Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday reassigned two officials and stripped her main intelligence advisers of their security duties over the loss of a laptop computer holding highly sensitive information on nuclear weapons proliferation.
She said that after consulting with the head of the CIA she was shifting the task of protecting national secrets at the State Department to the Diplomatic Security Division.
She also set in motion a series of steps to upgrade security awareness at State, which has been hit three times in as many years by serious security violations.
Last summer, officials discovered a bug had been placed in a seventh-floor State Department conference room and was being monitored by a Russian diplomat caught outside the building with an electronic listening device.
In response, the department tightened some security procedures, limiting visiting reporters to the press area and requiring cleaning staff to be escorted around the building.
In 1998, an unidentified man walked into an office near Mrs. Albright’s and left with secret papers that have never been found.
Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, “We are temporarily detailing to other duties the directors of the offices involved in this security breach.
“This is not a finding of fault,” he told reporters. “We are not in a position to make decisions concerning culpability or disciplinary action until the investigation is completed.”
Mrs. Albright told reporters she will hold a State Department town-hall meeting on May 3 to “discuss ongoing concerns about security. But I’m taking some actions today that will not wait even until May 3rd.
“Recently, a laptop computer containing sensitive information disappeared from a secure area controlled by the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or I&R. Like several other recent serious lapses in security, this is inexcusable and intolerable.
“Such failures put our nation’s secrets at risk.”
Diplomatic Security, newly authorized to oversee protection of secrets, has been ordered to “intensify a program of annual refresher security briefings with attendance mandatory for all department employees who handle or safeguard classified or sensitive information,” she said.
She appointed the assistant secretary of diplomatic security, David Carpenter, as her senior adviser on security issues.
“Questions of accountability” are to be examined in connection with the laptop disappearance, she said, suggesting that someone might face discipline or punishment for the breach of security.
Mr. Rubin, in his last week as spokesman, said there was no evidence that the laptop or the intelligence data it contained had reached foreign or unfriendly powers.
“It’s unclear as to whether it was stolen for the hardware that is, the laptop whether it was stolen for the information contained in the laptop, or whether it has simply been misplaced,” he said.
The shift of security responsibility from I&R to Diplomatic Security had been discussed several months ago but the then head of I&R, Phyllis Oakley, rejected the suggestion, said Mr. Rubin.
The loss of the laptop has prompted Mrs. Albright to finally act on the suggestion by the inspector general at State to give Diplomatic Security control over the security at I&R.
Congress reacted swiftly to the latest report of security lapses at State. House International Affairs Chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, called for hearings on the issue.
The laptop contained “code word” information, a classification even higher than top secret, regarding sources and methods of weapons proliferation.
Diplomatic Security’s main function has been to protect U.S. and foreign diplomats and to fight terrorism.