Ex-CIA director may be charged

Saturday, August 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Janet Reno is considering a recommendation to prosecute former CIA Director John Deutch for home-computer security violations but has made no final decision, sources familiar with the case said Friday.

Paul Coffey, a former prosecutor brought out of retirement by Ms. Reno to review the Deutch case, has informed Justice Department officials that he believes charges should be brought because Mr. Deutch drafted top-secret intelligence documents on unsecured home computers linked to the Internet, the sources said.

Mr. Deutch's lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, could not be reached for comment Friday night.

In its initial review of the case, Justice Department officials decided against prosecuting Mr. Deutch for exposing highly classified information on such computers to possible cyber-attacks by hackers or foreign intelligence services throughout his tenure as CIA director from May 1995 through December 1996.

But Ms. Reno announced in February that she had asked Mr. Coffey to review the case again after a highly critical CIA inspector general's report on Mr. Deutch's security violations was leaked to the media and caused controversy on Capitol Hill.

At the time, senior advisers to Ms. Reno expressed concern about the appearance of a double standard when the Deutch case was compared with that of Wen Ho Lee, the former physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was indicted on charges he downloaded nuclear secrets to unsecured computers and portable tapes.

Mr. Deutch, who has admitted the breach and apologized for violating CIA security, left the CIA in late 1996. Dr. Lee has been jailed since December, although a federal judge in New Mexico ruled Thursday that he can be released on $1 million bail next week after restrictive conditions for his release are worked out.

In August 1999, four months after the Justice Department declined prosecution, CIA director George Tenet stripped Mr. Deutch of his CIA security clearances. He acted after receiving the findings of his own inspector general, which concluded that Mr. Tenet and other agency officials had bungled, but not obstructed, an internal investigation into Mr. Deutch's security violations.

If Ms. Reno accepts Mr. Coffey's recommendation and seeks criminal charges against Mr. Deutch, her action would represent the first time in history that a Cabinet-level official has been charged with violations of the Espionage Act or a related statute for mishandling classified information.

Provisions of the Espionage Act make the willful mishandling of classified defense information a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; taking classified information home without authorization is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.