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FBI Investigates State Department Phone Monitors

By Michael Isikoff
and Walter Pincus

The Washington Post


The FBI is investigating allegations that the State Department Operations Center illegally monitored some telephone conversations by former assistant secretary of state Elizabeth M. Tamposi discussing the search of Bill Clinton's passport files.

Monitoring of phone calls placed through the Operations Center has been standard practice for years. But the Tamposi case has provoked new scrutiny of the practice and prompted State Department officials to alter procedures in recent days as the FBI conducts its probe.

Notes of Tamposi's phone conversations taken by Operations Center monitors were obtained last month by the State Department inspector general's office. The inspector general is investigating whether Tamposi's Bureau of Consular Affairs violated department procedures during its search through the passport files of Clinton, his mother and Ross Perot in the closing weeks of the 1992 presidential campaign.

The inspector general's inquiry, the results of which are expected to be released next week, has uncovered evidence that Tamposi had "political discussions" about the Clinton file search with Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Steven K. Berry and other department officials, sources said. Depending on the circumstances, that finding could undercut Tamposi's contention that she was merely responding to Freedom of Information Act requests from several news organizations in directing her deputies to conduct an unusual evening search through Clinton's files at a National Archives records warehouse in Suitland, Md. on Sept. 30.

But the FBI probe of the monitoring by the Operations Center, begun early last month, has injected a complicating factor into the passport controversy that could have far-reaching repercussions for the State Department. Sources said that while inspector general investigators were obtaining notes of Tamposi's conversations from the Operations Center to use as evidence in their probe, the FBI began pursuing allegations that the center had violated federal law by eavesdropping on Tamposi's private conversations without the consent and knowledge of either Tamposi or other department officials with whom she was speaking.

Federal law bars anybody from intercepting telephone conversations without the consent of at least one of the persons speaking. It also forbids the disclosure of the contents of such conversations knowing they were illegally intercepted.