Federal agents raid home of recently retired National Archives official

By Lisa Rein and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 29, 2010; 8:16 PM

Federal agents raided the home of a former official at the National Archives this week and seized up to 20 boxes from his Rockville basement, weeks after his retirement from the government's record-keeping agency.

Leslie Waffen, 65, was chief of the Archives' audiovisual holdings, which contain more than 90,000 film, sound and video recordings made by government agencies and private sources. Agents with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Archives' inspector general executed search warrants a day before government watchdogs criticized the agency in two reports Wednesday for failing to properly safeguard sensitive information.

Waffen was not arrested and was not charged. His attorney, Michael Fayad, declined to comment. A message left on his office phone said, "Les has decided to retire after 40 years at NARA" and referred callers to a colleague.

U.S. Marshals spokesman David Ablondi said his agency, Montgomery County police and Archives investigators arrived in the 500 block of Saddle Ridge Lane at 7:45 a.m. They appeared to wake Waffen and his wife, said a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation. The Archives agents arrived with a moving truck and a list of items they were searching for. Warren directed them to his basement, where they identified and removed "10 to 20 boxes," a law enforcement official said. The agents loaded the truck and left after about 45 minutes.

Ablondi and Archives officials declined to say what was in the boxes.

David S. Ferriero, who took over as chief archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration last year, acknowledged the raid in a statement to employees Thursday and commended the inspector general's office for "their commitment to ensuring the restoration of stolen property back to the National Archives."

"I will not tolerate any violation of the law that protects both records and property that belongs to the U.S. government and the American people," Ferriero wrote. He noted that his staff is improving training, requiring new policies and buying new equipment "to ensure that our holdings are safe."

The government's sound archives date to 1896. A 2004 New York Times article described the efforts of Waffen's team to preserve the only known audio recording of the John F. Kennedy assassination. His department also had custody of the Zapruder film, the famous 8mm color home video of the assassination.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has tracked Archives security concerns for years, said in a statement: "There's a lot of work to be done because these problems have needed correction for years. I hope there will be a plan to get the organization back on track quickly."

Auditors with the Government Accountability Office said the agency is leaving itself open to hackers as it preserves records electronically. Auditors found the agency did not protect its computer networks with strong firewalls, used weak passwords and failed to encrypt sensitive information.

The report also highlighted a "large and persistent" backlog of paper and media records that need to be preserved.

Sen. Thomas E. Carper (D-Del.), who also follows security issues at the Archives, said the findings alarmed him.

"The items in jeopardy are more than just pieces of paper, collectibles or electronic files - they are priceless links that connect us to our nation's history and help tell the story of America," Carper said in a statement. "So I am sure it is unsettling to the American people - as it is to me - that the monumental task of preserving these valuable artifacts is not always being performed to the standards we all should expect."

Lawmakers criticized the agency last year after the disappearance of a hard drive with sensitive data from the Clinton administration. The drive contained national security information, more than 100,000 Social Security numbers, contact information for Clinton administration officials, Secret Service and White House operating procedures, event logs, social gathering logs and political records.

reinl@washpost.com hsus@washpost.com

Staff writers Ed O'Keefe and Dan Morse and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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