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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 22:43 GMT 23:43 UK
Journalist 'spies' at State Department
State Department
Dozens of foreign journalists have department passes
Security at the US State Department is being tightened after the FBI said foreign spies were working there as journalists.

The FBI assertion follows a number of security lapses at the State Department, which have included the loss of a laptop computer, the discovery of a Russian bug in a conference room and the theft of classified papers.

FBI section chief Timothy Bereznay said: "If asked, the FBI would be willing to identify to the State Department permanent media badge holders identified as hostile intelligence officers, so that their access could be restricted or their visits monitored."

I have directed that a number of steps be taken to tighten our security, to try to determine where the problems are, and we are cooperating with the FBI

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she took the allegations seriously and had ordered an inquiry.

"I have directed that a number of steps be taken to tighten our security, to try to determine where the problems are, and we are cooperating with the FBI," she told a news conference.

She said the CIA would also be involved in a review of the situation, but added: "I think we have to be careful here not to go crazy."

Mrs Albright also joked with reporters who were attending the news conference.

"We obviously do not want spies posing as journalists in this room or wandering around the State Department. If any of you are, please identify yourself," she said, to laughter from the reporters.

The comments from Mr Bereznay came as he addressed a House International Relations Committee. He said a security problem was being posed because foreign correspondents were exempt from a policy requiring all foreign nationals to be escorted within the headquarters building.

Madeline Albright: Taking the problems seriously
"This exception affords unescorted access to the State Department by a number of known foreign service intelligence officers," Mr Bereznay said.

He would not disclose the countries nor media companies for which the alleged spies were working. There are currently 56 foreign journalists with department accreditation.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Benjamin Gilman, said KGB officers had routinely posed as journalists in the Cold War, and it was a "safe bet" that their successors did the same.

Tweed coat

"No security policy at State will be adequate until foreign journalists are appropriately escorted, just like other visitors, beyond the normal press areas," he said.

The FBI says the alleged spies are not believed to be linked to the security lapses over recent years, which have proved highly embarrassing to the department.

The missing laptop computer contained classified information on biological, chemical and nuclear weapons proliferation.

And the classified papers disappeared when a man in a tweed coat walked into an office while employees were present and walked out with the documents.

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24 Apr 00 | Americas
US State Department shake-out
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