and uniformly enforced.''