Ambassador’s Security Clearance Suspended

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 23, 2000 -- The State Department has suspended the security clearance of the U.S. ambassador to Israel while it investigates suspicions that he violated security standards.

A State Department spokesperson said Ambassador Martin S. Indyk, 49, is cooperating fully with the investigation, “there is no indication of espionage” and “there has been no indication that any intelligence information has been compromised.

“This is a question of security procedures that have not been followed,” the spokesperson said. “As this matter deals with privacy matter issues, I cannot comment further.”

Unable to Perform Duties

The suspension comes as the United States tries to help broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, who have delayed, but still are considering, to unilaterally declare statehood.

As ambassador to Israel, Indyk has been active in the peace process.

The suspension means Indyk must be escorted inside the State Department building, will be denied access to classified information, and is forbidden from attending meetings where classified information is discussed. Aspects of the peace negotiations are classified.

But the State Department spokesperson said, “This has absolutely no implications for the Mideast peace process or U.S.-Israeli bilateral relations.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office spokesman, Gadi Baltiansky, and foreign ministry spokeswoman, Yafa Ben-Ari, both refused to comment on the matter.

Action Taken Thursday

According to the State Department spokesperson, Indyk’s security clearance was suspended on Thursday pending the outcome of an investigation into his alleged violations of security standards.

“Under the regulations, the Department of State is obligated to suspend the ambassador’s security clearance,” the spokesperson said. “The department will conclude this investigation as quickly as possible.”

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed that the diplomat’s security clearance had been lifted and that an inquiry was under way.

State Department officials told The Washington Post the investigation involves “sloppy handling of information” over “a longer period of time” before Indyk took his position in Israel. Indyk, who became a U.S. citizen in 1993, has been ambassador to Israel from April 1995 to October 1997 and again since last year, The Post reported today.

The Post also reported a source outside the State Department familiar with the investigation as saying it relates to Indyk’s use of unclassified, government-owned laptop computers to prepare memoranda about discussions with foreign leaders while in transit.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright approved the suspension, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told The Post.

“She holds Ambassador Indyk in very high regard and values his contributions greatly,” the spokesman said. But “she has been absolutely clear on the need for everyone to follow security procedures.”

Indyk Expresses ‘Regret’

In a statement Friday, Indyk said: “I regret that my trying to do best possible job under very difficult conditions has led to the temporary suspension of my security clearances while it is determined whether correct security procedures were followed.”

Security officials at the State Department decided to pull Indyk’s clearance on Sept. 12, although no action was taken until Thursday. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee requested a briefing on Indyk on Tuesday after an anonymous phone caller told a committee aide the department was going to ignore security concerns about Indyk, The Post said.

A number of foreign service officers who have been nominated for ambassadorial posts are now facing confirmation problems in the Senate because of revelations that many of them have security violations in their records.

One unidentified nominee has 21 security violations in his file; the Senate has so far refused to confirm him.

Follows Deutch Investigation

Indyk’s suspension comes in the same week it was revealed that the Defense Department was investigating former CIA Director John Deutch for alleged security violations he committed while deputy secretary of defense. Those alleged breaches also included the sloppy handling of secret data on personal computers and laptops.

Deutch admitted to security violations as CIA director after he retired; he apologized and was stripped of his security clearance.

State Department officials have been extremely sensitive to security issues since the April disclosure that a laptop computer containing top-secret information about arms proliferation had vanished.

Indyk, who was born in London and grew up in Australia, was named the senior Middle East specialist on the National Security Council in January 1993. In his first ambassadorship, he was an important conduit between the Clinton administration and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

ABCNEWS’ Rebecca Cooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.