Interns, volunteers had access to FBI files Panetta announces tightening of rules

June 20, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- College-age interns and other volunteers had free access to hundreds of FBI investigative files kept in the White House security office during the first months of the Clinton administration, according to a former key employee of the office.

Although there is no evidence that information in the files was misused, the disclosure yesterday that the security office was manned by people without security clearances provided more ammunition to White House critics.

"A frightening breach of privacy has occurred," said Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Maryland Republican.

As congressional hearings on the White House use of FBI files got under way, the White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, announced an internal reorganization to tighten procedures for handling the background files.

Panetta said that Charles Easley, a former Army counterintelligence special agent who has been a White House security officer since the Reagan administration, would now oversee the handling of such documents.

Easley succeeds Craig Livingstone, who was placed on leave after Congress learned that the security office ordered up more than 400 FBI background files on former administration employees, including prominent Republicans.

The FBI said last week the requests were unjustified. Attorney General Janet Reno directed the FBI on Monday to launch an investigation that could determine whether there is any criminal liability in the case.

Two congressional committees this week are looking into the matter.

"Whether this was part of a larger pattern of trying to compromise the FBI or part of the all-too-familiar pattern of incompetence and incredibly mismanaged record-keeping at the White House will be the subject of further investigation and hearings," said Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., a Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Clinger's hearings could last well into the summer.

At the initial hearing, Nancy Gemmell, a retired security office deputy, said that during the first few months of the Clinton administration, "extremely young" interns, 18 to 20 years of age, helped manage the heavy flow of paperwork in the office as the new regime checked the backgrounds of incoming employees.

Gemmell said other, older volunteers also pitched in. All of them had access to a vault that was used to store the background files. Democrats agreed that Livingstone's office had committed a major blunder. "It was idiotic, stupid, inexcusable and unacceptable," said Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, who added that Livingstone and his aide who ordered the files, Army investigator Anthony B. Marceca, "probably should be fired, and I hope they will be."

Also, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced that it has opened an investigation into allegations that Marceca violated the Hatch Act. The OSC is the independent federal agency charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which defines the scope of permissible political activities by government employees.

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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