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Reno Considers Prosecuting Deutch Over Security Breach

By David A. Vise

and Vernon Loeb

Attorney General Janet Reno is weighing a recommendation to prosecute former CIA director John M. Deutch ’61 for home-computer security violations but has made no final decision on whether to bring criminal charges, sources familiar with the case said Friday.

Paul E. Coffey, a former prosecutor brought out of retirement by Reno to review the Deutch case, has informed Justice Department officials that he believes charges should be brought against Deutch for drafting top-secret intelligence documents on unsecure home computers linked to the Internet, the sources said.

In its initial review of the case, Justice Department officials decided against prosecuting Deutch for exposing highly classified information on unsecure home computers to possible cyberattacks by hackers or foreign intelligence services throughout his tenure as CIA director from May 1995 through December 1996.

But Reno announced in February that she had asked Coffey to review the case again after a highly critical CIA inspector general’s report on Deutch’s security violations was leaked to the media and caused controversy on Capitol Hill.

Deutch, who has admitted the breach and apologized for violating CIA security, left the CIA in late 1996 and went back to his job as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In August 1999, four months after the Justice Department declined prosecution, CIA Director George J. Tenet stripped Deutch of his CIA security clearances. He acted after receiving the findings of his own inspector general, which concluded that Tenet and other agency officials had bungled, but not obstructed, an internal investigation into Deutch’s security violations.

If Reno accepts Coffey’s recommendation and seeks criminal charges against Deutch, her action would represent the first time in history that a Cabinet-level official has been charged with violations of the espionage act or a related statute for mishandling classified information.

Provisions of the espionage act make the willful mishandling of classified defense information a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; taking classified information home without authorization is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.

Deutch’s lawyer, Terrence O’Donnell of Williams & Connolly, could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Prosecuting Deutch would be “unprecedented,” said John L. Martin, who retired in 1997 as head of the Justice Department’s Internal Security Section after a 26-year career in which he supervised prosecution of 76 espionage cases.