U.S. Department of State
Press Briefing MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2000
Briefer: RICHARD BOUCHER, SPOKESMAN
QUESTION: How would you assess the loss of Ambassador Martin Indyk to this process at this point?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't want to declare Martin a total loss at this point. Let me go through the basics on that, and then get to the question at the end, if I can. For those of you that haven't heard from us on these points, let me make them here publicly.
Last Thursday, September 21st, the Department suspended the security clearance of Martin Indyk, United States Ambassador to Israel, pending the outcome of an investigation of suspected violations of Department of State security standards. Under the regulations, the Department of State is obligated to suspend Ambassador Indyk's security clearance.
Ambassador Indyk has cooperated fully with the Department of State and FBI investigators, and stated that he will continue to do so. The Department will conclude this investigation as quickly as possible.
There is no indication of espionage in this matter. At this time, there has been no indication that any intelligence information has been compromised. This is a question of security procedures that have not been followed. As the matter deals with Privacy Act issues as well as an ongoing investigation, there is obviously a limit on how much we can comment.
As far as the role in the peace process and what happens, first and foremost let me make clear Martin Indyk has been a very valued member of the team. He is highly regarded for his contributions by the Secretary and others. Obviously, the fact that he doesn't have a security clearance and therefore is not able to participate in the deliberations makes things more difficult because he has been an important member of the team. He has been important in maintaining our contacts and communicating with the Israeli Government in particular.
Nonetheless, I have to say that we do have ways of -- other people that know the Israeli Government well. We have ways of communicating with the Israeli Government, and we can proceed with the peace process without him being able to play an active role.
QUESTION: Can an Ambassador without a security clearance, in fact, do anything? Or what can he do? Put it that way.
MR. BOUCHER: It's very difficult to perform the functions of Ambassador without a security clearance.
QUESTION: When was the last time that something like this has happened? And in that case, if there was one, did the person in question have his or her security clearance reinstated?
MR. BOUCHER: No case is exactly comparable, so it's hard to say the last time that this happened. We have not suspended security clearances for an Ambassador previously, prior to this. This is the first time this has happened to an Ambassador. But we have had already this year, since January 1st, the Department has suspended the security clearances of five employees for violations of Department of State security policies. And, actually, there have been another 27 in the last year and a half or two years, who have had their security clearances suspended for other reasons.
So this is something that occurs. I'm not sure which of those have been reinstated and which haven't, but I'm assuming that some of these have been reinstated. It depends on the specific case, though. I mean, essentially it's eligibility for continued security clearance that they have to look at. And when the investigation is over, that's what they'll have to decide.
QUESTION: Can you comment on how Ambassador Indyk's case is different or similar to the case of some of these Ambassadors who there was concern about from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in terms of security violations?
MR. BOUCHER: There are limits on privacy areas so I can't discuss specifics of either Ambassador Indyk's situation or the situation of others. What was reported to the Senate in connection with some of our nominees were security infractions or violations, over people's careers, the numbers that they had. That was reported and discussed with the people on the Hill.
We also discussed with people on the Hill the steps that the Secretary has made to ensure that security violations and infractions become part of everybody's record, that they get looked at before nominees are presented, that they get looked at as part of one's promotion history. And the Secretary made quite clear, in her speech to employees, that one's security conduct and security standards were intended to be an integral part of how one is viewed as an employee. She expected everybody to be professional, not only in diplomacy, but also when it came to security.
Now, the situation of others in regard to the security violations they had is different than the situation of somebody who may be under investigation. And as the investigation proceeds, the investigators at some point in the investigation may decide that there are questions about maintaining a continuing security clearance, and therefore it's suspended. Now, the final disposition of that situation will depend on the investigation.
QUESTION: Were there investigations with the nominees?
MR. BOUCHER: You get an infraction or a violation after getting a pink slip in the office - leaving stuff out or other infractions or violations -- but having an infraction or violation on your record means that, to the extent it needs to be investigated, it has been investigated. It may be the Marine finds it and you have to report to your security officer in the morning and you accept responsibility, and that's the end of the investigation. But having an infraction on your record is a done thing that has been identified as a problem and dealt with, so this was looking back at that record. An investigation goes back through security practices. It's sort of a different kettle of fish.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that Indyk's violations were more serious and that they warranted an investigation than these other cases?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, certainly they felt that the allegations in this case, or the possibilities of security policy -- violation of security policies in Martin Indyk's case warranted an investigation. But, as I said, in terms of looking back on somebody's career and the violations and infractions that they have had, those are historical facts that have been dealt with and disposed of. The question of the investigation of Ambassador Indyk is that it's something ongoing, and it's not fair to reach a final conclusion until we get there.
