By Ernesto Londoño and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 6, 2006
The arrest of a Department of Homeland Security deputy press secretary on charges that he used a computer to seduce and send pornography to a child has triggered a congressional inquiry into hiring practices and security clearance policies at the department.
Brian J. Doyle was chatting online with Polk County, Fla., detectives Tuesday night when investigators arrived at his Silver Spring house with an arrest warrant. He thought he was corresponding online with a 14-year-old cancer survivor, Florida police said.
It was a key night in their relationship because the "girl" had agreed to pose nude for him on a Web camera, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said yesterday in an interview.
Judd said Doyle disclosed his credentials to the girl. "We thought it was some kind of ruse," Judd said. "But we quickly discovered it was correct."
Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, scheduled a hearing May 18 to examine whether the department's guidelines on screening employees and issuing security clearances are adequate.
"What if the person on the other end had been a member of al-Qa'ida or a similar terrorist organization and used this information to blackmail Mr. Doyle?" King said yesterday in a statement.
Judd said that is why his office rushed the investigation. Internet pedophile investigations can last several months and often culminate in arranged meetings with the would-be victim.
The sheriff said Doyle used work phones to communicate with a female officer posing as the girl.
"With him being at DHS, we didn't know how much access to sensitive information he had or who else he was chatting to," Judd said, adding that investigators asked themselves, "Was it possible he was chatting with someone who was in a terrorist cell who would put him in a compromising position?"
Doyle's attorney, Barry Helfand, said yesterday that depression may have led his client to reach out to the supposed teenager online.
"Sometimes there is something that runs amiss with a human being that is doing all the right things," Helfand said yesterday after a brief hearing in Rockville, during which Doyle requested an extradition hearing. "Mr. Doyle has risen to some of the highest levels of our government, and I understand he has a spotless record."
Doyle's security clearance, badge and facility access passes were suspended, and he is not being paid, the federal agency said in a statement yesterday.
Spokesman Russ Knocke declined to say what security clearance Doyle had.
Doyle is a former news and assignment editor of Time magazine's Washington bureau who accepted a buyout in 2001 and later joined the Transportation Security Administration as a spokesman. He has been in 15-year relationship with a woman who attended his brief court hearing yesterday, Helfand said.
The lawyer said Doyle will probably seek to be released from jail before his extradition hearing, which is scheduled for May 4, so he can surrender to authorities in Florida.
"We'd much rather escort him to Florida ourselves," Judd said.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.