Originally created 04/22/00

Lax security peril

Lax security has been a problem throughout President Clinton's administration.

Recall how early in the Clinton era young campaign aides were permitted access to top secret documents and meetings without receiving security clearance. Many of them subsequently failed the clearance test, but were given continued access anyway.

More recently, of course, there was the scandalous lack of security at U.S. nuclear labs which opened the way for Communist China's theft of some of the nation's most secret nuclear and weapons technologies.

The Commerce Department has been severely and deservedly criticized for approving, even encouraging, militarily sensitive technology trades with untrustworthy nations.

The latest scary example of national security neglect involves the State Department, which was called on the carpet just last year by its own inspector general for being out of compliance with many of the agency's security procedures.

The FBI and other investigators, reports The Washington Post, are now probing the disappearance two months ago of a laptop computer that contained "code word" -- intelligence data so sensitive that this classification ranks it higher than "top secret."

The Post said the laptop was shared by several top State officials before vanishing from a conference room. When confronted with the vanishing act, department spokesman James Rubin said with a straight face that protecting classified materials is a top priority of the agency. We'd hate to see how less sensitive materials are handled.

The line between safe and unsafe technologies are becoming too blurred to define. What technology can't be adapted to the military? Japan just developed a computer game -- Sony Playstation -- that's so powerful it could pose a military threat.

That said, it's still not acceptable to leave a top secret laptop computer around where anybody can walk off with it. Military technology is one thing -- "code word" intelligence information is something else. There's no reason for intelligence to fall into the wrong hands -- unless there's carelessness, which appears to be the case here.

The State Department's No. 1 security upgrade couldn't be simpler: Don't put classified materials into laptops; they can be too easily stolen. To ensure secrets stay secret, stash them in stationary computers under lock and key and, if need be, under guard.


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