QUESTION: What would you say to the thesis that there is an element of excessive zeal in this, and that it is, in fact, extremely difficult for people in his position to go about their ordinary business without technically violating some of these regulations?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say it's not true.
QUESTION: Well, can I just take you up on that? Could you explain the regulations to us? I know it's a sensitive area, but if something in his position goes to -- is traveling and goes to visit -- say a head of state or something and wants to take notes and transmit them to -- or keep them in his computer -- is this something that is possible to do without carrying -- how does it work? Where does he put them?
MR. BOUCHER: Generally, when we travel, we go -- and we go to meetings where confidential or secret information is discussed: When you need to report you go the Embassy and you write a report and you send it back to Washington. Granted, following security procedures, we all recognize, is inconvenient and difficult at times, and I am sure that we know that people do have infractions where they failed to do so. But, at the same time, this is the environment we operate in, and we all have a responsibility to do our work and follow security procedures. The Secretary has made that quite clear.
QUESTION: Is there any provision for the cases which must occur when it's not physically possible or logistically convenient to go to an Embassy to file that kind of report?
MR. BOUCHER: There are certainly ways of doing our business in a variety of circumstances, but fundamentally we have to follow the security standards. That's quite clear. And I think people -- some newspaper articles have appeared in which, oh, everybody does this, it's impossible to do your job without it. Well, first of all, I've made quite clear to reporters who have written that is not true as far as I'm concerned and as far as the Department is concerned. And, second of all, we do have a lot of people in this building that do manage to do their work and follow security standards.
QUESTION: You're saying that, in your experience as an Ambassador, you never had to cut corners?
MR. BOUCHER: In my experience as an Ambassador, I think myself and various colleagues managed to do their job and follow security regulations.
QUESTION: Can we just have a quick one more on -- I've forgotten what it is, anyway. Do you think that Mr. Indyk would find himself in this position if it wasn't for the heightened awareness of security which has arisen in the last six months, a year or so, here?
MR. BOUCHER: I think anyone about whom there might be allegations or suspicions or observations of a pattern of behavior of not following security regulations would find themselves in this position.
QUESTION: Can I clarify -- you used confidential and classified in this in juxtaposition, almost as if they're the same, and of course they're not. Classified and confidential. You're saying that any confidential conversation something has to go to the Embassy? I mean, you're sitting at dinner and you talk to the fellow next to you who works for another government, and he discusses an issue by nature that's confidential. Then you have to do something about that or be slapped with a violation?
And, secondly, do allegations get to stay on your record even if you're cured of -- I mean, anybody anonymously can make an allegation against somebody they don't like. If the investigation disproves the allegation, does the allegation follow this person on his record as he tries to make his way through his government career?
MR. BOUCHER: Two things. One, government standards for classification and for the protection of classified information exists throughout our government. These are not invented here -- things that we made up, special rules that we have here. The government-wide has regulations on classifying and protecting classified information. Confidential is one of the classifications.
One of the grounds for -- you can read all the classifications in the Executive Order. I don't think the Executive Order itself is classified. One of the grounds for classifying things is information provided in confidence by a foreign government, where they expect it to be protected.
So you have to learn -- in this business, you have to learn how to do your job and maintain proper security. That's true of everybody in our government that deals with classified information. It's true of people here, in the Pentagon, at the Agency, up on the Hill, the people that have security clearances.
QUESTION: Look, my question doesn't -- I may have had the same question, but I also remember when the laptop furor broke. The Secretary of State made a -- I'll leave out the adjectives, but made a statement which cautioned against excessive -- she may not have used the word "zeal" but she suggested that there was need to be a measure of fairness, a measure of judicious treatment of allegations. Then the Hill got on your case a lot, and now I hear mostly the second part and not the first part; whereas, people have to observe the rules and they can be - their whole career can suffer if they take a computer home or refuse - well, anyhow.
MR. BOUCHER: First of all --
QUESTION: I want to know if an allegation against a State Department career Foreign Service officer that, in the course of an investigation is proved to be just an accusation made by some disgruntled person he works with, will that allegation remain on his record or her record forevermore?
MR. BOUCHER: I would have to read very carefully the regulations that came out, but I believe that it is all worded in terms of how it is factored into personnel decisions and promotions and assignments and nominations. It is worded in terms of violations and infractions, which would be things that had been investigated and actually proven.
And I think that the caution here is, let's not rush to judgment on Ambassador Indyk's situation. His security clearance has been suspended but, ultimately, whether he qualifies for a security clearance in the future, for reinstatement, whether he is able to take up his position again and to exercise his functions and do his job is something that is not yet decided. And that is what the investigation will look at.
QUESTION: And is his pay suspended, or does he remain paid?
MR. BOUCHER: No, he remains on the payroll. He is just unclassified at this moment.
QUESTION: Richard, have other Ambassadors taken notes of secret meetings on laptops and prepared notes?
MR. BOUCHER: I can't get into every possible case because, first of all, I don't know them all. Second of all, I don't want to try to confirm any particular matter under investigation with regard to Ambassador Indyk. I don't want to lead you to assumptions that it is just this, or it may be all that. We have to let the investigators do their jobs.
So, finally, I would say, though, that anyone who was found to be in this situation would be investigated and would be dealt with. And we have had other instances where people were found to have used unclassified work on unclassified machines, and that those were dealt with appropriately, including whatever punishment or change of security level was needed.
If it is a single infraction, sometimes they will put people on probation and say your security - you may get suspended for leave without pay or something for a period but, in security terms, you may get put on probation where, if you have any further violations, then you get possible revocation. But if it is just one incident, you might be allowed to continue to exercise your functions on probation. So it depends on the particular circumstances. And until the circumstances are more defined in Ambassador Indyk's case, it is not appropriate to speculate on the final outcome.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-up on that: Are there classified laptops that are available for Ambassadors, so that they could - he could take that and take notes and write his memos en route?
MR. BOUCHER: This is a very complicated and, I think, in most cases classified area to get into -- the discussion of this. I think, in general I would say that, in most circumstances, it is not just the machine you are working on, but it is the location where you are working. And most of our classified work is done on appropriate computers in appropriately controlled locations.
QUESTION: So Martin Indyk is -- may I make this question -- I think it is an appropriate time, anyway. Martin Indyk, then, has been accused of taking a laptop that should have been left in a secure area, and taken that laptop out to where it could have been taken from him, stolen in public, or something to that effect?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: Richard, can we stay on this for a second?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay.
QUESTION: Just, basically, what is the worst that could happen to him in this situation? I mean, there is no provision for a criminal proceeding against him, is there? I mean, the worst is that he loses his job, yes -- and loses his career, basically, in the State Department? Is that correct?
And, two, what physically has happened to him right now? Has he just been forced to surrender his building pass so that, in effect, he has less access to the building now than those of us with --
MR. BOUCHER: -- with suspicious backgrounds?
QUESTION: Others of us with suspicious backgrounds, yes.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on the worst. I mean, clearly there are laws that deal with the handling of classified information, as well as security procedures. And once the facts are determined, then the investigators will decide what to recommend in terms of next steps.
In terms of his access -- I don't physically know whether his diplomatic passport and building pass have been surrendered or whatever, but it is clear to him and to us that for him to enter into the building, he would require an escort at this point.
QUESTION: Can his staff escort him? Or could his staff escort him?
MR. BOUCHER: Any cleared employee would be able to escort him.
QUESTION: Richard, just to follow up on the question about traveling, laptops and all. When you said it has to be in a -- classified work has to take place in certain locations, could such locations include homes in any cases? Isn't this an extraordinary limitation on your operations if all classified work has to be done -- if no classified work can be done at home?
MR. BOUCHER: It crimps your style and makes things more difficult, yes.
QUESTION: But that is the case.
MR. BOUCHER: But that is generally the case. I don't -- there may be a couple of exceptions to it, but generally access has to be controlled for there to be any assurance that you can do classified work with the high degree of safety that we normally require.
QUESTION: Just while we are on this general subject, do you have any updates -- we haven't asked in a long time, that I can recall -- on the situation with the missing classified computer, and the other computers unclassified that are missing?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have any news on those.
QUESTION: Richard, there were some reports over the weekend -- reports on the Indyk affair that the Department took the action only after Congress was informed that he was getting some sort of special treatment, and there were also comments after he gave the speech in Israel saying that the two sides should share Jerusalem, and there were calls for his resignation, or withdrawal on that account. Is there any sort of relation?
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, let me knock down a few things here. As to whether we took this action after being contacted by Congress, no. That is an absolutely false allegation. As to whether this had anything to do with the speech, this decision has absolutely no connection with Ambassador Indyk's speech. As far as some comments that he might be singled out because of his religion, that is not only absolutely false and absurd, it is frankly pretty insulting as well. And any allegations that Ambassador Indyk has been singled out in any manner are incorrect. All State Department officials are well aware of the Department's security regulations, and all are expected to abide by them. The Secretary gave a very high-profile speech saying that only a few months ago, and I think every employee should know what is expected of them.
QUESTION: Can you clarify the times, then, on when the investigation was started, so that it doesn't -- just so we can know, in terms of this anonymous phone call, that there wasn't a connection between the two?
MR. BOUCHER: No. But you can know that, because I told you that.