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Jewish World Review May 15, 2000 / 10 Iyar, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Secrets, schmecrets --
THE STATE DEPARTMENT might consider plastering Washington, D.C., with home-made posters: "Missing: Several laptop computers. Answer to the name of 'Secret.' Reward. 202-647-4000."

That, in any case, was the spirit of comments by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a recent press conference. Acknowledging the loss of several computers containing highly classified information, the secretary admitted that security certainly needed to be improved at the department. But Albright's response was more appropriate to a homemaker whose family dog has wandered off. She suggested that, in the future, all employees see the agency as they would a family home. "The last person to leave has the responsibility to lock the door."

Actually, the loss of the computers was only the latest in a series of security breaches that would have left previous administrations reeling. On President Clinton's watch, the Russians bugged a highly classified conference room on the State Department's seventh floor (where the secretary's office is). In addition, according to J. Michael Waller of Insight Magazine, a formerly Moscow-based firm was hired to write software for all State Department computers. When this breach was revealed, the department was forced to hire computer experts to comb over the software, line by line, to check for viruses or so-called "Trojan horses" that might be able to penetrate the top-secret classification system.

The three State Department laptops are still missing.

Our nuclear research labs were apparently the playgrounds of foreign intelligence agents. Yet the Defense Department has not even undertaken a security review to determine how much damage was done.

Meanwhile, over at the Central Intelligence Agency, which everyone knows to be as airtight as a submarine, things are under control, right?

Not exactly. John M. Deutch, former director of the CIA, has been under investigation for his mishandling of highly classified information.

Bubba the Brilliant
According to a report by the CIA's inspector general, Deutch was made aware on Aug. 1, 1995, that "computers with Internet connectivity were vulnerable to attack. Despite this knowledge, Deutch continued his practice of processing highly classified material on unclassified computers connected to the Internet." Deutch's conduct may have compromised thousands of CIA documents and numerous Pentagon "black" programs, placing an unknown number of American lives in danger.

Now comes news that the White House communications system has been penetrated by foreign intelligence. Recall that during the impeachment scandal, Monica Lewinsky told investigators that the president believed his telephone conversations might be tapped by a foreign power. The two accordingly devised a cover story to use if their phone sex should ever come to light -- something on the order of: "We were just testing you. Ho-ho."

Suppose it was Russia, China or Cuba? The psychological puzzle of a man who can pursue phone sex on an insecure line is disturbing, but it pales before the utter recklessness of president who knowingly exposes himself to international blackmail. (That was an impeachable offense right there!)

The tone for an administration is set at the top. And this president's contempt for security has borne extremely dangerous fruit. Communist China has walked away with our most vital nuclear secrets, the State Department is bugged and its computers penetrated, White House employees work for months handling classified material without first being cleared by the FBI, and the head of the CIA himself is caught plugging his super-secret laptop into the Internet and surfing around, indifferent to the risk this poses to national security.

But AIDS in Africa is declared a national security issue for the United States.

Newsweek is now reporting also that the information this administration offered to support its war in Kosovo was utterly false. The president himself, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and the secretary of defense all claimed wildly inflated numbers of Serb tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces destroyed during the air campaign in Kosovo. According to a secret Pentagon report leaked to Newsweek, the true numbers were only about a tenth of those quoted by the administration.

Newsweek notes that this raises questions about whether fighting wars strictly from "three miles up" can ever succeed. It does. But it also reminds us of the central and most important trait of Clinton and his crew -- to paraphrase Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: Every word they say is a lie, including "and" and "the."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate