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Commission Urges Major Security Reforms at FBI - 2002-04-09

U.S. lawmakers were briefed Tuesday on security reforms at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the wake of the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen on espionage charges last year.

The head of a special commission that probed security lapses at the FBI following the arrest of agent Hanssen in February of last year briefed the Senate Judiciary Committee on his panel's findings.

William Webster, the former director of the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency said a 'pervasive inattention to security' at the agency had allowed Hanssen to pass secrets to Moscow for more than two decades. "The commission concluded that internal security has often been a low priority at the bureau, frequently trumped by operational needs," he explained. "Security training has been almost non-existent."

Mr. Webster recommends a series of improved security steps, including more polygraph tests for agents and tightened access to secret information. He also suggests the FBI increase financial probes of its agents.

Mr. Hanssen has pleaded guilty to selling secrets to Moscow for more than $1 million. He could receive life in prison when he is sentenced next month.

The FBI's assistant director for security, Kenneth Senser, told the Senate panel the substance of the Webster report is in his words 'solid.' But he added his agency has already taken steps to improve security, including greater use of lie-detector tests and records to verify financial disclosures made by FBI employees.

"Immediately after Hansson's arrest, the FBI initiated some interim security enhancements that we had discussed in July, specifically the limited expansion of the polygraph program, [and] the use of more extensive auditing in our automated case support system of those persons accessing the most sensitive FBI files," he said.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, touted an FBI security reorganization bill. "This committee wants to help ensure that the FBI learns from past mistakes and becomes all the nation needs it to be," he said.

The legislation would require people working with sensitive information to take lie detector tests, allow Justice Department investigators to look at the agency independently and establish whistle-blower protections.