WASHINGTON (AP) - A number of foreign intelligence agents working under media cover have unescorted access to the State Department, an FBI official testified today. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pledged a full investigation once she received the details.
Timothy Bereznay, an FBI section chief, made the disclosure at a House International Relations Committee hearing convened to explore a series of security lapses at the State Department.
Albright later told a news conference, ``Obviously we don't want spies posing as journalists.'' She cautioned, ``We have to be careful here not to go crazy.''
Bereznay said the FBI does not normally provide the State Department or other agencies with lists of intelligence officer identities ``to protect both sensitive cases and sources.'' But exceptions can be made if there is a specific request or a reason to do so, he said.
David Carpenter, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, said all media covering the State Department are expected not to go above the second floor of the building but he acknowledged that the system is not foolproof.
``If it were within my power, I would not have any press in the building,'' Carpenter said.
At the White House, President Clinton told reporters that today's testimony was the first time he had heard of the allegations. ``Obviously it has to be looked into,'' he said.
Clinton jokingly added: ``I would have thought that you might have docile intelligence officers masquerading as hostile reporters.''
Jacqueline Bridgers-Williams, the State Department inspector general, said she had not been aware that foreign intelligence agents with press credentials were able to enter the State Department unescorted.
She said she was aware of a report by the FBI on the issue last year but that the FBI turned down a department request for access to the report.
The hearing was convened following a series of security lapses at the State Department, the most notorious of which was the disappearance of a lap top computer this past winter containing highly classified information.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said security measures at the State Department seemed to follow an inconsistent pattern, stringent at times and lax at others.
``Something is screwy here,'' Rohrabacher said. He said the testimony suggests ``something is out of whack'' at the State Department.
The committee chairman, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., listed a series of security violations at the department in recent years and he urged decisive action to prevent a recurrence.
``Our nation must not tolerate any further security violations,'' he said.