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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
US State Department shake-out
US State Department in Washington
There have been several major security lapses
By Andrew Roy in Washington

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has announced major security changes at the department's Washington headquarters following the loss of a laptop computer containing top secret information.

Its disappearance two months ago is the latest in a series of embarrassing security blunders at the State Department.

A clearly annoyed Madeleine Albright said the loss of the laptop computer put the security of the United States at risk and was inexcusable and intolerable.

Security must be your top priority in all its aspects, all the time.

Madeleine Albright

She announced that two State Department employees had been reassigned to new jobs, and responsibility for security was being transferred to a different department.

In addition, she warned that any future security lapses, however small, would not be tolerated.

"I want to reiterate to every employee in every office, in every bureau and diplomatic post, security must be your top priority in all its aspects, all the time. Our goal should be an environment for security that is second to none," she said.

Special classificiation

The laptop is reported to contain material so secret, it has a special classification above the merely top secret.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Mrs Albright: clearly annoyed

The so-called code word information is said to detail what America knows about the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and also how it got that information through its network of spies.

The loss of the laptop is turning into a debacle for the State Department.

It is not clear whether the computer was stolen on purpose or merely misplaced - nor is it clear when the computer first disappeared.

It may have been missing for several weeks before anyone noticed.

Latest lapse

But this is only the latest major security lapse. Last year, a Russian listening device was discovered inside a State Department conference room.

A year earlier, a man walked into the State Department executive secretary's office and carried off classified documents.

The man and the documents were never seen again.

Congress and a government inspector-general have called for a complete overhaul of security at the State Department.

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