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Saturday

State Department Revokes Israeli Ambassador's Security Clearance

Aired September 23, 2000 - 1:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli officials praised U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, even though Indyk now faces a U.S. probe over possible security violations.

Kathleen Koch joins us from Washington with the latest on that -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brian, this is a very unusual step. In fact, it is the first time the State Department has suspended the security clearance of one of its own ambassadors.

Martin Indyk since January has been on his second tour as U.S. ambassador to Israel. He also served as ambassador from 1995 to 1997, and it was in April, after an allegation from, quote, "internal sources," that the State Department began to examine Indyk's handling of intelligence information.

In a statement, the State Department says, quote:

"There is no indication of espionage in this matter. At this time there is no indication that any intelligence information has been compromised. This is a question of security procedures that have not been followed."

Senior U.S. officials tell CNN that the ambassador had been warned numerous times by his supervisors about not handling secure documents properly. Now because his security clearance had been pulled, Indyk cannot carry out his duties as ambassador. He is now in New York. His deputy Paul Simons is stepping in in the interim.

Indyk responded to the investigation in a statement, staying, quote, "Jeopardizing the national security interests of the U.S. is absolutely abhorrent to me and I would never do anything to compromise those interests.

This action comes after a serious of embarrassing security lapses at the State Department. If you'll recall, back in April a lap-top computer holding top secret arms proliferation data disappeared from the building, and a listening device was found in a State Department conference room and later traced to Russian diplomats.

So the State Department has taken a no-tolerance policy on sloppy handling of secure information, and the word is that may be what happened here -- Brian.

NELSON: Kathleen, this sounds a lot like the case of John Deutch, the former CIA director, who is accused of downloading sensitive material to his home computer. Are there any other similarities? Are there any differences?

KOCH: There are both, Brian. A senior U.S. official tells CNN that Indyk is in part being investigated because he would apparently bring classified documents home to read. Now, as you pointed out in Deutch's case, he actually downloaded his classified material onto a home computer. We have no indication that Indyk did that.

Now, as a result, Deutch has lost his security clearance and he is still under investigation. But a senior U.S. official explains to CNN that in a position like ambassador, or say assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, that was Indyk's job between his two tours as ambassador, you're in meetings for 12 hours a day. Often the only time to read or write are in the wee hours of the morning. That essentially, to get the job done you have to take work home, and the question is was that work handled properly?

NELSON: As you are probably well aware, this is going to make a lot of people in the Middle East nervous about the impact this will have on the peace talks. I mean, is there going to be any impact or is that a little far fetched?

KOCH: Brian, that's another question that is somewhat up in the air. Indyk is very close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who along with the president had asked Indyk to return to Israel as ambassador there.

The State Department insists that there are, quote, "absolutely no implications for the peace process." That's their wording. But this is a delicate time. The White House would like to see a peace deal before the leaves office so this certainly, Brian, does not help.

NELSON: All right, Kathleen Koch in Washington, thank you.

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