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Scripps Howard News Service
July 13, 2001

Condit oversees some of nation's top secrets

By Michael Doyle

WASHINGTON -- Private lives matter, in the intelligence world to which Rep. Gary Condit enjoys special access.

As a member of the House intelligence committee, Condit oversees some of the nation's most sensitive secrets. Usually, Americans are privy to such information only after an extensive background investigation. But as a congressman selected for the intelligence panel, Condit enjoys privileged access without being subjected to investigators' standard questions about his private life.

"The (background investigators') concern is about behavior that might make an individual vulnerable to blackmail or coercion, such as behavior that someone feels compelled to conceal," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

Washington detectives now want to subject Condit to his first lie-detector test, as part of their investigation into the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy. Their questions won't be the same as those asked by security investigators. But the ongoing police probe and new allegations about Condit's private life do shed new light on how a public man's private behavior can intersect with national security interests.

In particular, the allegations that Condit had affairs with both Levy and flight attendant Anne Marie Smith -- and took special pains to keep those affairs secret -- showcases some highly specific guidelines for security clearances.

As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Condit, a California Democrat, automatically has access to information for which security clearances with names like Top Secret and Special Compartmentalized Intelligence normally apply.

Guideline D of the federal government's "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information" specifically notes that "sexual behavior is a security concern if ... it may subject the individual to undue influence or coercion, exploitation or duress, or reflects lack of judgment or discretion."

Some intelligence veterans are now stacking up these usual stringent requirements for security clearances against the current allegations concerning Condit's behavior.

Condit has not addressed Smith's allegations that they'd had a 10-month affair. He has disputed her claim that he tried to get her to lie about it. Condit's staff formerly denied he had an affair with Levy. Now, his spokespersons neither admit nor deny an affair took place but say the important issue is to focus on finding Levy.

Mike Lynch, Condit's chief of staff, referred questions about intelligence committee matters to the intelligence committee staff, which did not return calls seeking comment.

Condit did not have to face any background questions when House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt named him to the House intelligence panel in 1999. Like all members of the select panel, Condit essentially was granted a courtesy clearance. For lawmakers, standards like Guideline D don't apply.

"Members are automatically cleared for access to almost all the information developed by the various intelligence community agencies," said David Skaggs, a former Democratic congressman from Colorado who served on the House intelligence committee.

Condit and his fellow committee members keep a deliberately low profile. They meet in what is essentially the soundproof attic of the Capitol, where guards and locks are common but windows are not. Committee members, including Condit, have typically voted to keep secret matters like the total currently being spent on intelligence gathering.

"For all practical purposes, you're in a vault," Skaggs said.

Condit had no prior military or intelligence agency experience. He was named to the panel by Gephardt as a sign of respect, as well as a sign of leadership outreach to the conservative Democratic faction Condit helps lead.

"He's a valued member of the committee, and I count on him," said Rep. Porter Goss, the Florida Republican who chairs the panel. "He asks what I would call questions on behalf of the American taxpayer ... and he has a great deal of common sense."

In addition to authorizing the intelligence community's budget, estimated to be about $30 billion a year, the 20-member panel conducts oversight hearings. Non-lawmakers who want to know such sensitive information need not only a background investigation, but also, sometimes, a lie-detector test and periodic re-investigation.

Copyright 2001 Scripps Howard, Inc.

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